I think I've accepted the inevitable - we are going to have to buy a new (to us) vehicle - and soon.
We have been spoiled for the last two years in owning vehicles that are fully paid for and not having a car payment. The downside to this is that our vehicles are 11 and 12 years old, respectively. With the mileage to match. Once you pass a certain point with vehicles, they either hold up amazingly well, or everything seemingly breaks down at once. Our car appears to fall in the former category - at 12 years old, we have only had to do minor, rather cheap, repairs to keep it running well. Our van, on the other hand. Well, when it rains, it pours. And after pouring about $1,000 worth of work into in December, it has now decided that something needs to go wrong with the ABS system, the power steering rack, the airbags, and we have some unidentified oil leak as well. The van is only worth about $1500 right now. At some point, you have to ask is it worth it to continue fixing problems that crop up one right after the other on a vehicle that is clearly reaching the end of it's life expectancy? I think we've reached the point where no, it is no longer worth it.
Now, we just have to wait it out as long as we can. Hopefully it will hang on long enough for us to get our tax returns, get debt free (which should be attainable with said tax returns, thank goodness) and hopefully have a decent down payment. We certainly don't plan to go out and buy something with all the bells and whistles in a 2012 model or anything like that. We are simply looking for something that is around 5 years old, has decent mileage and features and enough seating for our family of four with two car seats... so now, it's time to do some research, and hopefully find something that will function for us with not too large of a price tag. If we could find something we could pay for outright, that would be awesome. But I'm doubtful that will happen, so instead, we will hope for something that we can get for a low monthly payment!