Yesterday I took my middle two kids, Matt and Carrie, to a gymnastics place that was having open gym. My husband was already home from work, so he had stayed home with Beth, who had cheerleading practice later in the evening, and Katy who was napping. The gym is only about fifteen minutes away, but we do have to get on the beltway to get there, and there was a lot of traffic. Typical DC traffic I guess, although I am still not used to it. Right before I arrived I noticed my van was making an odd noise, and made a mental note to mention it to Big Matt when we got home.
When it was time to go my van wouldn't start. I called my friends, who had come along and were parked in another lot, and said "Don't leave me here...wait!" After a few minutes I got it started and called her to say I was going to try to make it home. By then it was about 5:45, so right in the middle of rush hour traffic. I drove a good ten miles I'd say before I noticed another issue. The van was rattling loudly, and I was unable to go about about 45 mph. It then started to go slower and slower. I was in the middle lane of a five lane road, and was trying desperately to get to the far right lane. People were just flying around me though. It then started to smoke heavily and cut out, and I made it to the shoulder just as we coasted to a stop. I got out by crawling out the passenger's side, as people were flying by so fast on the driver's side. I popped the hood and let it cool down for a while. I called my husband and told him the issue, and he mentioned that we were only like three miles from base. I told him that I would at least try to get it off the interstate and to an exit. After letting it cool a bit I restarted the car and took off. This time we barely made it any distance at all before the heavy smoke returned. Unfortunately I had come to a point in the road with no real shoulder, so I tried to drive a bit farther and look for a safe place to pull over. At that point I noticed actual flames licking up under the hood and I absolutely panicked. I got off the road, screamed at my kids to unbuckle, then grabbed them and ran up the embankment and away from the van. I thought for sure it was going to be engulfed in flames or blow up. That didn't happen though, and after a few minutes I saw the flames were gone and the smoke level had lowered. I left my kids in the woods, with strict instructions not to move a muscle, and went to pop the hood. At this point we had lost the last of our daylight and were sitting in pitch black. The only lights were the other passing motorists. I also hadn't brought coats for the kids, as the weather had been quite mild earlier in the day. When I was sure the van was in fact no longer on fire I carried the kids back over and put them back in the van.
My husband called our insurance company to send a tow truck, but it took an entire hour. Luckily my friend, the one who had been at the gymnastics center with us, had room in her van and came to get us. Matt would have come of course too, but he would have had to find someone to watch the other kids since we can't put six people in his Jeep. In any case, I felt so relieved to get into my friend's van and get off of the side of the road. It was truly an awful place and an awful time to break down.
We had the van towed back to our house for now. My husband is going to look at it himself, and then have it towed to a mechanic if needed. So far his guess is a burst coolant line combined with a surface oil fire. The oil was very low when he checked it, which it shouldn't have been since we changed it not long ago. I just hope it is not a huge problem. This van is almost ten years old, and we just put $2,000 of work into it this fall. We really went back and forth as to if we should just replace it at that point, but did decide to make the investment. Obviously that no longer seems like it was the best decision. It's always been a good van, but I want to feel like I am safe when I am out with the kids. I'm just so thankful it wasn't worse than it was. I was also fortunate that I only had two kids with me, and that one wasn't my toddler.