Caravan transmission - no reverse

I am considering buying a 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan with a reported transmission problem. Mileage is around 120k, and the price MIGHT be reasonable even if a trans rebuild would be necessary. I have not seen the vehicle yet, so I’m not yet committed to anything.

Seller claims the car shifts just fine going forward but will not move in reverse. Is this immediately clear that rebuild is going to be necessary? Are there less invasive repairs possible such as valves or controls or other parts which might solve this problem?

I suppose a Caravan transmission at 120,000miles is probably nearing the end of its lifetime, at least that was true of older ones. But like I said, the price is low enough that the cost of a rebuild might be justifiable if all else about the vehicle looks good. I want to have a better sense of the prospects before I invest time in going to look at this…it’s about 50 miles away. I have a local transmission shop that I trust and which has reasonable prices.

Thank you!

They are rather well known for this…the trannys in those things arent shall we say “the greatest”

Now if you have a good trans, one you trust and you are doing the work yourself…SURE have at it man. You have no idea how low I get vehicles for that need this sort of repair…fix it and flip it at a major profit. Quite satisfying I might add. So its all up to you and what you are up for. That engine if well maintained should give quite a bit more useful service as the engines usually dont die…its everything else that sends these to the scrap heap.

Thanks HondaBlackbird. I’m not quite as ambitious as you may be assuming, maybe only half way there.

I don’t mind wrenching but don’t want to get over my head in a transmission. If an external part, or something accessible with the pan off, had a fair chance of solving the problem, I might take the chance on buying the car. Then I might do exactly what you suggested, fix and flip, or maybe keep it. I’d happily swap external parts, but I’m definitely not going to rebuild the transmission myself, and don’t have equipment to allow me to pull the trans to bring to the shop. I’ll replace sensors for example, and the seller said there’s some sort of an electronic control unit on the outside of this particular trans, which according to a modestly informed relative of the seller could be the problem. That’s what I’m trying to gauge…is this a realistic guess? I won’t go farther without more information. If this one symptom means the trans is toast, I’m probably not interested.

So does anyone have any experience with these transmissions with only reverse not working? Is there anything typical in resolving such problems? Good chance the fluid has never been changed, maybe a good flush has a chance of solving this? My trusted local shop can scan and diagnose for a reasonable price, that’s where I’d start, IF I decided to take the chance on the vehicle to begin with.

Someone at the minivan forum might have just the info you are hoping to find. That has been a very helpful group for questions I’ve had about my first and now second Chrysler Corp. minivan

Good suggestion, thanks shanonia. I’ll check that out tonight. I think I’ll glean lots of good info there beyond this one question. How many miles have you gotten out the transmissions in your minivans? I bought my current Caravan just after someone had installed a brand new transmission…that was 11 years ago, it’s got 104 k on it, and I’m starting to be cautious though have no symptoms. Figure I’ll either have it rebuilt (engine too), or replace the vehicle. An Grand Caravan is perfect for the travel I do, and this one was top of the line…a long time ago.

Mine has 132K miles so far and shifting fine. I have done a pan drop and filter & ATF 4 change every 15K miles since 65K miles when I bought the car. My problems are; a) a recent mishap with the cooler line leaking and the converter getting depleted and the car stopped-refilled and it is fine now
b) since I have had it it makes a low grade rumble, like a differential or tire noise. It is getting more prominent with age so we shall see.

As mentioned look on allpar, but the exterior changeable part is the shift solenoid and I do not believe loosing reverse is a sign of that going bad-more likely than not the transmission is toast.

Thanks galant. The shift solenoid you mentioned is probably what I was referring to, and your comment is just what I needed. I asked this because the tranny in my current Caravan was dropping into limp mode a couple years ago, a real problem when I was on a long trip with a heavy load, but I found it was ok if I kept under 50mph. Once home the local shop scanned it and found a speed sensor was bad, so for $35 bucks and an hour of my time total, I cured the problem. So I was wondering if there was any chance of that kind of thing in this no-reverse case. Evidently the vehicle sold rapidly, the Craigslist post was gone the next day, someone else must have jumped on it.

I don’t think you missed out on a great bargain. I had a transmission on a 1978 Oldsmobile that wouldn’t go into reverse. I used to it go back and forth to work and figured out that I could get along for the summer without reverse. My driveway had enough slope so I could coast out into the steet. I had a two mile trip to work on quiet streets. I could pull into a parking place where I could go out forward. I did finally have the transmission repaired. It was a seal that had blown out. I had a good independent shop and the fact that the car was rear wheel drive cut the cost, but the transmission did have to be pulled out. If this is the problem on the Caravan, the labor for transmission removal on a front drive is much more.

I have purchased things with problems–a 1950 Chevrolet pickup that I had to clean the carburetor and hunt down a 7.50 x 17" truck tire, a used television set that the sound would cut in and out, a LawnBoy mower that needed new rings, etc–but I fortunately I no longer have to buy junk. I was successful in making the repairs myself in each case and saved quite a bit of money, but the aggrevation isn’t worth it today.

