Tag Archives: Dodge Caravan

Hey, at least it’s evenly dented!

Our 1997 Dodge Caravan had survived nearly 15 years of life with nary a scratch on its exterior. Its bright, shiny, red paint belied its age. But look inside and the picture changes a bit.

The gray upholstery and carpet are showing signs of wear and tear, as are its innards — a second transmission, third set of tires, and so many serpentine belts that we have single-handedly financed the retirement of the CEO of whatever parts company makes the belts.

Years of travel with two teenaged drivers should have produced some dings along the way, but the only major trauma during their years at home occurred when the hubs and daughter number two were returning from her job at Stratton Greenhouses. Their version of the story was “The deer just came out of nowhere, just dropped from the sky.” Said deer left the van totaled, but the good body doc fixed it up right as new.

As the girls moved on to Athens and Bowling Green, then Kent and Cincinnati, the Caravan morphed into a moving van. Still…no dents.

But, as so often is the case with cars, fate interferes.  I’ve learned not to question these things…acceptance is best.

But…sigh…there are now two rather hefty dents on each rear side panels of the van. Both show signs of having collided with something painted white. Well, hey, at least it’s evenly dented.

As I understand it, here’s how this little scenario played out.

First, while the hubs was removing the middle and rear seats from the van (preparing it for yet another moving spree), one of the seats tipped over and smacked one of the rear lights.

A few days later, wearing his Chamber CEO hat, the hubs was —  as he puts it —  working “in the line of duty,” delivering signs to the Christmas lighting contest winners. It was dark and he backed over a post holding two mailboxes.

Lest you accuse him of a federal offense (which it is), rest assured, he reported it immediately to the owners and our insurance agent.

In a burst of insight, he pointed out that his procrastination in repairing the broken rear light saved us $70 because it most certainly would have been smooshed again in the mailbox fiasco.

Perhaps a month later, the van was parked on the street in front of our house when someone backed into the other rear panel, producing the matching dent. Said offender was remorseful and offered to pay for repairs. Why bother? Then we’d have to fix both sides.

At 15 years of age and showing 156,000 miles on the odometer, Big Red is showing signs of age. Most days when we start it up, the dashboard no longer lights up. But one smack to the top of the dash, and up come the lights.

It’s cranky in the cold, squeaky in the heat. The heat only begins to blast warm air after we’ve driven an hour or so. The air conditioning? Nada.

But hey, Big Red is part of the family. We won’t put it out to pasture until Gary Kirtland and Jim Kinn pronounce it hopeless. And those big dents? Like age spots, you can try to hide them, but why bother?

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Dodging another bullet

I’ve never really understood the fascination that some people have for cars. I’ll blame this one on my parents. Unlike other families, we didn’t get a new car very often, nor did we have multiple cars….despite the fact that we had five kids.

The first car I really remember was a green and white Ford station wagon. (My brothers will probably tell me I’m completely wrong on this. They’re all older so they usually know more than me….at least I like to let them think that.) Later on, we traded that in on a brand new custom ordered Dodge station wagon. I remember our excitement as we drove to Pandora to pick it up.

Later, while I was in high school, there was a red Dodge Aspen sedan (our first), a pea green VW bug, and a Checker cab — my all time favorite. Its only drawback was that if you went over 50 mph, it began to shake. But boy, could it carry a lot of people!

My oldest brother, Phil, bought his first car in his early 20s — a Dodge Charger. I was probably just 12 or so, and once in awhile, he would take us for rides — keeping one eye on the road and another on us to make sure we didn’t do any damage.

Still as shiny as the day we bought it

My very own first car was my grandparents’ Hornet. Unremarkable. A few years later, I needed a new car, so my dad took me to visit one of his former biology students — knock-your-socks-off Tom Ahl. Tom’s dealership in Lima was considerably smaller than it is today. He sold me his wife’s mid-70s Opel Manta, a two-door gem with manual transmission that got great gas mileage.

When I married my husband, he had a classic red Pinto that guzzled oil. We sold it for $50 and gave them a can of oil. Then we bought ourselves a brand spankin’ new, fresh off the lot, burgundy two-door Monte Carlo. When you’re a young couple with no kids, two doors are great. But boy, add a car seat to the mix and you rethink your car dreams.

Lindsay and Anne and their favorite Monte

Thus began our life with the Dodge Caravan, the first of which lived for nine years. It served us well, accomodating two little girls who could pack their entire rooms into the van for a drive to Grandma’s. Then there was THE TRIP. We were driving back from Chicago on the absolutely hottest, most humid day of the decade. All was fine until the air conditioning died. You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when suddenly the cool air blowing through the vents turns warm…then warmer? It wasn’t pretty, especially when there was a typical traffic jam near Gary, Ind. The last thing you want to do there is open your windows and let the pollution filter in.

Soon after that, I think the transmission died for the second time and we traded it in on a shiny red 1997 Caravan.

It was the most comfortable car we’ve ever had. The seats in our new Prius come nowhere near the comfort of the van seats.

The van went through everything with us including two daughters mastering the fine art of driving (and parking), multiple vacations where peace reigned because each child again had her own seat on which to spread out her stuff, a traumatic collision

with a deer, and then a few years of living in Kent. According to our daughter, her grad school friends nicknamed it the “Mom van”. Last winter, it said farewell to Kent and traded places with the trusty Hyundai.

Today its odometer reads 150,000 plus miles, and happily acts as the family truck. The two bench seats have been removed to make room for whatever needs to be moved to Kent, Cincinnati, or the local dump. On a recent return trip from Cincy, though, it began to make an ominous sound that suggested a loose belt, so the drive home was slower than usual.  We were warned that if we were lucky, it would require just replacing the serpentine belt, but that it might also involve a broken thingamajig (my understanding of mechanics is lacking).

It wasn’t a question of whether we’d fix it or not…it was a question of how much it might cost. Turned out we got off easy…for this time. In the middle of the day, the girls and I got an e-mail from Fred saying “The van lives!” Phew.

Now if we can just keep it running as long as Karen and Gregg Luginbuhl’s green Caravan holds out…