By on October 13, 2017

2004 Chrysler 300m Interior, Image: Chrysler

TTAC Commentator mopar4wd writes:

Sajeev,

So, I’ve noticed over the years that common wisdom for purchasing budget cars is all about condition and less about mileage. But other than my trusty ’88 Ramcharger, ’00 Durango, ’91 Eagle summit (Mitsubishi Mirage) and ’87 Toyota pickup, most of the vehicles I have owned all started becoming awful to own going somewhere between 150-200k miles. The list includes Fords, Subarus, Jeeps, Nissans, Chryslers, Volkswagens, Volvos, etc., since I pretty much only buy sub-$5,000 cars and have to rely on them daily. I have shifted to a little older and lower mileage (and of course well taken care of). Usually between 90-120k miles and 10 to 12 years old.

Which leads me to my question. I’m now the owner of a 2004 Chrysler 300M with 42,000 miles. The owner bought it from a Chrysler dealer locally in 2006. It’s well maintained and clean despite living its life outdoors: new tires, new battery and oil changes every 3k miles. The owner had it up for a reasonable price but everyone was low balling her — I brought a reasonable offer (about 15 percent less than asking) and picked it up.

After driving it a thousand miles a few things have popped up: cam sensor going out (a common issue that I’m DIYing today), I’ve made an appointment to have the timing belt and water pump replaced (there was no record of this work), and based on feel I think the rear struts may need a change.

Given the like-new condition of the car is there anything else I should be looking at doing (fluid changes are on the list) given that it’s closing in on 14 years old?

Sajeev answers:

Nice find!  The 300M is arguably the best LH car ever: I’m a big fan of its “cab forward” design over its retrograde LX replacement. I’ll never forget wanting this sleek, black-on-black, leftover 2004 Chrysler Concorde in the showroom as my father was signing the papers on a (surprisingly awful) 2005 Chrysler 300C. Did I mention that before in a previous Piston Slap? Anyway…

Focus on the 42LE transmission upgrades: install a shift kit and upgrade to the largest transmission cooler that’ll fit in the same spot as the factory cooler.

At your low mileage, considering it’s been well maintained (new TIRES? You lucky duck!) the only problem is keeping the transmission alive. Chrysler’s Ultradrive gearboxes deserve their bad reputation, but play your cards right via frequent fluid services/cooler upgrade/shift kit and you’ll be happy with your 42LE. I have faith, as the owner of an upgraded/rebuilt but similarly awful Ford AXOD transaxle, but let’s not take my word for it as a transmission jobber/blogger says this about the similar 42LRE:

The 42LRE is one big headache of a transmission. The internet is littered with stories about this transmission failing and leaving customer stranded. Make sure to insist to your customer the need for timely transmission services that include a fluid and filter change. When possible also suggest the install of a performance shift kit, such as the one made by Transgo.

He didn’t recommend an aftermarket transmission cooler, but do it. The factory cooler is puny, will get overworked in hotter climes, and there are several improvements available that look like a pretty easy conversion.

[Image: Chrysler]

Send your queries to [email protected]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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77 Comments on “Piston Slap: Ultradriving the Budget Beater?...”


  • avatar
    True_Blue

    I own a 300M Special, an ’02. I can’t say it’s been problem-free, but it has been a good car (and has aged quite gracefully).

    Timing belt change is a must, unless you have the records showing it was done in the last 100k or seven years. Gates is the brand most use. Do the tensioner and water pump while you’re in there.

    As mentioned, transmission filter change as well. Only use Mopar ATF +4, or Amsoil. Anything deviating from these will result in slippage, and eventual repair. The biggest issue with the 42LE is when the shift solenoid fails and it goes into limp mode, only giving you first and second gear.

    300mclub.org is a FANTASTIC resource for these, and other LH cars. I’d highly recommend signing up, tell ’em TrueBlue sent you, I’ve been a member there for over a decade!

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the words. Thanks Sajeev for printing this.
      Timing belt will be done soon. Had to have the lower ball joints done on the Durango (wifes DD) so that took precedent.

