You say you’d like to borrow our van?

I have long been meaning to write a post about our van, which may sound odd.  It comes with a warning, however: if you view a vehicle as a status symnbol, this may irritate you at best or even offend.  Oh well.  I’m OK with that.   You may have noticed that we don’t drive new vehicles. At first, I will admit that driving an older car embarrassed my prideful self, but I’ve come to appreciate the quirkiness of our vehicles. To be honest, though, the automobile industry seems to have a thing against families of eight since eight-passenger vans are hard to come by. The market seems to jump from thetrendy seven-passenger straight to the church bus models. It’s difficult to find a used van with not too few seats and not too many. Thankfully my resourceful husband enjoys a challenge and likes to think outside the box–and the dealership. So, when searching for a high-quality used van, we are always faced with the decision to go all Duggar-like or squish four growing children into the backseat with three seat belts between them?

Hold on, put your phone down. You don’t have to call social services on us. We love our kids AND we follow the law. Amazingly, you can still do that these days!

It’s good to know that there are a few eight-passenger vans out there, after all. We’ve had two of them, in fact. The one we own now came to us after Todd went to an auto auction two summers ago with his friend. “Just going to check it out,” was the official press release I got from my husband. Little did I know that the translation of that is actually “I’m coming home with two vehicles.” Come again?

Todd purchased not one, but two that evening. He must have gotten swept up in the excitement of bidding and couldn’t help himself. At first, I will admit that I wondered if he was trying to go for the true redneck look and thought maybe we could have one of those veee-hickles up on blocks before the week’s end. How little my husband must think I think of him. Of COURSE he had a plan, and that plan involved Craigslist. Within 11 days of buying the van and the SUV, he had sold the SUV on Craigslist and paid for the van. What a guy. Did I mention that he’s resourceful?

We had the van checked out and it was my surprising that it needed some work. It would have been foolish to think otherwise when buying a ten year old van at an auction. Most of it, however was minor and easily taken care of. What remains can only be described as “character adding.” Since its purchase more than two years ago, it has added many miles (can’t say ‘countless’ thanks to that new-gambled instrument called an odometer!), and a few more characteristics that are important to note should you ever borrow the Tighe van….

1. The stereo and radio work fine, but the display does not. No lights on the display at all. This makes for a difficult time to well, tell the time should a driver or passenger ever be away from another timepiece. Slight irritation, yes, but not earth-shattering. What is more aggrevating, however, is that no one can tell what station or track we’re actually listening to. Skipping ahead requires patience and memorization on CDs. On the bright side, when perusing through the channels, you never know what’s going to come up. Sometimes that means skipping certain channels very quickly… By far, the most archaic part of the sound system is the inability to plug in an iPod to play whatever music we want. (One should have something to work towards, though, right?)

2. One of the first things that went out on the van after the initial round of repairs was the air conditioner. It was fine for the first nine months or so (six of them winter months, happily) but shortly before going on our annual family vacation in May we noticed it getting warmer and warmer. Todd had planned to recharge the unit right before we left for North Carolina, which he did. Alas, it did not help. At that point–the night before leaving–it was a tad too late to have it fixed.

We made it through the trip just fine and actually went through the entire summer without air conditioning in the van. It wasn’t always pretty (and neither were we after taking any kind of summer drive) and it wasn’t always comfortable, but we made it. The kids thought we were surely torturing them at times, but we looked at it as character building. They’d always be able to talk about “The Summer of 2011” to their children, and how “in their day” we forced them to sit in the third row of an un-air conditioned vehicle. Perhaps as they grow old it will balloon into “having to hang their heads out of the windows just to breathe fresh air.”

At the beginning of this spring, we broke down and had the AC repaired. It was hilariously inexpensive, which made us wonder why we hadn’t done it the previous summer and made our kids want to strangle us. (Did I mention how enjoyable parenting can be?) if you borrow our van, the AC should be working. As far as I know……

3. This has a direct connection to the AC issue. Soon after it was restored to working order, the windows in the driver and passenger side doors mysteriously stopped working. Thankfully, the two did not occur simultaneously (although the reader night argue that had the windows stopped rolling down, it would have accelerated the AC repair. Come to whatever conclusion you wish about that.) In any case, should you drive the van today, you may or may not succeed in getting those windows to “roll” down. And if you try, proceed with caution: once down, they may not roll back up.

