This page provides brief advice on usability and reliability of the Dodge Caravan, which was also sold as the Chrysler Town & Country and Plymouth Voyager (and even as Chrysler Voyager in later years). I focus on the version produced in the early 1990s (through the 1995 model year), which has most of the inner structure of the original version. Later models may have substantial changes in the body structure, which might affect packaging-related factors. I expect that by 2010 the design is very different (including that it is reliable).
My experience is with a 1994 model, FWD, 3.3 litre engine, 4-speed electronically-controlled AT, with rear heat-A/C, high trim/options (lower body trim, lighting/sound/power opening/trip computer options).
I anticipate earlier models will have more clearances, fewer hidden things as they did not have the functions, and lighter suspension parts.
I anticipate that 1996 and later years of same design will have less clearance (access to rear of engine probaly worse, front suspension clearances may be worse).
Table Of Contents
- Bumpers vs curbs
- Tire chains
- 3.0 LITRE ENGINE
- 3.3 & 3.8 LITRE ENGINE
- Engine size
- Air conditioning
- Parts Substitution
The defining attribute of the Caravan was interior space in a low height package (so it would fit into standard car garages).
To get that low height, suspension travel is limited. Thus ride on anything but smooth pavement is rough. (It is quite nice on smooth pavement, depending in part on the tires - with decent fuel economy on level roads it is a good freeway cruiser. My experience is with the single leaf rear springs - the multi-leaf heavy-duty rear suspension may ride rougher, and the all-wheel-drive suspension may be somewhat different.)
BUMPERS VS CURBS
Some bumper shrouds are closer to the ground (the fancy lower body trim package is closer to the ground). They catch on parking lot blocks that are higher than normal, the shroud rides over it but gets damaged when it catches as you back out of the spot. Ideally Chrysler's designers should have rounded the aft edge of the shroud so it would ride over the blocks both directions. You can replace the sacrificial pop rivets holding the aft side onto the frame, and put a strap over broken tabs, but the shroud may break at the ends of the slot opening in the front. Repair of that could cost several hundred dollars: a rebuilt shroud, paint work to match your colour, and remove & replace labour (it appears that you'd have to detach the fender liner).
The tight packaging design resulted in limited clearance between the front tires and the front suspension struts, thus making use of traction chains difficult.
With the larger tires common in the 1990s (P205/70R15) you must use low-profile chains, install them the right way around to lay flatter against tire sidewall, tighten them, and drive slowly.
Note that the shape of cable chains vary somewhat, especially with newer types being introduced - simply specifying "cable" or "radial" chains is not enough. You want simple ones with low-profile joints, space class S (not W or U or larger) - or preferably slimmer than space class S, such as the basic cable and Z-cable chains made by Shure Chain. Those are slim chains: 10mm, whereas the already slim S class limit is 15mm. Definitely cable chains, not conventional link chain. (The Z chain runs the cables diagonally across the tread for better performance with anti-lock brakes compared to the standard ladder-style cable chain.
Friends have an alternative, an assembly of plastic grips that clamp onto the wheel from the outside with minimal projection over the inner shoulder, named something like Spider Spikes. It is somewhat awkward to install.
3.0 LITRE ENGINE
The Mistubishi 3.0 litre V-6 engine is prone to premature wearout of valve guides and seals. People advise that if it is smoking you should expect to need to replace the guides, not just the seals as you might get away with on other engines.
Rebuilding both heads is expensive. However, as a silent-shaft OHC design the engine may be desirable, though it has a distributor thus more tuneup parts than the Chrysler engine (the 3.3/3.8 litre engine).
3.3/3.8 LITRE ENGINE
The Chrysler 3.3/3.8 litre V-6 engine is a conventional pushrod design with the cam in the block. Less costly to make, and providing torque which is useful in a big heavy vehicle, but lacking the silent shaft thus not as smooth in some driving conditions. It has electronic fuel injection and distributorless ignition.
