Friday, March 24, 2006

Vans across America

In the summer of 1997, we moved back to Montreal, with our California girls, Children One and Two. We didn't want to take our fleet of two Hondas.

We decided to buy a minivan and drive across the US, to make a vacation of our journey back. We found a nice 1994 Voyager, which we snapped up under circumstances I cannot relate under penalty of emotional pain.

Our route in August included highlights such as Donner Memorial State Park, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument, and the airshow at Oshkosh.

We made sure to film fields of corn in every state and province on our route, but unknown to us, the mic on our video camera had expired early on, so my witty cornfield commentary was lost to the ages.

Elvi banged up the front of the van on a concrete divider that first winter back. The replacement bumper drooped because it was crammed in with brute force rather than proper fit, although. We were never able to get it fixed.

If you know anything at all about Chrysler's Dodge/Plymouth minivans in the 1990s, you know they suffered transmission problems. Because our Plymouth Voyager was American, Chrysler chose to honour the warranty only in the US. We found a garage in Burlington to do the work. I drove it down and took the bus back. I hitched a lift down to pick it up with Judi, then the editor of Netsurfer Science. She lived in Ottawa but offered to take me. I rudely slept all the way down.

That was the second transmission. The third transmission we had to pay for ourselves, but at least we were able to use a mechanic within walking distance. That Voyager continued to have expected minor problems throughout its life with us.

My beloved father-in-law passed away suddenly a few summers ago. My mother-in-law does not have a licence, and Elvi, as the only heir who could use his compact car (I forget exactly what it was), brought it home for us to use as a second vehicle. Allow me a touching moment: the last time I spoke to my father-in-law was in that car as he drove me and some subset of my kids back from his house.

We had his car until that winter, when Elvi in low visibility drove up a concrete partition and flipped it onto its back.

The following summer, the brakes failed on the van as Elvi was driving it in for repairs, which resulted in a properly fitted bumper this time.

In 2004, we got our hands on another minivan, a hand-me-down from Elvi's sister and her family. It was a 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan. Elvi drove it back from California with Child Three and her aunt.

The second van was sneakily reliable for nearly a year. We took both vans to a birthday party for my uncle in upstate New York last summer. I drove the newer van, Elvi the older. About halfway to the border, something started rattling under the hood. I almost made it to the border, although that point didn't matter. The crankshaft had cracked, which screwed up the alignment of the cylinders, which destroyed the engine block.

Other than that, the newer van has performed adequately, although it has suffered three minor collisions. A neighbour gently dented the lower side door, as he tried to pass on the right while I was pulling right turn into our driveway. A friend rubbed a concrete pole as he pulled our borrowed van into a gas station. An anonymous gentleperson dented the fender in a minor hit and run in the parking lot during Child Three's hockey practice.

These past few weeks take the cake, however. The older van started groaning - it apparently has a cracked engine block.

How do these things happen? I'm not a car maven, but I make sure my vehicles get regular maintenance by paid professionals.

Yesterday, Elvi lost a plastic card worth $50 in gas inside the newer van's dashboard. It actually fell inside behind the cup holder. Granted, that's only $50, but it's not worth paying somebody for the time to retrieve it. Moreover, that's the least of our problems. This morning, this newer van started smoking and smelling like plastic, and finally refused to go or start.

I figure that the gas card shorted out something crucial and then melted - but that's just a hunch. The folks who get paid to figure these things out haven't yet, other than to confirm that it's an electrical problem and that something burned. We get to pay them to pull apart the car looking for the elusive malfunction.

It was the older van's demise that prompted me to blog about my vehicles. This new problem with the newer van, one that has left us without wheels and dependent on the mercy of friends, is the icing on the cake.


Blogger Naila J. said...


Well, Laurie, I think you're cursed.

Seriously. With all of those problems, there's no way it's your fault!

If you got an electrical car, you'd probably short-circut it. :|

March 25, 2006 3:23 PM  
Blogger Wily said...

You need a buddy who's a car-guy.

Lesson 1: Chryslers suck. Ok? They suck.

Lesson 2: Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth are called "Mopars." This is a profane word.

Lesson 3: Never take a gift car.

Lesson 4: If you buy a used car - the first thing you must do is to replace something on the car, by yourself. This is a spiritual rite that ensures a metaphysical bond with your new machine.

March 25, 2006 10:39 PM  
Anonymous maya said...

Look at it this way. Now you can walk to school, and to Old Orchard with us, and get drunk, and not have to worry about driving home!

March 27, 2006 3:27 PM  

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