Minivans

Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge Minivan Repairs and Performance

minivan repairsGeneral minivan repairs, regardless of year:

Repeated brake failures

Repeated caliper problems (e.g. needing to replace calipers every 8,000 miles) or excessive pad wear is often due to partially-collapsed brake lines. Checking the brake lines should be done regularly, regardless.

Bob Lincoln wrote, “Probably you need to change the flex hoses, as they are acting like a one-way valve and not allowing the fluid to return.” Doug D. added that the problem could be the master cylinder.

A test from SAE mechanic “ImperialCrown:”

If the front wheels are off the ground (rear wheels chocked), can you feel a drag when turning the front wheels by hand? Pump the brake pedal and try again, are they stuck? As stated, there may be a hydraulic drain-back restriction.

Are both pistons of the rear wheel cylinders free, and do both rear brake shoes move outwards when the pedal is depressed? The rears contribute to stopping the vehicle and may be overworking the fronts if they're not operating well. Does the parking brake hold, and are the shoe self adjusters operating to keep the shoes close to the drum?

“KOG” also pointed out that letting the caliper dangle from the hose (e.g. when changing brake pads) could cause the collapse. dana44 agreed and noted that the problem could be the rubber lining inside the hoses, which might not be visible:

There is a rubber inside lining in the hoses that can become punctured or cracked and fluid gets behind the lining; the pressure builds up and can keep the calibers closed a little longer than necessary. At this point I would say it is a minimal collapse, and because of this, you replace your calipers, pads and rotors because the pads may be dragging for a couple seconds before they are free, something that takes roughly six months to destroy all the components.

This is the second time this was said, but the hoses should be replaced without even having to think about it twice. When the calipers, rotors, pads and two flex hoses are changed, flush the brake lines well before the new hoses and calipers are attached to them, one never know what pieces are floating around in the metal lines from the master cylinder which could simply get into the new calipers and could, again, jam things up.

Brian Kapral added, “Generally, I have found that the rubber flex hoses get around 100,000 miles unless there are harsh conditions or you start to see dry rotting.”

Bouncing speedometer

Bouncing speedometer (1996-2000 and maybe others): ImperialCrown wrote ... 

There are two sensors on the front (radiator side) of the trans, the input speed sensor would be near the dipstick tube. The output speed sensor (the one that runs the speedometer) is about ten inches to the left near the driver’s side cover of the transmission. They are two-wire sensors that a 1 1/16" socket will unscrew for the case. If the output speed sensor magnetic tip has metallic debris on the end, that could also cause a whacky speedometer.

The problem could simply be the quality of the connection if unplugging and replugging fixes it; in that case, the connectors need to be cleaned.

Air conditioning

Front strut replacement, 2001-07

A forum discussion yielded this information:

Windshield wipers

ImperialCrown wrote [on the 2001-2007]:

A single wiper motor drives both arms. Make sure that the blades are securely latched to the arms and that they are the correct 26" blades. If the linkage is worn or sloppy, the blades can hit each other.

When parked on the glass, the blades should sit exactly horizontal. There are small single dashes in the glass to park the blades on top of for proper alignment (they can be hard to see).

Black plastic caps cover the 15 mm pivot nuts. Sometimes these can loosen up and the arm will slip and strip on the pivot splines. To re-index the arm on the pivot, remove the nut and rock the arm off the splines. There is a tool for pulling stuck arms which looks like a battery terminal puller. Make sure the nuts are snug when done.

Rattles

Some 2005 minivans made before August 25, 2005, without cruise control, may get a rattle from near the steering wheel; there's a service bulletin on this (19-007-05)  which involves adding a wire under the airbag. This is a fast job for them (half an hour or less) but we do not recommend ordinary people do it!

Rear bump stop

Rich Thomson recommended that the stock rear bump stop can be replaced by an Energy Suspension Jeep Bump Stop part number 9.9137G. "You need two extra 8mm 1.25 pitch bolts but the part is polyurethane and is a direct bolt-on. My stock rubber deteriorated and the polyurethane will last much longer. My Haynes Shop manual show 1984-1995 as having the same bumpstop."

