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My Magic School Bus Rides Again

One of my firm’s youngest employees gave me a lift the other day from an auto repair shop to our Fort Lauderdale office. As he waited next to his shiny new Mazda, the first car he ever bought with his own earnings, he was a little surprised to see his company president pull up in a 12-year-old minivan.

But I’m happy to drive the 2000 Toyota Sienna that my kids nicknamed the Magic School Bus, after the beloved series of science-oriented children’s books and cartoons. It’s the car that hauled the girls and their friends to movies and softball games. My older daughter got her Florida learner’s permit with it at age 15. After she took it around a parking lot a few times, we set out on a 100-mile journey over back roads to the Orlando area, where we celebrated our intact arrival with dinner at Walt Disney World.

I like nice cars as much as the next guy, but they aren’t fashion statements or business advertisements to me. I try to buy a good car, maintain it well and then drive it until the wheels fall off. Having multiple kids and multiple homes provides a lot of opportunity for keeping cars in the fleet.

I passed my old sedans off to my daughters. It felt good Crankshaft grinder  to know that the cars were equipped with sophisticated safety technology like anti-skid systems that were not yet common when they were new. My wife drove the Magic School Bus as her everyday car in New York for the first five years we owned it. Then she got a newer van, and the MSB retired to Florida. It doesn’t get used too often there, but it does come in handy for big shopping trips, or when we have to carry four or five people with a lot of luggage on the 300-mile drive between South Florida and the St. Augustine area, where we often spend weekends and vacations.

Eventually, however, all owners of old cars face a dilemma. What should you do if the car needs major repairs that might cost more than the car is worth in working condition? And when do you draw the line, since components on an aging vehicle are likely to fail in a drawn-out series of breakdowns?

The Magic School Bus and I have faced three of these critical decisions.

Two of them came about five or six years ago, when the MSB was just middle-aged, rather than in her golden years. The transmission began grinding and whining. It was a known issue with the 2000 Sienna, to the point that the automaker extended the transmission’s warranty coverage in an unadvertised program. A dealer in New York claimed my car would not qualify for this coverage, but another in Florida said it would. The car moved south and got its transmission replaced.


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