By on April 20, 2011

Philip writes:

Sajeev,

I have been driving a 2002 Chrysler T&C mini-van that is on its 3rd transmission. Based on the mileage, number 4 is right around the corner. I am feeling the Panther Love and I looking into a Lincoln Town Car.

A little background info. We live in The Woodlands Tx and I am the main taxi driver for a tall family of six. Neither my wife nor my teenage children do not what their dad driving an old man’s car. I, on the other hand, could care less.

The Panther I found on Ebaymotors/Autotrader is a 2003 Town Car with 42000 miles for 13800. The car is in Richmond Tx. Could you point me in the right direction on who I could have look at this car and what would be a fair asking price?

P.S.: Wife wants me to get a smaller sedan. She will be getting herself a mini-van for the family.

Sajeev answers:

Interesting predicament, and yes, Panther Love is the answer.  I live halfway between you and that car, but I probably don’t have the time to check it out. Plus, I got enough Panther Love around my corner of Houston.

Therefore spending $100-200 for a PPI (pre-purchase inspection) from third party is a good idea for peace of mind.  Don’t get fancy with engine compression tests, only the basics: frame damage, major leaks, bad suspension bushings, etc. Panthers have a reputation for durability for a reason.  More to the point, you can spend all of 20 minutes reading up on the tricks of the inspection trade on the Internet, and become a Panther expert yourself. Start here.

When it comes to pricing, check what “private party” value is with Edmunds.com. Long story short, I would almost never pay more than private party value, for any car.  And while dealerships provide a service that entitles them to a reasonable profit, there’s usually enough margin at private party value (from what I’ve experienced) to keep everyone happy at the negotiating table.  Good luck.

Send your queries to [email protected]. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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41 Comments on “Piston Slap: (Sane) Purchase Advice For (Insane) Panther Love...”


  • avatar
    GS650G

    Chrysler T and C. Keeping transmission repair shops in business for 20 years or more. Get the Crown Vic. Better mileage than the TC and almost as much cargo room in the trunk

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Panthers have big transmission issues too.  When in Naples this Christmas I was in a Panther whose transmission blew up on the highway.
     
    The policeman who assisted us told me their (Panther) transmissions failed on a regular basis.  I looked it up and it’s true.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      No one ever said Panthers are perfectly reliable.  They’re not.  They are, however, cheap to fix when they do break.

      But the transmission problems they do have aren’t a patch on what a Caravan, Chrysler LH or V6 Honda of this vintage will do.

    • 0 avatar

      Look here, sonny boy, I *just* saw 2 golldarned 4.6’s & a good tranny for sale on CraigsList for $750 out the door here in NE Ohio.
       
      ’98-’02 for fitment.
       
      $500 junkyard for either part (engine, tranny) and $500 installed (thereabouts). You can’t go wrong. Hate on it all you want, panther love is innocent and pure and able to be repaired cheaply!

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        By 2002 these really shouldn’t be going through transmissions that frequently – it was really the early A604 Ultradrives that were problematic, and it didn’t help that the dipsticks said Dexron was ok when in reality Dexron would kill these transmissions.

        I have a good friend with 140,000 miles on a 2003 Caravan with the original transmission, and no it doesn’t have an auxiliary cooler. What is he doing different than some of these people who have gone through 3 & 4 transmissions? He changes the fluid around the recommended intervals – that’s important on these…and he uses the correct ATF+4 fluid. I wonder if some of these fast-lube places with their “so-called” universal fluid are really the cause of some of these problems – having worked at one, I know for a fact that they don’t use the correct OEM specified ATF+4 fluid.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      I have owned four new Chryslers, 1 Chrysler and 3 Dodges (including a long wheel base Grand Caravan minivan) and never lost a transmission. The only Chrysler tranny that gave me a problem was my LeBaron convertible with the original A604 – it lost 4th and reverse while driving on route 202 in south east Pennsylvania. But the car was bought used with 100k on the clock and had 135,000 miles on it at the time. Why is my experience different? Well I didn’t abuse them. I did proper maintenance and used the right fluid. When I had the convertible’s tranny rebuilt I made sure they knew that it had to have ATF+3 (that was back then now it’s +4). Since this happened in 1999 the shop was well aware what kind of fluid was required.
       
