Sunday, September 21, 2008

Some tricks and Our car shopping trip

Let me start with, we had SUCH a good time yesterday!  The kids were exceptionally good- not without difficulties here and there, but overall I couldn't have wished it to go better as far as they are concerned, and we all know what a day OUT with NO SCHEDULE can do to a child... some people would go so far to say that a child with Down syndrome thrives on a schedule more than a typical child even, but I shopped with four ANGELS yesterday and I'm so blessed to have children that can behave so well in public.

I'll let you in on a few of my 'tricks' at the same time which I, unfortunately, forget to share but some are the difference between a great trip and a really BAD one... Of course, some of these things work for me because my little ones are all similar sizes...

  • I pack a cooler (or in this case 2 cooler-lunchboxes) with prepared bottles, a milk cup for Brianna, and a juice or gatorade for Kristopher so if we're in the car and they need something I can just pop it out and give it to them
  • I pack a gallon ziplock with "healthy" snacks such as peanut butter crackers, graham cackers, yogurt covered raisins, cereal bars, fruit snacks, etc. so even if it's somewhat close to a meal time if the kids are hungry they can have something that I don't mind if it ruins their appetite a little... it just becomes "part of" the next meal
  • I keep one extra set of clothes that will fit any of my 3 little ones in the diaper bag (which, by the way, is now my backpack I bought to go to Ukraine which I use gallon size baggies to separate things out inside it!).  That way I don't have to pack for 3 and yet I always have it available for whomever needs it.  Just a big onesie at the moment.
  • I keep extra water, pediasure, formula powder (even tho they're off of formula, it's not bad in an emergency!) and babyfood along with 2 empty bottles on me at all times!  This way if our trip goes long (which it did) then I can easily mix up another bottle for each of the little ones, give Brianna the pediasure (or Emma if I can get real milk for Brianna), and I don't have to scramble home or to a grocery store to buy things for the kids that I had at home.  Kristopher will drink the rest of the water after I make bottles too.
  • I bring pajamas with me for all of the kids and at our last destination we do a diaper change and put on PJ's so that when we go home everyone can go straight to bed since they'll likely be asleep in the car anyway. 

Ok, so those aren't completely wonderful and original, but they make our outings SO MUCH easier and they make coming home better too because no one's starving, everyone's ready for bed, and everyone's had plenty to eat during the day.

All right... on to the cars...

We went with an idea of what we want from this next car.  7-8 seatbelts and the ability to put the wheelchair (assembled) as well as the 3-seater stroller (folded) into it at the same time as 7-8 seatbelts are being used. 

We tried out a few different cars.  We started in East Orlando and basically looked through the list of Suburbans, Navigators, Expeditions, and other large passenger cars that are "family cars."  Before leaving the house we'd decided that our dream of a 9 passenger van was going to be next to impossible to find because they just aren't made that often so it's hard to find one used.  Mike had opened up Craig's List and found a place called Mullinax Ford in Apopka (a WHILE away from us, on the other side of Orlando...) and they seemed to have several Econoline vans.  Those are the 12 passenger type vans you see churches using to bus around wild teenagers to take them to camp or the water park...  We only have 6 people.  Do we REALLY need a 12 passenger?

We went anyway and were glad we did.  The dealership had an Expedition EL which is for Extended Length and although it had a nice size trunk, it didn't fit the wheelchair and stroller both in the trunk together without taking the wheelchair apart.  Also, if we end up with a different wheelchair and the need for a ramp with that vehicle we'd have very few options and would inevitably lose seating, making it too small.  It was a 7 passenger with captain's seats in the second row.

We also looked at the 12 passenger variety of vans there.  They had both an E-150 and an E-350.  When we asked what the difference was (other than about $1750) we were told that it was mostly in One suspension spring (I think...) and towing capacity.  Neither van had a tow package... and we don't plan on towing (at the moment) so that's not a big deal.  The other difference was that in the interior an E-150 has 3 rows of seating, 2,3 and 3.  So it seats 8 people and has a huge trunk.  There aren't any latches or anything to later add a bench in the trunk, it's meant just for storage.  The E-350 has 12 seats, 2, 3, 3, and 4.  Both vans had LATCH capabilities in the center of the first two bench seats.  That's good that at least TWO carseats could go in with LATCH.  It's SO MUCH EASIER than regular seatbelts are especially if we swap the carseat between cars or grandparents borrow one, etc. 

The vans at this place were both 2008, they both had approx 13,000 miles on them, and we were SURPRISED (in a good way) by their price tags.  The E-150 was $16,000 and the E-350 was $17750.  WOW!  (For comparison, the Expedition EL would be $24+K if we could find one used.)  We also asked about gas mileage and all three vehicles have the same engine and similar weights so they would all get the same gas mileage.

Here's the E-350 that we test drove, it has 12 passenger capacity (though for the most part we'd remove the 4th bench to have it seat 8 and just have the 4th row available when we need it-- two man job to get it in and out but it's not that difficult, just heavy).


