Dad! This is exactly what we don’t want! This is a short, red, Caravan with no roof rack!
My father-in-law, the Ford sales associate had been looking for a good trade in to replace our faltering Windstar (COAL on that vehicle here). What we really wanted was a Grand Caravan with a roof rack for carrying canoes, hauling Christmas trees etc. Also we were tired of red vehicles, having had three in a row.
Dad had called us up and said “Hey, a good van just came in, you gotta come and see it right away if you want first dibs!” Mrs DougD had asked “Is it a good one, like we want?” to which he replied “Oh yeah it’s nice, come on down”
Well we got there and saw what it was, and we were a little deflated but Dad said “It’s two years old, it has 70,000km and I can get it to you at a great price“. We went for a test drive; it started, stopped, went around corners and had functional A/C. By the end of the test drive our inner Dutch cheapness had won out again and we signed the papers. No champagne bottles were popped, but at least we had a reliable van for the moment. If we hated it or something better came along we figured we could sell it and break even.
One of the first things we did was buy a used 8′ pop up tent trailer and take a family trip to Franconia Notch in New Hampshire. We hadn’t dared to tow with the Windstar, but the Caravan acquitted itself well. The 3.3 liter V6 had adequate-ish power for highway and hills, and the brakes were able to slow everything down on some long steep grades.
Less impressive was the interior. Hard plastics abounded, it honestly felt like you were sitting in a 1:1 scale plastic model car. The door panels were so hard it hurt to rest your elbow anywhere. Some say that hard plastics don’t matter if you never touch them, but I think hard surfaces transmit & reflect sound better. The Caravan was definitely noisier inside than the Windstar had been. Separate seats in the middle row was nice, but the lack of stow and go meant we still had to wrestle seats in and out of the van. I put my back out a couple of times doing that, we wound up mostly leaving the rear bench out in the summer. During school season we would often run the water-polo practice carpool, so the seat would stay in and I could drive around hauling six burly teenage boys with wet hair.
So what was initially envisioned as a temporary solution became the permanent solution. Although in areas that use road salt Caravans are notorious for rusty rocker panels ours did not rust, thanks to Krown rustproofing and a little trickery on my part:
One day I passed a REALLY rusty Caravan, and with the outer skin gone I saw the there was a plastic access cover on the inside shut panel. The cover was glued on, but I bought a proper rubber plug of the right size (actually a floor pan plug for an Edsel) and every couple of years I removed the plug, vacuumed out the accumulated grit, and squirted some extra Krown goo in there.
The Caravan nearly came to its end around the 200,000 km mark. I had decided to show it a little love by replacing the spark plugs. The first one came out fine, the second went snap and only the top came out. “Oh no, oh no!”
After doing some research and asking around I bought the best quality extractor set I could find, hit it with penetrating oil and borrowed my neighbour’s impact gun. With a crazy setup of extensions I was able to reach the plug, but this had no effect. On the second day of the struggle I realized that the plug necked down inside the hole. I found a steel rod of the right size, and went from gentle taps to sharp raps, to pounding on it as hard as I dared between attempts with the impact gun. Finally the gun went BRRRZZZ! and the extractor fell to the ground. Once I saw that the stub of the spark plug was attached to it I was so relieved I almost cried. So only two plugs got replaced, and it never seemed to mind having 4 old ones. I should have just left well enough alone.
Well enough was quite good, the Caravan just kept doing its job without complaint. The radiator got replaced and I had to do the alternator twice but that was pretty much it. We always got there, and significantly we always got back. Always there, always back. Even when the alternator died I was able to drive home and do the repair in my driveway, it’s the only vehicle I’ve had where there was never some sort of rescue or remote repair.
Our decision to part with the Caravan was made gradually. As it approached 300,000 km we were wondering how much longer it could possibly last with this level of reliability. Also my father-in-law was getting close to retirement, and we wanted to buy one more vehicle from him before that happened. So we put him on the case in Nov 2017, were quite picky (for a change) and bought a 2015 Grand Caravan from him in July 2018. Not red. With a roof rack.
After the annoyance of trying to sell our 2001 Focus I conceded that a 2007 Caravan with 300,000km was nearly worthless and devised a great plan to rid ourselves of it. Our son was going to do a gap year working at a young people’s camp, and they had a small fleet of older minivans to haul people and supplies around locally. So at the beginning of September 2018 our son put the snow tires and his belongings into the Caravan, drove himself north to camp, and handed over keys and ownership when he got there.
I guess that was the one trip where the Caravan got there but not back. When we visited just last week we saw our old Caravan shod with the snow tires and seemingly doing well. If I had to put money on picking my most reliable car ever I would not have picked this one, but there you go. Still getting there, and back. Well done Caravan.