      Odd you mention the rear stuts. I think they may need to be changed at some point. I have a little float on bumps at high speed. Most part they seem fine but a pot hold on the highway makes the rear a bit unsettled.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Glad you mentioned the transmission fluid. Most quick change places will try to get away with Dexron plus additives. Don’t go there.

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    Oh, and the rear struts, due to the placement and angle of the rear window – massive PITA. Don’t use the “quick strut” replacements when you do these, I believe most are using KYB (don’t quote me on it, I bought rear struts and still haven’t installed them!)

    Sajeev, quite pleasant to open TTAC today and find a 300M piece. Thomas Kreutzer would be proud. Mine has 130K on it, I bought it with 60K. (It’s also my second 300M, my ’99 went 78K miles with me before it was totalled).

    • 0 avatar

      True_Blue: it’s great to hear this made your day, and I didn’t say anything too far off base for an LH fan!

      • 0 avatar
        True_Blue

        No sir, very honest representation. These cars have an ENORMOUS back seat. Well maintained ones are fantastic highway cruisers, and that’s why I’ve hung onto mine as long as I have.

        An image, if you’re curious… I’ve done some light modifications.
        http://www.supermotors.net/getfile/1013823/original/psx_20140308_163628.jpg

        PS: I also had an AXOD (a ’93 Taurus) and I’ve sworn off Ford automatic FWD transmissions since. (I had a ’95 SHO with a manual after the “standard” Taurus, but that was a Mazda-sourced piece with rod-shifters.)

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          You don’t like KYB struts? For a reasonably low price they are quite nice. Not KONI level to be sure but far superior to the mush-O-matic stuff Monroe sells.

          Sajeev/Blue man, are all AXODs a disaster? My 92 with the Vulcan still has its original trans with only two fluid changes….150K…is that atypical?

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            The Quick Strut is Monroe’s strut assembly. I read his comment as saying not to get those, as most prefer KYBs.

  • avatar
    arach

    In my opinion, you have to treat a low mileage car like yours just like a high mileage car.

    the most problems I’ve had with cars in my life are low mileage older cars. Things like seals, and fluids and whatnot cause havoc.

    A well maintained high mileage car will have those things changed out over time, while the low mileage one does not. Time has a tremendous effect on car parts, and in fact there’s a lot of lubrication benefits of driving a car.

    I don’t shy away from high mileage cars, and I’ve had 3 cars that I kept until 192k-240k miles, including a pontiac, Ford, and Nissan. All were flawless even when I sold them.

    On the contrary, I had the same car in a 220k variant replaced with a 48k variant, that were both 25 years old. 25 years old on a 48k car was awful, as EVERYTHING needed to be replaced at once.

    I think cars proportional to their mileage are typically the best buys. Low mileage older cars lead to disproportionately high repair bills, and yet somehow sell for a price premium. High mileage cars have similar bills- but their cost of entry is so much lower, it typically makes up for it.

    Another component is the type of car. I have 192k on my Ford F350 right now, but full size trucks as a general rule seem to hold up well until they get into the 300s, while other cars seem to have a life closer to 150. My Jeep has 142k on it and its been a repair NIGHTMARE, having to be towed 5 times this year alone for all different issues, seeing a new water pump, oil pan and other engine seals, belts, radiator, heater core, AC system, alternator, roof, etc all within 1 year.

    The reason I think my jeep had been so problemmatic is despite “only” having 142k miles, the previous owner barely drove it over the past 5 years. In other words, it rung up about 130k quickly, and the last 12k were over 5 years. This goes back to my hypothesis that NOT driving the car tends to be way worse than high mileage.

    But I’ve done the research and there’s really very little factual statistical information to support any of this, which is the problem. everyone has their own opinion. I’ve bought about 60 cars, which is a larger sample size than many people have, but not statistically significant by any means!