“I don’t think you missed out on a great bargain.”

Bingo, that’s what I was trying to assess. If there had been a pretty good chance that replacing a sensor or solenoid or something could cure the problem, it would have been a great deal, worth the gamble for the potential gain. It was still an OK deal even if the trans needed a rebuild, but without a real possibility that a cheap fix was possible, it wasn’t worth the effort. You had a great situation with the Olds in having a clearly defined daily travel pattern. My use would not fit into anything like predictable. I’m not in a rush to find a new minivan, just keeping the radar up for a good deal.

99% of reverse issues stem from internal problems. When you move your gear selector tbrought the gears, do you hear a buzzing noise coming from the transmission?? This noise is the solenoids in the solenoid pack energizing. You should hear this.


“99% of reverse issues stem from internal problems.”

Thanks transman618, that is EXACTLY the kind of guidance I was hoping for.

“When you move your gear selector tbrought the gears, do you hear a buzzing noise coming from the transmission?? This noise is the solenoids in the solenoid pack energizing. You should hear this.”

Excellent tip but I need to ask for clarification…are you saying that the buzzing noise is a good sign, or a warning sign? Would it be audible from the cabin, or only when listening nearer the engine, or only with a stethiscope on the transmission? On my current Caravan I’ve always heard a raspy sound which may be what you’re describing, and I’ve heard the same sound on other Mopar minivans just by chance in parking lots, and have wondered about it. So I’m assuming that the absence of this “buzzing” says that the solenoid pack is dead? And if I understand you correctly, this is internal? If so, is it accessible only with transmission out of the vehicle? The seller of the car I was considering had mentioned that someone else had suspected some sort of electrical box/module on the OUTSIDE of the transmission, and I wondered if that might have had any chance of being the reason for the lack of reverse.

In any event, the vehicle in question was one I did not actually pursue when it was advertised, and it has now been sold, so I can’t answer for the specific case I was asking about. But this seems like a good diagnostic tool for judging vehicles in the future, I’m still looking.

Again, I appreciate your help!

The solenoid pack assy has 4 shift solenoids in it. A 2/4 solenoid, an overdrive solenoid, an underdrive solenoid and a L/R (Low/Reverse) solenoid. With the engine running and a helper inside the van moving the gear selector throughout the gear positions you should hear a buzzing sound lasting 1-2 seconds every time the gear selector is placed in a different gear. You should be able to hear the buzz standing outside the van next to the drivers side front wheel.

Have you had the computer scanned yet?? You need someone who can scan the TCM which is the transmission control module. Scan it and also let me know whether you hear the buzzing noise whenever you place the gear selector in reverse and other positions.


Transman: I think the noise you describe is indeed the one I’ve heard on my current vehicle, thanks for the explanation.

My original posting here though was for another Caravan I had found on Craigslist, that’s the one with the problem with reverse. I had contemplated checking it out, but ultimately did not make the long drive to go see it judging that it might not have been quite the bargain I was looking for. An earlier reply above influenced that choice. It disappeared quickly from Craigslist. No regrets at all. So I appreciate your offer to decipher the scan code but in this case it’s not needed. I also appreciate your explanation of the solenoid sounds. I’m still looking for a vehicle so may come up with another question sometime later.

My current minivan, with over 292k on the engine, and 104k on the transmission, runs very well and is fine around town, but I’m not willing to risk driving a thousand miles from home unless I rebuild both the motor and tranny, which is hard to justify based on the age of the rig. If I could find a solid V6 engine for a couple hundred bucks, then I’d spend for the transmission rebuild, but retail price on a reman V6 is over the sensible limit, and it makes no sense to do only the engine in this situation.

Thanks again for the help!

I get quite a few of these 604’s crossing my bench on a monthly basis. I see a lot of converter failure on these which causes a lot of trash from the converter plugging up the coolers. I’d say the average mileage on these before they start giving trouble is anywhere between 120-150k. When you go to rebuild the trans on this, make sure to flush out the radiator cooler real good because, like I said, these converters tend to throw trash all around. It is very important to drop the pan and clean it real good every 25-30k miles.


Hmmmm, 120-150k. Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so worried for now. The vast majority of my 104k miles was on western freeways, Montana, Dakotas, Nebraska, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, which I’m guessing may be easier on the transmission? Virtually no stop and go city driving, and not much around this somewhat hilly small town where I live. Maybe I can squeeze one more year out of the transmission and just replace the engine.

Its possible. Like I said, this is just average of what I have been seeing. Nothing is guaranteed…


Yeah, with this kind of mileage, things can fail anytime. So chances are I’ll stick close to home with this vehicle, better safe than sorry.

You’ve been a big help transman, I appreciate it.


While we are at it, mine has developed a rumble on speeds over 55mph, could this be from the converter?