Friday, September 17, 2010

Minivans Forever

In my last post, I wrote about the first two cars I owned. The first one was an old, massive beater that got horrible gas mileage. The next was a frill-free Japanese hatchback that got great gas mileage. It was a fine vehicle for what it was. But even though I was single at the time, the car was often too small for my duties as a scouting leader. I started lusting after more commodious vehicles.

About that time, the minivan arrived on the scene and was making big waves throughout the automotive industry. I started shopping around and eventually decided that I kind of liked the Chevy Astro van. There were drawbacks, to be sure. It cost a lot more than my Mazda. I’d be going back to rear-wheel-drive. And friends warned me to stay away from brand new models for the first couple of years until the kinks got worked out.

But a better job, an opportunity, a heavy handed salesman, and an inexperienced young adult all combined with the result that I drove home a new medium blue Astro van one early summer evening. I was dumb enough to fall for the PremaPlate and a worthless extended warranty scams. Due to the van’s safety rating, my insurance premium remained the same, although; the thing cost nearly three-times what the Mazda GLC I was giving up had cost.

The problems started right away. The Astro model I got was really a cargo van with windows. It had no seats, air conditioning, or cruise control. When the salesman arranged for seats to be installed, I didn’t realize that they would be plush aftermarket models instead of the basic factory type. I quickly discovered that I would have preferred the factory seats. The seats could fold flat, but they only held in place if the stars aligned and you held your tongue the right way. The plush seats were so thick that they left almost zero room for storage behind the rear seat.

The aftermarket cruise control and air conditioning that were installed never did work as well as original equipment would have. That experience left such a bad taste in my mouth that I have avoided adding aftermarket equipment to any of my vehicles, with the exception of mud flaps and runner bars.

The inability to open any of the rear cabin windows of the van presented a problem with ventilation. The A/C system only blew from the dashboard. It was totally inadequate for people riding in the rear of the vehicle. The engine bell housing intruded too far into the cabin. The front passenger had very little foot room. The engine was so tight in the compartment that working on it was a nightmare.

Despite the problems with the Astro van, I paid it off early and kept it for over seven years. It was a reliable vehicle that worked for me as I married and we started to have kids. But it could also reliably make me cuss.

I gratefully sold the Astro when an opportunity arose to buy a brand new higher end Mercury Villager minivan at factory invoice price. We had to order the thing from the factory and had to wait nearly two months for it to be built and shipped. But it was an amazingly luxurious vehicle compared to what we had been used to.

Our two-tone medium/dark brown van drove like a luxury sedan instead of like a truck. The front-wheel-drive immediately offered advantages to the Astro van. Although, we did find that it was kind of sluggish going up steeper grades. We were also once again saddled with a car payment, but as usual, we worked to pay it off quickly.

The Villager’s rear cabin had tinted windows and boasted its own stereo and climate control system. There was at least some storage room behind the rear seat. Not only could the seats fold flat, the middle ones could be removed and the rear one could be slid up so that you could fit sheets of plywood in the back if necessary.

The new van sported a digital dashboard that I still like better than the dashboard of any other vehicle I have owned. The engine was out front so that the housing didn’t hog cabin space. Working on the engine was a breeze compared to the Astro, but it wasn’t that big of a deal because the Nissan-made engine turned out to require little maintenance.

Our Mercury Villager is now more than 17½ years old. Despite my best efforts to keep it tuned up, its gas mileage has decreased by several miles per gallon over the years. The thing now always drives sluggishly and we no longer trust it to go more than 100 miles from our home. It has become the domain of our teenage drivers. But the thing still works adequately for the uses to which it is put. It has provided us with many years of decent service.

Next time: Sedan Parade

1 comment:

MainTour said...

Half of our ward - including myself - owns Honda Odysseys.

It has got to be the perfect LDS minivac.

It hauls the family to church in sunday and carrys all of my gear for boyscout campouts and during the week the Mrs uses it for shopping.

Otherwise I use an economy car to commute to work.