We replaced our minivan. Actually, we replaced our minivan in April. That’s what? (counts on fingers) Three months ago? Yeah, almost exactly.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I’m a “car guy.” Changing my ride is a HUGE decision and moment for me, and comes after weeks or months of painstaking research. I research it enough that my wife finally grunts “Ugh!” and throws her hands up in the air and pronounces, “I don’t care anymore, just freakin’ HANDLE it so I don’t have to HEAR it anymore!” The outgoing car gets detailed to a fare-thee-well, and photos taken…and the new car gets photos taken, and posted everywhere, and I obsess. And obsess. And…OBSESS.
Except for when we replace our minivan. I just can’t get excited about replacing the minivan. To quote the stereotype of a teenage girl: I. Just. Can’t. Even.
This is our fourth minivan. We got our first when our twins — children #3 and #4 — were a couple of months old. Until then we loaded the six of us into my 1984 Ford Crown Victoria, three-to-a-bench, carseats and all, and looked like a clown-car getting in and out. Our first minivan was a 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan. Red. In 2007.
It did the job. It carried us all. It looked okay. It had miles, and it had transaxle repairs. You can see the butt of it in the picture above — and that is like the only picture of it I can find after about 10 minutes of looking. It lasted about a year, maybe a year and a half, and after disturbing lags in the transmission, the breaking of most plastic things inside, the loss of high-speed wipers and finally a grinding brake, we traded it in for an 8-month-old 2008 Chevy Uplander.
I actually found a good picture of it, on vacation in 2009. I never liked the way it looked, with that ugly snout on it. My wife liked the snout. <shrug> It was the last minivan Chevy made, and you could tell that they knew it. They still don’t make a passenger minivan today, in 2016. Our 2008 Uplander, under the skin, was really a 1993 Chevy Venture…with that snout grafted on it:
You could tell when you opened the hood — everything structural still followed the slope of the original minivan’s hood, and they’d added sheet metal to make the thing look as much like an SUV as they could. Look at the extra C-pillar behind the sliding door, and the tall stance of it.
That stance made it handle like a pig, by the way. The suspension was truly there just to hold up the corners, and that was it. There wasn’t an ounce of sporty in it, nor were there any features from the past 10 years of minivan design. The seats were uncomfortable, there was no storage in it, and the seats were ungodly heavy AND had to be lugged out of it for any cargo room.
Ours spent its first 28,000 miles as a rental car, and at about 100,000 miles it started shedding parts. Finally, when it needed an $1,100 steering rack, we traded it for a 2010 Kia Sedona.
By this time, getting a new van really just felt like trading one set of payments for another set of payments. This van was more comfortable, had at least one seat that folded into the floor, and had some 21st-century minivan design components. But it really didn’t feel all that much different. We traded one can-to-carry-six-people for another can-to-carry-six-people.
And, we had the Kia until April. It was starting to eat parts, even though it only had 80,000 miles on it. My wife hit a non-English-speaking driver when he pulled out in front of her one year…and then got rear-ended by a stupid teen at a stoplight another year. When the engine made a sudden metal-on-metal knocking noise…which went away and cured itself, we traded it in for this:
It’s a 2014 Grand Caravan. We’ve come back to the Dodge van again. We got an okay deal on it, and it has super-low miles…and again we find it just impossible to be excited about getting yet another minivan.
And this time we tried…we really TRIED to find anything else that would work for us. I admit, we’re a big family. We have four kids; we can’t really fold down the 3rd row for storage because we fill all the seats whenever we go out. And that was our only real requirement for a replacement vehicle: It had to fit all six of us, and have space for groceries or luggage inside as well. And not cost a buttload of money, as well…that was the other requirement.
We tried “crossovers,” like the Chevy Traverse (and siblings) and Ford Flex. We tried SUV’s like the Dodge Durango, Ford Expedition and Chevy Suburban. We tried “micro” minivans, thinking we didn’t need to carry strollers and baby gear anymore, like the Ford Transit Connect. And none of them could do what we needed. The Suburban actually COULD do what we want, and even better…but used ones with piles of miles cost not just more, but DOUBLE what a minivan costs.
So we admitted defeat and got another minivan. The staple vehicle of boring practicality. I believe it is impossible to look cool while driving a minivan. You might be wearing Armani, and sporting Oakleys and a Breitling…but get behind the wheel of a minivan, and the shell of uncool will undo you. But while uncool, the new van will carry all six of us, and two weeks’ luggage behind the 3rd row…and pull down 28mpg after a day of expressway driving. <sigh>
Maybe when this wears out we’ll have sent one or two of our teens off to college and we can get something a bit…I don’t know…just NOT a minivan?