“She served us well for thirteen years,” I thought wistfully, as my husband and I drove our 2005 Sienna minivan to the local Carmax to trade her in last week. Although her trusty engine still spun like a top, our family vehicle had too many problems to ignore. Passing another state vehicle inspection would have required a couple thousand dollars or a crooked mechanic, so we had decided to upgrade. But I’d been with her so long, I had mixed emotions.
I remembered when we bought her while stationed in Virginia Beach. She was slightly used, but sparkling white. With only eight thousand miles on her odometer, she still had that new car smell.
I tried to keep her tidy, but she was soon sprinkled with dog hair, cold french fries, fruit snacks, and Polly Pockets. Her cup holders were perpetually sticky, child car seats were strapped into back seats, and the cargo area held folding chairs, Gatorades, and smelly cleats for soccer and flag football games. Each of our carsick-prone children took turns upchucking on her upholstery. And our dog, Dinghy, once ate a dead fish on the beach and threw it up in the backseat on the way home. By the time we moved to Germany, that “new car smell” had degraded into an unpleasant sourness disguised by frequent applications of Febreeze.
She braved speedy autobahns, winding mountain passes, and former communist territories to deliver us to travel destinations all over Europe. When not on the road, she waited faithfully outside our military apartment, crusted with salt for three long winters. A subsequent tour in the searing heat of Florida cracked her dashboard, but she logged thousands more miles on her odometer during carpools, orthodontist appointments, piano lessons, vacations, football games and cross country meets.
For her last five years in Rhode Island, our minivan saw our three children through high school and off to college before giving in to age. Her headlights turned hazy yellow. Her paint became a dull, dirty white. Her dashboard warning lights stayed on; something about needing an O2 sensor. Every time it rained, water dripped from the rearview mirror. I tried stopping the leak by sealing the windshield, which only added flapping duct tape to the myriad of embarrassing blemishes. The automatic sliding door had long stopped working, and the other door was missing its handle. She had logged over 230,000 miles. It was definitely time.
We parked our Sienna in the Carmax lot, and waited at a desk for the sales associate and mechanic to inspect the minivan. As I wondered what her fate would be, I thought of my old yellow Schwinn bicycle.
It was an elementary school birthday present. Pedal brakes, cruiser handlebars, yellow painted chrome — a real classic. I knew her so well, I could steer her using only my bodyweight. I would stand on her pedals, stretch my arms out wide, and coast from the top of the hill through the curve in Chestnut Street without touching the handlebars, with the wind in my hair, listening to the cards snapping loudly on her spokes.
Even though that beloved yellow Schwinn had become my trusted friend, I eventually had to trade her in, just like the minivan.
“How much do you think we’ll get for the Swagger Wagon?” we’d asked friends.
“I guess it depends on how much gas is left in her tank,” was the best answer we got.
After speaking with the mechanics, the Carmax representative sat down at the desk and tapped numbers into a computer.
“Mr. and Mrs. Molinari, there are several significant problems with your van …” she went on with a laundry list of things we already knew, “so are willing to offer you —“ She spun the monitor around so that we could see what their algorithm had decided.
There, in bold letters on a blue screen, we read, “$400.”
We weren’t mad, we didn’t argue, we didn’t shed tears — we cracked up laughing.
We found it hilarious that our family had used up so much of that minivan’s value, she was nearly worthless. But it was also comforting to know that the memories we’d made while driving her were truly priceless.