Nissan Caravan Buying Guide
Recently, more van buyers, especially those interested in camping and van lovers, have embraced JDM Vans in the United States and Canada. They are cheaper to import, reliable, versatile, and hard enough to handle light forest trails and adventure camping trips. The Toyota HiAce dominates the JDM van scene, but there’s a cheaper and relatively reliable option you can opt for, the Nissan Caravan, originally known as the Nissan Homy.
In the 1960s, there was a high demand for transportation services in Japan; thus, manufacturers began production of passenger and cargo vans/wagons. Prince motors introduced the Prince Homy to the Japanese market in 1965, but unlike most of its competitors, it was larger; thus, it was classified as a light-duty truck under Japanese road regulations. Nissan didn’t own production rights to the Nissan Homy until 1966 when they merged with Prince Motors and sold the Homy as the Nissan Homy and Datsun Urvan. It wasn’t until 1973 that the Caravan name was adopted.
The Nissan Caravan has lived in the Toyota HiAce’s shadow since it was first produced, but is it a van you should consider, especially with the ever-increasing HiAce prices? But even without considering JDM vans, the Nissan Caravan still faces significant competition from vans made by other manufacturers, whether old or new such as the GMC Savana and Ford E-series vans. If you are still focused on buying a Nissan Caravan, or it’s on your list of vans to consider, we have compiled a guide to help determine whether you should buy one.
Pros and Cons
Cheaper Than The Competition
For around $15,000, you can get a Nissan Caravan high-roof camper van which is approximately $5,000 cheaper than a Toyota HiAce camper van. Other camper vans sell for twice the price of a Nissan Caravan. Standard Nissan Caravan passenger and cargo van retail for roughly $10,000, with prices increasing or decreasing depending on the year of manufacture, engine, and if the van is 4×4 equipped.
When asked, many car buyers will avoid the cheaper option, saying that higher-priced cars are more durable and reliable. This is one reason the Toyota HiAce has dominated the JDM van scene despite being expensive. However, reliability and durability are mainly owner-dependent. With those two out of the equation, there are some aspects in which the Nissan Caravan outshines its competitors, thus offering value for money.
For starters, the Nissan Caravan has better engine options than the Toyota HiAce in every generation, giving buyers a wide range of options based on owner reviews and taste. The Caravan high-roof camper van is also roomier than the HiAce camper van, and the super long Caravan has a larger passenger and cargo capacity.
Easy To Own and Maintain
There are sports and fun Kei cars that one can buy for the price of a Nissan Caravan, but for car buyers interested in JDM vans, the Nissan Caravan should be on the list of potential vans to buy. Most first-time car buyers would juggle with the idea of buying a van as their first car, and you definitely shouldn’t get a Nissan Caravan for your teenager’s 16th birthday unless they asked for one. Nonetheless, it makes a great beginner car as it ticks all the requirements.
Reliability is average, with most problems revolving around diesel engines. But apart from that, the Nissan Caravan is just as reliable as any other JDM car, so maintenance should be a non-issue. There’s nothing too tricky when working on a Nissan Caravan, only that the front seats have to be removed to access the engine, and it takes some getting used to.
For a van, the Nissan Caravan is comfortable to drive; even the lifted 4×4 and high roof variants. Throttle response is slow, and a Suzuki Cappuccino owner might mock you even with a 660cc engine. Yet the Nissan Caravan remains stable at highway speeds and when under a load with minimal body movements thanks to its low ride height and body height which lower the center of gravity.
One of the main reasons you’d buy a van over an SUV or MPV is the extra space, which the Nissan Caravan has plenty of across all trim levels. The E24 Caravan (fourth generation manufactured from 1986 to 2001), which is the most common, has a 2375mm wheelbase, and the Super Long has an extended wheelbase at 2645mm. Like Toyota, Nissan made a camper version of the Nissan Caravan in two variants, a high roof, and a flat roof, all sold through Nissan Dealerships. But you can still find one custom converted, thanks to the large cargo area and high load capacity.
