Piston Slap: Getting a Charge From Your Caravan. Or Not.

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

TTAC commentator Derek writes:

My wife and I purchased a low mileage (50k, now at 70k) 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan two years ago when our fourth came along. We understand that the Siennyssey twins boast better build quality, but we didn’t have to finance the Dodge. Plus, we figured that Dodge had been building the Caravan long enough that they had worked out most of the larger Q/A issues. So far that appears to be true. However, there is one issue we’ve witnessed that I don’t understand. Every now and then (once a month or so) all power will momentarily cut off while the engine is running.

Usually, this will happen as I’m backing out of the drive. In that situation, the power steering will cut out for a few seconds and then kick back on—not a big deal. On the other hand, about a year ago we were headed east on I-90 around dusk. We were traveling at 70 mph with the van set on cruise, when the cruise cut off, the headlights when out, and the dash went blank. Disconcerting. I remember about a year ago (before the Piston Slap series) there being a post on TTAC where folks were discussing the large demands on electrical system in modern vehicles. And how the increased demand has led to some failure. Is that what is happening here?

The battery is no longer the original, but I’m guessing the alternator is. Any ideas of what could be causing the problem?

Sajeev answers:

I see three areas of concern: the ignition switch is losing its marbles, a major component in the charging system is taking a dump, or battery cables are slipping off the battery terminals. Or perhaps the cables are attached so tightly they cracked the terminal inside the battery: that’s always a fun one.

As per usual, the Best and Brightest are right: modern cars have high electrical demands. And today’s multiplexed wiring harnesses mean that a weak battery or dying alternator causes spastic behavior that makes you think your vehicle is possessed. Luckily, parts stores test entire charging systems with a tool they roll out to the parking lot: no greasemonkeying needed. The test is accurate and 100 percent free. Give it a shot.

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

If the alternator is bad, don’t buy a lifetime warranty unit from a parts store. Do anything to get a NEW (not remanufactured) alternator. While I’ve heard lifetime warranty alternators finally changed their evil ways, I’ve dealt with units that failed after six months of use. And left me stranded in not-so-happy places. Consider me scarred me for life.

On the plus side, now I can change my alternator in my sleep, so going back for a new one during an oil change isn’t a big deal. Not that I would . . . but I could.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Ronman Ronman on Jul 10, 2009

    I did speculate that it would be belt related, and Frank Williams nailed it. i completely forgot that the Dodge would have a single belt snaking around the engine. which makes the culprit even more obvious. since the power steering is failing as well i would eliminate battery terminal crack, power steering hoses, or alternator mafunction unless the alt is jamming and holding the belt up in some way. i still think as Frank said it would be a belt tensioner or the main drive pulley on the crank slipping or something... it sounds logical and worth a check

  • GS650G GS650G on Jul 10, 2009

    My father always said mopars suffer complete electrical system failures, at least the Germans didn't engineer that feature out. YOu can try a wiggle test under the dash and through connectors at the firewall. With the key on have someone watch the dash and see if it shows. Clean connectors with contact cleaner spray, especially where they go under the dash through the firewall. Power steering is a 1000 dollar repair on the road, trans is 4000 dollars. Keep a credit card with big limits handy. My mom lost her tranny at 25k, AC at 38K, and power steering at 40K. The last one was a 1000 dollar repair for the pump and rack since when the fluid ran out of the bad rack it destroyed the pump. These vehicles are not highly rated for longevity.

  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.
  • Geozinger Up until recently this was on my short list of cars to replace my old car. However, it didn't pass the "knee test" with my wife as her bad knee makes it difficult for her to get in and out of a sedan. I saw a number of videos about the car and it seems like the real deal as a sporting sedan. In addition I like the low price, too, but it was bad luck/timing that we didn't get to pull the trigger on this one.
  • ToolGuy I agree with everyone here. Of course there are exceptions to what I just said, don't take everything so literally. The important thing is that I weighed in with my opinion, which is helping to move things forward. I believe we can all agree that I make an important contribution (some will differ, that is their prerogative). A stitch in time saves nine. Life isn't fair, you know. I have more to say but will continue at our next meeting. You can count on that, for I am a man of my word. We will make it happen. There might be challenges. I mean, it is what it is. This too shall pass. All we can do is all we can do. These meetings are never really long enough for me to completely express all the greatness within me, are they? Let's meet to discuss. All in a day's work. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. At the end of the day, I must say I agree with you. I think you will agree. When all is said and done, there is more said than done. But of course that is just one man's opinion. You are free to disagree. As I like to say...(I am working on my middle management skills -- how am I doing?)
  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.