Piston Slap: Registration For The Toronto & Calgary Minivan?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap registration for the toronto calgary minivan

TTAC Commentator BCalgary writes:

Hello Sajeev!

Last summer I finished a 2 year stint in Scotland and moved back to my native Canada. My family is from Toronto, however, I received a job offer in Calgary so my wife and I packed up our belongings and moved out west. Since my new job didn’t start until September, we decided to take the couple of months we had off and do a dream vacation that consisted of driving across Canada while camping and kayaking at various points along the way. We ended up buying a well maintained 2005 Town and Country (3.8L) with high miles (269,000 km or 167,000 miles at the time) for the trip.

Fast forward seven months and it has 290000 km (180,000 miles) and I am at a crossroads as to whether or not to keep it.

The van itself has been awesome. My wife and I camp, kayak, go on road trips and sometimes sleep in it; perfect for all those things. We would like to get a couple more years out of it but it needs some work and I’m getting cold feet about dumping money into a 10-year-old high mileage Chrysler. Another complication is its registered in Ontario and needs to pass an inspection to be registered in Alberta. I’ve had a pre-inspection done and it needs a couple things I normally wouldn’t do on a vehicle this old (see list of problems).

I was hoping for fresh perspective from you and the B&B to help me decide what to do and also to diagnose some mystery problems. Here is what needs to be done or might need to be done in the future:

  • For the out-of-province inspection, it needs a new parking brake since the cable has snapped (quoted at 300$ installed).
  • New tire pressure sensors (again only to pass inspection). Cheapest I could find is about $55 each, so $220 before taxes and shipping plus $80 to get them installed.
  • For the past couple of weeks, a check engine light has been coming on intermittently. I haven’t had it diagnosed yet but I would have to address it to pass inspection.
  • It’s been cold here and noticed a small amount of exhaust gases coming from the middle of the van. It’s not loud yet but will probably need to be addressed sometime in the next year.
  • When I turn the front wheels to their extremes, the power steering pump gets very loud; sounds a bit like a whooshing (pitch going up and down) you would hear on an old radio as you are trying to tune into a station. It has been doing this for four months now but still works perfectly.
  • A creaking in the front suspension at low speeds. Consumer reports says there is a service bulletin for this, reading “2004-05 models may have a creaking/squawking sound from the front struts due to grease on the strut jounce drying out (02-004-05); they may also require replacement of a sway bar bushing (02-003-05).” The struts were replaced 30,000 miles ago so hopefully its just the sway bar bushings.
  • This one is a bit strange. If you park the car, turn off the engine and lock the doors while you’re still inside, an electrical buzz (like a short circuit) can be heard but goes away after a couple of seconds. All the electronics work perfectly so I’m not sure what is going on.
  • On very cold mornings (-10C or lower), there is a loud knocking coming from the engine when it’s first started. It goes away within 20 seconds, so I’m not sure if I should be worried or not. The engine feels good to drive; it hasn’t lost any power and gets normal gas mileage. The spark plugs were changed 20,000 miles ago (not sure if that’s relevant).

So there it is. Seems like a very long list now that I type it all out. If these problems didn’t make noises you would never know anything is wrong. It drives beautifully so we would like to keep it, but also don’t want to waste money on something that is on its last leg. Do any of these problems sound really serious? Should I get these items repaired or ditch it and get something a bit newer? Money is tight right now due to tuition and recent moving expenses so it wouldn’t be much newer, but I would go for something known to be more reliable.

Sajeev answers:

Thank you for the detailed assessment of your concern. It makes this much easier – leaving more time for filler like “LS4-FTW” or to embrace Panther Love. Neither is a horrible idea…but that’s not the point.

Sell this van in Toronto and buy something new when you move to Calgary. Rent a U-Haul (if needed) and Uber yourself to a good vehicle in Alberta. Then again, that’s a long trip in a U-Haul or to ship all your belongings via courier. It’s gonna rack up some serious cash. Perhaps you could save money by putting it into the Chrysler’s successful registration instead.

Clear cut answer it ain’t: keeping or selling is rarely very easy, even on a depreciated machine. The question is: can you easily find another vehicle if you sell yours in Toronto?

I suspect, considering the stress avoided by shipping your belongings/air travel (the time value of money), the smart move is selling in Toronto and finding something new(er) in Calgary.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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7 of 32 comments
  • BCalgary BCalgary on May 04, 2015

    Thanks for the replies. I am in Calgary now with the van but still haven't switched the registration. I'm considering getting a new small car like a Micra or Mirrage on a long term loan to keep the payments low for the next two years while my wife goes to college, then paying it off quickly with her income once she is working again. The cost certainty is really appealing to me as random large repair bills will be difficult for us to manage with our limited cash for the next two years. Once my wife is working and we go to two cars we would keep this one and get a c segment hatch for kids and utility. But its still up in the air and I haven't decided yet. The van is still on its original transmission which makes me nervous, did Chrysler sort out its transmission problems by then?

    • See 4 previous
    • Would-be gearhead Would-be gearhead on May 09, 2015

      @BCalgary If you want a reliable independent shop, try Fifty-Fourth and Fourth. Dale is the owner-operator, and is a trained and authorised Honda mechanic. He works on all makes, including two of my neighbours' (former) Dodge vans. You won't be sold anything not necessary, but Dale will let you know if things are getting sketchy. By the way, the comments about values of vehicles, in the West, as well as in T.O., are accurate. Same with transmissions. Dale's shop is south just off Macleod Trail. 403-252-5905. Oh, yeah, the jobs aren't vanishing because of crude prices, nor the new government!

  • Calgarytek Calgarytek on May 05, 2015

    You're considering a Micra/Mirage? Just get an LoC and buy one of these: http://wwwb.autotrader.ca/a/Honda/CR-V/KELOWNA/British+Columbia/19_8593131_/?showcpo=ShowCPO&orup=2_15_8 (you'd have to drive out to Kelowna, but it aint super far). You can just drive it back and go through the inspection. Or do the brakes and windshield yourself.

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