1991 Dodge Caravan transmission not engaging?

Tiny
LAVA
  • MEMBER
  • 1991 DODGE CARAVAN
  • 6 CYL
  • 2WD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 200,000 MILES
OK, the "back story" is we bought this van used and cheap about 18 months ago. It "must" have had a replaced transmission, I think, as I've never heard of a Caravan transmission holding up this long--but the previous owner, who'd had it about a year, didn't know.

It's done remarkably well. The "usual" electrical problems (for an older Caravan)--speedometer and gauges work intermittently, warning lights randomly go on and off, interior lights mostly don't work, wipers and door chimes randomly go off, stereo doesn't work most of the time, etc. But DRIVES really well. :)

Also, since the odometer only works intermittently (like the speedometer), the mileage is a guess--but I feel like it "must" have at least this many miles, and I'm guessing at least 50,000 on the (presumably) replaced or rebuilt transmission.

Recently (last month or two), sometimes (not every time--no discernible pattern) when I go from Park to Reverse or Park to Drive or Reverse to Drive or Drive to Reverse, nothing happens. It's like I'm still in Park (or Neutral?--I haven't done a "roll check" because I'm usually in a spot where I need to move).

So far, this has corrected when I put it into Park, wait a few seconds, then put it back into gear. The last few times, it's taken me doing that a few times before it "got with it" and engaged.

There's no audible odd sound/change, no loss of gears when driving that I've noticed, etc. I've had transmissions go out before on both manual and automatic, and they didn't go like this--instead they "lost gears" until all were gone and the car acted like it was in neutral when it was in gear.

I've searched online and the only reference I've found is for a Toyota doing this and the answer was a "internal hydraulic pressure loss = a major transmission problem" unless it's a selenoid in which case the check engine light would be on. Well, due to the electrical problems, I can't tell if the check engine light or any other warning light is on. If it would ever do it in the driveway I would put that fuse in (I've pulled several, including the one that controls that awful "ding" sound when it randomly decides the doors are open and they're not) and see--but a check engine light would still be pretty meaningless, I think.

Any thoughts? Is there something simple we can check or change first? If this is the transmission going, is there a likely pattern or timeframe?

We hope to get a new van in a few months--we don't want to finance and we want to get a nicer used model--but probably don't want to put the money into replacing the transmission on this one. OTOH, we have kids so I CANNOT be stranded somewhere if it's preventable!

THANK YOU!
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Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 AT 7:16 AM

5 Replies

Tiny
JACK42
  • MEMBER
If it is intermittent, it wil be hard to find, and you are correct I dont recall hearing of a Dodge trans doing that. Since you dont have to shut the ignition off to make it work, it is proably something in the trans on its way out. Try a service, but no promises
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Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 AT 3:35 PM
Tiny
LAVA
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That's kind of what I figured--I did find a couple of hits online after posting here when it occurred to me to search under "not going into gear" rather than "not engaging" :)

They mentioned changing the filter and fluid and checking/cleaning the valves, and otherwise it was likely the transmission itself. Planning on doing all that this weekend (we've checked the fluid but haven't done much else about this yet, so maybe that will help). So hopefully it will work.

The other thing I didn't mention is that I'm not going to take it to a transmission shop to have it checked--my husband will do it--there may be honest ones out there but I've never found one, and over the years I've dealt with a few :( Also, as you say, since it's intermittent, even if they were honest they might not be able to find anything. Yet!

FWIW, I did look locally at listings for cheaper vans and I can get another "stopgap vehicle" cheaper than I can replace that transmission, so if it continues after we service it, we'll probably do that until we can get a nicer one :)

What's the logic about shutting off the ignition, would that indicate electrical? I haven't tried that (though a couple of the hits I got today mentioned it as fixing their problems for that incident) when it's happened but I probably will next time--as when it did it yesterday and it took several gear changes to get it to engage.

Anyway, thanks for the help!
-lava
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Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 AT 5:28 PM
Tiny
JACK42
  • MEMBER
Newer transmissions have many more electric solenoids in them instead of hydraulic valves. When they begin to have problems, cycling the key will sometimes temporarily fix the problem
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Thursday, January 3rd, 2008 AT 7:38 AM
Tiny
LAVA
  • MEMBER
I noticed today it's definitely much worse when it's colder and gets better once it warms up (seems to be a pattern, anyway!--At least today). Also, I checked and it's definitely acting like it's in neutral rather than in park when it's not engaging (it rolls). And for the first time, it did it while it was already moving (in low gear, just when starting out, both in F and R). It was very moody at first but once it got well warmed up, it did alright.

Does that give any more diagnostic clues?

Also, just FYI, the odometer reads 219,000+, and with it only working intermittently, it's got to have at least 250,000 miles on it (probably closer to 300,000)--which is pretty darn amazing for a Caravan, even on a 2nd (presumed) transmission!

Thanks!
-lava
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Thursday, January 3rd, 2008 AT 4:52 PM
Tiny
JACK42
  • MEMBER
More likely 3rd or 4th trans. Lol Sounds like an internal problem, might be something sticky in the valve body. Maybe a service will help
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Friday, January 4th, 2008 AT 7:20 AM

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