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Agree with this. Bought a very, very low mileage Taurus Wagon for my oldest “son” (actually a very close friend of my son’s that we’ve more or less taken under our family wing) and can attest to issues uncovered with cars that have sat for a long time. Sometimes, they are more problematic than higher-mileage cars. It’s not a super-simple formula or answer, even when looking at overall condition. On the flipside, we bought my son a 1997 Toyota Tercel back in 2008 or so that had 125k on it and he’s still driving it with 250k, original engine/trans and clutch. So, there you go. Buy the best car you can at the price you can afford and do some initial/upfront PM and then keep up with it…

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah I’m always in the sub 5k so I rarely own cars less then 10 years old. The highest mileage I bought was a Toyota pickup at 147k. It blew it’s transmission at 157k miles. Other then that it was fine up to 225k.
      On the other hand My Subuaru at 10 years old and 110k miles was a nightmare right up to when it spun a bearing at 155k. I think really what matters either way is the care it received but even then luck plays into it. You also have to know going in at 10-20 years old somethings will have to be replaced thanks to age. My experience has largely been buying cars with 100-130k miles and have then disintegrate when they cross 150-160k. It may be that I’m kind of a numbers guy so when a car starts needing tons of money at that point I move on because combined with age the value is crap and I don’t like going that far in the hole value wise, rather move on.

      Also agree on sitting being bad. In this car’s case the owner still drove it but rarely (it was their road trip car and her car when her husband wasn’t around.) so Luckily it was maintained. I once bought a Golf that had sat around for a couple years when someones son had left for the west coast. That car was really awful.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      In early 2014, I bought a 1997 Jetta GLX VR6 to get me around until I was ready to purchase a newer car. It only had 88,000 miles at the time….low for a 14-year-old car.

      It had been driven by a college professor 5 miles back and forth on city streets between the university and her home, since new.

      I learned that the Volkswagen VR6 does *not* like to be under-used.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Listen to this person, y’all. I had an older VW Passat with unbelievably low mileage, and while it still looked brand-new, anything made of rubber in the engine compartment was dried-out and leaking. If you have to pretty much take everything in there apart to replace leaky seals because your car is burning as much oil outside as inside the engine, well, it gets pricey.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      arach – I agree with you but I think a huge part of older low mileage cars having more problems has to do with cycles…lots of super short trips mean that virtually everything from the starter to the window lifts get way more use per hundred miles than a car driven for 20K a year. Kyree’s example above is a classic case.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    these cars are always over looked as value luxo barges. With some TLC you the OP should be able to roll a 100k from their perspective low mileage unit. Nice find.

  • avatar
    brakeless

    I am not an LH car fan, unless is has been converted to RWD (after all, they were designed to have a rear driveshaft). I have done a complete rebuild on a 42LE, and I can verify the “big headache”. It worked when I was done, but never again! But, it is just another autotragic transmission (okay, transaxle), and nothing extraordinary. It’s not just the 42LE, but every automatic transmission that can benefit from additional cooling and firmer shifts.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      “after all, they were designed to have a rear driveshaft”

      Yes, the LH architecture had a longitude-FWD layout that could have made for a very Audi-like AWD setup or even a RWD one, but from what I understand, a rear driveshaft was more of an afterthought. The reason these cars adopted the longitude-FWD layout came from Chrysler’s acquisition of AMC, which itself had gotten the layout from Renault. The chassis was so good that they decided to make it the benchmark and adopt the format.

      There is forum lore that the LH successor, which began development sometime in the mid-late 90s, was supposed to continue with the longitude-FWD layout, but would incorporate variants with AWD and possible RWD; the codename for the RWD variant was actually “LX”. However when the “Merger of Equals” happened between Daimler and Chrysler, Daimler forced or persuaded Chrysler to scrap the project and create a new, lower-cost platform that would accept existing Mercedes-Benz components, like floorpans, suspensions and transmissions…and this became the “LX” that we know today in the 300, Charger and Challenger.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        From the get go the LH was intended to be avaialable as a V6 fwd, V6 awd or V8 rwd. There would have been a just a few floor pan pieces to swap to bolt in that rear axle. If you’ve ever been under a LH car you can see exactly the space left for the differential and axle shafts. They didn’t want to loose the police car market which they had dominated up to that point. So no you probably couldn’t have bought a civilian version.

