Would be real helpful to know which engine you have.
Mileage has relatively little to do with vehicle life. My '88 Grand Caravan has 378,000 miles, and I use it twice a year to pull an enclosed trailer that's bigger than the van. I add about a quart of oil every 1500 miles, change the oil filter once every other year, and I've replaced the transmission filter once. The only new tires that have ever been on it are the set that were on it when my mother bought the van new.
What I'm describing is not neglect; it's abuse, yet I trusted it to take me on three cross-country trips last year. There are many vehicles in the junkyards that had careful maintenance, but their life ended with half as many miles. A big part of the problem has to do with the cost of repairs. My van uses levers and cables to run the heater. Yours uses a relatively troublesome and expensive computer. I have a '95 Grand Caravan that has no interior lights. To fix it requires a new Body Computer. My '88 also has no interior lights, but only when the driver's door is opened. To fix that older van will requires cleaning the ten-dollar switch. As the model year gets older, repairs are more likely to be simple do-it-yourself projects. As vehicles get newer, repairs become very expensive and require specialized equipment and trained professionals.
Some people trade vehicles before it has a major breakdown, thinking they'll get more bucks for it. My opinion is the best time to trade is when you do have an expensive problem. If repairs will cost $2000.00, it will often only lower the trade-in value by $1000.00. My personal preference is to drive 'em 'till the wheels fall off. I get every last ounce of life out of a vehicle. I wouldn't expect that to work for everyone because most people don't know how to make emergency repairs to nurse a car back home. You will need to balance age and mileage with reliability. With the age and mileage you listed, there isn't much trade-in value left. That's the bad news. The good news is if you double the mileage and years you own it, the value isn't going to drop very much more. You would lose much more value due to depreciation if you had a newer vehicle.
You are jsut as likely to have an expensive repair on a three year old van as on yours. My '95 van needed a new transmission at 45,000 and again at 110,000 miles. The transmission on my '88 is original. If your van has been fairly reliable in the past, it isn't common for a whole bunch of expensive repairs to pop up at once. From a strictly practical point of view, compare your potential repair costs to the monthly payments on a three or four-year-old van. One monthly payment will buy you a set of four tires, a new battery, and a set of seat covers. Four payments will get you a new transmission. Another payment will cover the cost of a new rack and pinion assembly, alternator, and a starter with enough left over for a tank of gas. That tank of gas doubles the value of my van! And don't forget, ... You could have monthly payments AND an expensive repair on any newer vehicle.
The noise you described sounds like you might have the Mitsubishi 3.0L engine. There was a fleet of Caravans with that engine near my town a few years ago. Every one of them had well over 400,000 miles before they were sold. Cam followers can wear pinholes in their rubbing surfaces that cause them to leak down and rattle. Replacing them is not terribly expensive. I've had something rattling lower down in my engine for about five years. It hasn't blown up yet, and people walking through parking lots know I'm coming! Probably the most likely thing to worry about would be the timing belt. If it breaks, you will be sitting on the side of the road in a puddle of tears. The good news is no other serious engine damage will result. Some engines, known as "interference" engines, will bend valves that are hit by pistons when the timing belt breaks. The 3.0L engine is not an interference engine.
Thursday, January 28th, 2010 AT 11:26 PM