dodge_grand_caravan_2824840_2_origHow much is a 2002 Dodge Caravan worth? Okay, that’s a trick question because there are way too many layers to consider. So first, a little background before I bring this around to make a point.

In the summer of 2003, my husband and I bought our first minivan because we were expecting baby number three. The price we paid factored in the original price, age, and mileage, but to us, the value of the vehicle rested mostly on the fact I wouldn’t have to cram multiple kids and car seats into the back seat of our car every time I needed to go anywhere. Plus a little elbow room meant (or should have meant) fewer “he’s touching me” arguments from the peanut gallery as the kids grew up.

Fast forward to 2015 and our old-but-still-reliable van was rear-ended at a stoplight by a big delivery truck who tried to accelerate before the light turned green. Of course, the other insurance company decided that the cost to fix the dented back door was more than the van was worth and declared it a “total loss.” What? It still ran perfectly fine. We could still fit seven people inside meaning our family and a couple friends could ride together to events and save on gas. And after looking around on Craigslist, we couldn’t even find a similar vehicle for the price they were willing to pay us.

Long story short, since we didn’t have enough extra cash handy to invest in the difference to get a replacement vehicle, we took a lower pay-out from the insurance company and chose to keep our dented, fully-paid-for vehicle. Months later, the title paperwork finally came and we discovered the nasty secret to this “deal”—our van had been declared salvage and according to our state’s laws, the registration was immediately void.

In order to legally drive the van the insurance company “let” us keep, we would have to jump through a bunch of hoops and red tape to have it declared roadworthy by the State Patrol and pay for a “rebuilt from salvage” title even though we didn’t need to rebuild anything. The other downside? The first available inspection appointment was almost a month and a half away. We had to decide whether to temporarily share two legal cars between three drivers while hoping the state agreed on our belief about the vehicle’s condition or sell the van for whatever we could get and buy something else.

Which brings me back to our original question. How much is a 2002 Dodge Caravan worth? To the only junkyard willing to buy our salvage titled van, it was worth $100. (Um, the newish tires are worth more than that!) To our senior son wanting to drive himself to school rather than have his mommy drop him off so she could keep a car to pick up his younger brother later, a third vehicle was priceless. To my budget-conscious husband who doesn’t see anything wrong with driving a dented van with almost 200,000 miles in order to avoid paying for a newer car quite yet, the wait would be a minor inconvenience.

All that to say, value is truly in the eye of the beholder and is based on much more than the price of materials. The convenience of having a vehicle and not having to strategically plan ahead. Status with peers by being able to go out to lunch rather than brown-bagging it. Time saved by not having to drop off or pick up kids. The hassle of a new morning routine in order to share a car. The money in a budget that could be spent on something else other than continuing to insure a parked vehicle or even save up to replace a van that was totally paid for.

What about my value as a mother? As a wife. As a writer. As a mentor or coach to newer writers. As a legal researcher with my day job. My value depends on way more than I can even begin to put into words, especially since those words should originate with others. Would they mention loving relationships, a listening ear, positivity, dependability, creativity, or encouragement? (Or even deeper, God says I’m worth the life of His Son. How’s that for immeasurable value?)

What about saving up to go to a writer’s conference? What value is there is listening to and learning from speakers, meeting face-to-face with editors and agents, or networking with other authors? Would I really be paying for an overpriced conference meal or the opportunity to build lifelong friendships that could open future doors in publishing? Am I paying for information I might find in a book or podcast, or am I paying for the intangible inspiration absorbed by rubbing shoulders with like-minded people?

All that to say, whether it’s a trip, a person, or a dented van, what I find valuable may be different than what you’d think. And that’s okay. Because value is the eye of the beholder.

What about you? How valuable is your vehicle to you? Why? How valuable are you to your family? Why?

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