Unfortunately it is a stuff job in the body structure which is really the original 1980s structure with gussied up exterior, so working on it is very time-consuming - especially as Chrysler did not relocate things like A/C plumbing and brake lines to maximize clearance for working on the engine. And went stupid on vacuum ports - they stick out of the back of the manifold, most aren't removable.
The Caravan was available with a 4-cylinder engine, but I expect it is rare except in the early years, as for a large vehicle it was low on power. (Unless someone turbo-charged it. A diesel was sold in Europe.)
Mileage on level highways is surprisingly good in my experience with the 3.3L and 4S AT, confirmed by others. (It does have sensible front-end aerodynamic shape.) This is a good freeway cruiser, efficient and roomy. Less useful around town due rough suspension, weight thus fuel consumption, and difficulty parking because you cannot see the rear corners (the body sides have a subtle curvature sufficient to obscure the rear corners - no discrete bumper ends to see, the Caravan is worse than the much longer Dodge Maxivan).
If you have the long body and heavy options like LH sliding door on newer models, load it with people, and climb hills you may find the 3.8 litre engine the best due to its greater torque. But don't abuse that light transmission underneath it.
Note however that the front-wheel-drive vans like the Caravan are not good trailer-towing vehicles. I suggest a truck-based design like the Chevrolet Astro/GM Safari or larger for durability (the Caravan and its competitors such as the Chevrolet Lumina/Montana, Toyota Sienna and Ford Windstar use beefed up versions of car components in their drive-trains, the Astro & kin use pickup truck components). Though I might be tempted by the new rear-wheel-drive performance sedans from Chrysler. :-) Naw, I think heft is good for towing - wonder if I could find a 1950s Chrysler 300 with a Hemi or similar biggie under the hood. (A dually pick-em-up is so "common" these days. ;-)
The 4-speed automatic had reliability problems, from two primary causes arising from its light-weight design:
- fatigue of rotating components due poor mechanical detailing (fixed in later years)
- abuse (spinning wheels on icy pavement is risky, as the shock loading from hitting a dry patch is severe).
Chrysler improved the transmission over the first few years of production, so the 1995 model is good as long as it has not been abused.
In general the high degree of electronic control in this transmission works well. It is somewhat prone to malfunction from poor electrical connections - so before panicking check that the ground wires are electrically well attached. (One may be on a sub-frame at the left end of the transmission.)
Some owners have noticed a bit of jumpiness at very low speeds, perhaps due to the transmission not down-shifting all the way when the vehicle slows gradually to a stop thus having to downshift when it starts moving again. That is not of much concern, supposedly fixed in later versions.
The lock-up converter clutch housing may crack, leaking fluid thus not locking up strongly enough. Modified transmission programming may raise the lockup speed so it is not excercised as much on arterial streets. Of course the clutch friction surface will wear, as will other clutches in the automatic transmission.
The A/C components are not as reliable as desired, though it is a tough job - lots of glass area, and some vehicles have a rear condensor but the same single compressor.
The fragile small rigid vacuum lines on the 3.3L engine are 3/32" ID (2.4mm) and 5/32" (4mm) OD.
5/32" ID vacuum hose will fit over the lines, but 1/8" would be better (7/64" will fit if heated, but you may never get it off).
Vacuum hose is flexible whereas fuel hose is too rigid to bend without putting too much stress on the rigid lines you connect to.
To adapt hose diameters, as nipples on manifold and throttle body are much larger than the plastic line, I've used multi-diameter plastic tees (Dorman is one brand in auto parts stores), and capped the leg not needed. Those tees have stepped diameter, you cut a leg back to the diameter you need.
To get the remnant of a plastic line out of a rubber elbow I turn a screw into the line then pull the two apart.
