Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Happy Birthday, Van

Last weekend we had a birthday party for Van, who reached the ripe old age of 20 years. We celebrated with a decorated cake topped with candles. We took pictures and enjoyed ice cream. But Van, who didn't have any treats and didn't blow out the candles, didn't have anything to say about the occasion.

I still recall Van's advent into our family. 20 years ago we picked up Van brand spanking new from a Ford dealership; the only vehicle we have ever bought that was built to our specifications. (It is also the last brand new vehicle we have bought, to date.)

The opportunity to acquire a sleek new 1993 Mercury Villager at an affordable price came to us thanks to the Ford Z-Plan—an employee discount incentive available through my wife's grandfather, who had retired from working in a Ford factory.

Weeks earlier when we presented the dealer with the Z-Plan paperwork, he immediately dumped all of the games that car dealerships usually play. He cut right to the chase, showed us exactly how much the vehicle and options we wanted cost, and got us on our way. He explained that he received a set percentage of the vehicle invoice returned to him in vouchers for parts. Since he was prohibited from making any extra on the sale, the sooner he could finish with us and get to another customer, the sooner he could make more money.

Having for a number of years driven a van that was built on a light truck frame, I was impressed the Van's luxury sedan-like ride and handling. In those days, Mercury Villagers were the alter ego of the Nissan Quest. They were built in the same factory using a Maxima chassis and engine. They had only cosmetic differences. The package we bought came with this ur-cool digital dashboard, that I still really like.

The only real complaint we had about Van was that its Maxima engine was designed for a sedan, rather than a van, which was built with 600 lbs more material and could haul 400 lbs more in people and gear, plus trailering. So Van lacked power when climbing hills. Still, we got a towing package and occasionally used Van to pull light loads.

During the ensuing 20 years, Van has seen a long parade of children, scouts, road trips, spilled drinks, crumbs, vomit, mud, occasional fender benders, teens learning to drive, and trips to the auto mechanic. When the trips to the auto shop became frequent and severe enough that Van's reliability was in question, we purchased a newer SUV. Van was relegated to being the vehicle driven by the teenagers. (Who call our light brown minivan "The Turdmobile" and constantly complain that the vehicle is unsafe; although, it recently passed safety inspection.)

It has been several years since we have trusted Van enough to take it more than towing distance from home. Van has mostly been used for trips to and from school and around town. We haven't bothered to repair most of the dents sustained by our teenagers. The heater and the A/C only sort of work. One power seat belt barely functions. Passengers must climb under the other one, which doesn't move at all. Anytime a power window is opened it seems questionable whether it will manage to close again. The sound of air whistling through window and door seals gets pretty loud if you get going more than 40 mph. The brakes work, although, they feel kind of iffy when the pedal is pressed.

Despite Van's age related drawbacks, we keep it around—mainly because we can't currently afford to replace it. Each family member still has many fond memories of Van. Each of our children except the first rode home from the hospital in Van two days after birth. We have shared many family trips in Van and I have taken Van on countless scouting trips.

But it is questionable how long we will be able to keep Van. The kids actually do have a point about the vehicle's safety. It's a far cry from what it once was. Van's reliability has also deteriorated noticeably in the past two years. The ownership of aging vehicles is suited to people that are mechanically inclined—a trait I did not inherit from my MacGyver-like Dad. When the day comes that Van leaves our family, I will be happy. And a little sad.

No comments: