Transmission shift problem and CEL, 1996 Chrysler Town and Country

I’ve been wanting to buy a gently used Mopar minivan, and after several weeks of watching Craigslist, I’ve located a better than average candidate. I haven’t seen it yet, but cosmetically it looks quite good in the posted photographs. Mileage is about 130,000k, transmission replaced less than 2 years ago. This one is priced low because of one or perhaps two problems. Seller says the CEL is on, and the transmission is not shifting properly. I can’t see the car for a few days, so want to learn what I can before I allocate time to assessing this vehicle.

My basic question is this: Could the CEL be indicating a problem with the automatic transmission? Or does the CEL on a 1996 vehicle not report on transmission faults? In other words, does the light only reflect engine issues, thus indicating there’s ANOTHER problem besides the transmission?

According to the seller, the car shifts fine when cold but not when it warms up to operating temperature. When warm, the transmission does not shift to higher gears, which sounds to me like “limp mode”. I had similar symptoms on an older Caravan which was solved with a new speed sensor, an inexpensive and easy DIY after a scan by a local transmission specialist. So if this T and C has just this one problem, and if it’s relatively simple such as my previous case, then this car could be a very good bargain, even if I have to pay for some labor. If there are at least two repairs needed, I want to know that before I decide if I should spend the time go have a look.

One obstacle in assessing this minivan is that Autozone does not lend scanners in California. Evidently they can’t lend OBD because of state emissions testing, and I’d need a transmission scanner anyway, so I’d have to pay a transmission shop to read the codes. Fortunately there is a shop very near to the seller that can do a full diagnosis for about $80, which can then be applied to a repair if I chose that option. I’d rather use my local transmission shop, but distance makes that impossible.

So if the CEL would only come on if there is a NON transmission problem, then I have to decide if I want to gamble on TWO problems.

Is there any way to make an educated guess on the shifting problem based on the symptoms without knowing the codes?

Thanks for any advice!

Run away. The owner knows whats wrong and it’s expensive. If it were something cheap and easy he would have done it. He’s most likely hoping for a sucker to come along and think he’s getting a bargain. I’m always suspicious of anything on craigslist.

You should run away. Transmissions are the weakest point in every minivan (any brand, any year, though obviously there is some variation).

It is true that there could be a very simple problem with the transmission. The check engine light probably will carry some indication of it. If you do want to take it someplace to have it looked at, make it a dedicated transmission shop - not just any auto repair place.

But mostly you should just run away. I’d give you about 70/30 odds that within a year you’d be dropping $3K beyond whatever you pay for it to fix the transmission.

This really doesn’t sound like much of a bargain to me, unless you have a good A604 laying around and don’t mind installing it in this van. The codes very well could be relevant to the transmission, and for what it’s worth, if the van has a digital odometer, put the key in the ignition and turn the key to run and back one three times, ending with the key in the “run” position. Any codes will display on the odometer. Their meaning and troubleshooting tips can be searched online or discussed with your preferred mechanic, or on this forum.