Repair & Maintenance: Exercises In Practicality For An Aging Van That Is Approaching Yard Ornament Status

For those who have been hanging out around here for a while, it’s no secret I have had a long-term love/hate relationship with this Ford van.  Perhaps one of its positives is providing a periodic well of usefulness for writing an article when I have no street finds to share.

I’ve recently been suffering from mild and frightful urges to actually like this stupid thing.  Maybe seeing it withering beneath two ailing elm trees is part of the reason, much like people feel sorry for a dog after they’ve kicked it in the gut a handful of times.

On this I’ll take Scarlett O’Hara’s advice and think about that later.

But what couldn’t be thought about later in regard to this old dog was how my little voice was screaming at me.

We don’t drive this rig much, having driven it 2,000 miles in the past year, roughly 1,400 the year before that, and 700 miles each of the two prior years.  Our keeping it is a convoluted thing, but suffice it to say having a 2000 Ford conversion van is like getting a tattoo on your forehead – it’s easy to acquire, but it’s a mighty long and difficult process to rid yourself of it.

In the seven years we’ve owned it, we’ve put exactly 27,000 miles on it with 16,000 being in the first year when we took it to Oregon for Mrs. Jason to see a medical specialist.  In my mind it had served its purpose at that point, but see the previous paragraph about why we still own it.

Even though I replaced the radiator hoses a while back, I’ve been hesitant to put my wife and daughter in it for any real distance.  Why?


Okay; it’s a Uniroyal Liberator tire.  So what?

Look at the date code on this tire, where it says 1408.  For those not fluent in such things, this tire, just like the other three, was produced during the fourteenth week of 2008.  In other words, it’s nearly ten years old.

For what it’s worth, the previous owner bought these Uniroyals at Wal-Mart in June 2008 and spent $373 to do so.

Various tire manufacturers recommend a seven to ten year life on tires, regardless of mileage.  So listening to that little voice inside my head, I started tire shopping.

I initially went for the “should be marked way off” category.  I live in Missouri, and where I live is thirty miles south of Columbia and Mizzou, home of the MU Tigers.  Around here the University of Alabama is just so much hot air from some distant and exotic land that knows the correct way to make sweet tea.  Regardless, even with the “Buy 3, Get 1 Free” special these Firestones Destination A/Ts were just over $500 plus tax.

No thanks.  But that was still better than another Firestone store that quoted me $617 for the same tire without the crap on the sidewalls.

To be brutally honest, I saw no need to spend a lot on tires.  It’s a vehicle we rarely drive (in case I had not mentioned that) and we’ve had some sizable expenses as late, so I was aiming for practical.

If the world were perfect, I would have put these Coopers on the thing.  But I’m not doing that for maybe 2,000 miles of use per year.

My shopping revealed I could get these Cooper Trendsetters, which is what I have on the Galaxie.  The price was better at $452.18 but I really didn’t want a passenger car tire on the van given its weight.

Plus, any whitewall would have to be mounted on the inside.

Calling around I found a set of Nexen AH-5s.  I called two stores; one in town quoted me $387.55 and a store outside town was $308.85 – for the same tire!  This difference made me realize you sometimes have to travel to save a few dollars.  After another phone call I journeyed west to California.

California, Missouri, that is.  It’s twenty miles west with a population of 4,400.

With the Nexen’s being a passenger car tire, I ruled them out.  Instead I found an off-brand tire from a store in California.  I should have thought of them earlier; it’s the same place I bought the Cooper tires for my pickup several years ago, saving about $40 each in the process.  The store is owned by Nathan and his wife Jolene; their overhead is likely substantially less than here in Jefferson City where people are proud of their property (relatively speaking) given it’s the state capital and all.

There was just one problem.  The van’s batter was kaput.  So I pulled the battery from the Galaxie and used a bungee cord to hold it in place.  Remember, I’m aiming for practical here and pretty is beside the point.

Getting the old tires off the van, my suspicions were confirmed – they had dry rot.

So what did I get?

Something I had never heard of before.  However, the price was right and the reviews were positive.  These were $343 out the door, which includes sales tax, mounting, balancing, and disposal of the old tires.  They are also intended for heavier loads.

These Milestar Grantlands are manufactured by Nankang and imported by Tireco, Incorporated.  Tireco has been around since 1972 and is based in California – the state.  Nankang has been around since 1940 and sells tires all over the world.

Frankly, getting on off-brand on the van bothers me not one iota.  So what if they could wear out in 20,000 miles (which will likely be around 2027) despite the 45,000 mile warranty?  These will likely age out before they wear out.

How are they?  This van has always wallowed around like a hog in mud but it now drives like an entirely different vehicle.  Bumps were often harsh and would sometimes cause the windows to rattle and the dashboard to make a popping noise.  That is no longer the case.  The ride is quieter and smoother, I’m no longer on ten year old tires, and I spent less than my threshold of $400.

It’s not like this is my only vehicle or I’m driving it everyday.

The Passat will get different tires next spring and I won’t be entertaining Milestars as the VW sees six times more use than the van.  Jolene quoted me a price for Cooper CS5s that is much less than I can find here in town.  So that’s all but a done deal.

Incidentally, I found the source of the van’s battery drain.  The illuminated entry on the rear side door was staying lit.  I’ve removed the bulb and the world is a sunny place once again.

It seems my streak of practicality and pragmatism has reared its considerable head.  And this insipid van is now borderline enjoyable to drive.

What is the world coming to?