Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

02 Dodge Grand Caravan Trans Trouble

I have an 02 DGC with 187K miles. 3.8L There has never been any work done on engine or trans. We do regular oil changes and I just had a complete scheduled maintenance overhaul done about a year ago, including the trans. And as a matter of full disclosure, my wife and I are prob not considered “easy” drivers.

A few weeks ago, when I put the van in D, it won’t engage. No problem with R, just D. After a few minutes it engages and off I go. If I warm the car up first, this does not happen either. And it won’t happen the rest of the day. The only other “funny” thing it is doing is, when I slow down, there is a definite movement or catch as it shifts down around 20-30mph. It feels as though the gears are having trouble downshifting.

I took it to a mechanic and he said the life span on this trans is about 180K and so I need a new one for $1400+. Does that sound correct?

Also, what is the general consensus on at what point you no longer continue pouring money into an older car and get one with half the age and mileage.

Thanks for any help anyone can give to the mechanically un-inclined.

Check the transmission fluid according to the Owner’s Manual.
Has The “Check Engine” Light Come On With This Problem ? Take The Van To A National Chain Auto Parts Store And Have The Fault Codes Scanned (Many Do This For Free), Write Them All Down And Post Them Here.

You will often have several transmission codes. They are in a format such as P0123, etcetera.
These codes can offer clues.


Interesting he said 180k is avg life and u have 187k. Did he look at your odometer first? I bet if ur mileage was 108k he would have said avg life was 100k? But, u did get a lot of miles out of it. Maybe you could sue the dealer for servicing ur trans? They probably used the evil flush machine. Just kidding.

No, the check engine light did not come on, I will get the fault codes and post.

Yes, he did ask mileage before telling me that and I thought the same thing - how convenient.

Ok, a few things. First the jerk when I downshift happens at 30 mph (I guess going from 3rd to 2nd?) and only then. Second, I have a 3.3L if it matters. Third, the only code on the machine at Autozone was P0944.

All mechanics ask about mileage. Cars wear at a certain rate. U would not expect a trans to fail at 65k miles. U got 187k. That is exceptional for a minivan. I am leaning towards advanced wear on several major internal components. Nothing a new 3rd gear clutch apply hub and shaft assy won’t fix. In other words, a major overhaul. But, I cannot say until shop opens it up.

ok, how reliable are transmission rebuilds? I had an 86 Lesabre in college that had to have trans rebuild and it was never the same. If I take it to good shop can I expect the rebuilt trans to last? 50K more miles? 75K? Understanding there are tons of variables, but generally speaking.

While a transmission with 187K miles is getting to the end of its life cycle, the mileage alone isn’t a diagnosis you need a new transmission. 1st check the fluid level in the transmission. Second, perhaps the pick up screen and filter are clogged and restricting flow, worth a check; which means pulling off the transmission pan. If there is a lot of debris in the pan that can add to the evidence you need a whole new transmission.

Yes, that was how the mechanic at the shop checked it, he dropped the pan saying it would tell him all he needed to know and as soon as he looked at it he said - need a new one.

@JarrodH, so the atf in the pan was full of metal and clutch pack material?

I didn’t ask and he didn’t show me. Old mechanic who took it over to the light and that was his immediate diagnosis.

The independent transmission re-builders association owes its well being to the Caravan series of vehicles. Consider yourself fortunate to have gotten 187K miles out of it…$1400 sounds a little cheap…If it were a Honda, it would be $3800…

187K miles is above average transmission life for a full size mini van of any make. It’s misbehaving is telling you its time.

Before you jump to conclusions, it would probably be worth getting the codes read from the transmission and possibly investing in a fluid and filter change. Make sure you get it done at a shop that will use the ATF+4 fluid that your transmission requires and not some generic with an “additive” Chrysler transmissions are finicky about their fluids. If this doesn’t work, you may need a rebuild or a junkyard replacement transmission, but I think it’s worth trying the fluid change first. It sounds like something may just be gummed up from the fluid never having been changed.

Well, the fluid was changed a little over a year ago and again on Monday and the transmission was doing the same. I do not know what fluid was used, I did not know how finicky my transmission was about fluids. Could not using ATF+4 really make that much difference?

" . . . it would probably be worth getting the codes read from the transmission . . . "

" Ok, a few things. First the jerk when I downshift happens at 30 mph (I guess going from 3rd to 2nd?) and only then. Second, I have a 3.3L if it matters. Third, the only code on the machine at Autozone was P0944. "


Ok, just to finish this out in case anyone comes along and has the same prob in the future. I ended up taking my van to two shops, the second being a shop that is probably one of the busiest and best in area. He said the not engaging into D when it was cold was seals that were aged and hard on cold mornings, but would warm up and work fine. He said the jerking as I slow down and cross 30mph was wear and tear on transmission that would need to be rebuilt. A rebuilt would cost $1500 but do very well, all things considered I could expect another 100K on the transmission. It even comes with a 12 month 12K warranty. Any way, thanks for your help everyone and hope this helps someone in future.