Mechanics

DODGE CARAVAN ENGINE PROBLEM

2007 Dodge Caravan • 118,000 miles

I purchased a 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan, V6 3.8 L engine in 2011. It had 88,000 miles on it, I questioned the dealership on this and they informed me that It was previously a rental. I told them that I didn't feel comfortable with this fact, and they convinced me that rental vehicles were kept up much more on maintenance because they had to pass higher standards, and they told me there was nothing to worry about. I took their word for it because this made sense. My car now has 118,000 miles on it, and 2 months after I had owned the van for one year, one day, out of the blue, while making the 8 mile trip to town, the motor sounded slightly different. I mentioned it to my husband. When we got into town, we first went to the ATM, I put it in park to make the transaction, and after a minute, suddenly we heard a large squeal and the van died, never to start again. Immediately we tried replacing the battery and it tried to turn over, but never could quite get their, no belts were broke, there was no check engine light, there was no explanation for the vans sudden demise. We had the van towed to my mechanic and he called me the next day and told me no worry, just needed a new alternator. A few hours later, my mechanic called again and told me that the alternator wasn't the problem, the lower end had seized up. I paid $12,000 cash for this vehicle because it was supposed to last me for several years with no issues while I went to college. I do not have the $3,000 - $4,000 the mechanic wants to fix it. This van is 5 years old, the motor should not have seized, why did I have no signs to this happening more than the 10 minutes prior to the seizure, why was their no check engine light warning, aren't their laws that at supposed to keep manufacturing companies from such irrefutable damages like this from occurring. I have three kids, and I basically threw away $12,000 on a vehicle that is rotting in my yard because no one will help me. I feel the manufacturer should be held responsible for the issue with the motor, and they should replace it, and I would go away happy. Is there anything I can do to make this happen?
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Guest
November 25, 2012.




Service records are critical. Did you service it every 4000 miles? Change the coolant and the trans fluids as well? Have you checked the oil every week?
Most of the time, it is a service issue that falls back on the owner. What kind of warranty did the dealer give you?

Roy

ASEMaster6371
Nov 25, 2012.
Wow. What kind of a job are you training for and do you expect to take care of the products you sell forever?

I take strong issue with a lot of your ideas. First of all, the dealer was right about rental vehicles. That is advertising to them. If you have a poorly-maintained vehicle, that is going to make a bad impression on potential customers, and the negative word-of-mouth will hurt future sales. What is surprising is to see one with that many miles. Usually rental fleets replace their vehicles at around 15,000 to 20,000 miles so they don't run into the kinds of problems that are common at higher mileages. They must have really liked your van to want to keep it that long.

Second, you do not understand the purpose of the Check Engine light. There is no magic box watching for every possible thing that might happen so it can warn you ahead of time. The Engine Computer keeps tabs on the many sensors on the engine and the operating conditions being reported by those sensors. When it detects a problem, it sets a diagnostic fault code in memory, but it only turns the Check engine light on if that problem could have an adverse affect on emissions. There are hundreds of potential codes and less than half of them will trigger the Check Engine light. The Engine Computer doesn't monitor oil pressure or level because it can't correct a problem related to those things. That's why there is a separate oil pressure warning light and system.

Third, you surely have heard the saying "we're a throwaway society". That's because so much stuff is not made to be fixed. NO manufacturer will cover this kind of problem forever like you think they should. Why do you think there's such a big market in aftermarket extended warranties. Those are rarely a good deal for car owners. They're just a glorified insurance contract that covers this type of unexpected problem. In my limited experience overhearing conversations at the dealership I used to work for, those companies were WAY more demanding than Chrysler and much harder to deal with. They insisted on a detailed analysis of the oil, and they wanted proof the oil was changed at the proper times. Basically they searched for a reason to not pay a claim, and they were pretty good at it.

The original warranty Chrysler provided was already very generous. When I bought my first Plymouth in 1980, it came with a 12 month, 12,000 mile warranty. If there was a manufacturing defect, it would show up in that time. My next 1988 Dodge had a 7 year, 70,000 mile warranty, and that's still my daily driver. You might ask at the dealership about the length of the warranty. The drive train might be under warranty yet, but as I recall, the rental companies get the vehicles at a better price because they come with a shorter warranty.