Fuel sensor issues

Nate Dearyan noted that the instructions for his new 1991 Voyager fuel level sensor - as supplied by Chrysler - were wrong. "The polarity in the instructions is reversed! It would NOT run. Disassembled, and checked everything with a voltage tester, and found that the RED wire on the fuel pump is HOT. And, the Green and Black wire from the front end of the minivan is also hot. Black is ground."

Rough idle

On 2.4 liter, 2005 minivans made before May 4, 2005, there may be a rough idle after the engine has been off for about ten minutes or less, or simply an erratic idle; a computer update is available. (As always, we ask that you only go to dealers with TSB requests if you have had the specific problem; please don't abuse the system by demanding the latest firmware without cause.)

No-start situation

Phillip wrote,

I was trouble shooting a no-start condition in my 2003 T&C w/ 3.8L engine and had traced it to the auto shutdown (ASD) relay not energizing; the computer was not supplying the ground signal. I did a continuity test on the wire from the ASD to the PCM and it was open, so I started tracing it manually.

One section of the wire was bulging, where it’s in the bundle that runs under the battery box from the power module. It only bulged until I pulled it apart. The wire was completely dissolved. Several other wires are bulging in the same area.

Acid from the battery had washed into the bundle and leached its way through the wire insulation. I've never seen this before, in the middle, without any (apparent) damage to the insulation. This may be worth looking for before replacing the PCM (computer).

Driver’s side mirror replacement, 2001-2007 models

This was done on a 2006 model but should be similar for each model year. Note that the mirror part appears to be identical, so if you want to upgrade to a heated mirror, you can do it — and the price at rockauto.com was the same for power and power heated mirrors. We got the Keystone replacement mirror for $30; quality is clearly not as high as the Mopar replacement part, and fit is ... nearly there; the rubber gasket is replaced by plastic that looks like a rubber gasket, and a cheap foam thing, so you may want to spend the extra cash on a real Mopar part, whether used or new. The book warns to disconnect the battery first.

First, pull off the door weatherstripping along the top of the door and pillar — not completely, but enough to remove the plastic pillar cover (held on by a 10mm bolt, hidden by a cover. Once the bolt is out, pull the cover toward the center of the car so it pops off.) Then lift up the plastic that on top of the dashboard, which reaches across the car and covers the speaker; it should be possible to lift it up enough to get your hands under it. Follow the mirror wiring harness — in our case it was a black cable slightly thinner than a typical Ethernet patch cable — around the rear of the speaker, and unplug it around the right-and-engine side of the speaker. (You may need to get the wire out of a clip first.)

Now, pry off the triangular cover piece on the upper flat part of the mirror (outside); pull upward and outward at the top, because there are three tabs at the bottom. This may need to be broken so make sure you have a good replacement part first. Once that's off, you can remove the bolts — including the one underneath! The door must be open to expose that and since it was (in our case) the tightest and least accessible, it should probably go first. These are hex bolts — use high quality hex keys to avoid damaging the heads.

At this point it’s a simple matter of unbolting, removing the mirror, putting in the new one (feeding in the power cable, carefully aligning it, and then bolting it in, reconnecting the wire, and finishing up. Make sure those bolts are good and tight and everything else is done before snapping the plastic cover piece back in, because it’s no fun to take it back out again.

Instrument cluster

Easy reset (from Joseph Kan, 1999 Grand Caravan)

The speedometer, tachometer, fuel, temperature, digital odometer and digital shift indicator all stopped working. Secondary instruments all worked, including the warning panel and the trip computer. The minivan drove fine. Brown’s Dulles Dodge said I need to replace the whole instrument cluster at over $500. I decided to troubleshoot it myself first.

I checked all the fuses and did not find a problem. Because the odometer failed I could not get the fault codes. I decided that perhaps the problem was a communication glitch between the computer and the instrument panel. So I removed the “IOD’ fuse from the fuse box under the hood. This is the Ignition Off-draw fuse and removes power from all the components that stay on when the ignition is off and key removed. I waited about twenty minutes and replaced the fuse. When I tried the ignition, everything worked!

