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by Jeremy Schrag
Not too long ago, my father was driving along in his well used 2008 Grand Caravan SXT. Pulling into the parking lot, he shifted the van into Park, but there was a problem: the van wouldn’t let him have his key back. It would turn to the Accessory position and no further. Not knowing what the problem could be, he left the key in the van with the radio turned off and went about his business. Upon returning home, everything worked normally and he got his key back.
Over time, this strange behavior grew worse. Sometimes, Dad got his key back. Other times, he had to be sure the other key was in his pocket so he could lock the trapped key inside the van. Eventually, he found that by wiggling the shifter around, sometimes the van would release the hostage, so we knew there was likely a problem with the shift mechanism. The dealer’s their scanner confirmed the problem was related to the shifter.
Not having a lot of money, Dad ordered a new mechanism off eBay, asking me to install it for him. While waiting for the new mechanism, the problem grew worse and worse. Eventually, Dad took to disconnecting the battery at regular intervals when wiggling the shifter knob no longer worked.
Finally, the new mechanism showed up. That’s it, shown above. Not only am I going to show you how to deal with this relatively common problem on the fifth generation minivans, I’m going to show you exactly what failed.
But before we get into the shift mechanism replacement, I’ll tell you how you can get your key back without disconnecting the battery every time. In this shot, you see the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM) located beside the battery. To get the van’s Wireless Ignition Node (WIN) to release the key, pull the red arrowed 10A fuse for a few seconds and replace it. The van will make some clicking and whirring noises, and you will then be able to turn the key to the off position and remove it. Use the yellow indicated fuse pulling tool, if present, to make the job a bit easier.
The key, more properly called the FOBIK, must be removed before we can replace the shift mechanism. This is because there is a small bezel around the WIN opening in the dash that must be removed before we can get the dash cover off to access the mechanism.
Before starting on the rest of this job, disconnect the battery negative cable. You will be spending a lot of time around an airbag, and the vehicle’s computers won’t like you disconnecting the WIN later on with power still applied.
To get at the shift mechanism, nearly the entire dash on the driver’s side needs all trim coverings removed. First, we’re going to pop out the defroster cover. There are indentations at regular intervals along its inner edge into which you can slide a pry bar. The picture shows you where one of them is. Pry the cover upwards and it will pop loose. It’s clipped down along the front.
Once those clips are released, pull the cover straight toward you to disengage the clips under the windshield.
It’s time to start removing screws from the dash cover (red arrows) and the center stack cover (yellow arrows). All of these are Phillips #2, interchangeable with one another.
Don’t pull on any of these covers yet, as there are more screws to remove first. In the case of the dash cover, the knee bolster cover also needs to come off.
You will need to remove the shift knob at some point, so here’s a good place for me to show you how to do that. Seen above, arrowed in red, is the set screw that holds it on. You need a 2.5mm Allen wrench or screwdriver bit. Loosen that up, push the button on the side of the knob, and pull the knob straight off.
To install, proceed in reverse remembering to push the button on the side before you slide the knob back into place.
We’re going to work on removing the center stack cover. Taking a small flat screwdriver, pry these little captive squares above the radio downwards. There are screws hiding under them. Remove those screws, then pull the center stack cover straight up. It’s only held on with clips right now, and will be easy to remove.
Access for removing the dash cover is currently prevented by the center stack bezel. To remove that, first remove the blue arrowed screws.
Remove the red arrowed ones as well - they’re for the dash cover and will need to come out eventually.
Removing the center stack bezel will require unclipping and pulling forward the lower part of the housing. Remove the three red arrowed trim clips. There will be another three of them on the other side.
The clips are easy to remove. Use a Phillips #2 screwdriver to unscrew them, pull the center portion out, then pull the main part of the clip out.
This is what the clips look like when released. To install, push the big part of the clip into the panel, then push the center threaded part into the middle with your thumb. There’s no need for a screwdriver to reinstall these.
Once all clips are removed, grab the trim just above the cup holder assembly and pull toward the back of the van to unclip the housing.
Now, we can access the two lower screws that hold on the center stack bezel. Remove them, then pull the bezel off.