HIDDEN RELAY PANEL
And another poor access design feature is hiding a secondary relay panel in the left side of the dash (never mind that the service manual says center). Disconnect the parking brake release handle, remove five screws holding the lower dash left cover panel, remove four screws holding a strong-looking metal cover - and there they are! Lighting, rear hatch, rear heater & A/C, and a few other functions are hidden there. It is called “Relay Block”, diagram AS-HK 151 of the wiring diagrams in section 8W of the service manual (page 8W-206 of the one I have).
Not to be confused with the "Micro Relay Block", hidden behind the center of the dash. It has relays for options such as power windows, power door unlock, power seat, fog lamps and fancy speakers relay. (A relay for speakers? yes, on the wiring diagram for radio "with NBS". It feeds power to the optional speakers in the front doors and liftgate, which apparently require a power feed to them unlike regular speakers. In my vehicle those speakers are labelled Infinity, as is the radio. They are powerful.) Refer to wiring diagram AS-HK 152, which claims location is "right side of I.P." - perhaps the Instrument Panel ends in the centre stack and to the right of the interior is something else. Refer to "More Hidden Things" section below.
(Do keep in mind that the main relay panel is beside the battery - most engine control fuses and relays are there, it is called the "power distribution center". The inside of the cover has labels. Typically there is a fuse for each relay. Note the yellow collar to quickly pull out the direct battery feed fuse (Ignition Off Draw, called "IOD" in wiring diagrams). The heavy duty fuses on the left side of the vehicle are fed by a rail connected to the red feed wire from the battery. (The other red feed wire is from the alternator, the two are connected together.) The small fuses that typically provide power to the switched contact of the relays as well as loads outside the panel are fed power in two groups, but both groups are fed from the common rail.)
MORE HIDDEN THINGS
are revealed when you try to service the cigar lighter power socket in the centre dash area, or remove the bin or CD changer at the bottom of the center dash. If you wondered where certain relays and modules were, voila!
I believe the modules are:
- "body computer" (which the general service manual claims is "right of the steering column" but the body diagnostic manual specifically advises is here), probably with one blue and one natural colour 25-contact connector. It performs various utility functions and computes fuel mileage and trip data for the optional overhead console display.
(Note the body diagnostic manual specifically advises it is behind the left lower dash on 1993 model.)
- an airbag module (which the service manual claims is in the "centre rear of instrument panel"), with one yellow 4-contact connector and one black 13-contact connector. It is the more sealed and securely mounted module.
(Supposedly the transmission control module is on the right firewall forward side or RH fender shield (without and with 4WD), the ABS module if installed is well below the power centre (underhood LH), and a "powertrain control module" is immediately under the power centre location aka "LH fender shield (that module being what is called the "engine computer" by those of us who think the powertrain is both engine and transmission - note the transmission computer is a late addition to the Caravan).
The relays are the "micro relay block" covered in "Hidden Relay Panel" above.
EVEN MORE HIDDEN THINGS
Under the battery tray, removal of which requires undoing three bolts, is a vacuum tank of some kind. Not fuel vapour evaporation control purge which is a round tank at front right corner of engine compartment. This one is a slim rectangle. Two thin hard plastic tubes go to it, more fragile than normal hoses.
And the remote door lock radio receiver module is under the top centre covering of the dash.
I presume you have a Chrysler service manual. Here I provide information not well covered in it. Some of the access I cover here is in the service manual if you can find it, often not in the section you'd expect it in - for example, check both the dash/instrument panel and specific-item sections.
Also check the error lists in the Rant section near the end of this web page.
(Among the tools you'll need are Torx screwdrivers, including size 20 for the grill/lights area, small metric wrenches such as 7 and 8mm for dash and small electrical, and a volt-ohmeter with scale appropriate for 12vdc systems (often meters have a 20 volt scale, but some have only a 50 volt scale which on an analog meter gives too coarse a reading.) Also I suggest the meter have a resistance test scale with resolution of 0.1 ohm in the low range (say below 20 ohms), some cheap/compact meters only have 1 ohm resolution.