      I think the accurate statement would be that these transmission have ok reliability *IF* you maintain them and don’t abuse them ( and an aux cooler never hurts). There’s not a robust safety margin built into them like the old 727 Torqueflite. As for the police panther tranny issues, I wouldn’t give it too much weight, knowing how the police drive and use their cars. It would be much more illuminating to know the rate of tranny failures on cars sold to the public.

      • 0 avatar
        SherbornSean

        I replace the transmission fluid on our ’99 GC every 2 years. We just passed 140K on the original drivetrain, with no signs of problems. 

        I honestly don’t know why some transmissions go and some stay.  Preventative maintenance can be a factor, but I suspect the hilliness of the terrain, how heavily weighed down the vehicle, whether you tow with it, etc. all come into play.  Turning a 17 year old lose on it would surely be an issue.

        I am looking for 2-3 more years out of the CrapVan.  And while I need to replace most of the suspension, everything else seems to be holding up.  For now.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    I was on a road trip with some friends when the transmission in their Grand Caravan literally exploded.  The impact was so lound and forceful that it felt like we ran over a man hole without the cover on it.  It was imediately clear what had happened when we saw the tell tale gush of red fluid pooring out from underneath the stricken Dodge. Luckily we were only a couple blocks from a mechanic.  They opted to replace the transmission but if it were I, I would have moved on to greener pastures and let the Dodge rot.  The GV ended up costing several thousand dollars more in repair bills and they have since moved on to a new car.  Hindsight is 20/20 I guess.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    “Neither my wife nor my teenage children do not what their dad driving an old man’s car. I, on the other hand, could care less.”
    Good on ya.  When my daughter and I rented a car to visit New England colleges, she cringed when she saw the Grand Marquis the rental agency gave us.  She called it a “grandma car”, but it got the job done.  Builds character.

  • avatar

    It is true what I’ve heard that the T&C automatic transmissions last almost forever if the transmission fluid is changed like every 50 000 km (31000 mi)?

    • 0 avatar
      BoredOOMM

      And Factory Warrantied Transmissions can be found for $995 from dealers.
      The fact the T&C is a 2002 would cause me to look at at least a 2005 with Stowngo seating…

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Where did you get that number, my wholesale cost for a quality warrantied trans for one of those was about $1300 the last time I did one and that was a few years ago.

  • avatar
    mjz

    Unless you have your own oil rig there in TX, why would you want to drive either of these gas gulping behemoths?

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      “tall family of 6” —  he has no choice, anything that fits his family will guzzle gas.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Why because they aren’t gas gulping rigs at least if you are referring to a Panther. In the real world they are within 1 MPG of a V6 Camry or Accord and when you factor in the much higher maintenance, repair, and insurance costs of those rubber band powered FWD cars the Panther will have much lower cost of ownership.

      • 0 avatar
        windswords

        If you transport 6 then you have to calculate not mpg but mppg – mile per passenger gallon. Under this calculation a panther with 6 people gets better mileage and is better for the environment than a Prius with just a driver in it. :)
         

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Off topic: One of my friends has had 3 Grand Caravans over the last 12 years I’ve known him, and zero of the issues with any of those vans had to do with the trans. The three GCs he had was when his kids were young (between 1999-2008). We frequently car pooled to the numerous soccer, band and scouting events together. He and his family were way harder on their vehicles than my family on mine, when he traded them back in these vans were used up, not just used. But the trannies seemed to have survived their ordeals.
     
