Monday, June 25, 2012

The ManVan

My Mom once told me that another in the long list of things you give up as a parent is the right to get that car you "want." She assured me that when the kids are older, there's a chance that I'll have a shot at that dream car again, but you never know.

I have friends who would say that I've owned a lot of vehicles. They might be right, but it really doesn't feel that way. I've had 4 total vehicles at 32 years old. 3 of the 4 were used.

My first car was a 1990 Dodge Shadow. It had a ton of miles, no air conditioning (in Florida), and the interior was really rough. I loved that car. It was probably that first car brainwash, but there really was something about it for me. Between help from my Dad and those crazy Pizza Hut paychecks I was getting, it turned into something I was proud to drive around.

The second car originally belonged to my sister. I took her 1996 Honda Civic hatchback, and she traded in the Shadow for her newest ride. I never quite settled into it. It was a great car, and I really can't say enough positive things about Honda vehicles, but the trade occurred at a time when I needed a bit more space. I was playing guitar in my high school's jazz band and between my guitar, giant amplifier, clarinet(that's right, I can trill like a badass), percussion stuff, and school books...well I tested out every cubic inch of possible storage that's for sure. I wasn't sad to see it go.

Third on the list will always get me a little choked up. My glorious Honda CR-V. The way I see it, there's two ways to shop for a vehicle. You can shop for the looks, which seems to end with that familiar buyer's remorse, or you can buy for needs. I think if you get a vehicle that has everything you need, you'll end up happier for a longer period of time. This of course extends the length you'll own your vehicle before getting bored with it. I never got tired of the CR-V, but it did get tired of running. After almost 12 years of fighting the good fight, it just couldn't keep going without the need for some heavier repairs. I'll put it this way, the trade in value of it by the end, mostly due to high mileage, was almost the same as the cost to fix it.

Which brings me to September of last year, and that's 2011 for you future mega-fans who are going back through the posting history.

We took a trip to Medford, Oregon. A very beautiful 10 hour drive in which we'd be transporting the following: Wife, Boys, my Mom, Me, luggage to cover 5 people for 4 days including lots of diaper related gear, additional fancy clothes for the wedding/dress rehearsal, double stroller, AND since I was doing the wedding cake I had an arsenal of mixers and decorating supplies. Now you might look at that list and say to yourself, "I wonder if he made little premixes of the cakes so he didn't have to buy everything in a town he wasn't familiar with." Well I did, and I'm happy to never try to bake/decorate a cake out of state ever again. I spent so much of the time feeling stressed that I don't know if I really said much of a "congratulations" to the bride and groom.

*pause for you to do a whiny impersonation of me in your head*

On the other hand, the minivan we rented to accommodate ourselves and what seemed like enough random items to fill an IKEA, was simply amazing...and less embarrassing to drive than you might think.

So this is sort of a review, and a story that lead me to the purchase of the ManVan. I am not being paid for my opinions on this vehicle and I was not asked by any person from any car companies to give a review, but here it is anyway.


I've honestly liked minivans since I was very young. From the perspective of a little kid, there's just something really cool about having enough room to have little adventures in your own little world (while being safely buckled into your seat...I always wore a seat belt *wink*). On longer family trips the back seat was used as a bed for my siblings and I, in sort of a rotation system. There was always room for everyone to bring just about everything they owned, and yet somehow you still had access to at least two cup-holders. Minivans are a magical land, not unlike a T.A.R.D.I.S. (you're welcome, Dr. Who fans), in that they are bigger on the inside then you can believe.

Of course, the way the minivan handled or comfort to the driver; anything that might be important to the person who owned the van was never something I gave any interest. I could lay down in the back row with 5 sodas and the biggest walkman the world had ever seen, jamming out to The Boys, what did I care if the driver had no lumbar support?