        The original LX proposal was pretty much the RWD LH plans dusted off and they were ready to tool when the merger of equals happened. Then yes they were sent back to the drawing board to adapt it to accept the Mercedes components.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Change the timing belt at only 42K miles? Do these really deteriorate that much with age despite low milage?

    I’m really glad that the fashion for timing belts rather than chains has reversed itself. Belts were a terrible idea, yet even marques like Ferrari used them for a while.

    • 0 avatar
      brakeless

      The problem with timing chains is that they are usually supposed to last for “the life of the engine”. Ask me how many timing chain replacements I have done, and I won’t be able to count them. Of course, there are a few particularly troublesome models like the GM 3.6 and the Ford 5.4. In reality, chains often need replacing at roughly double or triple the interval of belts.

      • 0 avatar
        NeilM

        Brakeless writes: “The problem with timing chains is that they are usually supposed to last for “the life of the engine”. Ask me how many timing chain replacements I have done, and I won’t be able to count them.”

        Depends on how well, or more to the point how poorly, the particular timing chain system is designed. We have two BMW straight sixes, both with over 120K miles and one a track car that sees severe duty, to say the least. I don’t ever expect to change their timing chains, and nor would most owners with up to 250K miles or more.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          guides and tensioners are the usual points of failure.

        • 0 avatar

          When my 330i retired, it was due to needing.a clutch (orig) and rust. The timing chain was OE, but it lived its whole life in Mobil One every 8k….

          I’ve changed belts at recommended intervals, 120k Acura.

          I’m hoping my Mobil One/Amsoil every 8k routine keeps my 3.6 GM going…the chain issue appears to be low oil related.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        And let’s not forget about bad timing chain guides that allow the chain to stretch and throw-off the timing enough to do serious damage (see Audi V6, V8 and V10 engines in the mid-aughts).

        I’m not concerned about the chain in my 3.7-liter Duratec Lincoln MKS, although the (internal, chain-driven) water pump might prove to be an issue in another 50K miles, but at least I can see that coming and replace it preemptively if I keep it that long. But in the RWD application of the 3.7-liter (Mustang, F-150), the water pump was relocated to the external front of the engine.

    • 0 avatar

      All rubber parts deteriorate with age. Even though (the internet says) this motor isn’t an interference engine, you don’t want a dryrotted belt snapping, leaving you stranded.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      You could pull the covers and inspect the belt too and decide from there. My ’96 ES300 looked just about perfect with a 100k+ mile 13 year old belt (had been changed once, car had 207k), my ’97 Ranger’s original 20 year old 128k mile belt was pretty bad looking (cracked). In both cases the motors were non-interference so failure would not have been catastrophic.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        It’s hard to completely inspect a belt properly, though. In my limited experience, the vast majority of timing belt failures I fixed were when the crank sprocket sheared off a run of teeth at startup. Actual snapped belts were pretty rare (except on my dad’s Spirit R/T, the Turbo III was a notorious belt eater.)

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Well if it is obviously dry-rotted and cracked, I’d say it needs replacing. If the rubber looks ‘fresh,’ on a non-interference motor, I supposed I’d be willing to risk it (depending on how much money I want to put into a car, longer term plans for it, whether it’s used for long trips, etc).

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Given the horrible condition of some timing belts I’ve seen that hadn’t failed yet, I’m willing to let any belt that shows no sign of rubber deterioration during a visual inspection of the full length continue to operate for another year. The last one under my watch was 15 years and 100k miles old when the vehicle was sold.

            However, I have seen newer belts that I would have changed long before that.

