Minivans, rental cars and a two-by-four promise

August 21, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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Eight years ago this fall, we decided to buy a minivan. Dan and I were slightly horrified when we began to consider taking this drastic step, coming from decades of Subarus with only a couple of exceptions. Of course, Chloe being ten and Rachel six at the time, they were delirious with excitement at the prospect of a new car, even if it turned out to be a new old car. We knew we were facing at least ten, probably closer to twelve, more years of carpools and field trips, and we hoped at the time to have some family road trips ahead of us also. So we swallowed our pride, compromised our pre-parenthood-era values, started the tedious and mind numbing process of car shopping, and ended up with a Mazda MPV, getting a deal on a 2002 model at the end of that year. It’s beige, by the way. (Aren’t they all?) After we figured out how to find it in a parking lot, we became accustomed (or at least resigned) to our new identities as minivan owners.

The carpools and field trips turned out to be accurate predictions. The family road trips? Once a year we drive 70 miles to the south for a dance competition. Kidding aside, we have taken only two substantial trips in the minivan. Flying almost always ended up the preferred choice for two self-employed parents who missed out on too much income by taking the time to drive.

I do not know why, but when it came time to figure out how to get Chloe to college, we all pretty much assumed we would drive there. She will be taking a lot of living stuff, like bedding, towels, suitcases of clothes, jackets, boots, books, lamp, electric fan, wastebasket, etc. Plus she has her violin and her guitar. We figured we could ship most of it and fly, but there was something kind of – I don’t know – quintessential? – about taking to the highway to get to college. I figure if all three of us pictured it that way, it was probably meant to be. Rachel doesn’t really care either way, since she will be staying in town with a school friend.

Dan and I had planned to take the car in for an oil change and general road-trip check, thinking one week ahead would be about right. However, last weekend, as we were driving to my mother’s house for a farewell dinner, the “check engine” light came on. The car was driving fine, so we made it to our dinner and back home, and Dan took it to our mechanic, Gary, the next morning. It turned out to be the PCV valve. (That’s Positive Crankcase Ventilation, in case you care.) Commonplace, we were told, no big deal. And while they had the car there, they changed the oil and checked everything else, to their satisfaction. We had it home later in the day. Whew! We all expressed our relief that that had happened while we were still at home. Except I have to admit that it planted a teeny tiny little seed of discomfort in my mind, like a nagging itch. That night before I went to bed I sat down briefly at the computer and visited the Travelocity site, oh soooo casually. Rental cars, mostly. Also Amtrak, just to check. Dan took a little extra time to come to bed that night. When he came in he just mentioned that he found one really good deal on a Hertz full-size car. We agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to reserve it.

Two days later Rachel and I were on our way to the dentist when the “check engine” light came back on. (I hate that seemingly benign little symbol in the dashboard – in an anemic shade of orange, no less.) We phoned Dan, who made another appointment with Gary. This time it turned out to be an oxygen sensor. Rather than replace the part, Gary suggested we just clean out the fuel injectors. His car guys poured a special potion into the tank, instructed Dan to get a half-tank of gas, and then to fill it with gas when it got down to a quarter-tank. The “check engine” light was off when the car came back home. Gary said we will eventually have to have a new sensor put in, but that in the meantime there is nothing to worry about.

That evening, only to explore a little further, Dan and I returned to the Hertz website. We discovered that we could find an even better deal on a mid-size at another location in town. It began to sound very attractive to us to rent a car. This would save our van from the wear and tear. It would feel less risky to drive a newer car. Maybe the gas mileage would be better. Surely a mid-size or standard car would hold all of the stuff Chloe is hauling with her. And think how comfortable and quiet the trip would be! We basked in a newly found sense of security and well-being. We planned when we would pick it up and turn it back in. This could work!

To add the proverbial fuel to our fire (so to speak) that detestable little warning light came back on the next day. Trying to remain reasonable, Dan pointed out that we had only driven a little bit with the cleaner swimming in its warm bath of gasoline, and the fuel injectors were probably still a little clogged. And we talked about how once the little warning light comes on, it won’t go off unless the mechanic clears the car computer, even if the injectors are completely cleared out, and really, this is a minor problem. Creating an artificial deadline for ourselves, (probably just to be done with it) we sat down to make the official decision about the rental car. Chloe confessed that she loves our minivan and really, really wants to make the drive to college in it. We pointed out to each other that any car could break down on a road trip. Renting a newer car is no guarantee. The minivan is as comfortable to ride in as any car can be for a long trip, and it has both a cassette player and a CD player. And the clincher: Gary said the car is totally fine, we can take it on the highway with his blessing, AND if we do have any trouble on the road, I have his permission “to hit him upside the head with a two-by-four when we get home.” It’s not a guarantee, of course, but it’s pretty close to one. (Not that I like hitting people. Or that I could lift the two-by-four high enough to use it in such an untraditional manner. It’s just the intent of it that is supposed to reassure me, and I hear the heartfelt caring behind the words. After all, Gary has kids of his own. And he has an art gallery in the front of his car repair shop, for goodness sake.) And if Chloe wants to hold on to anything from home as long as she can, and all other things are declared equal, so be it. It was decided. The Mazda is going to college. And then Dan and I will drive it back home together. Together alone, but that’s another post.

The “check engine” light came on, stayed on for a day, and then went off all by itself.

Yesterday Dan went to the tire place to have the tires checked and rotated. It turned out the tread was just a little too thin. So several hours and 497 dollars later, our minivan now has a new set of “shoes”. Dinner was pretty late, as it was apparently very busy at the tire place. Maybe lots of other people are leaving for college next week, too. Though I would bet their PCV valves and oxygen sensors are just fine. Just saying.

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2 Comments »

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  1. Aloha!

    You are a very excellent writer and I enjoyed reading your blog.

    Thanks!
    Helen

    • Thank you, Helen! I am so pleased that you like it! Thanks for taking the time to check it out.

      All the best to you,
      Carla


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