From there we drove around a bit and then went to Car Max.  We found they had a "12 passenger" van as well but it was a 2002.  The kicker was that it had only 28,000 miles on it.  It looked brand new still other than the older style body and it sat lower to the ground and seemed a bit more "cozy" inside.  The down side is that it has only 3 rows of seating as well and the second row is 2 captain's chairs.  That makes it have seating available for only 7 with a huge trunk.  Plus, it's 6 years older and who knows how it's been serviced all that time since it obviously wasn't being driven much.  And lastly, it was made before they put all the stabilizers on the vans to keep them from rolling as easily, and the safety factor is a big one for us.  We drove it, we liked it ok, but we decided that it's not a great fit for our family.  The nice part was the price tag, just under $11,000.  So if you're looking for a hauling vehicle with 7 seats... that'd be a good one!

So there we have it, we're trying to get an insurance quote on Monday and have been playing around online to figure out how we'd like to finance it and what amount of our savings will be going directly into this van.  Mike will be driving the Venture and we're going to sell his car for a whopping $500 to (we hope) my brother.  He needs a vehicle cheap, we have a vehicle which holds no value to us because we don't want to pay for repairs... there ya go...

Now... Anyone drive a van this size?  Any recommendations, cautions, or thoughts you'd like to throw out to us?  There are two on the lot- identical except color- and we're not in a huge hurry to run and get it today.  In fact, it's Sunday and tomorrow will be a day to get financing and insurance info and Mike has class, Tuesday is our family's appointment for church pictures, so it'll likely be Wednesday before we would drive back over... if at that time we decide that this is really the best thing for us right now and everything works out to finance AND there's still one available.

Any thoughts??


  1. This isn't about the car post, but about the wheel chair modification. Someone invented large circle things that attach to the outside of the wheel- with a picture on them- like a big smiley face- I think these will help keep E's fingers out of the wheel- and, maybe you can put one on the inside of the wheel closest to her, if she puts her fingers in the wheels from that side as well. I don't know what they are called or where to find them, tho.
    Good luck!

  2. We have this same van and have had it for years. The E-350. It's a monster to drive but once used to it, it's okay. Gas will cost you a fortune so be prepared. Oh, and parking it is not the best. It is tough. You'll have to "shop" around for spots. Good news is inthe hospitals, they have oversized spots so we fit right in. Keep in mind, w/ the Ford Vans(same as we have), they are notarious for alignment problems. Just keep on top of it. We have put very little money into repairs for ours. Good luck. It is a great van for the useage it will get. Good luck.

    Stephanie--mom to 7 special kiddos!!!

  3. Meredith,
    We, ok by we I mean *I*, drive the 15 passenger van, but the Chevy! We chose it because we could take out the back seat and make it 11 passenger. Now, we have 5 (waiting on the 6th) s/n kids and 3 with wheelchairs. Or I use strollers, depending on the outing and even a combination!! ;-) It works great having the back seat out. We can get all our stuff in there with no problem. We have 7 (waiting on the 8th) kids at home, so we needed the bigger van. I don't get great gas milage, but, we chose to adopt and wanted a BIG family, so that is just how it is...along with the dreaded grocery bill. LOL My husband has a smaller car, so if I can run errands when he is home, I will do that, too...occasionally.
    I don't think we will go back for a smaller van for a VERY long time! We need the space and the kids are great in it!! They have soooo much room!!!
    Good Luck on your decision ;-)

  4. We had a 15 passenger van awhile back when there were 11 of us home at once. We had 2 wheelchairs plus the rest of us plus plenty of room. They are great! But they are definitely a little more challenging to park. It was easy to drive, though.

  5. Sorry, no help on the van question. But, I KNEW you had to be doing something yesterday since there weren't any blog updates when I checked. :) I was glad to read it was car shopping and nothing bad.

  6. I would recommend you also look at Chevy or GMC vans, too. My husband is a master automotive technician and works on them all. The Ford engines tend to blow head gaskets and have manifold leaks. The GM series of larger vans get better gas mileage, too.

  7. I drive a van similar in size to this for work but it has a hydraulic wheelchair lift on it. You have to learn to use the side mirrors a lot more. The stopping/starting time is obviously more. The other thing you might want to think about for when Emma is older if she continues to need a wheelchair is the Braun Corporation. You can get minivans that have a ramp or lift for loading wheelchairs and then a back row of seats for the other kiddos. There are also companies that will convert a regular minivan to a van with a ramp and tie-downs for a chair. My work does this with three Ford minivans.

  8. My next-door neighbors have the E350. They have 5 kids, one in a wheelchair. (though he's in a seat in the van, and the chair is folded.) Not only do they have 5 kids, but they ALWAYS have extra kids with them from youth group, etc. along with them. I know it was important to them to have the space the needed for their own PLUS a friend or two as their kids got older. Their kids are now 18, 16, 13, 9 (not that long out of the carseat) and 5 (still in the carseat) they LOVE their van, and have PLENTY of room for their entire family to do road trips in it, which they do all the time. (the oldest is on a traveling wheelchair basketball team.)

