Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Search for a Nannymobile

In addition to looking for a new nanny, we've been shopping for a third family car so our future nanny will have a big safe car at the house to carry four kids. The SUV I bought last year that fits three carseats in the back seat will be useless as a family car as soon as #4 arrives, so I want something to drive the kids around in too.

The car needs to have access to the third row without folding down the second row because the second row will have car seats in it. I narrowed down my search to three choices: 1) a Ford Flex; 2) a full size Chevy Express Van and 3) a Ford Expedition EL. Heather already has an Expedition EL and doesn't want another one, so I struck that off the list. I like the Flex, but it doesn't give us any utility that we don't already have with the Expedition. It's just a smaller version of what we have.

This left me with the full size van. I did my safety research and found that Chevy offers full side curtain airbags, containment glass in the back that will keep someone from being ejected in a roll-over, and stability control that helps to keep the van from rolling over in the first place. The one-ton version of the van (the 3500) is also one of the heaviest vehicles I've found without a turret and cannon on top. I am a member of the bigger-is-better camp when it comes to car safety, so that's a huge selling point for me.

I found a 12 passenger Express 3500 in town and test drove it at lunch on Friday. It drove great and I really liked it. I even took it through some sharp corners at unsafe speeds to see if I could tip it over. I was unable to tip it over, but more than able to scare the hell out of Bernie the White Knuckle Salesman.

Friday night I reported my findings to Heather and she approved of the purchase. On Saturday morning, I drove out to the dealership and asked Bernie Whiteknuckles if I could take it for the weekend. I wanted to take it home, see how the carseats fit, see how it fits in the garage, show it to Heather, and just generally see how it works into our weekend routine. Bernie was happy to let me perform the remainder of my road testing without him, and eagerly got his boss's approval for me to borrow the van for the weekend.

Here's the van in our driveway:

It has loads of room in back and the door slides easily.

The second and third row will each hold three people or two carseats, and each has two LATCH systems and tethers to secure the carseats.

The fourth row is split, so you can take out half of the fourth row, seating two people in the way-back with a lot of cargo room, or take out the whole way-back bench and haul just about anything.

As much as anyone can be in love with a big white 12 passenger van, I'm in love. It's perfect for us now, and I think it would serve our family well over the next ten years or so.

Because we have limited garage / parking area, we're going to have to keep the third car in the garage. Heather and I will park side by side (tightly) in the driveway because it just isn't practical to move the nannymobile/van and one of our cars every morning when we leave for work. Moving just one car is a huge pain now. The car-moving results in at least five minutes of debate each morning. I can't imagine the unpleasantries that would fly while Heather and I were getting dressed if we had to move two cars every morning. Our neighborhood covenants prevent us from parking cars on the street, so that's not an option either. Our parking situation just isn't good.

I used to park on the right hand side of the garage until we added the arsenal of strollers, which now consists of a triple jogger, a double, a single and two double wagons. We'll probably add a single jogger and maybe a couple double joggers with the new baby. My car isn't going back in the garage for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, the van worked perfectly on my weekend test. If it passed the garage test, we had found our new nannymobile / daddymobile / vacation car.

Heather's Expedition is about 77 inches tall. A 77 inch truck gives us 6 inches of extra room, as shown here:

. . . unless Ford measured the 77 inches by including the optional roof rails, then we have 3 inches, as shown here:

Because the roof rails are options on Heather's Expedition, I figured we had 6 inches, and the van is only 4 inches taller than Heather's car.

I also measured, of course.

The opening to the garage is this big:

And the van is only this big:

See? No problem.

Just for kicks, Heather wanted to test the calibration of my fingers and have me actually pull the van into the garage. Admittedly it was a little closer than I thought.

Heather and the kids watched from the front door as I pulled the van into the garage. As I nosed in, Heather started waving her arms in a woo-hoo motion. I was like woo-hoo too because it was working and just grazing the rubber portion of the garage door opening. When I didn't stop, Heather ran out the door and then I realized her woo-hoo arm motion was actually a stop-stop motion. They look alike.

Heather: It's not going to fit.
Me: It's going to fit. The first two inches of the opening are rubber.
Heather: It's a lot bigger than the garage.
Me: Trust me.
Heather: I'm not watching.
Me: You have to; I need someone to tell me when to stop if it doesn't fit.
Heather: Now. Stop now. It doesn't fit.
Me: Spot me.
Heather: I'm not watching.

I got the van about half way in and it was taking up all of the rubber seal on the garage door, but not yet hitting the wood.

As the err-err-err of van sliding against rubber turned into the snap and pop of van crunching wood, Heather came back out and gave me the "I told you so" look. Really, it was just a tight fit until the back wheels went up a half inch from the driveway onto the house slab. Then it was wedged in the hole.

The van didn't fit, but I was able to un-stick it with no apparent damage to the house. A cursory inspection of the van showed no damage to it either. Although my van dreams are crushed, my height miscalculation didn't cause any property damage that I can see.

Even though I had use of the van through tomorrow, I went ahead and took it back today. It was a long sad drive. Just me and the big white van that will never be mine. I heart you big white van.

Hopefully Bernie Whiteknuckles won't call me tomorrow asking about the roof of the van.


  1. Mike used to threaten me with the purchase of a full-sized cargo van. Every time we passed one on the road.

    So it's saying something that this made me kinda wish we could have our very own big white van...

  2. We have a Yukon XL and can fit two car seats in the back and two side by side in the middle row. The seat in the middle does have to be kept down to have access to the third row, but I have never found this to be a problem.

    Plus, when you have that number 5 baby.....

  3. Daune, How do you fold down the middle to get a kid into one of the back carseats? I thought we needed captains.

  4. OMG, Gary I love your measuring technique, to bad it's not very accurate.

  5. Honestly? I thought the white van was kind of ugly. Very plain. It probably wouldn't be long before the kids would be telling you to drop them off at the corner for preschool! Maybe if you had some racing stripes painted on it for color...or flames! How about a sponsorship vehicle and you could drive around in a vehicle painted like a giant bag of M&Ms!

  6. Really, a no go because of the garage parking only? Poor sad white van..and poor Bernie Whitenuckles.

    Now what are you going to go with?

  7. Gary - We used to climb in the back of our Suburban and plop the kids in their carseats from there. It's actually pretty easy! As long as you keep the back empty while loading, which shouldn't be a problem since you'll most likely be putting the stroller there AFTER you've gotten the kids out of it... IDEALLY ;)

  8. Gary, the sesat that is directly behind the front passenger seat is the one that folds down. So essentially, the kids just climb up on to a flat surface and walk on back their seat in the back.

    Once you have them back there, if you were to need to that folded down seat in the middle row, I wait until they are back there and then pop it right up. The other two car seats that are in the middle are never affected.

    I love our Yukon because is fits all of us plus plenty of cargo room in the back (and plenty powerful enough if we needed to pull, say a trailor full of additional junk!

    Once the kids are out of car seats, we will have the full usage of all 8 seats. Right now the two car seats in the back kind of squish out any person that would want to sit in the middle.
    The last row is a tad bit more narrow than the middle to the cargo space. Also, the back row folds down if needed and can make the cargo unit that much more handy!

  9. Hey Gary...what about a Texas Cadillac (aka a Suburban. A lot of quad moms have them. And, my friends with triplets +1 have a Town and Country. Just putting those out there.

  10. Thanks y'all. I looked at the Suburban, but it was a budget buster for a third car. We went with a (cough cough) mini van.

    I may end up getting a Suburban for my next car tough - unless I decide to get something small and fast that doesn't carry kids.

  11. I have a Suburban. I vote small and fast for the next one!