Monday, July 11, 2011

Here's My Ride

I think one of the first few questions people ask me when they find out that I have six children, is "What do you drive?" Picturing six car seats in one vehicle is hard to imagine unless you've seen it. Fitting a quad stroller inside any vehicle is difficult to imagine.

Let me introduce you to my ride, aka "The Tank."

Our current family vehicle is a 2006 Chevy Express 3500 12-passenger van. It is definitely not my dream car. Far from it. But it works for us... for now. It also has almost 120,000 miles on it and will likely be replaced before we leave Washington. (My dream vehicle at this point is a Mercedes Sprinter.)

We have 3 rows of bench seats in our van. The first two rows have 3 seats each and the last row has 4 seats. Realistically, you could never fit 12 people in this van when there are car seats installed, but there is a decent amount of space.
(Above is the "before" picture and below is what our van looks like right now, after switching out a bench seat to accommodate new car seats.)
Our car seat arrangement has changed several times over the last couple of years. Last summer I moved Matthew and Joshua out of their 5-pt harnesses and into high-back booster seats. They ride in the last row of the van. Leila and Sarah ride in the middle row, in 5-pt harnesses. Nathan and Ryan are still rear-facing in the front row.

Right now, the big boys are in Graco Turboboosters in the outboard seats. They will have to stay in the high-back boosters until we get a new van because there is one glaring defect in the Chevy Express van-there are no rear headrests! This is a huge safety issue and is one reason that we'll look at the Sprinter when we finally outgrow this van. (The Sprinter has headrests and lap/shoulder belts in every seating position.)

Leila and Sarah recently got new car seats. They now ride in the Britax Frontier seats, which replaced their old True Fit seats. The process of installing seats in the middle row of our van has been an extremely difficult one. The seat belt buckles in the Express don't come out in the crack of the seat, which makes car seat installation often difficult and sometimes impossible. Also, our van did not come with LATCH in the middle row. The only LATCH connections were in the two outboard seats of the first row.

We solved the LATCH dilemma by replacing the middle bench in our van. I purchased a matching bench seat from the same kind of van on craigslist. It has two LATCH connections and we installed it in the middle row of the van. Now I have 4 LATCH positions, 4 tether positions, and all 6 seats in the front two benches have lap/shoulder belts. This means that I can easily install car seats! Now my girls are riding in the Frontier seats and have plenty of space between them. The seats were extremely easy to install with the LATCH connections in the new bench.

Nathan and Ryan are starting to outgrow their seats in the rear-facing position. Although the weight limit for rear-facing in their seats (My Ride 65) is 40 lbs, both boys' heads are only about 2 inches from the top of the seat shell. I'd guess that they'll be forward-facing by the end of the year. They'll be 3 in September. Their seats will just turn around and we'll still be able to use the LATCH connections to install them easily.

(That blue thing under their seats is a pool noodle, used to adjust the incline of the seats.)
One of the best features of my van is the large cargo area. Large, of course, is relative. When "The Beast" is back there, it doesn't feel so large. The Runabout Quad does not fold at all, so it's great to have a vehicle wide enough to accommodate such a wide load. And when I go shopping I just toss the bags in the seats of the stroller. That's pretty cool! And at least I don't usually have to use the special towing hitch that came with "The Beast."

We do still need to tow a trailer just to fit all of our gear when we travel. We have a tiny bit of room for extra passengers when we aren't piled full of luggage. Our dog always rides on his blanket in the back seat, between Matthew and Joshua. That's about all we can fit in the van though!
Up in the front, I have my essentials-a jumbo bottle of hand sanitizer, a stash of CDs and DVDs, and a power strip for charging phones, video games, GPS, etc. I use a little cleaning caddy to hold everything because the van doesn't have any kind of console between the front seats. Jason installed a DVD player when we bought the van and I have silently thanked him for that every time we go on a trip.

There you have it... Now you can see why I have had soldiers try to get into my van, mistaking it for the shuttle on base.
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