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Salute to Terrible Ideas

An ode to the horrendous idea of buying my Dodge Grand Caravan.

It was about this time last year that I gratefully parted ways with my '96 Dodge Grand Caravan. But Daniel, you may ask, how did you come to buy a minivan? I didn't know you ever had one to begin with!

Well, faithful reader, that is because it all happened so quickly.
The month was November and Katie and I had just learned that we were pregnant again. I knew the MooMobile wouldn't last forever, nor would it be practical upon the introduction of a 4th member of the family (since it only seated 3). What would be a good replacement vehicle for me to both enable me to carry cargo and also a bigger family? Why, a minivan of course!

I set about trolling Craigslist and Ebay looking for price ranges and any good bargain cars out there. It definitely seemed like a minivan would be the cost efficient route, as opposed to an SUV so I kept my eyes peeled for minivan deals. That's when I stumbled across

FastTrack had an estate sale (which just sounds like a fancy old person kind of thing, doesn't it?) and as a part of this estate sale were two vehicles: one delivery van and one green Grand Caravan. The pictures of the minivan were all from a distance but it seemed to be in relatively good shape. Clean, with minimal rust. I went ahead and slapped a low bid price on the minivan, figuring if I won it, it would be a steal regardless of the condition of the van.
**At this point, I would just like to remind everyone that most auctions have preview days to examine the condition of the item you are bidding on. Had I any sense at all, I would have taken advantage of this preview day.**
Needless to say, it came as a surprise when 3 days later I woke up with an email in my inbox congratulating me for winning an item in a recent auction. I had TOTALLY forgot about the fact that I had haphazardly put a bid on this minivan! While the price was a steal, I had also forgotten about the 12% interest that tax and auction fees would put on this vehicle.

Well....that gave me 26 hours heads up to go pick up the van from the estate. I phoned a friend and had him drive me the 30 minutes out to this estate I had never been to before. We arrive at the estate and it turns out that it was a middle-aged husband and wife who were getting a divorce and selling everything between them, including the house. There was a flurry of determining where the title was and how to get to the nearest bank to get the thing notarized. The gist was that we decided to meet up at his work the following week to get the title transferred. The seller pointed out that there was a leak in the brake lines that had appeared just a few days prior. Great. No problem, says I. I'll just go to a gas station and pick up a bottle of DOT3 and keep the master cylinder filled up on the drive home--that's totally safe.

Upon making it home, I opened up the back of the van and realized that someone had spilled a quart of white paint on the carpet and used a throw rug to cover it up. There was a spilled Coke in the rear cupholder that was at least 3 months old and stuck in place. Stains on most of the seats. Dog hair and nasty trash littered all over the van. It smelled of mildewy soda, which is an awesome aroma, for those of you wondering. Rust had fully set in on the inner left door and the rear hatch wouldn't stay up.
Sooooo, needless to say the pictures that were posted on the listing didn't do a great job identifying the condition of the van. But it at least seemed to be running without any knocking or unusual noises.

I cleaned up the interior and exterior and made some drastic improvements of the look of the van, but Katie is less convinced than I am that we should keep this thing. I nearly successfully convinced her to give it some more time and that it would grow on us. A week late I spent a couple hours replacing the brake line that ran from the ABS unit to the back left and right tires. Not a terrible job. ~$60 in parts.

Then I noticed that one of the instrument panel lights kept flashing on and the radiator had sprung a leak and seemed to be overheating. I poured some StopLeak into the radiator and took it on a 20 minute drive to let the stop leak seal the gap. The overheating was definitely caused by the cooling fan not working, but I couldn't justify the $250 to replace the fan. Besides, as long as you kept moving, the wind itself would cool down the car as it blew through the radiator.

On a drive the next day with Katie and Isaiah in tow, I said we needed to swing by the church so I could turn on some stage lights and projectors for a funeral that was set to take place in an hour (visitation currently going on). I was dressed less than formally in shorts and a T-shirt and it was nearly Isaiah's nap time. Apparently it took me 10 more minutes than I wagered I would take and since I left the van running, it continued to heat up. I came outside just as the van reached the boiling point (aka steam started pouring out from under the hood and Katie and Isaiah quickly evacuated the vehicle).
So now here I am, in shorts and a T-shirt standing in front of a steaming minivan that is leaking green fluid all over the entrance where people dressed in their best outfits are passing by to visit the mourning family. Great.

Thinking quickly, I called the AAA tow company and told them of my predicament. They said they would have a driver there within the hour. I sent an already sleepy Isaiah and Katie off with some church friends who gratefully dropped them off at TireDiscounters to pick up our reliable car. I spent the next 30 minutes trying to wash the antifreeze from underneath the canopied entrance into a nearby storm drain (which is totally good for the environment, I've been told) so that no more funeral guests would have to traipse through my mess.

A tow, a new radiator, and a new fuse for the broken fan later, and I decided that it was no longer worth keeping this van.

Which brings us to today, the 1 year anniversary of selling the van on a cold cold morning for a fraction of what I paid for it. All said and done I think I lost $1000 being stupid.


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