We were finally able to replace our “never-say-die” Dodge Grand Caravan. The trusty, old Caravan has been a great blessing to us. Back in 2006 while living in San Jose, our family had just one vehicle, a 1990 Audi 80 (which can seat five people). Another home-school family learned of our situation and gave us this Caravan which they weren’t using. Although it has now logged nearly 190,000 miles, the engine and transmission have not given us any major problems.
The van is now 20 years old…and it’s starting to show. For instance, we no longer use the two front doors (driver’s and passenger’s) because they are very hard to close (due to bent hinges). (We could use them in an emergency to exit the vehicle.) The sliding door is finicky and requires a special “touch” to get it to latch. And the rear hatch can’t be opened from the inside.
The roof of the Caravan is severely rusted. So much so that rain will leak in above the driver’s seat. So whenever rain is in the forecast, we will cover the front roof of the van along with the front windshield with a tarp (held down by four bricks).
Our Caravan had become, by all accounts, quite ugly. Some of the children (Nicole, Jason, and Sarah) would sometimes need to drive for work. No one wanted to take the van…the “embarrassment” factor was too great. However the ones going to college (Justin, Jason, Sarah, Joanna, and Victoria) would often need to take the van to school. They commented that they never saw any worse-looking vehicle in the campus parking lot. (On the plus side, we never worried about the van getting stolen.)
Because the registration and smog inspection for the Caravan were coming due in March 2014, we started looking for a replacement minivan back in January. Initially we were hoping to find something for under $3,000. But then we realized that the only vans in that price range were either being sold by curbstoners or they had over 100,000 miles. (See this post by Tim about Curbstoning.)
Since we didn’t want to buy a maintenance nightmare, we gradually (and reluctantly) increased the amount that we would be willing to spend. But we still weren’t finding anything. So our $4,000 limit gave way to $5,000 which then became $6,000. Eventually we were searching for vehicles up to $8,000. Although we felt uncomfortable spending that amount of money, we convinced ourselves that we needed to spend that much to find something of good quality and reliable.
We started out searching on craigslist.org. But we found it hard to find anything good. We’d spend probably half of our time weeding out the curbstoners. Seems like all of the “good” deals were actually deals that were “too-good-to-be-true.” On the rare occasion that we see good vehicle that looked legitimate, it would either be too far away or it would be sold very quickly.
So we started also looking at autotrader.com. Although the vehicles tended to be a priced a little higher than craigslist, we figured that the better quality of listings was worth it. We also started looking at listings by auto dealers.
We found a 2000 Nissan Quest listed by a dealer for $4,900. It was cherry red and had just under 100,000 miles. We were encouraged that the dealer said that we could take it to a mechanic for a third-party inspection. The vehicle had been owned by only one owner. With the exterior and interior of the minivan in excellent condition, we hoped that the owner took similar care of the engine and transmission.
Jeri (along with Elizabeth and Josiah) stopped by the dealership and took the van to a mechanic about 10 minutes away from the dealer. The mechanic’s report wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t great. It looked like a fair amount of maintenance would be needed in the next six months (including replacing the timing belt). So we weren’t convinced that we should move ahead on the purchase.
As February gave way to March, the intensity of our searching would vary. Oftentimes we would get weary of first spending the time and *energy* to find a vehicle and then spending the time and *money* to get a vehicle inspected. Because we now had only a few weeks to find a replacement, we considered getting the Caravan smogged and then registering it for another year.
This past Sunday, Tim was at his computer and wanted to take a break from his work. So he clicked a bookmark to check Craigslist once again. Surprise! A new listing that had been posted the day before showed up. A 2005 Kia Sedona with low miles at a fair price and located close by! The text of the listing sounded legitimate…we had seen so many curbstoners’ listings that we could often spot them. So Tim sent an e-mail asking for more info.
It turns out that he was the first to respond. Tim called the phone number and setup a time to look at the vehicle the next day (Monday). The vehicle was located very close to a bus stop on the bus route that Tim regularly takes. How convenient! Jeri would meet Tim at the location after work. John (who was selling the van) called Tim during the day to confirm the appointment…he said that he had a few other interested parties.
Tim and Jeri arrived at nearly the same time. They met John who showed them the vehicle. John mentioned that a guy from Riverside had called multiple times and offered to come with cash to buy the vehicle. John wanted to give us a first crack since we had inquired first. Also Tim sounded calm while this other guy sounded a bit pushy.
Tim quickly commented on the Calvary Chapel t-shirt that John was wearing. And soon we realized that we were all believers. That gave us a confidence that this might be the vehicle for us. We really liked the van. We shared stories of faith as we took a test drive. We came back to John’s place (which was nicely decorated with items featuring Scriptures) and met his wife, Lillian. We gave him a $200 down payment and made arrangements to get the van inspected the next day. John concluded our meeting with a prayer.
Once home, Tim logged the service records into a spreadsheet that tracked the dates, mileage, and service/repairs. We were encouraged to see that the maintenance was kept up.
Then on Tuesday (the next day), Jeri picked up the minivan and drove it to our mechanic in Huntington Beach. Much to our delight, our mechanics (who had previously discouraged us from buying a “beautiful” Volvo wagon) gave the Sedona a clean bill of health. There were a few items (namely spark plug wires) that needed attention but nothing serious.
So Tim coordinated with John and met him at a Chase bank after work (close to the same bus stop near John’s house). The paperwork was completed and Tim gave John a cashier’s check. John then drove Tim to Huntington Beach so he could retrieve a few personal items from the van. Tim paid for the inspection (and smog check) and then drove the van home.
We are relieved that we’ve finally found a minivan. Not just any minivan, but one that is in very good condition and that should last for a while. The kids call it our “luxury” vehicle. We are very grateful that the Lord answers prayer and worked it all out.