So apart from using the Nissan Caravan as a cargo, passenger, or camper van, what more can you do with it? Like any other van, you are not limited to any upgrades or modifications that you can do. Show van builds are not common in the United States, unlike in Japan and other Asian Countries, but turning a Nissan Caravan into a show-stealer shouldn’t be difficult. Nobody will know what it is when you pull up at a car meet until you tell them what car it is, especially if it’s de-badged.
Like any other Van, the Nissan Caravan was built to be a workhorse. Thus, it can withstand heavy loads and long-distance driving. This makes it the perfect business van for a delivery or service business that requires constant moving around with heavy loads. However, mechanical inspections and replacements are necessary for a Nissan Caravan to withstand such due wear and tear caused by old age and constant use. The Nissan Caravan can also be customized for personal use, such as converting it into a bike carrier or tire van for track days. If you have another Nissan, it will make the perfect garage addition.
Poor Build Quality
The interior wears out, and the body panels start rattling after hitting rubble strips and potholes; it won’t be long before something falls off. Such issues are unavoidable with old JDM cars, especially vans, wagons, and trucks, and the Nissan Caravan is no exception. The Nissan Caravan’s poor build quality makes it susceptible to rust. Common rust spots are underneath the car, behind the front and rear bumper, and on the engine cover. Also, cracking and chipping paint promotes rusting on the body panels. Buying one in mint condition doesn’t guarantee that such issues will not arise soon, but it ensures years of service if maintained and driven well.
Low Resale Value
The Nissan Caravan is the type of car you buy to enjoy without considering whether it will hold its value or not. Even with upgraded parts, one rarely sells for the same price as it was first bought. This is the case with most JDM vans and trucks as they remain unaffected by ever-increasing JDM car prices. On the upside, the Nissan Caravan’s low resale value plays to the advantage of interested new buyers and repeat buyers who can’t get enough of one of the best JDM vans. It’s also advantageous to anyone sourcing parts since aftermarket support for the Nissan Caravan isn’t that great, and it takes ages to ship parts from Japan.
Vibrations From The Engine
Due to the timing gear drive, the diesel engines used in the Nissan Caravan are very noisy and prone to vibrations. Most drivers diagnose this as a fault, but it’s not until the vibrations exceed and can be felt when the car is idling and driving at low speeds. The vibrations can be reduced by regularly replacing the timing belt and tightening the tensioner pulley. Also, using the incorrect timing belt increases vibrations, so ensure it’s replaced with the correct one.
Overheating In Diesel Engine Models
Overheating issues are common in Nissan Caravans with diesel engines caused by a couple of faults ranging from a blown head gasket to a faulty thermostat and leaking coolant pipes. Diesel engines generate more heat as they have a higher compression ratio and thus require more cooling than petrol engines. Therefore, the coolant pipes and the thermostat need to be checked often as they are subjected to high heat, which degrades them over time. The same applies to the head gasket and water pump seal.
If the head gasket is blown, the engine is deprived of oil and overheats due to friction between moving internals. Coolant might leak, and the engine also loses compression depending on the extent of the damage. It’s recommended to replace the head gasket immediately if there is a leak before the piston rings melt due to the high heat.
Turbodiesel Engines Are At Risk of Turbo Failure
The turbocharged TD engine used in most Nissan SUVs, crossovers, and vans, such as the Nissan Caravan, is prone to turbo failure mainly due to oil starvation caused by a leaking head gasket or turbocharger oil line. It also accumulates carbon buildup on the turbocharger’s wastegate and the EGR valve (The EGR valve is fitted to meet emission requirements). Once the carbon buildup heats up, it causes damage to the turbocharger housing, impeller shaft bearing, and seal.
Before replacing the turbocharger, check the intercooler’s condition and if there is any carbon buildup. Most owners recommend replacing the turbocharger and intercooler, especially on high-mileage units, since one determines how the other performs.
