Back in 2002, it was time to get a new car. The Honda Civic with 280,000 miles had served me well for 10 years, but it was getting on its last legs and needed to be replaced. So after watching the listings on the Internet for a while, I ran over to the local Carmax and traded in the Civic on a 2000 Dodge Caravan. I was a little nervous about getting a Dodge as I had experienced reliability problems in the past, but the price was right and our growing family could benefit from a minivan.
My instincts were correct, for we have had several problems over the years that we’ve had the Caravan. The most irritating recurring problem has been that it went through brakes in record time. For some reason the first time that I had a brake job done at Firestone I purchased their lifetime brake warrantee and frankly I think I profited on the deal given the number of times I have had to have brake jobs done. There have been other problems along the way, never huge but $200 here and $300 there. And, since our family can’t function with a single car, we’ve gotten to know the folks at Enterprise Rent A Car on a first name basis.
This past Monday I was driving the van home from the church with the girls when all of the sudden I noticed a strange whine.
“O crap!,” I said.
“What is it?” Grace asked.
“I think the transmission is about to quit…”
Sure enough, by the time we got home, the transmission was automatically shifting into neutral at strange times. It was clear that it was dying, and that I was looking at a major repair.
The next morning, I nursed it to Rocky and the Antioch Repair Center (a trip that was an adventure in itself!). After picking up a car from Enterprise, I got a call from Rocky a few hours later.
“Okay,” he said, “the transmission is shot and will have to be replaced. I can put in a rebuilt transmission for $2,200 or a new one for $2,700.”
“Uh…I’ll get back to you,” I choked out.
Here were the problems. First of all, $2,200 is a big hit right now and while we could have probably come up with the cash, it was going to be tough. More importantly, the book value on the van was no more than two grand and the more I thought about it, the less I could justify sinking another couple of thousand into this vehicle, especially since I would probably have to do another brake job and some engine work in the coming months. I would be better off taking that $2,000 and finding a used car in fairly good condition as a replacement.
I was running through this scenario with Kay at lunch when a friend of ours came into join us. She heard the dilemma and informed us that God had a car for us. It turns out that she had a 1987 Toyota Camry that had been given to them in a tough time that she was willing to let us use and possibly have for next to nothing. Given that I was paying $30 a day for a rental car, it was a great gift and we began to make arrangements to pick up this car.
The next day Kay was meeting with her former Senior Pastor Tom when our friend called to coordinate the arrangements for picking up the car. As Tom heard the story, he informed Kay that he had a 1993 Ford Taurus Station Wagon that he was wanting to get rid of and would sell us for $500. Kay told him that we would be picking up our friends car, but depending on what we found, we might be back in touch.
When we got to the Camry, we learned that it didn’t have 190,000 miles on it as we thought we had heard, but instead had 290,000. The body had some pretty significant rust, the tires were bare, and it had some strange things going on. We took it, for we needed something to get by, but it was clear that this was not going to be a permanent solution.
That night, after dropping Grace off at a Soulfeast reunion, I dropped by Tom’s house to see the car and give it a test drive. Even though it was a ‘93, it had right at 100,000 miles on it. It was a third car for his family going way back and had only been driven three to five thousand miles a year. Even better, it had been well maintained. I took it for a spin and it drove well, the engine was smooth, the ride was good (a bit mushy for my taste, but typical of a largish American car) and everything seemed to work. He and his wife had been planning to give it to a charity, but they were willing to sell it to us for $500.
So, last night Kay, the girls, and I loaded up in her Camry and drove to Tom’s house. We gave him a check for $500 and he gave us the keys. The girls had never seen a car like this (yes, it’s older than Grace) and were taken with the amount of room in it and the bench front seat. Later, I unfolded the rear facing jump seat in the back and Anna proclaimed that “…this is the best car EVER!”
I don’t have high expectations for this as a vehicle. I see it as something to get me through for the next couple of years until we get Kay’s car paid off and I can afford to get something a bit newer. But it’s a gift given to get us through some difficult times, and today I suppose it is indeed the best car ever.