Back when we crossed the line from Large Family to What Were They Thinking with the birth of our 4th child, we upgraded from an econo-car to a minivan. A few years later when we learned that we were expecting our 6th child and officially crossed into Crazy People Territory, we sold the minivan and bought an old Suburban. We lived up north at the time and it was 10 years old, so it wore a skirt of rust around the bottom, but it had three bench seats and drove like a dream. With room for seven children, we were set for a few more years.
But those years passed quickly, and before we knew it we were out of seats again. Number 8 was on the way, putting our near-future headcount at 10 in a vehicle designed to seat 9. It was time for the big move.
We thought briefly about a 12 passenger van, but we knew that there was almost zero cargo space behind that back bench. It would be a challenge just to accomplish a weekly grocery trip with the kids in tow. How would we ever make a road trip? Prices and gas efficiency were nearly the same whether we chose a 12 or 15 passenger van. Our choice was clear: with a 15 passenger van, we could take out one bench, giving us the seats we needed and the cargo space to make this vehicle practical for the needs of a family the size of ours.
So we bought a 15 passenger van on Ebay. That may sound a little crazy, but we put more stock in Ebay feedback than in a salesman’s handshake. This was a brick & mortar dealer 250 miles from us, with a solid online reputation. Ebay feedback is hard to fake, and his buyers were happy. We got a great deal on a van that has served us well for many years, so we’re happy too.
But now that van is 18 years old with over 200,000 miles on it. It was rough inside when we bought it, and the years haven’t been kind to it. Who am I fooling? We haven’t been kind to it. The seats are ripped. The back doors won’t open. There was never carpet, and some of the inside body panels were missing when we bought it. The a/c needs work – in San Antonio this is serious – and there are a few other issues as well. And the gas mileage is terrible. We might as well be driving a bus.
What to do? We have talked over at least 3 options:
1. We could put some money into our current van. It would cost more than its current market value to make it comfortable, but it has proven solid and reliable over the years. Maybe we should stick with the vehicle we know.
2. We could sell it and buy a newer, nicer van. It wouldn’t have to be expensive to be a significant improvement over our current ride. Would we be buying someone else’s problem? Maybe. That’s always a risk you take with a used vehicle, but what if our own engine blew up next week?
3. We could sell our big van and one small car, and buy two minivans instead. We now have three drivers and will probably have a fourth soon, so this could be a very practical solution. It would create some limits – one adult could not transport all the children alone, so if two adults are missing the family is grounded. But it would also create more options. Two minivans would use roughly the same amount of gas as our big van, so we would use the same amount of gas to move the entire family – but we could move 7 people without firing up the gas guzzler. Right now if we go in different directions, we use the gas in the big van PLUS the gas in a small car. Two minivans would save gas in that case. If we all went to the same place, we could leave at the same time OR one of us could take the little ones home early.
The third idea is intriguing, and I would love to know if anyone does this. I’m a little nervous about the limitations imposed by not owning a vehicle big enough to hold our family, but I think the added freedom and flexibility would outweigh the occasional inconvenience.
What does your big family drive? What would you like to drive? What do you think your family should drive?