Fuel Injector Failure on V6 Engine Models
The fuel injectors in the Nissan Caravan 300GT are known to fail due to carbon buildup in the engine. They won’t cut out immediately, but once you notice engine misfires, loss of power, and rough idling, you need to check the entire fuel system, including the fuel pump. If the injectors are massively clogged, the engine won’t start due to insufficient fuel to mix with air for combustion. It may also result in a pressurized fuel system, thus causing damage to the fuel pump.
Fuel injector failure is common in most Nissans using the VG30E V6 engine, and the most common fix is cleaning to remove the carbon buildup. Cleaning the fuel injectors is easy, even for newbies. The only problem is removing them due to the engine’s position. You can remove them from the engine and clean them using carburetor cleaner and a soft brush. An owner’s repair manual is needed for this.
If removing the fuel injectors is too troublesome, you can clean them without removing them from the engine. Locate the fuel injectors, trace the lines to where they connect to the fuel pump, and disconnect the joint and the pressure regulator. Then attach the cleaning kit to the fuel port and remove the fuel tank cap to release extra pressure. All you have to do now is turn on the car and turn it off after you’re satisfied the injectors are clean. Reconnect all ports and start the engine to inspect for leaks and noises.
Compared to its competitors, the Nissan Caravan is the cheapest option, with retail prices averaging $11,000, and finding one for less or more than that is possible depending on the year of manufacture and trim level. For example, a standard Nissan Caravan E24 costs as half as much as a Nissan Caravan 300GT or a Nissan Caravan E24 Super Long Camper Van, which rarely sells for anything below $15,000.
What To Look For When Buying a Nissan Caravan
Besides the listed cons and issues, check for missing parts since it’s hard to come across Nissan Caravan parts. Once you decide which Nissan Caravan variant you need, check for faults associated with that type of van. If a Caravan camper van sparks your interest, ensure all electricals, such as the sliding automatic doors and roof lifting motor, are working.
The suspension, brakes, bodywork, and underneath must be inspected regardless of whether it’s a camper van or a cargo van. You never know how the van was used in its previous life. Lastly, all paperwork should be present and verified before closing the purchase deal.
- Toyota HiAce (Buying Guide)
- Mitsubishi Delica (Buying Guide)
- Mazda Bongo (Buying Guide)
- Suzuki Every Van (Buying Guide)
- Subaru Sambar (Buying Guide)
- Honda Stepwagon
Models and Specifications
1965-1973 Nissan Homer/Nissan Caravan (B640)
In 1965 Prince Motors made a minibus version of Prince Homer to cater to passenger and cargo van market demands. When they merged with Nissan in 1966, it was produced as the Nissan Homer, replacing the Nissan Caball. Prince Motors still produced vans under the Prince Homer name, but it was discontinued when Nissan made the Prince name a car dealership brand in 1970 and adopted the Caravan name in 1973. The Homer and Homy names were discontinued in 1982 and 2001.
Finding classic vans like the first-generation Nissan Caravan today might be difficult since most are already rotting away, and owners are reluctant to sell. All units were manufactured with a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine which made 81 horsepower during production, quite a lot for 1965. The only transmission option for the first-gen Nissan Caravan was a 4-speed manual.
1973-1980 Nissan Caravan (E20, E21, E22)
Nissan Introduced the second-generation Nissan Caravan in 1973 with a longer body-on-frame chassis than the first-gen and new engine options due to new stringent emission laws. It was available with 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter petrol engines mated to a 3-speed automatic or 4-speed manual transmission. However, in 1977, the 1.5-liter petrol engine was discontinued as it couldn’t pass emission tests, and it was replaced with a 2.2-liter diesel engine in 1978. Another significant change Nissan performed is reducing the maximum seating capacity in the second-gen Caravan to 10 from 15 in the first-generation.
