Old and improved

By John Toth

My daughter decorated its windshield and melted crayons into the seat. My younger son threw up in it on our way to Disney World. It has logged thousands of miles carrying the family to thousands of places.

This is my 1995 Dodge Caravan, which also used to be called the “ghetto van.”

No more. It is now glistening in the sun. It is the old and improved van. Face lift inside and out, and all the repair work it needed. A few details still remain, but nothing major.

For years, the van looked beaten and weathered. I have written several columns about it, but did not run a photo. The paint was peeling. The body was rusting. The windshield was cracked and leaked. After a heavy rain, the inside carpet smelled like it was rotting – which it was.

Give credit to the old van, though. It never let me down. Whatever went wrong, it always got me back home.

It even caught on fire once while I was getting a warning from a police officer who did not think that I signaled a left turn. I did signal it, but smoke was coming from under the hood, and I didn’t feel like arguing with him.

It was just a warning, anyway. I signed it quickly and got home, where I grabbed a pitcher of water and put out the fire. The next day I got the power steering hose fixed. It had sprung a leak and squirted fluid on the engine block.

The master cylinder lasted long enough for me to make it to the repair shop. Then it totally locked up while they were test driving it, and the van had to be towed back to the shop.

Maybe it was pure luck, or maybe this van looked out for me. Whatever it took, it always lasted long enough to get me out of a bind. It’s almost as if it had a soul. No way. It’s just a car.

I could not give it up, so I drove it wearing sun glasses. I didn’t want anyone recognizing me behind the wheel.

“If you’re not going to get rid of it, get it fixed,” my daughter said. That’s what I was thinking.

I didn’t have the heart to junk it or trade it in. This is the van that my younger son drove when he was 14 or 15, down a long stretch of country road, freaking out each time we came to a turn. He has since gotten better.

This is the car my older son took without permission before he got his license. I thought someone had stolen it, then realized that the thief would have to be nearly blind to steal this car. I once stuck a note on the windshield saying: “The key is in the ignition.” When I returned, there was another note on it that read: “Who cares?”

And then the massive refurbishing began. When I brought it back home recently, it looked like the day I drove it off the lot.

It’s been through a lot, but now the van that my kids have known all their lives has a new life.
“Let me drive it,” my daughter asked.

You’re too tired. I’ll drive.

“No, I want to drive it,” she said.

This is the same daughter who at age four painted my windshield purple and melted the crayons into the seat. She was driving the same car that took her to all those friends’ houses and picked her up from school.

Some people thought I was crazy to sink money into this pile of junk. Just get rid of it, they said.
Easier said than done, buddy. Your kid didn’t throw up in it. I even had to stop and get some vomit-be-gone.

Oh, yes. I also got new carpeting.