HOME ARCHIVE 2017

The old rickety van came back to life

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

A couple of weeks ago I wrote sort of an obituary for my old green van, which has almost a quarter million miles on it.

As it turns out, the van’s death may have been slightly exaggerated.

This 1995 model Dodge Caravan, probably the only one still on the road, has had its ups and downs, but kept churning out the miles year after year. When it was time to get rid of it, I decided to keep it for memories’ sake. Plus, it could serve as an extra delivery van.

A few weeks ago the instrument cluster went blank. This could be a major problem when I try to find out what speed I am going, or how much fuel is left in the tank.

There was one light that remained on. It advised me to check the instrument panel. I did. It was dark, no sign of life.

The mechanics that have worked on the van throughout the years, whether they liked it or not, forgot to run when they saw me pulling up (Just kidding. I really like those guys). After analyzing the van’s latest predicament, their best recommendation was that I should get rid of this piece of junk and let it rest in peace.

I did the next best thing. I parked it and checked on it every now and then to see if it was still dead. I let the car rest and allow it a chance to fix itself. (This doesn’t always work.)

Meanwhile, I Googled the problem. That’s what I should have done before I took the car to the shop, because it could have saved a lot of hassles.

A week went by, and nothing had changed. But, I knew what the problem was and got a good idea from Google on how to fix it. The problem was getting around to doing it. Around my house, that takes a while. The dead van will have to take a number and wait.

On the video, the guy pulled on the instrument cluster and unscrewed it from the circuit board. Easy enough. I took electrical shop in high school in the 1970s and know how to unscrew things and then screw them back together without screwing it up.

“See where the power connections are?” asked the friendly voice on the video. “Turn the circuit board over and resolder those connections.”

That’s it? Yes. Those solder joints have cracked and need to be redone. That’s the problem, the voice reassured me. It’s very common in old Dodge vans.

Like I said, I took electrical shop in high school. I have soldered a few things together. I even have a soldering gun somewhere, but I suspect it would take less time to just buy a new one than try to find it.
The video voice even suggested just reheating the old solder and letting it melt back in place, just in case I didn’t want to waste money buying a roll of solder. I thought that was really considerate, but I’ll splurge.

So, the van was really just in a coma rather than being dead.

A few days later, I explained to a friend what the problem was and how I’ll eventually get around to fixing it.

“Let me show you,” I said, as I inserted the key into the van’s ignition and started the engine. “It just stays blank.”

“Looks good to me,” he said as we both watched the instrument panel come back to life.

“It’s alive,” I joyously shouted. “It came back from the dead.”

The broken solder joint somehow must have made a connection. There still is a problem that has to be fixed, though - eventually.

I drove the van for hours last week. Several of our readers who read the obituary were amazed to see it again, so I had to tell them the whole story. It took a while.

The old beaten-up van is back on the route, at least for now, doing what it has been for a very long time since retiring from family transportation duties.

It will be delivering papers weekly until it finally needs that new solder. Then it will be off-duty - for a while.