We have a new van. Our souped up 1993 Dodge Caravan SE, the closer one in the photo above, has served us well trucking ever so many tons of cheese, milk and pigs to market for the past ten years. But it is beginning to get tired. It no longer leaps tall buildings or leaves speeding trains in it’s dust. Rather it huffs and it puffs and it slowly climbs the mountain.
Back in January the clutch gave up the ghost 400′ down the mountain from our driveway when the van was loaded with about 1,500 pounds of cheese trim for the pigs. We had already unloaded half the load at a neighbors in hopes of making it up to our place but it wasn’t enough. In a gout of smoke the van was no longer climbing. I walked up, got the tractor and pulled the van the rest of the way up the mountain. Our neighbor Brian, being the great guy he is, later delivered the remaining cheese to our doorstep.
The Caravan went to the mechanic for twelve days to get a new clutch. We don’t have another vehicle so fortunately we weren’t going anywhere. I didn’t feel too bad about having to get the clutch replaced because it had lasted eight years longer than the mechanics had said it would. Since then the van has been doing pretty well but the engine doesn’t have good compression. The cylinders may be worn. Perhaps the rings. The crank shaft bearing is loose. It still runs but who knows for how much longer. Holly suggested we should get a replacement vehicle before the Caravan gasped its last breath. It is much easier to buy well when your not in panic mode.
I have another relatively new rebuilt engine that I can put in it but the change over cost is significant. There is also the question of whether the unibody frame of the Caravan will last much longer – it is 15 years old since it is a 1993 model that actually began life in 1992. The frame is very rusted. We’ve added a lot of tin and other patches over the years and even that is rusting out. When your patches need patching it is perhaps time to consider the vehicle driven into the ground. I did literally drive one vehicle into the ground once – it split in two on the interstate highway – sparky! I would rather not repeat that.
So we’ve been looking around. New car prices are outrageous. I could buy a new car and even then there is a good chance of having to do annual work on it plus the insurance is so much more expensive. Even used mini vans are horribly expensive. I went back to thinking about switching the engines. Ed at the cheese factory and quite a few other people keep saying to get a pickup but that really isn’t as practical as a van. There are just too many times I want the fully covered vehicle and the flexibility of being able to switch between carrying cargo vs people. We also have some pretty dang cold weather in the winter – I don’t fancy pigs would appreciate being delivered frozen to the butcher when it is -20°F plus a 55 mph wind chill from driving on the highway never mind the cross wind gusts. A pickup with a cap or an extended cap doesn’t cut it. The price of pickup trucks are also very high. My brother suggests that this is because pickups are ‘sexy’ and every red blooded American boy wants one thus driving up the price. I never have wanted one – perhaps I need my blood type checked.
So we’ve continued to run the Caravan, doing all the maintenance and work it needs but knowing one of these days it will probably for good die climbing back up the mountain. Even doing all it needs we have only averaged $600 a year which is less than two monthly payments on a new vehicle. I consider that very reasonable and prefer to continue maintaining a vehicle I know to the devil I don’t.
Two weeks ago we were headed up to Cabot to pick another load of cheese trim and saw an extended body cargo van for sale on the side of the road in Plainfield. Only $1,375 for a 1996 Ford Econoline E250 with only 110,000 miles. That’s about half of our Caravan’s miles. It even has heavy duty added springs already and a 5,300 lb rear axle rating – extra rear springs are something I’ve always ended up adding to all our vehicles so we can haul heavy loads. The Econoline is in excellent condition. Almost no rust. It even has a tow bar incase we need to get a trailer – heaven forbid. So, why the low price we wondered?
We looked in the newspaper and found quite a few other cargo vans for low prices. Holly suggested that perhaps there just isn’t much market for used cargo vans. Families don’t want them because they lack rear seats and windows in the back. Businesses want newer vehicles. The cargo vans aren’t sexy. Maybe low demand was pushing the price down of a good vehicle class.
On the other hand, this full framed vehicles was just what we needed. It would take some work to transform it but we could add rear seats in just behind the driver and a cargo box for transporting pigs, cheese and other heavy things. A roof vent would give the pigs ventilation and suck their air away from the driver and passengers. I can also add an opening side window behind the driver for the rear passengers using a window from one of our older vans. In short, while this van might not fit the typical family or business needs it was just what we were looking for – we just didn’t know it until we saw it.
We met with the owner and took the van for a test drive. The engine purrs sweetly and quietly – quite the change after having gotten used to the gradually increasing volume of our old Caravan. The suspension is smooth even over deep potholes that would have slammed our van’s failing struts. The only negative is it is an automatic transmission. Holly and I would both prefer manual but it seems that is a thing of the past.
We took the Econoline van to the mechanic who has been doing CPR on our old Caravan. He gave it a regular state inspection and then a deep inspection to find anything that might need attention. It passed the first with flying colors. The second turned up some minor issues but less than I would expect. We’ll put a little money into the van beyond the purchase price to bring it 100% up to par before we start using it. Even then we won’t have come close to even 1/2 the book value and only 1/13th the new price. Ironically, the Econoline gets about the same gas mileage that our old Caravan did so even there it’s doing well.
Once the new Econoline van, new to us, is ready our old Caravan will no longer get so abused and should last much longer as a regular passenger vehicle. I’m glad we stuck with a van rather than getting a pickup or worse a trailer. I like vans for all sorts of reasons – that is what I learned to drive on, the load is covered and the vehicle is more flexible in how it can be configured. Since the Econoline is so large it means we can put off buying a trailer for that much longer. I’ve watched people with trailers and am not thrilled with the idea of pulling one, much less pushing one when backing up. If you saw the curves and mountain you would understand just how poignant this is…
The other interesting thing in that photo is that Holly follows directions very, very well. She backed the Caravan in next to the Econoline such that they were parallel, the two vans are even at back bumpers and in line with the back of the tiny cottage for this photo. The cottage is about 20′ away in the distance beyond the Econoline because of construction materials. Parked this way we can make some comparisons:
Tiny Cottage: 20′ long by 12′ high by 14.5′ wide.
Econoline: 19’6″ long by 6.5′ high by 6.5′ wide.
Caravan: 14.5′ long by 5.5′ high by 5.5′ wide.
So what’s inter
esting about Holly following directions like a champ? Well, you see she couldn’t see what she was doing and I directed her as she backed in. It wasn’t a straight shot but rather she had to curve around twice to get in line. When she got out of the Caravan and saw how closely she had parked, about 2″ from the Econoline with their mirrors almost holding hands, she was horrified and said to me, “If you had told me what you were having me do I would never have done it!” But she did. I love to lead and she dances backwards so oh so well.
Update: On Friday, after I first wrote this, our trust, dusty Dodge Caravan SE died on the side of the road at the top of a hill on I-91. At that point we were getting almost 100 miles to the gallon – that’s 100 miles to the gallon of oil, the lubricating kind. We were only getting about 14 miles to the gallon of gas. The rings were leaking badly and the compression was shot. It made a horrible noise and gave up the ghost. So Holly, Hope and I sat on the side of the highway for about an hour watching a power line crew cut trees and making plans while we waited for a tow truck. Fortunately we had bought this ‘new to us’ Econoline van just a couple of weeks before.
Outdoors: 78°F/57°F Sunny
Farm House: 74°F/59°F
Tiny Cottage: 72°F/68°F