Our New 10 Passenger Van
The next week consisted of a lot of driving, a lot of visiting, and a lot of packing. We had one week to get from FL to the Chicago area. In that time we would visit Michael's sister in Georgia, get new seats in our van in Indiana, stop by my mom's house for winter gear, take our van to the shop, and visit friends in St. Louis.
I want to share with you the process of getting our van seats replaced since it is something that I have been researching for almost all of our vehicles. We are always wanting to increase our passenger seating without giving up our cargo space. Our van is a former nursing home van. It's a Ford E350 that was originally set up as an 8-passenger van with a wheelchair lift in the rear. We gave the wheelchair lift to a man with a similar set up so that we could use that space for music gear. The two bench seats and 2 captain's chairs are sufficient for our family of 7.
Changing the 3-passenger bench seats for 4-passenger bench seats gains us a few things:
1 - We can easily pick-up band members from the airport or allow babysitters, grandparents, or others to ride along with us.
2 - The 4-passenger seats go wall-to-wall and will allow the kids to rest easier by leaning against the wall.
3 - We can put 4 passengers in the 2nd row and leave the 3rd row for an adult to lay flat to sleep if need be.
I had been casually scanning craiglist and ebay for an inexpensive seat. I found a guy in Indiana who was selling off over 100 of them. They were all OEM and brand new. We could get matching gray vinyl. They were the newer model that had higher head rests and all new shoulder belts in each position. I love the safety addition of headrests and shoulder belts, but also we had one broken seatbelt in our van. The replacement belt was $200. The whole van seat plus 4 seatbelts = $199. How could I NOT go for this. We looked up the location and it was only about 30 min out of our way on the drive home. I called the seller and ordered 2!
Michael insisted that I ask about installation. The guy was happy to accomodate and recommended a shop nearby. I explained what I needed and he explained that the installation would require dropping the fuel tank. I guess it was a good thing that decided this was not a DIY project. The ebay seller was as professional as could be. It seemed he ran a custom shop for large vans. He set them up with fancy conversions and had these seats left over. He scheduled the appointment for installation, recommended a camp ground, delivered the new seats the night before, and shuttled us to/from the campground so we did not have to wait at the shop.
Michael arrived at the shop right at 8 AM. He said the shop was hesitant to believe this is what we wanted. They pointed out the disadvantages:
1 - The seats would go wall-to-wall which meant that BOTH side doors would have to be opened in order for passengers to enter or exit the third row.
2 - The seats would go wall-to-wall which meant that you would not be able to access the cargo area from the passenger area. The only access would be from the rear of the van.
3 - They would have to drill new holes in the floor since the brackets were wider than the original
4 - They would have to drop the fuel tank to bolt the new bracket behind the driver's seat.
We agreed that this was OK for our situation and they sent Michael on his way. They commented that they had a meeting in the morning and then they would get started. The hardest part for us was the waiting. We knew our next stop was our hometown. The St. Louis Cardinals were in the play-offs and we were just 3 hours from peanuts and the game with our family. Instead we were stuck in southern Indiana. It was cold. It was raining. There was no internet connection and almost no cell phone service. Our Airstream was loaded with music gear and we couldn't move inside.
Finally about 4:00 P.M., they were finished. The ebay seller picked us up and we paid for the installation, an additional $260. The kids were amazed and picked out where they were going to ride for the evening. We resigned ourselves to listening to the baseball game on the drive instead of with our family, but we hope it would be worth it. So far so good.