Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The van is dead. Long live the van.

Well... not officially DEAD dead, but when the repairs amount to more than the most optimistic Kelley Blue Book value of the car, it's time to look further afield.

As previously mentioned, the Mighty Chevy Astro has been limping along for many months. It reminds me of the movie Space Cowboys, where the old astronauts are downplaying their aliments for that one last chance to go to space.

Now, my husband is many things, but he's not that good at diagnosing car problems if it's not an engine sound - and especially if he only drives that vehicle once a week. So when I first explained that the Valvoline quickie lube guys went pale and made the sign of the cross when they saw my undercarriage, he assumed it was hyperbole. (It was, but they were very concerned and gave me an absurdly long list of things to have our mechanic check out.) But it started and drove every time anyone put the key in, so Jake didn't quite buy the mechanic's concerns about the AWD rear motor, transmission fluid, cracked sway bars, radiator gaskets leaking, and the fact that when it was time to accelerate, it was a chancy game of "will it accelerate fast enough to get ahead of that semi truck today, or is this a day where it will struggle?". Because when he drove it, it felt like every other crappy van he ever drove. Me, I felt the little changes in how it handled from day to day.

So we took the van to a mechanic with a stellar reputation - car COLLECTORS use this guy, so we knew he was good. For $45 (plus tax) he gave us the full look-over. His list of repairs was even longer than Valvoline's, and since I had him on speakerphone with Jake in the room, he couldn't assume I was making more of it than I was. (Please tell me I'm not the only one with this problem? Other wives/husbands deal with this, right?) Even before dealing with the AWD hub, the repairs would have reached $2000. To his credit, the mechanic explained that there were some things we could fix bit by bit, and some things we could probably baby along for another 6 months or a year, if it meant that we would be grounded without the van. But to put more money into a van that we'd have to replace shortly anyway seemed like a bad idea.

We went home (carefully), called the credit union to see what sort of loan we could get that would keep our payment below $150 a month (I know - payments! <Shudder>) and started the internet searching process. Within a few hours, we had found a nice, 2008 Chevy Uplander for only $6500 in a nearby town.
It looks grey, but it's actually a very dark blue.

It's a nice ride - I had forgotten that some of the sounds and shimmies the Astro made were abnormal, so riding this is surprisingly quiet. As you can see, there are two sliding doors - a big deal, since the Astro only had one on the passenger side. And where I actually had to grab a handle and use a step to get up in the Astro, the Uplander lets me get in and sit without any climbing. It's clean - the previous owners used to keep towels on the seats - and there's a full set of rubber floor mats.

One of the nicest things about it is that it's one of the stripped down models with very few fancy options - no power doors, no built in DVD player, nothing much to break. I'm so glad I won't have to say "no, you can't watch a video on the way to the grocery store!".

But the options it DOES have are lovely - power steering, power locks with a key fob, CD player, A/C, and emergency calling (OnStar, but we don't have a subscription, so it's just an emergency alert).

Yes, this means a car payment. Yuck. But we'll be using our usual tricks to pay it off faster (paying more than the usual amount, sending windfalls off to knock the balance down), so our 4 year payment plan will probably not take that long. Good thing, too - I want to hold onto this long enough for Daniel to learn how to drive!

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