COAL: 278,727 – How Long Will A Dodge Transmission Last?

There are two schools of thought when it comes to transmission maintenance: A) Change the fluid and filter exactly to the manufacturer’s recommendation, or B) Don’t touch a thing except to add fluid.

With our 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan ES, I fell squarely into the second camp.

I’ve written about our string of Chrysler minivans several times (links at end)… we lost the first ’98 Caravan to an inattentive driver who pulled out in front of my wife and kids on a 55mph State highway (mine were all fine, the other lady spent some time in hospital). The pictured ’98 Grand Caravan ES was its replacement and is the subject of this post. It had about 95,000 miles on it when we purchased it around 2004.

Upon reaching 200,000 miles, the GC was passed down to Son Number One, and was replaced with a year-old ’06 Grand Caravan SXT which survived about 15 months before being totaled by a direct lightning strike. A used ’05 Town & Country Touring was its successor, which recently went to Son Number Two when we purchased our current Chrysler minivan, a year-old ’12 Volkswagen Routan SEL.

Son never hesitated to take the van on long trips – he was back and forth to Charleston, SC from our home in the Middle West numerous times, and made several trips out West as well. When the electronic dash started to fritz out regularly while he was staying in Charleston for several months, he googled a bit and the tore out the whole dash and resoldered the pins on the main circuit board (cracked cold solder joints – a common problem on 10+ year old GC/T&Cs). Problem fixed.

The van started giving numerous signs that the end was near its last year or so. We had to disconnect the rear wiper circuit because it took on a mind of its own, completely disconnected from whatever setting the driver had selected. Door windows would work, or not. When I drove it, I could tell the transmission was shifting hard sometimes. Then the first false alarm came. Son called one evening having started a trip up to our farm, saying the van had died and nothing electrical was working.

A “mechanic” happened by, who took them into town where they bought a new battery. He advised them it would run the car long enough for Son and Wife to make it to our house (five hours distant at that point) – they made it two hours before being sidelined on a below-freezing Sunday night many miles from even a small town, necessitating a six hour round trip Search and Rescue mission.

It wasn’t long after that age simply caught up with the van. I had predicted that the transmission would be what finally killed it, and sure enough, that was the Cause of Death. The 3.3L engine was still running great, if a little smokey, but this fine morning as they pulled out, the transmission simply laid down and gave up. Son called and asked my advice, to which I replied “strip any good parts off it and call the scrap yard.” They kept the rear seats (newlyweds – free furniture!), as well as the nearly-new battery and alternator (both of which he sold quickly). After the tow charge, they cleared about $350.

So if you look at our Total Cost of Ownership, we paid about $6,500 and put around 184,000 miles on the van, and really, had very minor issues (mostly maintenance items) to deal with over the nearly ten years we drove it. And from the day we bought the van to the day it died, we never did anything to the transmission other than occasionally add fluid.

Would the transmission have lasted longer had we followed the manufacturer’s recommendations? Maybe, but I’d say we did pretty good just leaving well enough alone, and on the whole, I’d consider this vehicle to be one of the best we’ve owned to date.

So long, old friend!

You can read more about our experiences with Chrysler minivans at the following links:

Curbside Capsule: The Gen-three Grand Caravan – “Peak Minivan?”

Road Trip Finale: 2005 Chrysler Town & Country – Our Road Tripmobile

Curbside Outtake: Voyager Generations – The Sequel

Curbside Capsule: 2012 VW Routan SEL – The Orphan That Caravaned From Town to Country