Help this man keep his van.
December 9, 2008 7:18 PM   Subscribe

How can I tell if my '87 GMC Safari Van is up to driving from Philadelphia to Louisiana?

I'm moving to Louisiana. Cargo vans seem to be very expensive for one-way rentals, and I have a sad sort of attachment to my crappy old van.

What are the odds of this beast hauling all the way from Philly to the Gulf?

I just had the starter, fuel pump, serpentine belt, and belt tensioner replaced. Before I go, I'll definitely take it in for a brake job and an oil change. But at 195,000 miles, what are the odds this thing will make a 1400 mile highway trip? It leaks a little oil and power steering fluid. Also, I noticed a little bit of white gunk under the oil cap. But not too much.

Fellow travelers will be my girlfriend, my dog, my cat, and the various personal belongings I don't feel comfortable moving in the shipping container that's hauling the rest of my stuff.

Thank you for your advice and/or suggestions for affordable alternatives!
posted by pantsonfire to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Forgot to mention - The transmission seems to be fine now, but a few months ago, it went through two days in which it wouldnt shift above 20mph.
posted by pantsonfire at 7:21 PM on December 9, 2008

There is no way to define the odds accurately, but basically: the thing is 21 years old, and anything can go wrong anytime, no matter how much you have gotten fixed on it, no matter how well it seems to be running. You're taking a chance. If you're pretty flexible about how long this trip might take, and don't mind the inconvenience and expense of breaking down miles from anywhere along the way, go for it. If not, put everything except the cat in the container (it will be fine, really), and trade the van in on a nice small fuel efficient car.
posted by beagle at 7:31 PM on December 9, 2008

Think about it this way: every mile further south you get in the old van, the cheaper it will be if you have to rent a truck for the rest of the drive. So even just getting halfway is better than giving up before you start. (And that's assuming something terrible happens, like the engine falling out. Mostly, vehicles have smaller problems that you can get fixed along the way for a reasonable amount of money.)

Make sure you have AAA or similar in case you need to get a tow, and have the cash for a couple of motel nights if you have to twiddle your thumbs in a small town while the mechanic orders in a new fuel pump or whatever.
posted by Forktine at 8:01 PM on December 9, 2008

Sounds like you're prepared.

Really what's the worst that could happen? The tranny/engine blows up leaving you on the side of the road someplace. At which point you are that much closer (and therefor cheaper) for your one-way rental. The exact same thing could happen with a brand new vehicle.

Much more likely though the is you have no trouble and voila, you've saved a bunch of cash and held onto an asset you have an attachment to.

PS: your tranny thing is likely a linkage problem. Because the Safari is truck based they have much fewer tranny problems than car based minivans. And there is no way I'd trust stuff like my 35mm negative archives, my roll away, or my grandfather's cabinetmaker's tool chest to a shipping company.
posted by Mitheral at 8:04 PM on December 9, 2008

Keep the speed down and you'll most likely have a great trip. Check your cooling system along with the brakes. I'd take spare fluids along -- coolant, steering fluid, brake fluid, ATF and engine oil (I once ran out of brake fluid in our old Dodge Caravan at the top of a mountain.) Check your tire pressures and fluids daily.
posted by anadem at 8:24 PM on December 9, 2008

>but a few months ago, it went through two days in which it wouldnt shift above 20mph.

That's a deal breaker right there. I cant imagine that happening and the tranny lasting much longer.

The real question is whats your contigency plan? Lets say you break down somewhere. Who is going to watch your stuff when your truck is at some random mechanic's place?

>Thank you for your advice and/or suggestions for affordable alternatives!

Sell it and fly. Put your most precious items in a carryon bag and ship the rest. Invest in a decent used car in LA.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:51 PM on December 9, 2008

I noticed a little bit of white gunk under the oil cap. But not too much.

The gunk under the cap could just be just from condensation. (If you don't use the van very often)


White gunk under the oil cap can be an indication of a coolant leak into the oil. If you take the oil filler cap off and it looks like there is some white milkshake on it... well, it's usually not a good thing. Cracked head, broken head gasket.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:11 PM on December 9, 2008

Well, I'm literally (like, tomorrow) planning on doing the same thing with a younger-but-still-high-mileage car - 1995 Corolla. One thing I did was take it in for a tune-up and "winter-ready" special. I also got new tires - how are yours? Oh and - just in case tragedy strikes, I'm making sure that everything is packed in bags and boxes so that it can be easily shipped or transferred to a rental car.
posted by lunasol at 9:11 PM on December 9, 2008

Big Happy -

Say coolant is leaking into the oil. Do you know how long it would take to re-gunk if I cleaned it off?
posted by pantsonfire at 9:14 PM on December 9, 2008

If coolant is leaking into the oil then you have a damaged head gasket and the car will probably experience a full gasket failure soon.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:21 PM on December 9, 2008

Hard to say about how long damaged head gasket will hold out... and not clear how long it has taken for the gunk to build up (the extent of the damage that's causing it), how long it takes to build up again once it's wiped off the cap, etc. It's not necessarily a sign of imminent demise. I once had a Honda Civic with a head gasket so bad it was producing gobs of gunk, it was not worth fixing, I was weeks away from leaving the country and managed to nurse it along.

This aside, at the risk of stating the obvious and as someone else said, baby, baby, baby the thing if you make the trek; ease along at 55 or so, take lotsa breaks to check/top off fluids. Minor leaks of oil, PS fluid shouldn't be a problem.
posted by ambient2 at 9:56 PM on December 9, 2008

« Older Looking for a good tax preparer in the Boston area   |   A is for Apples to Apples, J is for Jelly Bellies.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.