Engines do not seize up suddenly with no prior symptoms unless a part breaks, and that is real uncommon. That's why the warranty contract companies want everything checked before they'll agree to pay a claim. First you have to look at the oil level. If it was low, the warning light would have been on along with the "Check Gauges" light and chime if you have them. Next is the time since the last oil change. Dirt and gas fumes build up in the oil, and the additives such as detergents and corrosion inhibitors wear out.

Other than one "not-so-great" engine, Chrysler builds some really good ones. The 3.3L is one of their best, and the 3.8L is a larger version of that. I have two vehicles with the 3.3L. I'm confident there was an underlying cause for the failure but that doesn't make it Chrysler's problem, especially since there was no problem for well over 100,000 miles. To whine that there should be laws to cover this is way out of line. We still have a free market, at least until obama gets done destroying the country as we know it, and if any manufacturer continually produced inferior products, they would go out of business. Only the best manufacturers survive in the long run. More laws are not needed. In fact, every year I showed my students a huge list of things repair shops are required to pay for, and the insurances, taxes, and government regulations they are involved with, and they couldn't understand how they could manage to stay in business by charging only $100.00 per hour. A big percentage of that cost your mechanic has to charge you is in direct response to the complaints of your parents and the government sticking their noses in there thinking they're "protecting" you. Now you want even more laws to put more burdens on the shops so it will cost everyone even more to get their cars fixed. And just what kind of law would you want to see? You seem to think Chrysler should cover everything for the life of the van. Amazing. If they were required to do that, you would see the cost of a new vehicle double overnight.

I'm sorry that this happened to you, but you didn't ask about why it happened. You just are angry about the high repair cost, (which seems a little high to me). Here's the facts as I see them. 1) Chrysler built a really good engine. There are some engines out there that don't last 118,000 miles even with great maintenance. 2) Chrysler didn't do anything wrong. The dealer you bought the car from will often try to help, especially if they have their own service department, but a lot of smaller used car dealers just sell the cars. They contract out to other shops for their safety inspections and repairs. Usually you're fortunate to get an agreement from them to cover half of the unexpected repairs for 30 days. That's more than fair because they too don't know when something is going to go wrong, and no reasonable person would expect them to fix problems way into the future. If anyone could tell that, we wouldn't need tow trucks. 3) Cars break down all the time. It has nothing to do with how much money you don't have, whether you're still in school, how many kids you have, or in my case, how long you've been unemployed. Would you feel better if you needed a $4000.00 repair on a $100,000.00 Corvette? I doubt it. 4) Every time you enact a new law a business must comply with, you add costs to that business and that gets added to the cost of their product. You and I pay for that. The manufacturers aren't evil like the politicians want you to think. In fact, you might be one of those "evil corporate executives" one day. Most of them are hard-working, honest, caring people just like you and me. There's always a few bad ones who make news, but where does that leave the other 99.9 percent?

Instead of expecting everyone else to take care of the problem, or looking for someone to blame, here's a couple of suggestions for you to consider. The first stop should be at the Chrysler dealership. I can guarantee if you go in screaming and angry, you're going to leave the same way. They know nothing they can offer you is going to make you happy so there's no reason for them to try. The customers who I saw come in who were courteous, polite, and understanding got the most help. I think I would start with the service manager. Don't waste your time with the service writers at the desk other than to ask for their manager. The service writers have no more authority to give away services than a waitress has to give away food. Ask them if you can see the manager, but you can expect he will be busy with other customers so you might have to wait awhile. The exception would be if you bought the van from a Chrysler dealer. In that case, I'd ask to see the owner of the dealership. He has the final say on what they can do for you, and believe me, he is very aware of the effect of happy customers and word-of-mouth advertising. I worked for a very nice family that owns four Chrysler dealerships, and they have a lot of happy customers. That doesn't mean they can cover every repair for free. No business will stay around long doing that. What you have to look at though is he is your advocate, not your adversary. You can be sure if there is a legitimate reason for Chrysler to pay the repair bill, he will know about it.

What he will not tell you, and it's not common knowledge, is they have some discretionary funds provided by Chrysler every year to help pay for things that really shouldn't have happened, yet they do not meet the requirements of the warranty. Those funds are limited so the dealer has to spend them carefully and where they'll do the most good. That's where being calm and understanding plays in your favor. At the dealership I worked at, they used that money on vehicles that were just a little out-of-warranty. Technically Chrysler doesn't have to pay for out-of-warranty repairs. Ethically they can not be expected to pay those bills, but morally they want you to be happy so someone is at least going to listen to your story.

