Once upon a time, we went shopping for our first new car. It needed to be a commute-friendly urban go-cart with room for a car seat one day in the distant so distant oh my god future. In the end, we were wholly convinced by the Honda Fit; not only did it meet those requirements but the brochure relied upon a llama to showcase interior seating space, which put it head and shoulders above the Matrix.

Five years and two giant car seats later, we were stuck in traffic for nine hours. You know you’ve been in a car too long when the prospect of feeding your kid her first (rejected) chicken nuggets outweighs putting up with preschooler feet hammering your beleaguered kidneys for one second longer.

We had been discussing a new vehicle off and on for a year, even going so far as to mention it to our financial planner, but that cinched the deal. It’s not just road trips: between driving to base, errands, doctor appointments for Maggie and her preschool in the hinterlands of Yorkshire, I live in that car.

Tom did what he normally does when I go on a tear and maintained a face of studious disinterest when the subject of minivans came up. After reviewing our options for overseas military sales, we had it down to the Volvo XC-90 and the Ford Flex. The Volvo is lovely. Luxurious. The sort of car made for moms of two who like a little style in their otherwise diaper-sandbagged existence.

The Flex…I lack the ability to improve upon another blogger’s words, which is that it looks like a space toaster. But we had once ridden in that silly box, and the interior was phenomenal. It also had more car seat configuration options for LATCH and a wider third row. It was the little space toaster that could.

Now, my grandfather, may he rest, was a deal maker. I suspect he ended up with more than a few items he didn’t really need in search of sweet, sweet negotiated bliss.

I have about half of that instinct, so I practiced Tom’s studied disinterest face when I got a quote from the base dealer. Under budget, ’twas our toaster to be, and Tom (never one to rush commitment, except with his spinning-hamster-wheel-minded bride) agreed that, pending a test drive during our vacation in the summer, by this time next year I would have a new car: a plush, carseat-friendly living room on wheels.

And then…I shot myself in the toaster-operating hand.

Thanks to the transient nature of our lifestyle, there’s a booming business in private older car sales on base amongst employees, and Tom’s coworker–a father of four–is looking for a buyer for their seven-year-old compact Mazda minivan. And unbidden, the voice of the dealmaker rose up in me:

“Ask him how much he wants for the van.”

Why? WHY DID I DO THAT?! I was eleven months away from my burly Detroit breedermobile. Tom, who suddenly hears “van” when the price is right, warmed immediately to the idea of a “perfectly practical” car for roughly 1/8 the price.

Now, we haven’t agreed to buy it, but we are going to look at it soon. I can’t deny that it really is a very sensible, affordable solution. But the Flex has heated seats and memory card readers so you can load music into the car computer and I can get bright red. This van is the antithesis of flashy red, but the idea of small living on a practical scale is more consistent with our values. Who gets a car payment just for heated seats?


So I will report back on the final decision: Flex, used van, or nothing. That is, if I have not taped my mouth shut and put myself in timeout so I can think about what I’ve done.


One thought on “Overdrive

  1. A minivans is incredibly practical. It’s easy to get in and out of, has lots of passenger and cargo space (at the same time, which is a limitation of many third-row SUVs), is usually a reasonable consumer of fossil fuel…but it means you’re driving a minivan! With the amount of time we spend in our car, to me it’s worth 7/8 of the price to not be cranky every time I have to get in a goddam minivan. Which is why I drive a Highlander Hybrid.

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