Of course some knowledge of mechanical and electrical things, including the effect of multiple connections on resistance readings, is very helpful. (E.G. if you whip out the fuel pump relay and measure resistance to the pump, you may actually be seeing the heater in the oxygen sensor which is connected in parallel - that's why the wiring diagram in the service manual is a Very Good Thing To Have. :-) And some general experience before you get into complex things or tight areas - e.g. the feel of starting bolt installation so you can avoid cross-threading.
Through 1995 the Caravan and siblings used the "OBD I" diagnostic code system.
You can read the stored codes as flashes of the Service Engine light, by turning the ignition key on then off then on then off then on. Unlike other brands you do not need to jumper a connector to see the flashes, just use the ignition key sequence.
Refer to the service manual or Allpar.com for the format and a list of codes. Note that one code will always be seen to indicate that the computer and light circuit are working and to help distinguish between repeats of the code list.
Recognize that the codes are only a good start for diagnosis - you may have to think through the function of the part or system that the code points to and test some parts. (The specific meaning of some codes varies with model year.)
The transmission computer stores data, probably requiring test equipment to read it. The computer can be reprogrammed - you might consider having that done by a dealer as factors such as the torque converter clutch lock-up have been changed. (Lockup speed was raised to reduce wear on the clutch, as it was coming on and off on arterial streets (with speed limit of 40 mph, but common practice of driving a few mph faster, the vehicle was often fluctuating around the original lockup speed.)
SENSORS AND WIRING
Refer to my sensors page for information on sensors and wire routing.
I provide a list of errors in wiring diagrams.
Guidance on engine control sensor connections and locations.
Guidance on control of Automatic Shutdown Relay and Fuel Pump Relay by engine computer.
REMOTE KEY SYSTEM
With remote key fobs for any vehicle you should be careful not to sit on the fob. Some Caravan fobs required only a single press to unlock the rear hatch - a dealer should be able to reprogram that to require two presses.
For heater blower and right vacuum actuator information, refer to the centre & right dash area page, and the Heater Fan replacement advice page.
See separate page.
For diagnosis note that other other loads on the fuse/relay may have to be disconnected to make a continuity check (such as the oxygen sensor heater).
Banging the bottom of the tank may get the pump going for long enough to get to a repair location.
REAR QUARTER WINDOW MOTOR
Note that the rear quarter window motor may be behind the rear edge of the window not down forward on top of the wheelwell (apparently installation redesigned - note the adapter bracket).
Here are removal instructions for radio and speakers. On that site you can find some radio repair instructions, including inoperative display. The instructions are well worth the money both for the display and a general approach to other problems - I fixed my display and an intermittent volume problem (Infinity Radio-CD player). You should heed his general advice about what causes problems on the Alpine radios, be prepared to spend time on it, especially scrutinizing solder joints.
Note this alternate site name for Car Stereo Help.
And on the Allpar forum you can find instructions to tweak the single-CD player to better play recorded discs.
Among the dumb things Chrysler's designers did are:
SPARK PLUG REPLACEMENT
See my separate page to so you can remove and replace the engine spark plugs. Be prepared to go underneath the vehicle with it raised several inches, and with the less common tools detailed in that page. Yes, underneath!
VALVE COVER SEAL LEAKS
See my separate page on to so you can tighten the valve cover bolts to reduce leakage. Another underneath job. (I have not faced the question of how one would replace the seals - I wimped out and had a shop do it when they were in the engine bay for other reasons.
Or my intake manifold and fuel injectors page.for easy access to rear valve cover if you remove the intake manifold.
See my separate page to so you can remove and replace the engine alternator. Be prepared to go underneath the vehicle with it raised several inches, and with the less common tools detailed in that page. Yes, underneath!
ENGINE ACCESSORY DRIVE BELT
See my separate page to so you can replace the engine accessory drive belt and prevent it from popping off in heavy rain or snow. Be prepared with the less common tools detailed in that page.
