Grand Caravan: our personal odyssey, part 1

A comedy of errors in which we learn the hard way to never, ever, ever take a used vehicle on a cross country road trip within 48 hours of purchase.  Please, learn from our mistakes.

Years ago when our 4th child was born, we panicked.  Or rather, I panicked and my young husband indulged me.  At the time we owned 2 small cars.  They were very gas efficient but neither was big enough for our growing family.  We had to drive to church in 2 cars, and we had an upcoming cross-country trip to visit my family in Texas.  We would drive 28 hours each way, spending a total of 10 days away from home.  With our current situation we would have to drive two vehicles, making it impossible to drive for long stretches into the night.  This would never do!  We questioned whether we should even make the trip under those circumstances.

I decided that it was very important to buy a mini-van before our trip.  We didn’t have the money to do it, but since both cars were paid for we didn’t mind taking out a small loan.  That was how we had bought nearly all of our vehicles and it always worked out for us.

We quickly shopped around, looking at the vehicles that were in our very modest price range.  Time was short, and we needed to make a decision.

Just a few days before our trip, we heard about a van that my father-in-law’s friend was selling.  It was older with very high mileage but had been reliable for him.  In fact he had just taken it on a long road trip himself.  He was selling it because he was ready to update his own vehicle, and he was asking less than $3,000.  Perry was a little concerned about taking an untried vehicle on a road trip, but I was confident.  The engine and transmission had been recently replaced and had less than 50,000 miles on them, so it wasn’t really like it had over a quarter of a million miles on it.  With a solid engine and transmission, any repairs required would probably be minor.  And besides, the guy was a pastor.  What could go wrong with a deal like this?

The van was 2 hours away from us, but we asked a friend to watch the children and hopped in the car.  When we arrived, we looked over our new Grand Caravan. It had a little rust, but that was to be expected in older vehicles up north.  The interior was a little worn, but we knew our family would be hard on it anyway.  It seemed to drive very well for a vehicle with 300,000 miles, and that was the most important thing.  After all, it was Wednesday and we were taking it on the road in less than 48 hours.

We shook hands on the deal and headed home, one of us driving our car and the other in our new-to-us van.

On the way home, the brakes went out.  In retrospect, maybe this should have been a warning.

We found that the passenger side brake line had rusted through.  Oops.  We should have seen that coming in an older vehicle from the Cleveland area.  They used even more salt on the roads up there than in our part of Ohio.  The brake line was repaired the following day and we packed for our trip, preparing to leave Friday morning.

Morning arrived and the van wouldn’t start.

We were more than a little chagrined, but it was only a bad battery.  All vehicles need a new battery now and then.  This was just routine maintennance.  No worries.

The battery was quickly replaced and we were on the road in our big, roomy van, just a few hours behind schedule.  There was room for all the car seats, our luggage, some blankets and pillows, and one seat to spare.  This was luxury.  We were on our way to Texas, and we had a good feeling about this.  This van would serve us well.

Our plan was to drive all the way to Dallas, where we would stay Saturday night with relatives.  On the following morning we would drive the final 5 hours to my parents’ house in San Antonio.  Since we were behind schedule, we would have to drive through the night, but we were young.  We had done this before.  Nighttime drives were peaceful and efficient since the children would sleep.  Potty stops would be few and far between, and we knew we could make good time.

At 2AM, Perry was driving and thought the brakes felt soft, so he took the next exit, labelled Bucksnort, Tennessee.  When he tapped the brakes to slow down on the offramp, nothing happened.  He stood on the brakes and we coasted to a stop just in time to roll into the parking lot of the only gas station – the only sign of civilization – in sight.

This was bad.  This was very bad.


  1. Oh no!! Hopefully it’ll be a few years before we need a new car (when we’ll be considering a minivan), but I’m going to try to remember your story and advice when it’s time. 🙂

  2. Stephanie says:

    I feel your pain. My family had a Caravan that spent more time in the shop than the driveway. I am also very familiar with Bucksnort, TN. As a kid driving back and forth across the state to visit relatives I always got great amusement from the name. There is not much there. My other favorite town growing up was Granny Squirrel, NC. There is not much there, either.

  3. Saved Girl says:

    Don’t worry. She said on Facebook that this is a scheduled series of posts. So we won’t have to wait for the end of the media fast. 🙂

  4. Oh my goodness! This sounds like the start of quite an adventure. Reading this brings back memories of road trips my family took when I was a child. I can’t wait to see the next installment. 🙂

  5. This is very, very bad! Now I have to wait to April to find out how you survived! (And whether or not you had friends, relatives or friends of friends in Bucksnort). Oh. my. goodness.

  6. Don’t tell me this, Kim! We just bought a used caravan thanks to the arrival of our fourth child.

  7. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    !! How can you post part (1) of a story right before you go off on a monthlong break!

  8. I had to giggle as I read this….I feel your pain! I feel your pain. Its because of an experience like this that we no longer do private sales…no matter who they are. Can’t wait to read the rest.

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