When we first hopped into the rental, I was very impressed. I guess I really hadn't been in a minivan in quite some time, and without really taking note of changes being made in the minivan world over the years, I was pleasently surprised at how nice it was. It was a 2012 Chrysler Town and Country, and it was in about as perfect shape as you could ever hope for from a rental company. The first thing I noticed was that the interior space didn't feel like it had changed drastically over the years, but don't mistake that for a criticism, you'll have all the space you could ever ask for in a minivan. The second thing I noticed was that, thanks in no small part to the amazing technology we have nowadays, everything was very high tech. Touch-screen radio with navigation, power everything, and dual-zone air conditioning at the front that worked by specific temperature! Not that crappy blue to red zone junk that you can never get to just the right setting. There was also rear A/C controls for people in the back, as well as a special lighting strip down the middle of the ceiling to be used at night for that perfect little touch of light. It looked like the kind of lighting people would have installed in a limo. For the people up front, there was a total of 6 cup-holders, though two were designed to be accessible by the middle row of seats. The driver's seat had a 6 way electric adjustable setting, to get yourself as cozy as possible. Tons of controls at your fingertips, but not so many as to clutter the steering wheel. Then, my favorite part - "Stow 'n Go" seating. If you are not familiar with it, go here. What an amazing addition of space to something that really doesn't have any issues with space! 3 total power outlets, one of which was an actual plug (!!!) which was designated to the DVD player for the kids..0

Other, quicker things: The ride was...okay, and so was the feel of that power to weight ratio trying desperately to get the van going. The thing is, if you're looking for a vehicle that has enough storage for a small house and drives like a sports car...I can't help you, and I doubt anyone else can either. The looks have improved vastly over the models of my childhood, and perhaps most importantly, you can find 1-2 year old models that are incredibly priced. Lastly, the middle "Stow 'n Go" panels feel very flimsy as you walk on them. They seem to support people's weight as they step on them, just fine even, I'm just saying be sure to avoid using them as a trampoline. Kid proof? If there is a type of vehicle that tries to think of kids first, it is a minivan. I can't imagine how much time we spent in our rental throughout the trip, but by the end it would have taken nothing more then a good vacuuming to get the interior looking amazing. Gas mileage? Averaged between 30-34 in a minivan carrying more stuff than most moving vans. I was sold.

Within three months of our trip to Oregon, I purchased the ManVan. A 2010 Town and Country, with a little less on the features, but otherwise the same.

So. Minivans are stylish. They have all the tech gear we can't seem to live without. There's roughly enough space to store the Grand Canyon, and there are vans that fit any budget. Especially if you are willing to check out even the most slightly used models. So leave the stigma at home because quite frankly, if you have young kids, a minivan is about the best decision you can make for your family.

Want my shopping rundown? Here it is:

Honda Odyssey - Nicest. Most Comfortable. Great Interior/Storage. Crazy Expensive. If money was no object I would have bought one in a second.

Chrysler Town and Country - Same storage as the Honda, but a little less luxury in the interior. Very comfortable and affordable. (Great used selection available from various rental companies)

Dodge Caravan - It's literally a Town and Country that doesn't have that "fancy" "wood" trim on the dashboard or on the doors. Little less on the price than the Town and Country. (Also lots of used available - had a tendency to be beat up a bit more or perhaps just show it easier)

Nissan Quest - Very pricey again, but not as bad as the Honda. Very comfortable, and had the best seating area for those in the back, which sadly killed a lot of the storage that the others had.

Chevy Uplander - Felt cramped in the back (and we are very short people), and very little storage capacity compared to the vans with "Stow 'n Go" however, by far the most affordable. They are not made anymore, so there are only used models around, but the most interesting was that some are 4 wheel drive. Nice feature for those of us who face the occasional ice-covered road or even a little dirt on the way to that perfect camping spot.

This year we took the kids from Idaho to Florida and back in the ManVan. I'd find it hard to name another type of vehicle that would have provided us with the ability to take that type of trip and get home with some level of sanity. I never thought I'd end up driving the vehicle that seems to scream, "We are parents! We have given up trying to be cool!" All the same, we are very happy to be minivan owners, and I'll be very happy to someday not be one as well.

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