Having made it safely home last night, today’s post marks the end of our Road Trip Outtakes series, and I thought it only fitting to turn the light on the vehicle that took us 5083.1 miles in 99 hours and six minutes of road time. The only issues we had were a blown fuse for the power port while recharging a laptop—a recurring theme with this vehicle (I keep a box of spares in the glove box), and a charging system that intermittently wouldn’t (apparently fixed either by my cleaning the terminals or reseating the pigtail on the alternator).
This is actually our fourth Dodge/Chrysler minivan—we bought our first, a 1998 Dodge Caravan (short wheelbase, 3.3-liter V6) in late 1999, after the ’99s had been introduced. It was a pretty stripped down model with only basic options like A/C; we couldn’t afford much more than that at the time, but it did have the excellent 3.3-liter V6 (I had been told to avoid the 3.0 version like the plague). Our sons were about 7 and 10, and we were upgrading from a 1990 Honda Civic three-door hatch that we had simply outgrown.
We put a lot of miles on that van, traveling up and down the Eastern coast from Tampa to Jamestown. It was a very reliable vehicle, and we never had any problems, even with the electronic transmission that had already earned such a poor reputation for Chrysler.
Unfortunately, on a state highway in 2003, a woman pulled out in front of my wife. The van was totaled with about 95,000 on the odometer.
We had had such a good experience with this vehicle that we sought a similar one to replace it. We ended up with a much more-nicely equipped ’98 Grand Caravan ES with about 98K on he clock. We continued to put about 20-22K on the van annually before replacing it, in 2007. It was passed down to my eldest son, who is still driving it with over 250K miles on the odometer so far. That 3.3 V6 I mentioned is quickly earning as good a reputation as the venerable Slant Six!
When the ’98 reached 200K, my wife reminded me of my “10 years or 200,000 miles” policy for family vehicles. We went looking and ended up with a year-old 2006 Grand Caravan, traded in by an elderly couple who’d put only 5,000 miles on it. With fifth-generation Caravans already on the lot, we got a really good deal on this van, paying less than 2/3 of its cost when new.
Tragedy struck again, however: About a year into our ownership, the van took a direct lightning hit during a heavy thunderstorm and was totaled (we’re at about break-even with our insurance company at this point).
This time, finding a replacement was harder, thanks to the ongoing Cash for Clunkers program that was causing rapid fluctuations in vehicle values. Our insurance payout ended up being short of what would buy an equivalent replacement, so we had to go with a higher-mileage, year-older vehicle–the very 2005 Town & Country that just took us West and back. In fact, this van has now been from corner-to-corner in the USA, from Florida to Washington State!
I’ll insert a comment here that “cost reduction” is very evident in the fourth-generation vans—the fit and finish, material choices and styling and ergonomics scream “CHEAP!” compared to either of our previous Gen Three vans.
I got to thinking about our van(s) on this trip. When you think about it, the older cars we write about at Curbside Classic served exactly the same purpose in their day that our not-so-old minivan does now: Providing comfortable transportation for a family and their stuff, traveling on long trips and making memories, and often just running to the grocery store for some last-minute items for supper.
For my parents, my siblings and me, that car was a 1968 Ford Country Squire LTD.
For my wife and our sons, it’s been our string of minivans… and maybe one day,
after miles on the road,
and numerous memories made,
…it will be one of the Curbside Classics the next generation will write about.
Nice! That 3.3 is a great engine. Where at in Oregon was that photo shot? Looks familiar
Probably in La Grande, OR, where we stopped for the night.
I bought a new 1990 Dodge Caravan for my wife with the 3.0 Mitsubishi V6 and the electronic tranny. The V6 had a voracious appetite for oil, almost as bad as my ’57 Chevy. By 63,000 miles, and on it’s third transmission, I didn’t want to be the owner of this turd when it required a fourth. It was a great cruiser, and my wife loved it for her daily commute to Washington, DC, but it was just a hugh piece of crap.