    On topic: If a Panther floats your boat, why not?
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      The Wedding DJ

      I don’t get it, either.  I’ve had a ’93 Dynasty (200,000 miles), a 2000 Concorde (101,000 miles), and an ’02 Voyager (120,000 miles, now in my brother’s hands), and I currently drive a ’99 Grand Voyager with 226,000 miles, all with the notorious four-speed automatic.  ZERO tranny issues with any of these vehicles (but the Concorde put me on the 2.7 victims’ list).  My sister did have a transmission go bad on a ’95 Caravan.  Know why?  Her husband put Dexron II in it.  By the time I found out, it was too late.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Well, I just heard from a co worker today who has a T&C not unlike the pix in the post. He has had numerous problems with the car, but I didn’t ask about maintenance schedules, as he gets pretty p*ssed off about the whole subject. I thought it best to leave it alone. What’s he looking at to replace the T&C?
         
        A Hyundai Santa Fe.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Six tall people are not going to be comfortable riding around in a Crown Vic for very long.
    Go pile the family in one before jumping on that bandwagon.
     

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      He isn’t talking about a CV he it talking about getting a TC with its’ longer wheel base there is much more rear leg room.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @John Horner: You may be right about trying one out first. If the kids are really that tall, will a car, any car be big enough? Should they be looking at a full sized van at some point instead? Might make more sense than even another minivan.

  • avatar
    silverkris

    There has been a lot of history on Chrysler minivan transmissions and repair issues.  A lot of problems may be due to the wrong fluid being used.  Here is a link from Allpar, which is a Mopar users/fans website about transmission issues:

    http://www.allpar.com/fix/trans.html

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      I’ve followed Chrysler’s problems off and on for years. Whatever the reason for the Ultrdrive’s failures, it’s inexcusable for not specifying or not knowing the proper fluid, solenoid packs, proper dipstick or whatever to be used by an OEM, same goes for the 2.7L engine’s oil passages. Plus the fact that there is an exhaustable website (http://www.allpar.com) covering so much of what one has to/can do to keep these cars running is amazing – I know, I’ve spent many hours on it in the past trying to diagnose issues with the LeBaron convertible I used to own. You don’t see this (at least not that I’ve found) for any other OEM – foreign or domestic. That’s not a jab at Chrysler, but it also put the fear in me of owning a Chrysler product in the future. That was the main reason I got rid of our 1996 Intrepid (3.5L, Ultradrive) for a 1999 Stratus (2.4L, Torqueflite?) and got rid of that before the warranty period ran out, although I never had a single issue with the car and the subsequent owner never did, either.

      For the record, a close friend has had Chrysler minivans since day one, and all of his have been very reliable, but he, like me, takes care and maintains them by the book, too. His last van did have the fuel pump fail, but he wasn’t stranded – he took it in because it was making quite a lot of racket. Two of us correctly diagnosed the issue. It cost him about $600.00 to get it fixed by the Dodge dealer.

      From what I said above, would I now buy another Chrysler vehicle? Can’t say, but they have a few I really find attractive. I’ll see what the future holds when it comes time to say good-bye to my Impala.

      I’m not a panther fan, either, but for the most part, they seem to wear well, and the RWD layout is a plus for this.

      I’m still for the Flex, though.

      PS. I really like your avatar!

      • 0 avatar
        windswords

        Zack,
        Your 1999 Stratus 2.4L had the son of Ultradrive, not a Torqueflite as did my 97 Stratus (2.4 Mitsu V6). I didn’t have any problems with my tranny either. The whole car (1st gen “Cloud Car”) was great.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    As much a it pains me to say this (because I adore my Panthers), that Town Car will only fit four people comfortably. So keep that in mind when you make your decision.
     
    If you do buy a Town Car and you plan on filling it with people, try to buy one with rear air suspension. Keeps you level. My Crown Vic has coils and sits high in the back ordinarily, but when I load it with people the nose points a little high.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yup air suspension is the only way to go as the car rides and handles the exact same whether you are going solo you have 6 people, or a Subaru engine, Chrysler transmission, or 600lbs of concrete mix in the trunk. I had 1 coil Panther and it is the only one I sold in less than 2 years.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    I had a Dodge Intrepid R/T that put me on the Panther Love list as well.  At 67,000 miles and needing another new transmission (#3), and a major a/c repair, and a 3.5 liter that sounded like tank treads on start-up, I moved onto my Grand Marquis.

