Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

175K Caravan blues

My’98 Caravan’s is behaving badly:the engine sounds ‘rough’, it stalls when braking to a stop,& the oil light comes on at 1000 RPMs even though the motor sounds OK, and all this only happens some of the time NOT all the time when it runs just fine and the oil light does not come on even at idle speed. What is causing this intermittent problem? I think it’s electrical or fuel related (we have 90/10 gas/ethanol here in Maine). No one up here seems to know what gives or they want to sell me a new used car I can’t afford at this time It’s my only transportation.

What’s wrong is you have a vehicle with 175,000 miles on it. It doesn’t matter who made it, that’s a lot of miles. The main and rod bearings inside the engine are getting loose. The light probably comes on more often at low RPM when the engine is fully warmed up, right? What you need is a new(er) engine. Barring that, you might try slightly thicker viscosity oil, say 10w40 instead of 5w30. That’s stop gap at best, but it might buy you some time.

Is it safe to assume that you have at least checked the oil?

Everyone has 90/10 ethanol now & that has nothing to do with it.

IS the check engine light on?

When is the last time it got basic maintenance - like new spark plugs and wires? Fuel filter? Air filter? Has anyone checked the fuel pressure? Etc. Etc.

Given the oil light I would have someone check the compression before spending too much time or money on it.

175K is really only enough to kill your oil pressure if you haven’t taken good care of it. Have you?

When is the last time this vehicle saw the inside of a mechanic’s shop? How old are your spark plugs? Is your air filter fresh and clean? When is the last time you had the fuel filter changed?

The oil light comes on when you have a drop in oil pressure. The drop in oil pressure can be caused by a lack of oil, failure of the oil pump, or some other mechanical failure. Sometimes the light just means you have a bad sensor. However, a drop in oil pressure is a serious issue that could lead to the demise of your minivan’s engine. You should get this checked right away, not wait for more answers here.

It sounds like your minivan may be nearing the end of its useful life. If you want your next minivan to last longer, you might consider buying a Honda Odyssey or a Toyota Sienna. You will spend more to buy one, and you will routinely get sticker shock when you see how much it costs to maintain one, but I think overall, you will spend about the same because of fewer repairs. If your next minivan lasts more than 250,000 miles, instead of 175,000 miles, how much is that worth to you?

The oil light may flicker as the engines’s rough running is missing enough that pressure drops due to low RPMS/near stall.

Keep trying to find a recommended mechanic and wait till it happens all the time so diagnosis/fix is much easier for mechanic.

Good point on the Toyota or Honda. My 2002 Sienna just passed 165,000 miles this weekend. In October, I left our house in Mexico Oct. 1, and returned Oct 31, with another 5400 miles on it. No problems during the 5400 miles. Runs great.

I do love my Toyota, but I realize not everyone needs one. Low mileage drivers who plan on trading sooner then my goal of 300,000 miles (If it doesn’t or I don’t get killed in a wreck) and are willing to tolerate more failures can get by with a Dodge Caravan.

And, I agree maintenance on this car may be relevant to its current problems, no one but the owner will ever know.

Maintenance can make a big difference. I remember the video a few weeks ago of a woman who has an old Comet, I think 1967, with 540,000 miles on it, and it purrs like a kitten.

If you do get another car, try to get the owner’s manual, and read it and understand it.

But, also come here and ask, because there are things one must do beyond the Owner’s manual if you want a trouble free car for a long time. Things like change transmission fluid; change brake and power steering fluid; coolant; etc.

Thanks for the sage advice on my eggplant colored Caravan. The thicker oil is a good place to start even if it is only a stop gap. The oil light occurrence is somewhat more random than hot or cold running conditions. I’m likely to need a newer chassy to go around the newer engine you alluded to. Thank you again for your input. stc

Yep on the oil check; no on the check engine light (that’s why I’m unsure about the diagnosis) and I’ve done fairly regular maintainence over the period of my ownership of the vehicle (some 10 years!). Letting my two boys drive the car up until recently is certainly a wild card in the deck. I’ll take a look at the other things you’ve suggested and I thank you for taking the time to help me out. stc

Thanks for your reply and suggestions. The last time I saw an oil light come on in a vehicle I owned was when my VW Bus died on the Connecticut Turnpike just outside of Greenwich in 1972, so I’m familiar with the gravity of oil pressure issues. If the Van goes I’ll not be going the Van route with whatever comes next. How does one say Civic in Credit Union loan department speak? stc

Everyone appears to be ignoring the intermittent nature of this anomaly and are totally focused on some advanced wear scenario.

Wear doesn’t go away when it feels like it. It doesn’t change its mind and just not show itself from time to time.

I feel that this is an electrical issue. In the off chance you have some flaky debris in the pan that happens to suck up against the screen and then self eject upon shut down, I recommend an Auto-Rx treatment.

Otherwise, look elsewhere for any lubrication related problem. If your mains or rods were loose you would see it EVERY TIME at hot idle. The light would be flickering off and on …or even stay on until you got the rpms up high enough …and you would hear it ALL THE TIME the light was on.

Good luck in nailing it down.

Edit: One scenario that might satisfy the conditions as stated. If the relief valve was sticking in the oil pump. Shutting it down and restarting may dislodge it. Otherwise, I’d be looking elsewhere. Change the sender if you feel the need to do something proactive on a semi-mechanical level.

Everyone appears to be ignoring the intermittent nature of this anomaly and are totally focused on some advanced wear scenario.

That’s because this vintage Caravan was known for needing a lot of repairs, and at this age, I am willing to bet it isn’t worth the money it would cost to fix it. It’s also because the OP listed multiple problems that sound like they could be major, not just a simple single anomaly.

Might be as simple as a fuel pump on the way out. These cars are known for this. Despite what has been said, if you have the 3.3 engine it is a decent engine. But then 175KM is up there for any car. Check on forums, lots of good info and model specific help.

Thanks for your reply: I took my van to a pronto quick lube on Saturday and had them do their thing: Oil change with 10-40 + some kind of thickener; fluid levels checked (all OK) and, upon showing me a really, really dirty air filter element- a nice clean new one. Alas, the problem has all but disappeared! Yeah! The Car Talk Community is a great resource for the monitarily impared and I won’t hesitate to participate in the future. stc