Buying a Van

Well, we’re now the happy owners of a Toyota Sienna. We bought it on Monday. A lot of factors combined to get us to this decision… but overall, I think it was a good decision.

Factor 1: having a reliable primary vehicle

Heather’s car was a 10-year old Honda Civic. It was actually relatively low mileage (only 125K), but it was showing some wear. Our only other vehicle is my truck, and it’s 16 years old. I’m definitely of the mindset to drive a car into the ground, but especially for long trips, it’s nice to have one that we don’t have to have any concerns about whether or not it will make the trip with no problems. My truck is actually doing well… but I’d be uncomfortable driving it on a several hundred mile trip. For around town stuff, it’s just fine, and I plan on driving it until it really becomes too much trouble to keep it running.

Factor 2: we’ll be doing more driving

Another factor is that it looks like we’ll be doing more driving in the future. In the past, the economics of travelling favored flying most of the time. Although marginally more expensive for two people to fly somewhere then to drive, when you throw in the time involved, flying made a lot of sense. Unfortunately, this year, so many things are changing. Plane tickets have doubled in price (by the time you throw in all the extra charges that are being charged, it may be more than that). And in December, Elizabeth turns 2, and at that point, we have to buy a ticket for her. So, flying this Christmas would cost 6 times what it cost last Christmas! Unfortunately, that shifts the economics strongly towards driving. Add in the advantages of not dealing with the severe luggage restrictions that you now face, not having to deal with the TSA rules, not having to get a rental car, etc., and it becomes quite compelling to drive. We’ll save almost $1000 by driving this Christmas instead of flying.

Note to Airline companies: I’m sure that I’m not the only one to have figured out these economics! Yes, I’d rather fly. It’s faster. But there are so many forces involved which make the costs outweigh the benefits. So many of those forces are beyond your control (the price of gas, the incredibly annoying procedures involved in getting past security, etc.), that you REALLY need to pay attention to the ones that you DO control. Your prices need to rise to offset the gas… but don’t turn around and nickle and dime us with hidden costs that make it impossible to calculate the true cost of flying. Don’t skimp on the costs that really are irrelevant (removing snacks which weigh virtually nothing, not letting people choose where they sit, raising fees to change tickets, etc.). Yes you can make it appear as if flying were “cheaper” by charging extra for these things… but when you get right down to it, the flying experience has gotten more and more frustrating. The airline companies need to make it more and more enjoyable (within the limitations placed on them by gas prices and regulations), and most of them are failing miserably. It doesn’t matter how much you “cut costs”. If nobody is flying… you’re losing!

Factor 3: car seats

Heather and I hope to have a second child. One car seat in a Honda Civic isn’t too bad (though it’s certainly not trivial… as Elizabeth gets bigger and bigger, it’s gotten harder getting her into the seat). Two will just be more hassle than it’s worth, not to mention that that effectively removes our ability to take anyone with us. One adult could sit in the back with the two car seats, but it wouldn’t be comfortable. The van can seat 8. That means that we can put Heather and I and two car seats in, and still take four other adults comfortably. That’s nice.

Factor 4: safety

Let’s face it. If you’re going to be in a wreck, it’s better to be in a modern van with air bags everywhere, then in a 10 year old compact car which only had air bags in front. This is definitely a case of bigger/newer is better.

Factor 5: the timing

With the end-of-year clearances (coupled with the fact that we got the van on Labor day with extra sales going on), the timing seemed to be as close to ideal as possible. We could afford it.

Anyway, I’ll probably post more as we get used to the van.