TTAC Readers Call It: Town & Country Troubles

Thomas Kreutzer
by Thomas Kreutzer

Way back on August 13, 2013, just two comments into the discussion in which I trumpeted to the world the selection of the Chrysler Town and Country S as the chariot of choice for the mid-size Kreutzer family, user “Infinitime” wrote: The only hesitation I have about buying a Caravan when the time comes, is their propensity to use the most fragile components for the automatic transmission. Hopefully, the design of the new six-speed has finally addressed this concern. Well, here we are just a year and three months later and I am forced to acknowledge the wisdom of the best and the brightest and ponder, once again, why it is that transmissions always seem to grenade on rainy, crappy days.

Over the past few months I have been off pursuing a master’s degree and have been unable to contribute to our favorite website. Recent events, however, have demanded that I break my self-imposed hiatus to bring you news that, as several astute readers predicted, the transmission in my Town & Country did, in fact, give up the ghost with less than 12K easy miles on the clock. While checking on the repairs a couple of days later, I was shown the transmission oil pan and snapped a photo of what appears to be a dead sea-urchin. How that creature found its way into my transmission is a mystery at this point, but the effects of its arrival were catastrophic.

It started a few weeks ago. I noticed that the van hesitated when I was backing up a small slope. It went, but it acted almost like I had forgotten to release the emergency brake. After that we went on our merry way without any difficulties. Then, a day or two before the transmission decided to leave us stranded, I backed out of the garage, made a full stop, and shifted into drive. The transmission gave a mighty metallic thump and went into gear. I probably should have had it looked at then, but since there seemed to be no follow-on effects, we continued to drive the vehicle for another week.

The day the transmission died involved a trip to our local mall. We left home and made the 30 minute drive without trouble, but after a brief stop at Target we were greeted by a high pitched whine, similar to what your power steering pump might do when the fluid gets low, when I restarted the engine. We ran a couple of blocks up the street to have lunch and when we came back out the whine began again as we made our way out to the street. As we turned onto the main road the van struggled forward and then all momentum dropped off while the RPMs went up. After a couple of minutes of fiddling with the gear selector and revving the engine, I was able to get enough momentum to get us off the street and into a parking spot from which I called Chrysler roadside assistance.

If there is a good side to this story, it’s that Chrysler roadside assistance got us a tow truck in short order. Because there are five of us, including three in booster seats, we weren’t able to get a large taxi right away but, after making a few calls, I was able to summon a friend who could come and take the family home while I waited for the tow truck. After dropping me at home the driver, who told me he makes a lot of money hauling around late model Dodge and Chrysler minivans, took it to the dealer and left it on their lot.

Ten days later, after a full transmission rebuild, the van came home. Since its return, we’ve used it for errands around town and taken a couple of trips out onto faster roads in the country just to make sure things are normal. To my local Chrysler shop’s credit, the van seems like it runs better than ever and shifts so smoothly you can’t even feel the gear changes. Chrysler, of course, picked up the entire bill under their 5 year/100,000 mile warranty program but I am hoping that this is the last of it.

It’s no secret to regular readers that I am a Mopar guy. Over the past 25 years I have owned several used Dodge and Chrysler products and this van is the second Chrysler product I have purchased new. I can tell you from personal experience that the quality of Chrysler products has definitely climbed over the past two decades but this latest experience, especially when I consider the fact that TTAC’s readers expressed this exact concern at the time of my purchase, takes away some of my warm and fuzzies. I wrote when I purchased it that I intend to have this vehicle a long, long time and that it will likely follow me around the world and home again. Reliability is important to me and despite the fact that Chrysler’s quality is improving, it seems to me that they still have some work to do.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Leavenworth, Kansas with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

Thomas Kreutzer
Thomas Kreutzer

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  • Sooke Sooke on Dec 08, 2014

    "Manual gearboxes should be the standard, even amongst minivans!" . . Does anyone still sell a minivan with a manual transmission?

    • Dtremit Dtremit on Dec 08, 2014

      The Mazda5, if you can still find a 2014 in the US. The manual continues for 2015 in Canada. Plenty available overseas, of course.

  • 74DodgeD300 74DodgeD300 on Feb 28, 2015

    I have been a Mopar fan for years. I have a 2000 Grand Caravan which had 166k, with no issues. Simple maintenance issues, and a new timing belt. I changed out the 3.0 motor at 166k, as it was drinking gas. It was running, and driving great, and it had plenty of power, the tranny was shifting great. I put a motor from an auction wrecked van which had 34k on it, so how could I not resist. I have now put 48k on the motor since, and it runs good. Unfortunately the tranny bit the dust after putting 48 k on the newest motor. 450.00 later, and the tranny runs good as new. The wife now has a 2014 200, and the van is now my home remodeling truck :) My son is driving a 2000 cirrus 186k (new ignition switch)still running. The daughter is driving grandma 2000 breeze, 134k still running(this car is mad crazy tough).

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.