See for instructions.
See separate page.
See separate page.
EVAPORATIVE CANISTER PURGE FILTER
See separate page.
Chrysler's thin plastic rigid lines break, eespecially the one to the EGR valve which is exposed on the back of the manifold. (Others have rubber hose at each end.)
I replaced that one with rubber hose, using a multi-diameter union or tee to accomodate the different diameter of each end. The multi-diameter items, Dorman being one supplier, are intended to be cut off to suit the need. With a tee you can cap the unused leg, auto-parts stores sell those too.
7/64 ID windshield wiper vacuum hose will fit over the rigid line (NAPA H458, half a century ago cars used vacuum to power windshiled wipers).
See separate page.
Refer to the Headlight Cover Replacement page. The new headlight covers I purchased in 1994 suck in water!
DOOR LINING FRONT
Refer to the Door trim removal page.
REAR HATCH LINING
Refer to the Rear hatch lining page.
SPARE TIRE HOIST
The cable may rust, potentially dropping your tire on the road in the path of another vehicle. The hoist is replaceable as an assembly, not a difficult job though you should put penetrant on bolts before starting. Take money to your Chrysler/Dodge dealer and they'll sell you a hoist.
Fortunately I noticed the left end of the rear hatch outside handle was loose before pulling broke it.
The leftmost screw had come loose, it fell out in my hand.
The one next to it was not as tight as it should have been, the others were fine.
See my separate page to so you can adjust door sag and learn of a fatigue problem. Be prepared with the uncommon tools detailed in that page.
PARKING BRAKE PEDAL ASSEMBLY
Fix wear or replace it. An adventure that will reveal hidden goodies of electrical nature.
- 21mm and 22mm (7/8") sockets to remove ball joint clamp (bolt head and nut are different sizes, maybe so you don't need to buy another of same size)
(Brake caliper bolts are 21mm, you may need a long 21mm to remove bottom strut-knuckle bolt (camber adjustment) which is far longer than needed and obstructs access to top brake caliper bolt.) - stiff wire to hang brake caliper to avoid stress on hose - pliers for cotter pins
- ball joint removal kit (circular pieces and c-clamp), little clearance for clamps and spacers
- sandpaper to clean inside of tie rod end knuckle or inside of ball-joint socket.
- 1 1/4" socket for axle nut - 1 1/2" socket to push boot over ball joint
- while a "pickle fork" can be used to hammer the tie-rod end apart, I recommend a proper tool to avoid stress on steering rack (a two-prong gear puller may work but the ends of its jaws may not be long enough for secure grip).
- tool to remove/install circle clip that retains ball joint
- small pickle fork or other method of spreading knuckle clamp of ball-joint stud
Applying penetrant before hand is a good idea.
You may need a long wrench handle or extension, the bolts are fairly large and have years of rust.
BALL JOINTS & TIE-ROD ENDS
Beware of minimal clearance for applying tools to the ball joints, in some dimensions.
Aligning the ball joint stud with the hole in the knuckle is awkward as you have to manipulate the strut and A-arm, and the thick dust boot obscures view of the pieces. I spread the knuckle so that the stud slides in without force. Detaching the kunckle from the strut and pulling the strut out of the way with a ratchet strap may help, as then you don't have to pull the A-arm down.
Some manufacturers offer an oversize ball joint on the theory that removing it and general loads in service will make the hole a little larger. A consequence may be that if you have to remove it in future the balljoint may stick in the removal cylinder, which has to be closely sized on the Caravan as the end of the A-arm is narrow. Do clean the inside of the socket with sandpaper and apply corrosion inhibittor to prevent pitting which could lead to fatigue failure.
The grease nipple on bottom of ball joint can be a bother, Moog lets the plate it screws into rotate !? (I've had two now, have to get a sharp pointed tool to try to restrain it.
