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road sage

I'm close to paying off my 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan. My last bill is due in September and then that baby is mine, all mine. Mark the date in your calendars. It's a big one. That's because a day or two later you're likely to see me and my automobile stalled by the side of the road. In life, you can count on two things: death and the fact that your car will self-destruct within seconds of you making the last payment.

It's the automotive equivalent of the 1970s sci-fi movie Logan's Run starring Michael York (or, as millennials call him, "that guy from Austin Powers"). In its dystopian future, what's left of mankind dwells in a hedonistic mall. At birth, each person has a "life-clock" crystal implanted in his or her hand. When they turn 30, the crystal changes colour and they undergo "Carrousel," a disco light show in which they are vaporized by a laser.

Cars are like that. They all roll off the assembly line with the automotive equivalent of a life-clock. When you make the last payment, the life-clock goes into red alert, telling all the various parts of your automobile that it's time to break down. For Cinderella, it was the stroke of midnight that turned her carriage back into a pumpkin. For car owners, it's the last payment.

In my case, there have been warnings. The Grand Caravan is known for having brake issues. The 2010 version is particularly troublesome. On the website, the 2010 Grand Caravan has 187 complaints. Of these, 73 are for brakes and, of those, 63 are for brakes wearing out prematurely. The Dodge Grand Caravan chews up brakes the way minor league pitchers chew tobacco: at an alarming rate and without concern for the effect the chewing may have on its future well-being.

My Grand Caravan has just more than 100,000 kilometres on it. We've had to replace the brake system twice – the first time after only 15,000 kilometres. Most recently, on the way back from a long trip, the front began to make a disconcerting whirring noise and we detected a burning. Hearing one of those noises is disconcerting. Optimists think, "At least the car is still running." Pessimists think, "This car will self-destruct in five seconds." I'm in the middle. I think, "this car will break down a kilometre from home."

Luckily, we made it back safely. The next day, I brought the Caravan in and got the news. Front and back brakes needed replacing, as did all the rotors, as well as the front and back calipers. Total cost: $1,656.65 (they threw in the caliper labour for free).

Of course, I know better than to seek sympathy. Here's a breakdown of the reactions I anticipate:

  • “That’s what you get for driving a car.”
  • “That’s what you get for driving a Chrysler.”
  • “That’s what you get for driving a minivan.”
  • “That’s what you get and I hope you get it again and again and again.”

Point taken. Yet surely we can agree that there's something a little coincidental about cars that collapse as they near their last payment. Then again, there is a solution: buy a new car. Fiats are cute. Another minivan would be nice or perhaps a Mini Cooper Countryman? Maybe cash in the kids' RESPs to buy a Porsche? There's nothing like a new car. That new car smell, that new car feel and, of course, those new car payments.

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