By the way, nice Gibson.
I see some of these vans locally mixed in with the usual Toyotas and Nissans so Chrysler must be churning out RHD versions though I havent noticed any diesels yet and they are by far the most popular option in other brands.
There is no doubt that, fast forward several years, today’s kids will wax poetic somewhere about the minivans they rode around in as kids. My teenage sons still lament the day I sold our family minivan. I did not enjoy my minivan experience, but they associate it with some pleasant childhood stuff.
That is a FANTASTIC Gibson. 1947-49 L-4?
Thanks! It’s a 1948 L-7 I bought this past spring. I had an inexpensive Fender flattop before. The Gibson produces a much nicer sound – I’m finding it’s range of tone to be incredible in comparison.
An excellent example of how driving a Chrysler minivan frees up funds for the finer things in life, and gives you space to haul them.
We could do curbside guitars, just used my Taylor 416ce for church this morning.
I’m impressed that Jeremiah could guess what your guitar was, I just looked at it and thought hmm, nice archtop.
I had to look up your Taylor – they don’t call ’em “dreadnoughts” for nothing! Bet it has a nice sound.
Interesting your preference for the 3.3 Litre V6. Back in 1995 when my folks bought a stripper model Plymouth Voyager the Mitsubishi 6G72 was the only engine Consumer Reports recommended and 18 years/169K miles later the engine is still going just fine. Ours does not have Overdrive which is good since apparently the Trannys with OD are not as reliable.
Another difference of opinion is with the generations of Minivans. I think the 94-95 Chrysler Minivans are the high water mark since after that quality went downhill from the various parts breaking, lack of proper rust proofing, and other issues. One advantage of Leaf Springs is as they sag and/or are weighed down with cargo is that the wheels’ camber never changes which is something newer Minivans can have a problem with.
Well to each their own.
We borrowed a Gen 2 Caravan (turbo 4!) from friends at church when our first one was totaled. It was nice enough and reliable for the couple months we used it, but not really in the same class as the Gen 3 vans from a quality fit, finish and materials standpoint. It’s K car ancestry was pretty evident.
Does the 2005 have Stow N Go, or at least captain chairs in center?
I sold my 2000 SWB Chrysler to my daughter with 152000 on the clock, but I had replaced struts/shocks and Timing belt.
Yes to both. I think (without looking) that 2004 was the first year for SnG seats.
We replaced the struts on the ’98 a couple years ago. The sway bar bushings on the ’05 are starting to rattle, so that’s on my to-do list now.
The sway bar links and bushings are a very common wear item in a Caravan. Easy to do it yourself, too.
The struts are harder because you can’t align them without installing an expensive kit. Total cheap-out.
From Tampa to Jamestown, as in new York? I’m from Chautauqua county as well and live in st Pete. Hi there!
Howdy! The wife’s folks have a home in New Port Richey and one in Idaho, so that’s why we’ve been corner-to-corner. The Jamestown trip was part of a ‘Founding of America Tour’ we took when the boys were younger (homeschool field trip). We did D.C., Philadelphia, Jamestown and Williamsburg in a week.
I think he means the original Jamestown, on the Chesapeake tidewaters.
As one former Jamestownian to another…
(Jamestown NY is not my hometown but I lived there five years, in the seventies…)
One thing I’ve never got is why Chrysler created the 2.7L DOHC when they had the perfectly serviceable 3.3L/3.8L.
Whether you blame bad design or bad owners for the 2.7’s reputation, I think you’d have a hard time arguing that the OHV engine family wouldn’t make a better base-trim workhorse type engine. I personally prefer the power delivery as well.
A 3.8L Charger SE or Concorde would have garnered some mild interest from me. Instead, I never give the 2.7L LX or LH cars a second thought.
The pushrod engine was seen as achaic and everyone else was pedaling OHC engines so it was keeping up with the Jones.