4. The first time we drove the “new to us” van around the neighborhood, Todd proudly announced, “And it even came with a full tank of gas!” Before he said that, when it was in Park, I noticed that the gas gauge was vacillating between full and half full–until it was put into Drive, at which point it went up and stayed at Full. Huh. It was a Christmas miracle! That van seemed to use almost no gas, and the gauge never moved! That is, until one random day it suddenly bottomed out from completely full to almost empty. Without warning. Well….that would certainly explain it: the fuel gauge was busted. So in addition to not knowing what we were listening to, we had a somewhat vague knowledge of how much gas was actually in the tank. Not to worry, though. On the overhead display there a handy dandy “fuel used” gauge that we found was accurate within 2-3 gallons. After running out of gas when I was a new driver back in high school and having to call my dad to come get me, I vowed never to run out of gas again. I must say I’ve come to within a drop or two of breaking that promise, but I’ve sort of changed my tune. It’s rather exciting to see just how close I can get to running out before pulling into the gas station.

This summer, as I was just able to drive again after the worst part of my back pain, I dropped the kids off at musical practice one morning and turned back to come home. Without warning (and really, do you get warnings for things like this?) the van lost power. I do not respond well in situations like these. I am not what you would call a level-headed thinker. Somehow I managed to pull into a driveway off of the main road (steering without power steering was great for my back, I’m sure.) and called Todd. I’m sure you can imagine how thrilled he was. He could hardly contain himself! Thankfully he was able to come over and assess. What he discovered was that, yes, it was not running. Goody! After that, he decided that he’d have to push the van across the street into the lawn of the church until he could arrange for someone to come get it. All I had to do, he explained, was make sure it went where it needed to go. (Again, did I mention how I don’t like these scenarios?) With only a tiny bit of harangue, he successfully deposited in the lawn where it had to remain overnight. Right in front of the church. Where anyone who knew us knew that was our van sitting on display like a museum piece–or something like that. Add it to the memory book that around 3:30 that morning, Todd got a call from a Lexington police officer, asking him if he realized his car was in the front yard of a church. You can’t make this stuff up.

This story ends with the good news that we can now tell exactly how much has is in the tank. We learned that it was an expensive accessory, that fuel pump.

5. If you borrow our van, you’ll be happy to know that the muffler isn’t loud anymore. For a while there (when the AC didn’t work but the windows did) it was difficult to carry on a conversation or listen to mystery music thanks to the cacophony created by the muffler not living up to its name. Perhaps above all other minor flaws of the vehicle, the rumbling of the engine was the most difficult for me to overlook. With six kids, it’s unreasonable to think we can arrive without a certain level of noise. I just don’t want it to be because of my obnoxious van. Like I said, for now ts been fixed.

6. The windshield wipers have this weird habit of staying in the upright position even when turned off (if they feel like it) instead of tucking back into the windshield as they were designed. We can’t find a rhyme or reason for why they sometimes go down and other times do not. If you see us driving down the road and it looks like our wipers are pretending to be a football ref signaling “IT’S GOOOOOOOOD!!!!!” go ahead and think it. But also realize that I’m trying to outsmart them by flipping the switch on and off repeatedly, and with increasingly threatening language (which doesn’t work.)

7. If you drive at night, you can have one front running light and the opposite headlight in working order to help you see and navigate. Not both. How many lights does one van need anyway? The brake lights work. Let’s not get greedy.

8. Do NOT, under ANY circumstances, OPEN THE SLIDING DOOR BEHIND THE DRIVER’S SIDE!!! Ask Andrew why that is. If you fail to heed this warning, you may literally have a sliding door on your hands. Again, ask Andrew.

I’m almost certain this is not an exhaustive list. In fact, since I still have to drive home from Richmond later tonight, there may be new and exciting qualities to report on this character-rich vehicle. It should, however, get you started if you choose to borrow it and take it for a ride. It runs well and definitely gets us from point A to point B. And since we long ago decided to invest our wealth in children instead of cars, it’s never been a decision we’ve regretted. Because it’s paid for, it allows us to save our pennies for all those broken bones and teeth. It seems like a fantastic trade off, if you ask me.

Now….where did I put my keys…?

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