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2002 Chrysler Town & Country - need your thoughts

  1. My winter beater/home center hauler, a 2002 T&C minivan, 240,000 miles. I often find pieces of rust in my driveway. This winter the air coming from the heater goes from hot to cold in cycles. Rather inconvenient on frigid days. Happens every day. The cycles last about five minutes each. I changed the thermostat three years ago with a new radiator. I thought about putting a piece of cardboard in front of the radiator to block 1/2 the incoming air. But too cold to lay on the ground for access yesterday so I pulled the fuse for the radiator fans. Today no cold cycles. Any thoughts?
  2. My neighbor uses a cheap hydraulic jack to lift his car when he needs to get under. I suggested he also use some type of rigid stands for safety since the jack is only as safe as the oil valve installed. If it goes, the car falls on him. He believes the jack is the safest method and the jack stands could fail as well. I disagree. I use both, an old heavy duty jack and two stands at strategic points of contact. What do you think? I’d hate to see him be seriously hurt. Kind of scary when he removes wheels and crawls under the car.

Your coolant level is good? Your temp gauge is steady warm? Could be your temp blend door? Can you get under dash to see the mechanism that varies the temp? Can you reach it?

Your neighbor is risking his life. You might be too, if you van is badly rusted out. Get it inspected.

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1 Sound like it might be the blend door actuator… or it could be the head gaskets introducing gasses into the coolant. Do you have to regularly add coolant?

2 Can you get yourself into your neighbor’s will? Your neighbor is wrong and may die suddenly because of his practice of only using the jack. You are absolutely correct. Good jack stands or sturdy ramps are REQUIRED for working under the car.

Your neighbor is a fool. The wife of a lifelong friend of mine died about 7 or 8 years ago while she was under her 65 Thunderbird doing some maintenance. She had some heavy duty ramps but one gave way and dropped the car on her; killing her almost instantly.

As for why my friend wasn’t doing the work; he’s a paraplegic in a wheelchair. They had been married almost 30 years. Sad outcome.

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Yes my neighbor is foolish. And yes I had the T&C inspected a few months ago. The rust is mostly body panels wasting away. All frame members in fairly good shape. This is my go to Home Depot and drive 5 miles to work when it snows. My daily driver, a 2010 Fusion with 45,000 miles still runs sweet. Purchased new and only basic maintenance has been needed. Although it does tend to go through brake pads more often than any of my former vehicles. I’ve had many.
My coolant level is fine. Checked that first.
Temp gauge does fluctuate a bit. Seems to blow hot air, temp decreases, blows cold. Warms up, blows hot. Could be the thermostat. If it closes, no more water circulation. Not changing that till spring.
So I pulled the fuse for the radiator fans. No more cold air. Put the fuse back. Cold and hot cycles again. Removed it. No more cycles. Temp gauge stopped fluctuating and stays just below the half way point as normal. Just drove 20 miles and I’m warm.
I will say, I’m not much of a Mopar fan but they did build this motor and tranny well. Just the rest of the vehicle tends to fall apart. With 240,000 miles, I’m not complaining. Glad Rock Auto sells cheap parts!

For the hot and cold cycling: could be mode doors. Every so many key cycles they will self calibrate by opening and closing. One thought is that it is repeatedly in calibration mode. Low voltage from battery may cause this. These vans have a tendency to loose calibration quite often. There is a calibration procedure, but I get too lazy to look it up so what I do is turn the temperature all the way up, then all the way back down and it will always work right until the next time. Another thought is that the coolant isn’t becoming warm enough to heat. The thermostat would be the most likely cause for that. Or the hot coolant isn’t making it through the heater core. This could be caused by a plugged core or maybe even bad circulation from the water pump. It would be nice to have a scanner to monitor the actual coolant temperature. The dash temp gauge is undependable. The operating temp on these things are quite high. I think coolant fans are supposed to kick on at around 195.
As far as working under a vehicle with only hydraulics holding it up: my first thought was “what an idiot” but I thought that might be too harsh. But anybody that has the slightest bit of knowledge on auto repairs knows enough to never get under a vehicle held up with only jack’s.

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As others have stated already, I too suspect that you may have a head gasket problem and air is getting circulated into the coolant. Check for air bubbles in the coolant.

I can’t imagine anyone doing what you say your neighbor is doing. If he doesn’t trust jack stands (which are designed for the task) then at least use some large blocks of wood in case something happens with the jack. I hope he doesn’t have a family that depends on him to provide for them. Absolutely insane. With the wheels off, it is a pure death wish. What a way to get killed.

HVAC door actuator problem or air in cooling system in my guess. Unless it is really cold there (less than -10 degrees) restricting the radiator airflow isn’t likely to solve this and might cause worse problems. I’ve never had a hydraulic jack fail in-use myself, but I don’t trust it either. I always use sturdy jack-stands as the main safety factor, and if safe to do and room for it leave the jack in place (but not doing any lifting) as a backup. I also place blocks of wood, 2x6’s, 4x6’s as a tertiary backup when possible, living in earthquake country here.