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Chrysler AWD Problem - Desperate in Alaska

I recently bought a 2001 Chrysler Town & Country Limited with AWD. I live on a hill in Fairbanks, Alaska. I have two Subaru’s that drive up our driveway like it was flat, but the Chrysler really struggles. It barely makes it, even after I get a good run at it. The front right tire seems to be doing all the work. I’m wondering if there is something wrong with my AWD? It seems a back tire should spin or that power should be transferred from the one spinning tire to the others?

At one point, on the first snow day of the year, I was flooring it up the hill, barely making progress and suddenly there was a “bang” from the rear end and the rear end gave a little jump. I let off the gas because the bang had a bad feel to it, and when I tried to accelerate again, same spinning problem with only one front tire.

Thanks very much!

You’ve just learned that all AWD systems are not equal.

Some AWD systems basically have an open center differential, so just like a regular differential gets “fooled” into sending all the power to the slipping wheel, the center differential can get fooled into sending more power to the axle with the slipping wheel. Basically, all these do is reduce the amount of torque per wheel it takes to get moving, which makes it generally less likely you’ll get wheel spin, but once you have one or more wheels slipping you’re kind of stuck.

With the Subaru, all three differentials (front, back and center) are limited slip, so short of high centering nothing will stop them. This is also the reason why you have to buy four new tires if you have a blow out-- the limited slip diffs are very sensitive to differences in circumference.

So with your situation, that sounds pretty consistent with a lousy AWD system-- the “bang” was probably a wheel that was spinning finally getting traction and the rapid shift of torque from the spinning wheel to the other wheel.

Probably, you’ll just need to invest in some good winter tires for the Chrysler or just not drive it when it’s really slick out.

Subaru has the best AWD implementation besides Audi. It is a true full time system where power is directed to your front and rear wheels. You realize now the benefit.

The majority of AWD is simply FWD with an occasional kick of power when the system sense slip and usually too late. Either the sensing is not occuring correctly or the implementation is bad in your vehicle.

Toyota, Honda all share this cruddy system including the highly toted RAV4 and CRV. I have seen them fail miserably myself in my family’s ski house driveway that is very difficult, steep and not well maintained. The worst though is the Toyota Sienna AWD which we found out latter can only direct 10% of torque to rear wheels as needed.

Subaru’s are either 50/50(manual) or 60/40(automatics) for torque distribution.

Actually, there is also a third set of values.

Automatic transmission Subarus with the more sophisticated Variable Torque Distribution (VTD) AWD system normally run with a 45/55 torque split, in order to provide better, more sporting handling on curves. The VTD system has been standard equipment since 2001 on most 6 cylinder models, and IIRC, it is now standard equipment on all 2010 automatic and CVT models.

When poor traction conditions are encountered, the VTD system will vary the torque distribution from the normal 45/55.

Honda, Toyota, and most other manufacturers (with the exception of Audi) wish that their AWD systems could compete with Subaru’s winter performance, but they are almost always far inferior.

How do the T&C’s tires compare to your Subarus’? You’ll want a good set of winter tires on it.

Do you have proper winter tires on your car? I live in a snowy area and with good winter tires such as Michelin X-ICE or similar quality, even a 2 wheel drive vehicle can negotiate a steep driveway.

I also have a Chrysler AWD T&C along with a Subaru. They both work very well in the snow. It sounds like you have some drive problems with the van. Especially with the bang happening. I suggest you take it in to a shop and have it checked out. Be sure to use only the Chrysler fluid in the transmission. I hope you get the van fixed. It is a great vehicle to drive anytime of the year. I just put the Blizzack snow tires on the van today.

Thanks to all of you for your replies. I have a 98 Subaru Legacy and a 2005 Forester…both do considerably better than the T&C, and all have fairly equal all season radials…although I have driven the legacy with nearly bald all season radials before and I feel I can go anywhere I want…with a bit of ‘drift’ at times…

I took the T&C into a shop this morning after continued pathetic performance. I am pretty sure that there is something wrong. Thanks again for all of your replies, I’ll post a note when I get a diagnosis.

Studded snow tires would probably help, if the OP doesn’t already have them, but it does make a difference whether you are driving up as many hills.

did you ever find out what was wrong with your van. having same problem thanks seth

Howdy, yes I did find out. There are some limited slip clutches (I’m not a mechanic) in the rear end that distribute power when tires start to slip. These wear out and you basically get limited or no power redistributed. $2000, however, buys the Chrysler OEM parts and replaces them and you’re good to go again. You can have it rebuilt for slightly less, but the labor is huge and the possibility that some of the internal gears/clutches are also worn which would lead you to have to buy the whole thing anyway. We sucked it up and bought the new parts and now it drives really well and does as well as our Subaru.

Good luck. If you need more info, I can probably find the invoice which described better what the exact problem was.