Regular readers will know that I’m a schoolteacher, and as such I enjoy multiple, almost random days off, sprinkled generously throughout the academic year (not to mention the three best reasons to teach: June, July, and August). We enjoyed one such break this past weekend—a glorious, four-day weekend dubbed “Winter Break,” in honor (no doubt) of Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day, all rolled into one big excuse to stay home.
It was, by all accounts, a meteorologically dreary weekend, with rain that started sometime Friday and lasting through the duration, but it was nevertheless enjoyable. I took in my first movie in the theaters in months, and managed to get a number of miscellaneous items completed (as I’ve always got some side hustles going, I was able to dedicate some time to them, though I still need to work on editing my collection of Inspector Gerard stories).
Besides seeing friends and loved ones, though, I try to use these days to take care of routine maintenance—on the house, on my cars, whatever the case might be. Lately I’ve been borderline fanatical about organization, particularly keeping my desk at home tidy, various writing utensils and calendars at the ready when needed.
This weekend, though, I dedicated several hours to reviving my long lost love: my busted up 2006 Dodge Caravan.
My Dodge Caravan is a simple vehicle that served, for many years, a simple purpose: moving my doughy body from Point A to Point B, occasionally with musical equipment stowed in back. It’s made numerous moves for various people, myself included, and I essentially moved everything I own to Lamar in 2018 in the back of that van (albeit, to be clear, in multiple trips).
When I purchased my 2017 Nissan Versa Note SV at the beginning of January 2020, I couldn’t stand to part with the old girl. She’d served me well for too many miles (around 227,668, to be exact), and I figured it would be worth it to keep around for “hauling stuff,” as I told friends. 2020 didn’t see much hauling of anything, unfortunately, and I shamefully left the van sitting dormant for too long.
The predictable happened: the battery died. My girlfriend and I managed to get it jumped off with the help of a neighbor last June, but the battery died at the end of the street. My neighbor—God bless him!—helped rig my van up to his truck (using yet another neighbor’s rope) and he dragged the car back to my house. He then lent me his battery charger, which got the van moving again… until I shamefully left it sitting yet again for eight months!
After consulting with my brothers, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase a new battery for the forlorn minivan taking up a solid third of my dilapidated storage shed-cum-car port. Fortunately, Rakuten was offering an insane 10% cashback on purchases made from Advance Auto Parts, and I’d racked up some Speed Perks coupons, so I managed to pick up a battery and a battery tender for around $100.
After the dude from Advance Auto dropped off my goods (improbably, they offer free same-day delivery to my home, even though I live in the boonies), I found an old adjustable wrench the previous homeowner left in my mudroom and managed to get the old battery out and the new one in with no trouble. The van cranked right up, and I went joyriding around town listening to classic rock.
Miraculously, the van is running well enough, even after sitting with a half-tank of gas for over a year—and no oil change! I checked the oil level and it’s actually a bit higher than it should be. I was very pleased with the van’s performance after sitting dormant for so long, and was surprised at how fun it is to drive it again.
Yes—you read that correctly: I had fun driving a minivan.
The van still has one major flaw, though, that necessitated my purchase of a newer vehicle last year: a misfiring cylinder. My younger brother and I did a good bit of work (truth be told, he did most of it while I held tools for him) on identifying the cylinder, replacing the ignition coils, replacing the spark plugs, etc., but the van was still getting the misfiring code. Fortunately, the misfire only occurs at idle. That makes for a stinky experience in traffic—fuel and/or oil begins to burn off, and the engine will “buck” due to the misfire—but otherwise it runs fine. My brother suspects the fuel injector for that cylinder needs replacing—it’s the last plausible thing we can think of to try—and I have the part; I just need to get it to a mechanic to install.
If that doesn’t solve it, well, the van’s still good for “hauling stuff.” It’s remarkable that an American automobile that is fifteen-years old is still running at nearly a quarter-million miles. Apparently, the 2.4-liter engine in those Dodges are much sought-after for their reliability. Who knew?
Mechanical issues aside, I spent a good chunk of the late morning and early afternoon Monday cleaning the van out. It had gotten bad. It’s startling how much Nature takes its course when something just sits still. There was some surface mold beginning to grow on some seats, and the inside was dirty and dusty. After several hours with my vacuum cleaner, disinfectant wipes, and various sprays, I managed to clean out the van, including miscellaneous junk that had been sitting in there for the last few years: CDs, an old pair of glasses, pens, key rings, a wallet (empty)—even a necklace from some girl I apparently took out a few times years ago!
The outside is still filthy, but the van is ready to serve again. The battery tender will make sure that it maintains a charge during those extended periods when I don’t drive it. Seeing as my main vehicle is a subcompact hatchback—and taxes and insurance on the van amount to maybe $300-400 a year in total—it’s worth keeping around for larger loads.
I’ve gone very long on this admittedly self-indulgent post, but working on and cleaning out the van was supremely satisfying. The swig of Diet Pepsi I took after finishing the lengthy cleaning process was all-the-artificially-sweeter for the effort that went into it. The experience also reminded me of the importance of regular maintenance, and that it’s way cheaper and more effective to put in a little bit of time and effort now than a great deal more later.
One final note: I truly do love that old van. During the nearly-fourteen years I drove it regularly, I became one with that vehicle. Ayn Rand was a crank who wrote a bunch of crazy stuff, but one scene from The Fountainhead that really stuck out to me was when Dominique Francon was driving a sports car. Rand described the merging of driver and automobile, of flesh and steel, the latter an extension of the former. Yes, I know it’s silly—it’s a minivan!—but that’s how I felt driving that van.
It’s good to have that feeling again.
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