With 4 children, my Mom, my Husband and I, we can fill up our little van pretty quickly. It gets tight in there sometimes, and we have to pass up going places just because there is no more room in the van. We have a Mazda MPV-- we bought it when I was pregnant with Evelyn. Used to drive a Jeep Cherokee and I loved that thing-- but after babysitting 2 toddlers and putting their car seats in the jeep, I realized that it was going to be tight, so we decided to trade it in for a van.
Anyone familiar with the Mazda MPV knows that it's a mini mini-van. It has served us well for 2 kids, even 3 kids, but with 4 kids and their things, it gets stuffed. And now that Mom comes along with us, we are shoving 3 kids in the 3rd row and Peter gets to stay in his car seat next to Grandma. Had I known back in 2001 when we bought the van that we would have 4 kids and Mom would move in with us, we probably would have bought something bigger.
We've been searching for a larger van for a while now, weighing pros and cons of going larger: pros- more room; cons- more gas; versus keeping our old van: pros- paid for; cons- costly engine repairs. We go back and forth but the biggest deciding factor is money. Or lack of it, anyway. Don't have money to fix the van, don't have money to buy a van. ~sigh~
We could swing car payments if we really tightened the belts and with my extreme coupon shopping habits, we are left with a little more money at the end of every month than before. It's a question of: Do we really want to do that?
Another question: How big do we go? We've been looking at Ford E-150 passenger vans. Boy those are hard to come across in the used car searches. After talking with people, we found that people hold on to these vans, which makes sense to me-- these big vans are bought with a set purpose in mind, like large families or sports teams or church groups and those purposes don't usually change for a good long time.
After one slipped through our fingers last summer, when another E-150 popped up on carmax, we called up right away to check it out. Sunday, we went to take a look at it, give it a test drive and talk business with the Man. I don't know, maybe it's me, but I hate being in places where salespeople circle like vultures and I'm afraid to say anything in front of them for fear they'll pounce on what I say and twist it to make it sound right. I'll tell you though, carmax is efficient. Their system is take the van for a test drive and while you're gone, they'll appraise your old van, so by the time we got back, everything was good to go.
They had a playroom for the kids (nice!), so Mom stayed behind with the kids and Andrew and I took the new van for a spin. He drove first and because the salesman was in the van with us, I felt a little bit stifled-- I didn't feel free to fiddle around with the dash or turn around and "practice" yelling at the imaginary kids back there. My turn to drive and I don't like how there's a rubber strip-thingy right next to the tiny accelerator and every time I stepped on the gas to go, my foot got caught on the rubber strip. Made me uncomfortable. I know it's also a matter of adjusting to a new car and deleting old habits from the old van, but still... it didn't feel safe to me.
Another thing about the E-150, it was very high-- that would make it harder for my Mom to get in and out of. I had her get in it before we took it out for a test drive and I worried she was going to fall. And for all the extra space we'd get in the van, it was tight in the front. Hardly any floor space for the front seat passenger and I'm not a small girl-- I'm tall with long legs and I like to be able to stretch them out, I wouldn't be able to do that in that van. The seat was back as far as it would go and there just wasn't any space for my feet.
After we got back, the salesman had the results of the appraisal for our old van and I was very disappointed at the amount. Not even close to what I expected and at that price, trade-in value would barely make a dent in the purchase price of the new van. It was easy to say "no", but we should have asked the guy to leave the room and give us a few moments to talk, because we had some tense moments on the way home before we figured out what was bothering each other. We drove a long way to see the van, and had high hopes we would be driving a new (to us) van home. Plus, the kids were really vocal in their disappointment and that just rubbed more salt in the wound.
I'm not sorry we didn't get the van. We are still on the look-out for another van, but maybe this time, a full size mini-van instead of the big, super-sized vans. It won't be a whole lot of extra space, but compared to our little van, it'll be more comfortable and won't be so hard on the wallet with the cost of gas compared to a larger full-sized van. We can't afford to keep pouring money into the old van if it won't stay fixed and I'd like to try and sell it before it gets any older and loses more value.
The one good thing about the appraisal by carmax, was they told us our van is in good condition, good engine and good interior (with 4 kids?!? that's a surprise!), so we should be able to get a nice amount for it, just not what carmax offered. Their offer was so low because the van had been in an accident and the frame was cracked and repaired. Carmax will not sell cars with major repairs like that, since it compromises their integrity to sell "like-new cars". So, we'll take the van elsewhere to sell, and then find another van to purchase. That's the plan anyway.
Any recommendations for vans?? I'd love to hear from people who have 4 kids and what they drive. We're looking at the Honda Odyssey as the best bet so far.