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Travel Bliss: The Hunt For The Family Car

Published Dec 19th 2006, 4:29pm by Patty Streeter in Featured Articles

Kids_in_van by Holly Schwendiman
It was about this time two years ago when we purchased our last car. The holiday season was approaching and we had a year of long distance travels coming up. We knew we needed something that worked better for our family. My back couldn’t continue taking the constant reaching and stretching to restart the movie on the laptop every time it got bumped, and my nerves sure couldn’t take many more long road trips with our two kids getting more verbal and active with each other. As you can see from these pictures, the decision made everyone happy travelers!

Ironically, I vowed, from the time they came into existence, that I would never own a minivan. My cousin and I used to call them pig wagons as that’s what they looked like to us - a pig. Not the best starting point for referencing a make/model of car. I watched my older sister go through a few of these and it just confirmed how ugly they were to me and how much I didn’t want one. Well, a minivan is just what we bought two years ago. *sigh*

Adults_in_van I blame divine intervention. My husband’s second Camry was crunched in a rear end collision, sandwiched between two cars. Although the frame was bent, and we were told initially it was totaled, the insurance company decided to fix it. For the month it was being worked on, they put us in…..you guessed it, a minivan. My daughter was 7 at the time and was absolutely delighted saying over and over how we were finally getting a “cool” car. Only at this tender age could a minivan be called such.

The darn thing was so convenient and I hated that I was reveling in that convenience. Sliding doors - - no more door dings from my kids swinging open doors, easy loading of car seats and kids, captain chairs keeping the two kiddos just enough arm’s length apart to aid combative backseat fighting. It was a thing of beauty - and all that cargo room. Dang. We could fit in a few friends, and when parents came to visit we could all travel in one car. As a family who had made the thousand-mile trek to visit family many a time in our Camry, this new found freedom and space were amazing and we were sold. We both lamented knowing that the darn thing made sense.

Car buying has been most interesting during my marriage. I never owned my own car before I got married. My husband already had a car when we got married and it was nice. I felt spoiled. His dad sent us to Arizona with an old 1970 Monte Carlo as a second car after we were married. It was ugly as heck, but it worked for a while. Sadly, it had been in storage for most of its life and it didn’t take to the Arizona heat well at all. So within a few months and what felt like a few hundred flat tire changes, we decided it was time to buy a second car on our own.

MinivanWe found a used one we liked and were actually at the table ready to work up the papers when the salesman pulled a fast one trying to increase the price by $1,000.00. He was so confident he could get away with it that it made us mad and we walked…not just out his door, but across the street to another dealer and promptly bought a car we liked the look of that was the price we had planned on spending. That proved a learning experience all its own. Never by a car when emotional; it’s a bad idea and sure way to end up with buyer’s remorse.

The car’s life had a happy ending but only because of my dad. You see, I grew up in a home where only one or two cars in my parent’s lifetime were new, but they still have almost every one they’ve ever purchased. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but my dad does still have the beat up ‘59 Chevy pickup he had when I was a toddler and many times his property could have been a used car lot. My dad is a recycler. He can’t bear to see anything become outdated or unused.

So when they came to visit us, you can imagine his dismay at seeing our car sit dormant, collecting cobwebs in our apartment parking lot as neither my husband nor myself were mechanics or salesman and as starving students, we certainly didn’t have money to pay to have the big items replaced that it needed. So he fixed it up and drove it home where he got several thousand more miles out of it, over and beyond the 140,000 it had when we bought it (I know DUMB purchase!) and was still very sad that he couldn’t get more out of it than he did. He loves old cars and holds dear to his heart his first car, the beloved, red, Pontiac.

He can tell you the make, model and year of most anything from the 50s and 60s and anything that’s not a standard (stick) transmission is rarely worth your time. He’s replaced entire engines just to keep old buckets alive. He still rolls his eyes at me when the topic of taking your car in for an oil change comes up. It’s like fingernails down a chalkboard to him, but I remind him that he’s a thousand miles away.

Contrast this to my husband’s experience where his family bought new cars, used the warranties and then bought new ones before a lot of service was required. And with my husband inheriting his dad’s mechanic abilities, this is more the path we’ve experienced in our marriage, especially after the first big blunder of the Buick. In our 14+ years together, we’ve owned 10 cars - 4 used and 6 new. We’d frequently go from two cars to one whenever possible and managed nearly 5 years during this time with only one car.

Ironically, we traded in our first Camry and Cirrus for a lease on a Concord and three years later traded that back for another Camry and Cirrus. LOL Although we were always happy with our new Camry’s, our prized decision was my 2000 Cirrus which had only 13,000 miles on it and which we got an amazing price. In fact we still own it – the longest of any car. This was a much needed confidence boost after the first used car buying blunder, and it fueled us into hoping to find as good a deal this time around. It was a good thought. *wink*

Naturally, they showed us the biggest, baddest, bestest minivan on the lot (incidentally, the ONLY one that was already loaded with the DVD player, which was at the top of our list for travel necessities, not to mention more gadgets and gizmos than I’d seen in one vehicle before.) Dual side temperature control (I heard the hallelujah choir sing), seats that fold down to make a flat cargo floor, sun roof, side windows that rolled down, radar distance notification and a million more features. When they brought down the monthly to the range we requested it was a done deal. Our car had 3 miles on it when we started the test drive, and had there been any doubt before that moment driving that baby sealed the deal. It felt just like driving our Camry. We went saying we didn’t want to buy new, that we’d save money by taking a basic model and hopefully a good used one at that. We drove out in a brand new, completed loaded (including Lo Jack) luxury car. And I have to admit that although I still don’t love the look of the minivan, I certainly have a crush on the experience it has been owning and driving mine. It’s the nicest car I’ve ever owned and I’ve never had a moment of buyer’s remorse.

Of course, I’m still dreaming of the Escalade and Mercedes, but as to all things, times and seasons. This is the minivan season, the time it makes the most sense, so I may as well enjoy it knowing it too will pass and probably much faster than I’m ready for. I’m sure in a few more years I’ll be looking back with great fondness on the minivan days when my kids were young and I’ll be remembering all the good times we had on those long road trips together because we were all comfortable and happy! Was it worth it? Every penny.


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