1980-1986 Nissan Caravan (E23)
The third-generation Nissan Caravan features sharper body lines and a different front facia with a bigger grill and smaller turn signals. Nissan added new 1.6-liter and 1.8-liter petrol engines to complement the 2.0-liter petrol engine carried over from the second generation. The 2.2-liter diesel engine introduced in 1978 was also used in the third-generation Nissan Caravan in addition to a 2.3-liter and a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine.
A 5-speed manual transmission was also made available, but it was only standard for petrol engines, while diesel engine variants were sold with a 4-speed or 3-speed automatic transmission. In 1983 the Nissan Caravan underwent a facelift doing away with the circular headlights, which were replaced with square mono headlights on each side, and a pre-heating ignition system was installed on diesel engines.
1986-2001 Nissan Caravan (E24)
Nissan Unveiled the fourth-gen Nissan Caravan with exciting new features such as a four-wheel-drive system and an electronically lifting roof in flat-top camper vans for buyers who didn’t want the high roof. Also, buyers could opt for a lifted 4×4 variant with a 2.0-liter or 2.7-liter turbodiesel engine perfect for Overlanding, a luxury variant badged as the Caravan Limousine, and a cargo van sold without rear windows.
The fourth-gen Nissan Caravan is also available with a 2.3-liter, 2.5-liter, 2.7-liter, and 3.2-liter diesel engine. All are naturally aspirated, like the 2.0-liter, 2.4-liter, and 3.0-liter petrol engines. Transmission options remain similar to the ones used in the third-gen Caravan, but the 3-speed automatic was replaced with a 4-speed.
2001-2012 Nissan Caravan (E25)
2001 saw significant reworks to the Nissan Caravan as it doesn’t closely resemble its predecessors. It has a sharper front end protruding from the bottom of the windshield downwards and larger headlights that house the turn signals. The side mirrors are mounted on the panel separating the windscreen and the grill.
But the appearance wasn’t the only thing that Nissan changed in the E24 Caravan. From all the engines used in the previous generation, only the 2.0-litre and 2.4-liter KA-series petrol engines were retained and were used alongside the 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter QR series petrol engines. The number of diesel engines was reduced to two, both being 3.0-liter turbodiesel engines.
2012-Present Nissan Caravan (E26)
Increasing sales and positive market feedback enabled Nissan to keep the Nissan Caravan in production. Today you can get a new one with a 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter petrol engine or a 2.4-liter and 2.5-liter turbodiesel engine. Being a commercial van, the Nissan Caravan isn’t sold with a CVT transmission as it’s unsuitable and can be problematic in such cars. Instead, it uses a 7-speed hybrid automatic, 5-speed automatic, or 5-speed manual transmission.
Both vans serve the same purpose and are reliable in equal measure. It all comes down to how the buyer will use the van and how long they will use it. The Nissan Caravan is a cost-efficient option, but it doesn’t withstand longer usage periods than the Toyota HiAce, which is higher-priced. On the upside, the Nissan Caravan has a slightly higher maximum load capacity, and the camper van variant is better equipped and more comfortable.
Yes, you can import any Nissan Caravan model year to the United States, provided it’s over 25 years old from the date of manufacture.
The Nissan Caravan has an average reliability rating, with most owners only complaining of build quality and diesel engine problems which should be expected when buying a 30-year-old cargo or camper van.
Prices for the Nissan Caravan start around $7,000 and maybe less if you buy a locally used unit. Camper vans and luxury trim levels such as the GL and Limousine are the most expensive, with retail prices averaging $15,000.
The Nissan Caravan can tow a maximum of 0.25 to 1.5 tons depending on the year of manufacture, with older model years having the least maximum towing capacity.
Yes, all names were used throughout the Nissan Caravan’s production during different generations and markets in which it was sold.
How To Import A Nissan Caravan
Read our Ultimate Guide on How to Import a Car from Japan.