The problem was/is plain old bad design, they plain and simple did not design the timing chain tension with enough range to take up the slack from the initial 40~50K of wear. I’ve seen a few dead ones and they were all spotless inside not a drop of “sludge” to be found.
Not to mention you have to take the engine down almost to the block to replace the water pump. Grrrr.
Still, making your fussiest engine the base offering seems like a really poor idea.
And, by 2004 the negative press on the 2.7 had done irreparable damage to the engine yet Chrysler continued to offer it in the Sebring/Avenger and LX-cars over one of the more robust OHV engines. Why do this?
Even if they couldn’t stand the “TRACTOR ENGINE PUSHRODS!!” hysteria from the automotive press, they could have used the 3.2L SOHC.
The 3.2 wasn’t much better. Listening to the buff-mags is a zero sum game because it if doesn’t have 400 hp and a soft touch interior, they’ll hate it, especially if they didn’t get a five star hotel during the launch.
The 2.7 was even more of a mystery when it was supposed to be nothing more than a scaled down 3.5, which was an excellent engine. My mechanic passed on to me some wisdom from his favorite junkyard guy – stay away from any Chrysler engine with a 7. 2.7, 3.7, 4.7 all have bad reps. There is also the 5.7 – I hope he didn’t mean this one too.
Hoopeston Illinois! Sweet Corn Capitol of the World!
Sorry, I make a lot of day trips with the dogs and that was one of the more recent stops.
5.5k in 99 hours is a heck of a road trip! Thanks for sharing.
I agree about the decontenting. I’ve had a 1996, 2003, and currently have a 2006. It’s the little things I notice–every window button on the 1996 was individually lit, on the ’03 and ’06 only the driver’s window button is lit, for example. There are even differences between the 2003 and the 2006–in the ’03 the garage door opener buttons are lit, in the ’06 they are not. My wife complains she can’t find the right button at night (there are 3 garage door buttons, only one of which we use). I really like the Stow n Go seats in the ’06 though–no more lifitng heavy seats on an out of the van!
I enjoyed this series. A lot of the pictures you posted are places I am very familiar with from days gone by and they brought back some great memories. Looks like you had a great vacation. Cheers from BC!
Count me in as one more quiet fan of the 2005-ish Chrysler T&C. I had one, a 2007 I got new and heavily marked down in March of 2008 My beater car, a 1997 Plymouth Voyager had expired…transmission and chassis rust all at one time. Shopping for another cheap used minivan, I came across the fire-sale of Town and Countrys – and bought one.
And it’ll be on record for a long, long time as the best all-around vehicle I owned. Shortly after buying it, I was arm-twisting forced into a job change, which meant a move…I loaded the T/C up with my immediate needs and towed my Jeep Wrangler out to my new region. From there, I had to do a lot of driving, including one accidental off-road marathon running against clock and weather…long story; but I came to a fork in the road, took it (channeling Yogi Berra) and found myself on a Forest Service trail – in a late-fall snowstorm. What I did to that minivan to get through and get out…they don’t do in Jeep commercials.
Which was why I sold it in the end. I towed that Jeep thousands of miles, on several moves; I had it off road and beat it to snot. I had it in three Midwestern salt winters. And I did a trip through Texas, where Grandma drives at 85 and everyone else is in the lower-nineties.
And with 55,000 miles on it, it still looked and sounded top-rate. THAT wouldn’t last…time to flip it.
Had I been able to care better for it…I’d have it still. Wish I did, actually…it drove well for its size; and more importantly the driving POSITION was first rate. Neither my Toyota nor my Dodge Ram-Van match it or truly replace it.
nice series. thanks! i really am impressed at your ability to shoot while driving. i’ve been trying with my phone but i’m afraid i’ll cause an accident.
Another vote for the Chrysler minivan. I bought a 99 T&C LX really cheap with 187K on it. The car ran and drove so nice it suckered me into treating it like a good car instead of the cheap beater I had intended to buy. I drove it for 20K before the original transmission finally had something break inside. I had to do a steering rack and CV joints, so your 10 year and 200K rule is probably a pretty good one. But I then gave the car to someone who works for me. She and her husband got the tranny rebuilt and have put another 20K on the van (including a round trip from Indiana to Florida and back).