  9. my best friend is one of 7 siblings, plus 4 adults living in the house, so they have a 15-passenger van. larger than what you're looking at, but still, she says that they've had VERY few problems and that it's actually easier to maintain the larger van. they've experimented with different vehicles over the years, and they have the standard Ford van and are very pleased. they can't be replacing cars often with that many people, plus getting a huge house to keep everyone living comfortably in, and this van has been good for them. very easy to drive & maintain and not a lot of repairs. trustworthy, too. so i'm guessing that if you go with a similar Ford van - even it's basically one bench less - it would be the same idea.

  10. I drive a 15 pass Chevy 3500. It is great! We normally keep the back seat out so I have room for groceries and the stroller. My favorite thing about the van is being able to store the stroller without folding it up! My least favorite thing is that I have to hop up into the back to put the baby in his carseat - well, at least when my teenagers are not with me! The gas milage is better than I expected, @15 mpg. Also, I have a couple of very noisy children and I can send them to sit in the very back.

    You should definitely, at least, look at the Chevy model. Best wishes!

  11. Oh, by the'll get used to driving a big van if you choose one. Parking is not as bad as it seems and I can even parallel park mine!

  12. I learned how to drive in a 12 passenger Ford Clubwagon. I'm the oldest of 8 kids. It was red, and we called it "Clifford, the big red van." After learning to drive that thing, I can drive anything!! I don't have any shopping stresses me out! I like it when it's all said and done!

  13. Hi there, Meredith! :)

    We are currently van shopping, too, since we plan on having a 6th child in the near future and that means we will be outgrowing our minivan.

    The only choices out there that fulfill our needs of 8 or more passengers + lots of cargo room and not needing to fold down seats to get to 3rd row seating are as follows:

    1. Ford E-series
    2. Chevy Express, I think they're now called?
    3. Dodge Sprinter

    Safety is another big factor for me, and so I was also looking for driver/passenger airbags, lap AND shoulder belts in as many of the seats as possible, low risk of rollovers, increased traction control, and headrests on all seats.

    What I found out is that 15-passenger vans aren't as safe as 10 or 12-passenger ones b/c the extra length significantly increases the risk of rollovers. I also discovered that Chevy vans have a better overall safety record than Ford, although they may have improved in the most recent models. More recent models are also more likely to have more lap/shoulder belts in the inner bench seats, which is important to me -- lap belts only are really dangerous in an accident, especially for children now old enough to sit without a booster/carseat. :(

    Ultimately, though, I discovered that the only one of the three vehicles that had all the features I wanted -- airbags, traction control to prevent rollovers, headrests and shoulder/lap belts on all seats, large cargo area in back, handles more like a car than a truck, easier to park and turn around, gets 20 mpg or more (diesel engine), and has a rubber floor that can be hosed off, fabulous idea -- was the Dodge Sprinter.

    Unfortunately, it's also by far the most expensive of the van options. :( However, we're looking at used models, which makes it a bit more affordable ($25K versus $45K new). You can see them best on ebay motors; I haven't found that many in our local market, so I went searching for them there.

    Good luck on the van hunting and I hope you find something that works well for you!

    Kind regards,
    Kristin (Guinevere on downsyn)

  14. i dont know much about vans but i have an expedition and love it!!!

  15. I read the last comment...the Dodge Sprinter is nice! They are expensive though, and hard to find when used. The other problem we thought of is that they are tall (you can stand up inside), so they won't fit in a typical garage.
    You know me...I would love to have a passenger van and I am encouraged that you found some used vans nearby. I say, "Go for it!"

  16. My only experience is the "youth trip" 15 passanger van. I drive a few times a summer. This last year we actually had 4 of them, filled with teenager to go to a weeks long youth camp :) The only thing I had to get used to the first time was parking and backing up. When parking I usually park wayyy out there, so that I dont have to back up. With your handicapped parking permit, that should give you more room! Enjoy van shopping!

  17. We have a e-150 conversion van- but only seats 7 (2,2,3). It takes a little while to get used to driving but it is easy after you learn to relay on your mirrors! It has tons of room compared to mini vans. The big tv is a huge plus! Parking is not that bad but you just have to leave room for the 'barn' style doors to open (if that is what yours will have). I have seen vans with doors on both sides instead of just the one. That would be nice too. Gas for mine is about 15 MPG and the tank holds 35 or so gallons (be prepared for a heart attack when you fill it up!). Another downer is it does not fit in the garage. Ours as the tall top so it's to tall for the garage. If yours is tall then you will also have to be on look out for drive thru and parking garages clearances. It does drive very mice though. Good luck choosing!!