Note: These pictures are of the actual car
One day after arriving at work, a co-worker met me in the parking lot for the walk to the office. He saw my 1986 Dodge Caravan and told me that he had a 1995 Plymouth Voyager. Over the next several months, we compared notes on the two vans. His primary driving was to work and his annual trip to Sanibel Island Florida for a vacation.
Over time, we had both decided that the minivan was the ideal vehicle. It could haul lots of things with ease and could haul many people in comfort. In my co-worker’s case, he took two bikes and two kayaks to Florida for his annual vacation. He had a roof rack for the kayaks, while the bikes and everything else went inside the van. The two bench seats were almost never in the van, serving as basement couches. I had told him that if he ever wanted to sell the van, to give me first option. After three years of ownership, he approached me one day and asked if I was still interested. I couldn’t say YES fast enough. He’d been looking at new vans and found one that he just had to have. He told me that I could have the van for the trade-in offer that the dealer had made. SOLD! I told him that the trade-in price was much lower than the actual book value. I then offered him more. He said no, if I wanted the van, the trade-in price was what I would pay. I told him that I did want the van, and we completed the transaction two days later.
The van had 70,000 miles in just three years of ownership, which was higher than normal. However, he had properly maintained the van and had all of the records to back it up. In fact, before we completed the transfer, he had the oil, transmission fluid, and coolant all changed. I offered to pay for the work, but he declined saying that he wanted to make sure that the van was in top condition.
The van is an LE model with a 3.3L V6 engine, automatic transmission, A/C, power brakes and windows. It came with a factory AM/FM cassette radio, which I changed with a factory AM/FM/cassette CD radio. Later, I added a HD radio tuner.
After 20 years of ownership, I now have 141,000 miles on the vehicle. One of the things I like about this van is the instrument cluster. All of the gauges are logically laid out and when the van is off, all needles return to zero as shown above. This was something that Bob Lutz insisted on during his time at Chrysler. Continuing the tradition of the original owner, the vehicle had made at least 15 trips to Florida for vacation.
Besides vacation duty, the van has been primarily used as a utility vehicle. Every time something big needed to be moved, the van answered the call. Trash, furniture, appliances, you name it and it has probably been moved by the van. As it was not my daily driver, it has been garage kept since I have owned it and rarely if ever, driven in salty winter weather. That explains why the van has no rust whatsoever.
The tractor shown above will actually fit into the rear cargo area completely with the hatch closed. I made a couple of ramps from 2×6 lumber and since the tractor had a hydrostatic transmission, was able to stand next to the tractor and drive it in. Other large items I have hauled include a washer/dryer pair (hauled upright) and two reclining chairs. On a trip to Florida three years ago, I had taken a number of tools including a table saw to complete some home repairs. During the vacation, my wife decided that she liked three oriental rugs that we saw and proceeded to purchase them. The three rugs occupied 3/4 of the storage space behind the second bench seat, so it was incumbent upon me to rearrange the storage of all the tools I had taken. We only had about a 4 inch gap between the top of the pile and the roof, but it was enough for me to maintain rear visibility on the trip home. Magic!
Maintenance of this van has been relatively painless over the last 20 years. Left front drive shaft (due to a torn boot), two water pumps, front brakes twice, rear brakes once, rear wheel bearings, two headlights, EGR valve, both fog lamps (the lenses fell out), and two rear window motors. That’s it! The headliner is beginning to sag in several areas, so that will be the next big project to complete. I changed one in a Grand Caravan several years ago and it is not fun to take the liner out of the van and reinstall it.
When I replaced the rear wheel bearings this summer, I decided to replace the rear brake shoes. Naturally, you might want to replace the drums as well. The drum (shown above) has the wheel studs pressed into the drum. Replacements available today have the studs pressed into the hub and not the drum. You can’t get the original drums from anyone, even on eBay unless you want to spend $400 each. I had the drums resurfaced and then found another pair of used drums at the pick-a-part yard. Those are now in my stockpile of spares.
One of the weak spots of this van is the air conditioning system. Every three years, you need to add a can of refrigerant to keep the system operating effectively. 1995 was the beginning of the conversion from R-12 to R-134 and the rubber hose configuration was not completely effective in preventing leakage of refrigerant. Other than this, I have not performed any other repairs to the system.
The Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were marketed in Canada as “Magic Wagons” for many years. After 20 years of ownership, it is easy to see why. They are very comfortable, have great performance, and can haul a lot of things easily. Pure Magic! I wish this van had the fourth door, a power lift gate, and a power sliding door, all of which were not available until the third generation of vans in 1996. The short wheelbase is a detriment from the standpoint of hauling things, but it is also a strong positive from being able to store the van in smaller garages (like my previous house). Overall, this has been the best car I have ever owned.
How hard can it be to make a minivan? Not hard at all when you’re Chrysler and you know what you’re doing!!!