    Other than front end work, it has been a sweetheart of a car at 120,000 miles, and hoping for 200,000.  That is miles you don’t mind driving, either.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Here’s an idea.  The OP hasn’t said what his budget is.  How bout a Freestyle/Taurus X/Flex?  Sajeev himself said in an earlier Pistion Slap (or New or Used – I can’t remember) that even the CVT has proven to be reliable as long as you actually follow the recomendations of Ford for service.  They’re CUVs/wagons (whatever, you get the point) with carvernous interiors and good fuel economy for the size of the vehicle.  The 3.0V6 CVT/6 speed auto models may be dog slow in a drag race but they get dang near 30mpg on the hwy.  If I needed seating for six and didn’t want the soul sucking-ness of a minivan that’s what I’d get.  YMMV. 

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Actually when the 3.0 CVT Five Hundred came out (no 3.0s with the Taurus badge) Ford touted how great it’s 0-60 time and MPG was, being quicker than many competitors while getting better MPG. But once you tack the extra weight and poorer aerodynamics of the wagon back on there you’re real world MPG is right there with a Panther.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “How bout a Freestyle/Taurus X/Flex?”

      Took the words right out of my mouth! Flex, definitely, as you can’t confuse it for anything else on the road, so that alone gets my vote!

      Dan, where have you been? Welcome back!

    • 0 avatar

      I vaguely remember saying there’s not enough statistical data to come to any conclusion about the 500/Freestyle’s CVT units…good or bad. They made so few of them, its like a tree falling in the forest now.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        True.  I think that now my brain is working better you recomended following Ford’s fluid recomendations which were to change it every 85,000 miles.  So if you couldn’t find a 500 with records to prove it had been done, just get one with under 85,000 miles and get it done. 

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    Buy a Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger instead, even TTAC admitted on facebook that the LX is basically the new Panther. TrueDelta shows that they are very reliable other than the ’08 model year when things really hit the crapper at Chryco. Plus, your kids won’t be embarrassed to be seen in one.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yeah but it sounds like he’d be embarrassed in one of those POS and since it’s his car and he’s paying for it that’s the only thing that matters.

      • 0 avatar
        windswords

        Your welcome to your opinion but there are hundreds of thousands of very happy owners of those cars. They wouldn’t have rear seat room nor the bench front seat of the panthers though. Too bad Plymouth is gone. A nice 300 based stripper Gran Fury with a front bench would be sweet.

    • 0 avatar

      TTAC on Facebook approves of the new redesign, not so much of the ones in Philip’s price range. I kinda despise their fit/finish…which says a lot considering the Panther’s awful beancounting.
      (I had a 2005 Chrysler 300C, with the typical Chrysler interior (those seats!) craftsmanship…and sold it for a Panther after 9 months of ownership.)

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      There are much more satisfied Panther owners per capita than owners of the big Chryslers, and much higher owner loyalty too.
      Unfortunately those big Chryslers do have a larger back seat than the lesser Panthers but not the TC.
      My main point however was that he wants a Panther and since it will be his car who gives a rats ass if the kids will be embarrassed or not. Personally my son isn’t embarrased to ride in one of my Panthers and all his friends always say my Marauder is their favorite ca,r except one whom it scares.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I can tell you that servicing the Ford/GM and Chrysler FWD transaxles doubles there life generally. You really can’t go wrong with a Panter car unless fuel economy and Winter traction are big concerns. But then you could always install snows and hyper mile.

  • avatar
    armadamaster

    The Houston Craigslist has some great deals on Crown Vics, Grand Marquis, and Town Cars, FTW.

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