The Los Angeles Adventure (Part 2)

The grandpa TARDIS.

The grandpa TARDIS.


Part 1: 2012 Passenger | 338,207 miles | $13,700 | Blue

"Can we please, please, please call it the Tardis?" I asked Nick as we sped down the highway in the blue van, referring to a time machine from the British TV show, Doctor Who. Upon arriving, the dealer waved us to go ahead with the test drive. The van was in surprisingly good shape: a few dings in the back, some scratches on the side of the body, one rather severe-looking rust spot on the ceiling, but nothing super major.

We had obvious reservations about Grandpa, as I had begun calling it, but the engine revved to life without a hitch and ride was buttery smooth. Nick did a happy dance as we zoomed down the highway, and I began belting Disney's Hercules' "I won't say (that I'm in love)." 

As we sped faster, one odd thing popped out: the van refused to go above 65mph. Nick had previously read about the dreaded "speed governer", which rental companies put on to dissuade any thoughts of burning rubber. I had brushed it off as an anomaly, but now it came back to haunt us.

Part 2: 2008 Cargo | 200k+ miles | $22.5k | White

After returning the van, we didn't have time to debate before rushing off to our second appointment. Our potential seller and guitarist, John, had converted a white cargo with his brother to live in full-time. 

We found John jamming out on the sofa in his van watching TV. After a brief van tour, he revved up the engine for a little drive around. First sharp turn, I watched the cereal bowl fly off the counter, seemingly in slow-mo. Second turn, the toothbrush flew out from a cabinet like a projectile.

John laughed "don't worry about it, just hold my guitar!" 

In a nutshell, his conversion didn't quite suit our needs, but the company was great and he gave us plenty of conversion tips. He was in no rush to sell: the van was, after all, his current home. Without it, he'd have to come up with an alternative plan, fast.

"Maybe travel somewhere, you know?" he said, jokingly adding that his future was now in our hands.

John was the first #vanlifer that we met in real life, and really stocked my excitement on connecting with all the nomads that we have yet to meet.

Part 3: 2012 Passenger | 338,207 miles | $13,700 | Blue

We spent the night in Long Beach, enjoying the view while discussing a game plan for the blue van. A pre-purchase inspection was absolutely necessary, given its age. Sleep deprived, tired but also excited, we eagerly waited for the next day.

6AM. Blaring alarm. I jumped out of bed, groggy and confused. After a few brain misfires, I managed to schedule an inspection with First Class Autoworks, conveniently located 15 minutes away from the dealer.

Two hours later, while I sat petting the ultra-sweet doberman napping in the shop, Nick heard our mechanic whisper to the front desk "it's not good." 

My heart instantly sank. Logically I knew that the chance of something wrong was high - it has such a high mileage after all. But we were both emotionally invested.

Like an anxious parent called to a parent-teacher conference, I braced myself as the mechanic sat down with us to go down the list.

And it was a long list. Massive oil leaks, source unknown. Suspension uneven. Brake vacuum broken. Drivetrain stabilizers cracked. 

"You're looking at about at least $5k in repairs," the mechanic said, expertly navigating the line between sympathetic and solemn. "But then the car is at a point in its life when you'll have to start replacing parts, like the Turbo. And they're not cheap."

My heart dropped lower with each diagnosis. But it wasn't ready to give up. There were no glaring problems with the engine, transmission or turbo. The stuff we had to fix was costly, but not integral to the vehicle operation. And given it's price, maybe it's worth it?

I confess: I'm a scientist by training, but I often let emotions lead my major decisions. Nick, on the other hand, prefers excel sheets in order to compare apples-to-apples. Even with our cognitive differences, as we sat in a fast food Mexican joint that afternoon, we came to the same conclusion: let's bet on it.

Sure, it's high miles. Sure, we might not be able to sell it later. But it drives so well, costs so low, and it won't be the first time we bought a geriatric car that never gave us any problems.

In the end, one phone call rested the debate. At the bank, as we were ready to get the cash, Nick remembered the speed regulator. And it was bad news. As large as the Sprinter community is, removing the speed governer seemed to be the stuff of urban legends without any verifiable details or sources. Nick called a local MB dealer to get clarity. They told us that they "don't have the authority" to remove it.


65mph. 65mph! That's nothing on the freeway! Neither of us are speed demons, but 65mph won't even get us fast enough to pass a long hauler, or rush out of a potential dangerous situation. And combined with all the other fixes that we have to do...we looked at each other:

"I don't think we can buy this."