At this point, you can either let the bezel dangle by the wires, or disconnect the electrical connectors to the climate controls and set the bezel aside.
Continuing on, we need to remove the side cover of the dash like so. It’s clipped on.
Behind that cover, we find one of three Torx T-20 screws holding on the knee bolster cover. Remove it.
Then, remove the two other screws like it, arrowed in red in this image. Note the yellow arrow - it indicates the bracket and clip that holds the shift cable to the center stack. You will need to unclip it from there if you want enough slack to replace the mechanism.
Once all three of those Torx screws are removed, pull the knee bolster cover off. It’s just clipped on from here.
Now, we’re getting somewhere. Either reach up behind the dash and disconnect the headlight switch, or pry out the headlight switch and disconnect it that way. I’ll show you how its connector works momentarily.
Remove the three screws arrowed in blue. Note the red arrow, which shows you the access hole for working on the shift mechanism. You can already see one of the four big bolts holding it to the vehicle where that arrow is pointing.
This is the headlight switch. To disconnect it, slide the red knurled clip backwards to unlock the connector and press down on it. The connector will then pull right out.
There is one last screw to remove before the dash cover will come out, arrowed in red in this picture.
If you have not yet removed the shift knob, do it now.
Take a small screwdriver and pop the WIN bezel out.
It’s time to remove the dash cover. Tilt the steering wheel down as far as it will go. Then, unclip the dash cover at the bottom and gently work it straight up and slightly forward. Watch out for the instrument cluster buttons... you don’t want those to break.
Once you have the dash cover up and free of obstructions, slide it along the dash toward the passenger’s side. This will enable you to fully remove it and set it somewhere out of the way.
It’s time to disconnect the electrical connections and remove the WIN (the black module on the left) for access. Unplug all three red arrowed connectors by pressing in their clips and pulling them straight off. These are not locking connectors, so they shouldn’t fight you hard.
Remove the two screws holding on the WIN, then remove the WIN. There’s one screw on top and one on the bottom of the module.
On top of the dash, remove the red arrowed rubber caps and bolts. You’ll need a 13mm socket wrench.
Remove the two lower shift mechanism bolts now, arrowed in red.
This shot was taken before I removed the WIN, as you can see. In fact, it is possible to remove that upper shift mechanism bolt without removing the WIN. But access is very limited with the WIN in place, and you will come to appreciate the extra clearance if you do remove the WIN.
And really - you don’t want to risk damage to the WIN. If it breaks, you’re looking at a trip to the dealer and several hundred dollars to replace it. This is because a new WIN needs to be programmed - it’s not a simple plug and play module.
Now, we need to release the shifter cable through the access hole in the knee bolster. For reference, the lowest shifter assembly bolt is arrowed in blue.
Release the cable from the center stack clip I showed you earlier. Then, press down on the red arrowed clip and slide the shift cable to the left and out of the mechanism housing.
You may find that the red arrowed clip breaks on you, as it did for me. Not to worry, it’s nothing a little MacGyvering can’t fix. There are two ways you can proceed if this happens. First, you can hold the shift cable to the new mechanism with duct tape. Thanks to the center stack clip, this should work well enough to last over time. If you desire a more permanent and elegant fix, drill two holes in the new mechanism about where the yellow arrows are pointing. Then, thread a big sturdy zip tie through the holes in front of the shift cable and secure it inside the mechanism housing that way.
Pulling the shift mechanism partway out of the dash, we’re almost done. Pry the shift cable off the mechanism where the red arrow is pointing, and remove the mechanism.
With the mechanism now out of the dash, I can show you what the problem was. See the switch indicated in red? That’s what tells the van’s computers that the shifter is now in park. On this mechanism, even though it’s in park, there is so much slop in the mechanism that the bar arrowed in yellow is no longer able to activate that switch. So, the van is in park but still thinks it’s in gear.
It’s time to install the new mechanism and put the van’s dashboard back together. It’s pretty straightforward from here, and not at all difficult. Just proceed in reverse order.
I was able to complete this whole job in roughly two hours. This includes stopping several times to take pictures, so you may well be able to do it faster than I did. Good luck!
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