By far the best tools for for removing and installing these press-it ball joints are in a set intended for the purpose - a threaded squeezer operated by a wrench and and assortment of thin collars to fit on ball joint and supension. (Collars of TBD ID are needed.)
Beware of cheap tie-rod ends that use flats on the shaft to grip it, those are difficult to grip well due small width of flats. You may need a good Vice-Grips, 10 inch size was too small on one of mine, however I was able to grip on the joint shaft itself just inboard of the ball part and let the Vice-Grips leverage against the body whereas inboard I could not find leverge. (There was a standard tightening nut - didn't look like it was separate at first, but no flats on the joint shaft near it.) Moog ES3008RL has a good pair of flats for a wrench.
I found that a small gear puller worked well enough on the tie-rod end
LH axles can be troublesome on these vehicles, due to the angle for the length. (The RH axle is much longer.)
Quality varies, some fail quickly while others last a long time.
I've had a shop repair one with a kit, however at today's prices I think the extra labour cost is not worthwhile. (I have an old axle I'm trying to get apart to examine feasibility, but probably will never get that far.)
It is advisable to pay for quality, as a significant amount of labout is involved in changing them.
Precautions for repair include:
- stick a screwdriver in brake disc slots while turning the axle nut, to avoid stress on parking pawl in transmission (nut takes a 1 1/4" socket)
- avoid letting the axle droop under its own weight (the RH axle can rest on the A-arm).
- grease the outer spline
To pull the hub out of the way, some people detach the ball joint, others detach the hub carrier from the strut (two bolts, mark where parts mate to avoid having to redo wheel alignment).
Lining the ball joint stud up with the hole in the knuckle is awkward, ideally you want ways of controlling height of A-arm (it wants to return up to its road position) and inboard-outboard position of the strut bottom). And you have to get rotation of the stud correct (the hex on end of stud does not project beyond the clamp). Perhaps detaching the knucke from the strut is a better way.
Dimensions of RH axle:
- overall length 41"
- 7" inner end to seal land, which is ~1/2" wide
- inboard spline 1.5"V - 4 7/8" to speedo gear. ~ 5 3/4" to end of it
- outoard end 3 1/2" to end of splines, only 1 1/2" of splines engaged.
Beware that function of the camber adjustment cams on the lower knuckle- strut attachment bolt may be obstructed by someone's sloppy work that deformed the projection that the washer reacts against.
I use a pickle fork or chisel to open them up or cut them back a bit.
POWER STEERING RACK
Beware that the clamp holding the RH end of the rack can rust away, or fatigue due improper manufacture (recent Chrysler replacement parts are junk). Catch it early and you won't have to replace a broken rack.
Start by photographing how the caliper tabs fit against the fixed part of the brake assembly, top and bottom are different, one has to be behind its mate.
Reading the manual, it correctly says that brake pads can be replaced by removing the two caliper guide bolts. But it glibly says you can move the caliper with your hand to let it slide off of the brake disk, I think you'll need to pry a bit (you're pushing the piston back some).
Once you have the caliper off, you can use a C-clamp to push it back all the way.
Some brake pad sets come with shims to ensure good fit of pad notches onto the surface they slide on.
Getting the caliper back on is a fiddle, you have to pull/push the guide boot back to clear the mounting surface, and wiggle around.
Wile you have things open:
- easier access to grease the tie-rod end and ball joint
- check the ABS sensor housing for metal fuzz
- put penetrant such as WD-40 on the visible end of each of the large bolts that hold the fixed part of the brake assembly.
A fiddling job - be prepared.
Maintainability - NOT
Poor routing firewall
Poor routing right side
Poor routing of line to A/C compressor
Misc errors in manuals.
Errors in wiring diagrams in manuals.
© Keith Sketchley Page version 2017.08.20
Please advise Keith if any links don't work or have become inappropriate - the Internet changes.
Back to Keith's Technical Advice page list. Keith's Capability page
Back to Keith's Technical Advice page list.
Keith's Capability page