When I disconnected and reconnected power to the computer, it must have reset itself and corrected the communication problem automatically.

Robby noted: “There is also a common problem which is fixed by removing the dash and soldering the connections.”

Body computer (from Don Martin)

I had a dead instrument panel (IP): temp, tach, speedo, fuel gage, odometer and gear selector display, check engine light always on, ABS light always on, and auto door locks not locking. For a time I could reactivate the guages by hitting the top of the dash by the ABS light. After a while that stopped working.

I disconnected the battery and let it sit overnight to reset the BCM. That didn’t work. I cleaned the battery terminals and fuse contacts. I pulled the instrument panel out of the dash (which isn’t very hard) to check for cold solder joints. I couldn’t get the plug connector off the pins on the circuit board, and I couldn’t pull the circuit board off the IP housing. After reinstalling, the rear window wiper and washer didn’t work and anything fuel related in the overhead console didn’t work.

I took the van to an independent mechanic. He scanned for codes and got two, then recommended I go to the dealer.

First, the service writer told me that if it was the BCM (Body Control Module) that they send the VIN and mileage to a company in Denver that refurbishes BCMs. They reprogram an in-stock computer and ship it to the dealer. The dealer sends them my old one to get their $500 core charge. The dealer also told me my battery will soon need replacing. I've read low juice is a problem for the IP.

A new board for the instrument panel fixed my problem. All the gauges, the auto door locks, rear window wiper and washer all work. It cost $482 for the PC and $262 in labor. With tax, it ended up at $838.

The independent mechanic told me not to buy a used BCM from the junkyard, because a lot of those have been in a wreck, and:

Stumble/stutter

Matthew Montanari wrote: my 1993 Town & Country started random stutters — a single stumble and at the same time, the digital speedo reading would change dramatically (from say 55 to 12, then back to 55) in an instant. This became predictable - it would happen any time I stepped on the gas lightly and lock-up was engaged.

The dealer road tested with a DBR and found trans codes changed from P-EMCC to F-EMCC at the moment of stutter, associated that with TSB 18-09-97, and quoted me $1400 for a new front pump assembly and torque converter. I discussed this with Messerschmidt Transmissions in Lebanon, PA, and they felt the problem was entirely electrical.

On their advice I checked engine tune before taking the car in for evaluation, and found that my ignition wires were arcing, especially at the coil, which is next to the cable that connects the transmission ECU to the transmission solenoid pack. I changed the ignition wires and the problem was solved.

In some cases the issue can be a failing fuel pump. Gus Causbie wrote: “The cause of failing electric in-tank fuel pumps in minivans is often the loss of good ground contact. This increases the amperage to the pump and burns out the motor. The solution to this is the addition of another separate ground wire. This I learned from my independent mechanic at Ivie's Auto Repair. Since this modification I've burned out no more fuel pumps. Also, according to him, the aftermarket pumps do not last. He insisted on a genuine MoPar pump even though the cost was considerably greater.” (Given the cost of the pump, the investment makes sense.)

Replacing spark plugs

On replacing spark plugs: “On the Caravan with the 3.3, take the bolt out of the front engine mount by the radiator and let the engine rotate forward as far as possible and then set the parking brake. Watch for clearance as you push the car in park and it will work. You can then use a socket extension straight down on the plugs and reach them easier.” (from Ervin)

Growling noise (by Matilda Patterson)

A 1996 Dodge Caravan was making a growling noise on the passenger side front end, beginning between 30-35 mph and topping out at around 55 mph. It was more pronounced when making a sharp left turn, or on roads cambered to the right. The source was determined to be the left wheel bearing, not the right, even though the noise was coming from the right.

ImperialCrown wrote that TSB 19-006-05 addresses a shudder when turning the steering wheel on 01-05 minivans, which occurs at a much lower frequency than a “growl.” The repair involved adding 34 inches of power steering hose in the return side from the rack, and adding a finned-style power steering cooler if the van did not have one. The added hose changes the natural resonant frequency of the existing plumbing. Another possible solution, according to Rick Anderson, is switching to a synthetic power steering fluid. Low power steering fluid levels canalso cause the growl.

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