Juggling Act: When it's time to hit the brakes on an old car

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
A minivan may not be your dream car but it's a great fit for many families.

Years ago a colleague predicted my future. And he saw a minivan.

Already knee-deep himself in raising young kids and carting around enough gear in his car to start a small colony, he saw what was one day down the road for me.

“Don’t worry,” he laughed. “One day, you’ll be driving around in your own minivan.”

I scoffed. A minivan? Never. I was in mid-20s. My biggest decision at that point in my life was what to do on Friday night and my next vacation spot. 

Fast forward many years and he was right. I did have a minivan. And it was exactly what I needed.

It’s funny how we can become attached to something as inanimate as a car. But it makes sense. American drivers spend an average of more than 17,600 minutes – the equivalent of 12 days – behind the wheel each year, according to a 2016 survey from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 

I never saw myself driving a minivan. What 20-something does? I wanted to drive a fun, funky Volkswagen Jetta or a Jeep, sunglasses perched on my nose and wind blowing through my hair. 

But by the time my son was born nine years ago, I had two children in diapers, a massive dog and too much gear. I barely had enough time to shower. The last thing I wanted to worry about was my car. And my Ford Focus hatchback wasn’t cutting it.

The day we visited the dealership to sign the papers for our new Town & Country in 2010 – the only vehicle that truly made sense for our family with its stow-and-go seating and built-in DVD players – I was excited about our new car but I had more immediate concerns. My husband forgot the diaper bag.

While he cradled our newborn and signed papers, I ran next door to Meijer with my then two-year-old who’d had a diaper explosion to buy diapers, wipes and clothes. It was a sign of what life would be like for the next seven years.

But our minivan rolled with the punches. It was roomy and open. It had enough nooks and crannies for toys to get lost for years. My daughter’s medical stroller fit perfectly in the back. There was ample space for our hairy 100-pound dog.

And most importantly, it made long road trips a little more comfy. When we needed to keep the kids occupied on a long trip – especially my special needs daughter – there was room for one of us to sit right next to the kids in the back, dishing out snacks and changing DVDs.

Time and miles, however, eventually took their toll. Three years ago in May the air conditioning went kaput. It would’ve cost thousands to fix it so we decided to tough it out without air. Not having air conditioning in your car is certainly a first world problem but it’s an annoying one at that. Nothing taints your mood for an entire summer than arriving to every destination hot, sweaty and annoyed.

By the time this summer approached – and after a recent spate of pricey car repairs – it was time to start car shopping. More fixes were likely down the road. As amazing as it was to not have a car payment, we needed to say goodbye.

In late June, we drove our beloved minivan one last time to a dealership in Detroit. I cleaned her thoroughly (finally finding some of those long forgotten toys) and each of us said goodbye. We’d had a really good run.

Soon, I was behind the wheel of my new car – the air conditioning blowing in my face – ready to write the next chapter in a different vehicle. And yes, it’s another minivan. I know what I like at this point in my life. And I’m OK with a minivan.