Speaking of that story, the next step up the chain of command, if the dealer can't help, but especially if you bought the van from them, is the district representative. The dealer may even suggest setting up an appointment to meet with him. That guy visits each dealership about once per month specifically to see if anyone has a problem like yours. This again is where the dealer is your advocate, not your adversary. The district rep. Has a much greater authority to help with the cost of repairs, regardless if the vehicle is in warranty. I don't know how much time they will allot to your meeting. Whenever I saw the guy, he was wandering around talking with the salesmen. Seems he didn't have many customers to meet with.

I have no idea what they might offer you, but if it was something on the order of picking up half the bill, I'd grab that offer. I suspect though the total bill is not going to be $4000.00. I hope I'm not wrong. Basically when any shop or used car dealer offers to pay half the bill, they aren't making any money on the repair but they aren't losing any either. Remember, no one did anything wrong, so you can't expect them to pay your bills, but in the name of good customer relations, "forgiving" half of the bill means they still make enough to pay for the parts and the mechanic's labor. As a former mechanic in this situation, I didn't do anything wrong either so I liked being paid to do the work. What the shop will not collect is the money to pay the office workers, keep the lights on, pay for advertising, etc. They just break even. The argument can also be made they're losing money because the mechanic doing the work is not available to work on regular-paying jobs. An offer of a compromise becomes more attractive to the dealer when repair work is down because at least they can keep the mechanic busy.

The next thing to consider is having the engine repaired at a nearby community college's Automotive program. We were always looking for live work to give the kids real-world experience. What you will get, at least in our case, was a bill for parts and machine shop work, marked up 10 percent to form a "breakage fund" to cover anything we accidentally damaged, and labor at $10.00 per hour for what the job was supposed to take, not the much longer number of hours it actually took us. Typically you'd see a bill for around $200.00 plus parts. All of my students were very conscientious but they were still well-supervised. The drawback to the low cost is it will take many weeks to get the van back. They may only have two to four hours of shop time per day to work on it in between impromptu demonstrations or short trips to the classroom. You also will not get a warranty on the work since there was no profit made, and you were providing the van for learning purposes. Still, we tried to make it right when there was a problem, but we didn't have many of them. You will also have to bring the van in when they are teaching engine repair. For us that was once per year for eight weeks. They will not do engine work when they're teaching Brakes or Electrical. To do so would interfere with the limited time they already have in the different subjects, and it would take work away from the shops that might eventually hire the graduates.

I should mention too that whoever gives you an estimate is going to want to see the engine first. Until I see it, I'm not convinced it is so serious as to need a total rebuild. My mother blew up a 3.0L years ago, and I can identify the cause, (it was a bad 7-year-old original battery). The upper half of the engine didn't need work, yet the total cost of rebuilding the complete engine, with free labor, was under $400.00 for parts. The problem occurred at highway speed which is why she didn't hear it as it developed, but even if she had stopped the engine at the first sign of trouble, the damage was already done. Without going into a lot of detail, the oil was two quarts overfull with raw gas. Gas has no lubricating properties and it destroyed the engine bearings. All the while the oil pressure was fine. Since yours stopped running at a low speed, I'm hoping it is found to have a less serious problem. Unless your mechanic removed the oil pan and inspected the crankshaft and connecting rods, it's hard to know for sure what will be needed. It sounds like he quoted you for a total rebuild which might not be necessary. Some mechanics like to prepare you for the worst, then surprise you will a bill less than expected. Others give you low estimates to get your business, then surprise you with more needed stuff after they start the repairs.

Finally, if it sounds like I'm defending Chrysler, you're right. I like the company for many reasons but in this case I would say the same things about any other manufacturer. We have a very high-level trainer who travels to a few states to put on continuing training classes for mechanics once a month. He does not own a Chrysler product but according to him, Chrysler is one of the most customer-friendly manufacturers in the world right after Hyundai and Toyota. What he means is they design their products with their customers' best interest in mind. At the bottom of that list is Volkswagen, BMW, and General Motors. I know that doesn't make this repair easier to take, but I also saw other faculty members' repair bills for $650.00 for a simple GM fuel pump, and many of those people thought it was normal to have an $800.00 repair bill every year.

Hope some of those ideas help you. Let us know the final outcome.
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Caradiodoc
Nov 25, 2012.

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