There was something about that van that just fit me perfectly. Everything fell right to hand and was so well thought out. In almost every respect (the Kia’s drivetrain is a delight), it was a superior vehicle to the Kia Sedona I bought to replace it. But it is not a fair comparison because Chrysler doesn’t make a Gen3 minivan anymore anyway.
Also, count me as another one thanking you (and Mrs. Stembridge) for taking us along on your trip.
This was mine.
“There was something about that van that just fit me perfectly. Everything fell right to hand and was so well thought out.”
Exactly right, and exactly opposite of the Gen 4 vans… I think a lot of stuff got changed just for the sake of getting changed, and they made it worse in almost every respect.
Yes…absolutely right. There was some tremendous forethought and product planning going on with the mid-1990s remake of the ChryCo minivans. And, unlike most of Daimler’s other moves at Chrysler, the 2001 refresh…only improved things. Not so much styling-wise; and I didn’t much care for the added tumblehome on the rear liftgate…cut into interior volume…but the vehicle, as a whole, was a great improvement on a tremendous vehicle to start with.
(That’s true of the operation and durability of the vehicle. Interior fixtures for passengers…really, really suffered with the 2002s. I know; a fleet transporter that moved railroad personnel…used ChryCo minivans; and the new ones…the passenger seats behind the front row, were purgatory.)
It’s a shame the Cerberus people couldn’t recognize the gem they inherited…change for the sake of change, is money wasted and opportunity lost.
JP, speaking from experience, Caravans don’t make good hi-milers at all. The things were cheap to begin with and that cheapness comes from somewhere. That, combined with Chrysler’s relatively low volumes, means the humble Caravan is toast at 120,000 miles or so. Even then you may have done a fair bit of wrenching to keep one in nice shape.
BUT….they make a heckuv a good car at about 50,000 miles to about 90,000. They will run very well at that mileage. When you pass that, sell it because you’ll still get something out of it and it won’t fall apart around you.
Hey, that’s almost my van. Err, your previous lighning victim van. Maybe not having a roof rack will help mine avoid a similar fate.
I like ours a lot, for what it cost, you can’t beat it’s usefulness.
The decontenting is a bit unfortunate. In ours you get the feeling that you’re sitting in a scaled up AMT plastic model, so much generic hard polystyrene everywhere. My brother’s older GEN3 van is luxurious by comparison. I don’t know how the later Squaravan stacks up.
We just got back from our trailer towing trip to NH, and it struck me that we were almost the only ones with a Dodge minivan. Americans in our demographic tend to drive enormous SUV’s, imported luxury sedans, and in New England, Subaru wagons with stickers all over the back.
Nice series Ed!
Actually, the lightning hit the antenna and literally vaporized it (nothing left). Blew out two tires and of course killed the engine. My younger son was driving – the ink on his permanent drivers license was still wet (maybe two weeks old at that point). We were very thankful no-one was hurt!
I thought vehicles couldn’t get hit by lightning.
(not our van!)
Safest place to be in a lightning storm.
If your petrol tank is empty.
No one has ever been killed in car hit by lightning.
Your vehicle is effectively a Faraday Cage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage
I have seen loads of Caravans of this vintage since I worked at Chrysler as a service advisor in the heyday of the Caravan, circa 2005. There were loads of them on the road at this time and by 2003 or so they were in fact a pretty good car for the money. The humble Caravan has a great seating position, excellent controls and a nice interior. The 3.3 V-6 is a brilliant piece of engineering. I only ever saw one that was toast and that went 50,000 km without an oil change. It makes more power than anyone would ever need in such a vehicle. It is smooth and torquey. Even the transmissions on these ones were pretty good. The only real downside is the brakes are truly awful and need to done every 20,000 km or so here since it is hilly.
