Having made it safely home last night, today’s post marks the end of our Road Trip Outtakes series, and I thought it only fitting to turn the light on the vehicle that took us 5083.1 miles in 99 hours and six minutes of road time. The only issues we had were a blown fuse for the power port while recharging a laptop—a recurring theme with this vehicle (I keep a box of spares in the glove box), and a charging system that intermittently wouldn’t (apparently fixed either by my cleaning the terminals or reseating the pigtail on the alternator).
This is actually our fourth Dodge/Chrysler minivan—we bought our first, a 1998 Dodge Caravan (short wheelbase, 3.3-liter V6) in late 1999, after the ’99s had been introduced. It was a pretty stripped down model with only basic options like A/C; we couldn’t afford much more than that at the time, but it did have the excellent 3.3-liter V6 (I had been told to avoid the 3.0 version like the plague). Our sons were about 7 and 10, and we were upgrading from a 1990 Honda Civic three-door hatch that we had simply outgrown.
We put a lot of miles on that van, traveling up and down the Eastern coast from Tampa to Jamestown. It was a very reliable vehicle, and we never had any problems, even with the electronic transmission that had already earned such a poor reputation for Chrysler.
Unfortunately, on a state highway in 2003, a woman pulled out in front of my wife. The van was totaled with about 95,000 on the odometer.
We had had such a good experience with this vehicle that we sought a similar one to replace it. We ended up with a much more-nicely equipped ’98 Grand Caravan ES with about 98K on he clock. We continued to put about 20-22K on the van annually before replacing it, in 2007. It was passed down to my eldest son, who is still driving it with over 250K miles on the odometer so far. That 3.3 V6 I mentioned is quickly earning as good a reputation as the venerable Slant Six!
When the ’98 reached 200K, my wife reminded me of my “10 years or 200,000 miles” policy for family vehicles. We went looking and ended up with a year-old 2006 Grand Caravan, traded in by an elderly couple who’d put only 5,000 miles on it. With fifth-generation Caravans already on the lot, we got a really good deal on this van, paying less than 2/3 of its cost when new.
Tragedy struck again, however: About a year into our ownership, the van took a direct lightning hit during a heavy thunderstorm and was totaled (we’re at about break-even with our insurance company at this point).
This time, finding a replacement was harder, thanks to the ongoing Cash for Clunkers program that was causing rapid fluctuations in vehicle values. Our insurance payout ended up being short of what would buy an equivalent replacement, so we had to go with a higher-mileage, year-older vehicle–the very 2005 Town & Country that just took us West and back. In fact, this van has now been from corner-to-corner in the USA, from Florida to Washington State!
I’ll insert a comment here that “cost reduction” is very evident in the fourth-generation vans—the fit and finish, material choices and styling and ergonomics scream “CHEAP!” compared to either of our previous Gen Three vans.
I got to thinking about our van(s) on this trip. When you think about it, the older cars we write about at Curbside Classic served exactly the same purpose in their day that our not-so-old minivan does now: Providing comfortable transportation for a family and their stuff, traveling on long trips and making memories, and often just running to the grocery store for some last-minute items for supper.
For my parents, my siblings and me, that car was a 1968 Ford Country Squire LTD.
For my wife and our sons, it’s been our string of minivans… and maybe one day,
after miles on the road,
and numerous memories made,
…it will be one of the Curbside Classics the next generation will write about.