Fabricated Exhaust… on a Grand Caravan!
The first question you have to be asking is 'Why'? The second is what kind of performance driving is going on here? The third has to be 'Why'! The answer is simply because it is better and actually easier. The answer is also like grandfather like grandson- I have a modified car, so he wants a modified van. I should explain that this is my grandson's van. As he is only two and a half, he certainly is not behind the wheel, but he identifies the vehicles in the driveway as daddy's car, Emmett's van, and in the garage… mommy's lawnmower! So, when Emmett's van started demonstrating excessive noise from the exhaust, we started making plans to make it better. That is what we do at MotoIQ, even if it is a mini-van.
You need to know that this is a wheelchair accessible van that allows Emmett's wheelchair – which he calls 'Vroom Vroom' – to be hauled wherever needed. Emmett was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy – a life threatening disease that causes the destruction of nerves in his spinal column. This results in the loss of abiltiy for his brain to communicate with his muscles – affecting everything from his limbs to swallowing and breathing. Fortunately for Emmett, for the past two years he has been taking an amazing drug that has begun to restore his nerve pathways. This drug was recently approved by the FDA and Health Canada. August is SMA Awareness month, and there are links about SMA and the journey Emmett has been through in his short life on the last page of this article.
Now, back to the van. The wheelchair enters through the back door via a ramp and the body has been significantly modified to provide the necessary room via a lowered bay that fills up most of the room between the wheels from the back of the van to the back of the front seats. That means that the available real estate usually found under a Grand Caravan is massively reduced. The exhaust needed to be custom built. And, if you are going to the trouble of a fabricated exhaust, then it only makes sense to use stainless steel to avoid the seeming endless replacement issues of a soft metal exhaust system. Plus if you are a car guy, then mandrel bends are simply to be expected. Once that decision was made, the parts list was compiled from Vibrant Performance's website, and within a few days of placing a large (for us, anyhow) order of parts everything was ready to begin the exhaust.
Emmett's van was purchased privately. Yes, there are sources available that families can use to obtain a wheelchair van, but that frequently takes an inordianate amount of time before the van actually arrives in your driveway. This 2010 Grand Caravan, already set up as a wheelchair van, was available locally and was in superb shape. It was purchased just over a year ago and all maintenance had been done – including new Michelins and recent work on the exhaust. However, after a year of driving, the exhaust work left a bit to be desired with the evidence being that the van was starting to sound like a 'back of the pack' circle track racer. The components and workmanship used with the recent exhaust work simply was not up to par. Otherwise, the van is in superb condition and will be hauling Emmett around for years to come.
Initial thoughts were that maybe, just maybe, the right welder would be able to piece it together in a driveway with the van on jack stands. That idea was passed over. Fabricating an exhaust on a hot day while it is in a shop on a hoist is tough enough – a driveway job on jack stands would have led to extreme frustration. The shop of choice was AES Auto. The fabrication work that I have seen on several projects was all of the assurance that was required to know that we would be getting both quality workmanship coupled with the ingenuity required to get this job done. There was some waiting to get shop time, and so we tried a few pop can and hose clamp patches which, while they work on some exhaust holes, did not do the task here. So, Emmett's van continued to sound like a back row circle track racer. Under the van the first thing I noticed was the the existing exhaust appeared to be pieced together. The second thing I noticed was that it was immediately restricted as it went from 2.5″ to 2.25″. Then there was no flex pipe apart from the slight flex availble at the cat. Finally, it was a really tight fit between the rear suspension and the wheelchair bay. Apart from the cat, there was nothing worth salvaging so we used a reciprocating saw and cut the exhaust pipe just before the existing reduction from 2.5″ to 2.25″. While the Grand Caravan is not a performance vehicle, the reduction is exhaust piping was questionable.
Vibrant Performance parts are all over my Nissan NX GTi-R. I've been at the Vibrant Performance head office and I appreciate the quality of material and the pride of product. I wanted the strength and longevity of stainless steel for this van's exhaust so put in a large order (for me) at Vibrant Performance. All T304 stainless steel tubing, flex pipe, mandrel bends, flanges, resonator, muffler, gasket, and hangers.