You can pick up clean Caravans for dirt cheap, so even if the thing grenades after a year, you are still money ahead.
Makes logical sense…keep an eye out for those models. Really…weight aside, they’re driver’s cars. And if the discounted used-car price makes sense in view of anticipated repairs…knowledge is power.
Our first minivan was a 1999 Platinum edition Caravan with the 3.0L engine. I agree with those who say to avoid that engine. The van was fine in every other way. It had lots of room, was comfortable, and hauled heavy loads when we needed it to.
Mechanically, it was a nightmare. It went through brakes like they were tissue paper, and seemed to like randomly stalling at stop signs once it hit about 190k kms. It was badly wrecked in an accident on a trip we made to Quebec. No one was hurt, so it did that job admirably.
The insurance company wanted to repair it, but I got them to cut me a cheque instead. I didn’t want an unreliable van that just looked good on the outside. It was not worth what they paid me for it, so I signed it over to the towing company and put the money towards a 2002 Mazda MPV. It was like night and day compared to the Caravan. What a revelation. Less space, but more power, comfort, and intelligent layout, not to mention better fuel economy. Of course it rusted into the ground, but that’s another story.
See my above posts. One cannot expect a Caravan to be reliable at 190k. Keep it until 150k max and then flog it.
When a 3.0 starts to stall at idle, it needs head gaskets. They all do it.
The MPV is a whole other kettle of fish. Garage men call them, “Multiple Problem Vehicle.”
Our 2002 has 190k on it, and I wonder if I should change the tranny fluid again.
I have read and heard that older trannies that get flushed loosen crud that blocks passages and valves, and hasten wear and breakdown.
Always used Mopar fluid for that vehicle exactly, and it shifts fine most of the time, but wonder if the costs and risks of a tranny flush and change are worth it…
FWIW, we never changed the transmission fluid on either of our ’98s, including the one that’s now at 250K.
Wow, Ed! Maybe I am not the most neglectful Caravan owner after all, tks.
I balanced the “Carma” out by changing the engine oil every 2,000 miles, give or take…
Don’t even bother with tranny fluid changed on a Caravan, you are just wasting your money. That transmission will last 200,000 km in hilly country and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve changed the fluid.
Repeat, repeat: do not drive a Caravan past 90,000 miles. If you, keep it until a major repair happens and scrap it.
Thanks guys. At 190k, I may just do a filter and 4 qts, and drive her til she is unsafe…
Needs struts also, but there is not funds for that in any case.
Wasn’t there a major issue with the type of transmission fluid used in a lot of these cars? Using ATF+4 instead of Dextron or ATF3 would be a big factor in protecting transmission service life and driveability, I’ve heard.
Yes. When the Ultradrive first came out in 1989 or so, owners manuals (and even, I believe, the dipsticks) indicated that while ATF+3 was recommended, that Dextron II could be used in a pinch. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong. Chrysler had new manual pages printed (and I believe new dipsticks made and distributed). Plus, every mechanic, gearhead and tranny shop just KNEW that all Mopar transmissions used Dextron. These things could not tolerate Dextron and it killed a lot of transmissions. These things had some other issues too, but the use of the wrong fluid was a huge problem.
ATF+4 came out later and was an improvement over the older ATF+3. There is no variant of Dextron that should ever go in one of these.
It’s almost easy to forget how beautiful this generation of Mopar minivan was, really. It was almost shaped like a womb. Seriously. The current version is blocky and derivative looking.
My brother’s 2002 GC has had its share of repairs, but that thing is a workhorse. It takes a beating with his brood and keeps ticking. I’m impressed.
The Gen 2s were so more more quiet and refined than the Gen 1s. They really looked expensive inside and out. The front seat were comfortable. The LWB version set a new standard for the industry. They were well executed in every aspect right down to the cupholders in front which had ratcheting “arms” that could really snug down a cup. The LH sedans had just been introduced and together with these vans it seemed Chrysler was on a roll.