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1998 Dodge Caravan 2 broken Transmissions - need help asap!

December 4, 2012. Myy family has an urgent problem… We have a 1998 Dodge Caravan IMS wheelchair converted van. In Jan of 2008 it broke down in Grand Junction CO on the road from WA to CO. We purchased a rebuilt transmission for $2000 from the AAMCO there in GJ. Two days ago… Dec 2012… the check engine light went on and my sister took it to AAMCO in the Denver area. They now want $2400 for another complete new transmission. They said (I think) some kind of pin punctured the transmission. We are scrambling to know what to do and find money to get this fixed. My mom is on Medicaid in a nursing home and this is the only way we can bring her home for Christmas. I’ve heard AAMCO is a scam company… They won’t help us financially saying the 3 year warranty is up. The Denver AAMCO said “oh yes, we know about this problem on these vans and we wrap it thoroughly to prevent thsi problem”… I’m not sure what they are talking about and I don’t have the details about the problem. I’m in WA, family and van in CO. Too bad the GJ shop didn’t take these precautions if it is possible! What should we do??? We don’t have $2400 and it is spoiling our Christmas… The broken van is still at AAMCO. I’m so bummed. What is your suggestion?

The van is driveable? Why take it AAMCO? If you can drive it take it to a general mechanic shop for another opinion. When you take a car to AAMCO it always seems to need a new transmission.

I think the problem with these transmissions is that a differential pin comes loose and once that happens it can go through the case and destroy the transmission.

There is an update kit offered to prevent that pin from coming loose and I have no idea what they mean by saying that they wrap it thoroughly to prevent the problem. Wrap it with what? Duct tape? Rubberbands? :wink: The update kit should be sufficient and part of any proper rebuild.

This is a tough spot to be in and I will only add that AAMCO should be avoided like the plague and that there’s no way I’d give them 2400 dollars again for another transmission considering their track record on your currently destroyed transmission.

If the transmission is legitimately ruined because fo this pin then should I assume that it’s not shifting correctly, is leaking fluid, and so on? Or is it apparently running fine with only a CEL being illuminated?

I’d consider getting a used transmission from a junkyard, preferably from a wrecked vehicle, if you decide to keep this van. This is a 15-year-old van that doubtless is accumulating other problems and starting to rust. You might be best moving on.

ok4450 hit the nail on the head, I would find a good local /independent shop for a second opinion. if it wasn’t for the fact your van is wheelchair friendly, i would think about replacing it .


Here are two pictures, the one with the transmission you will see a broken spot in the case. This is from the differential pin slipping out and striking the case. The second pic is a picture of the differential with the pin and a pin retainer (The sheet metal piece with the red paint on it) you can see where it bolts to the differential to hold the pin in place.


Thank you everyone for your comments. I don’t know the answers to the questions but I think my sister had taken it to AAMCO and they were driving her home in the van and were going to take it back to the shop after than when it went “clunk”… I’m assuming it kept driving after the “clunk” because I think it was not towed into the shop. So far as replacing it, that is very complicated because it is a wheelchair ramp equipped van and new ones cost up to $55,000 and decent used ones at least $15,000… so replacing it is more than we can do at this time.

Thanks OK4450 and Transman…

Does it sound like it needs an entire new transmission? or rebuilt one? Is it “safe” to get one from a junkyard and then have no assurance it is really ok and no warranty? There is an independent shop in our neighborhood that I found online… we are going to call. What would be the price range we should expect? AAMCO says they have a lifetime warranty but we weren’t told about that when we gave them our first $2,000!

If the pin came loose and took out the transmission case then you’re better off with another transmission. Prices vary but you can expect 2-2500 to be the norm.
If you see a reman for 1300 installed or something like that then you should be suspect on exactly what was done during the rebuild.

A used low miles trans is certainly an option, BUT before installing it I would have that pin update done.

What would torque me off in this particular case is AAMCO not resolving that pin issue the first time around and which would have prevented the situation you’re now in.

This might be more complicated than you want, but another option is to look for a “donor vehicle” similar to yours…That is, another Caravan of the same “generation” with the same engine. I think they are the same 1996-2000…but check to be sure. If you can find one that just had a trans rebuild (surprisingly common in these cars) and shortly after was wrecked, or had an engine failure, you might be able to harvest the low mileage transmission and sell the donor for scrap to offset the labor cost. Might be tough to find a shop which would go for it, but who knows until you ask?

I think you are wise to repair your special modified van rather than search for another, for exactly the reasons you’ve mentioned. Hope it works out well for you!

I agree with ok4450 about AAMCO not properly dealing with the pin issue when they did the original rebuild. Perhaps you can put a severe squeeze on their corporate office and get them to refund a portion of what they charged you in 2008 just based on failure to use the proper pin update kit. Then take your business elsewhere.

That model trasmission had numerous mechanical improvments during the 1990’s and by model year 2000 it was fairly reliable. Buying a used trasmission will be risky. With a vehicle of this type you should consider a factory remanufactured transmission.

The MSRP for a Mopar (dealer) remanufactured transmission for this vehicle is about $2300 and will include all the durability upgrades. The labor is about 7 hours. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, a dealer will knock 10% sometimes 20% off parts and labor to get the job.

Expect to pay a core charge. Your old transmission, the “core” is damaged and usually isn’t accepted as a rebuildable core.