            Our cool, dry climate does seem to be easy on rubber.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      NeilM,
      Here is one data point. I replaced the timing belt on our 99 Oddy 3.5 at 124k miles and 16 years of operation. The maintenance schedule was 105k miles or 7 years. After removing the old belt, I looked it over closely and could not find any cracking or other obvious wear on it. So time did not seem to be an issue and 105 k miles to replace appeared to be ultra conservative.

    • 0 avatar

      You know I asked several mechanics I know (from guys who tune cars at lime rock to my local independent) None could recall a belt failing with low mileage and age. Many from high mileage. That said it will be getting changed this fall. I was going to do it myself but no time and my independent guy gave a very good price so in it will go. Also this later version of the 3.5 I’m told will bend valves if it fails.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I’d second Sajeev’s advice and say refresh fluids (especially trans, with correct spec), install trans cooler, give the suspension a good looking over, and enjoy! I’m a bit iffy on the shift-kit recommendation, I feel like that could lead to more unexpected consequences than benefits.

    • 0 avatar

      Shift kits speed things up which keeps the friction materials in better shape.
      Sort of like seeing someone ride the clutch in traffic, a shift kit ensures the transmission stays more efficient and lasts longer.

      Take it from someone that has ’em in all his autoboxes, shift kits make “regular” automatics feel as sloppy as a CVT.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        back when the Ultradrive family came out, the “usual” transmission fluid on the market was Dexron III/Mercon, which was used in just about every automatic on the market. The Ultradrive needs ATF+3 or ATF+4 because it has a different friction modifier package. A lot of people murdered their Ultradrive trans by putting Dexron III in it; the clutches and brakes would slip more than normal, the TCM would freak out and drop to limp-home mode (2nd gear only) and that was that.

        surely, the first few years of its existence it was truly problematic, but considering that every Chrysler-designed transmission since has been the Ultradrive type (yes, even the 62TE and 68RFE) so it’s not like the concept is flawed.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          Sample size of one, but a good friend drove an ’02 300M for ~13 years and ~177,000 miles with nary a problem from the transmission or engine. His was always serviced at what seems to be a reasonably honest, competent dealer, so it got Mopar-spec’d fluids at the correct intervals. Perhaps that’s what kept the 42LE running right?

          Eventually, other issues that weren’t trivial for a non-DIYer caused him to trade it in:
          – dented front fender, courtesy of a reckless BMW driver.
          – dead right-rear window; not sure if it was the power supply or the regulator. He didn’t investigate it, but I assume that would have been an easy fix, absent other issues.
          – a dead driver’s seat heater, a feature he’d really come to enjoy. Possibly an easy fix for a wrencher, but relatively expensive if relying on someone else to source and install a replacement seat or heater. (I think the heater was integrated in such a way as to make replacement of the entire seat the best option.)
          – most critically, the steering and front suspension just wore out. The labor quote was pretty expensive.

          Together, estimates for those repairs exceeded, pretty substantially, the Blue Book value of the car. My friend still kind of misses it.

          It would’ve been a great car to see on Wheeler Dealers. Fix the above, give it a good detailing, and you’ve got a great car with a new lease on life.

          I’ll add that the past 18 months have not been kind to the 300M population. I used to see them fairly regularly, but they seem to have evaporated. I’m guessing 3rd and 4th owners neglected them or ditched them when the first expensive repair arose.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Honestly that sounds exactly like what’s I’ve read about LHs. The transmission concern is real as far as needing to stay on top of maintenance with proper fluid, but aside from that, avoid the 2.7L and be prepared to do some front end work (like every Chrysler made in the last 20-30 years), and except for the occasional window regulator or seat heater (and maybe some A/C trouble), they’re really pretty solid cars. Very comfortable and decent driving to boot.

          • 0 avatar
            True_Blue

            Yeah, these cars depreciated like sinking stones. The front end work is tricky, especially the inner tie-rod bushings, which lead to that sloppy feeling steering… they’re up behind the back of the block, under the cowl, and involve removing the cowl, intake, and ancillary bits to get to. (I built a fresh 3.5 for my ’02 and swapped the bushings with the engine out).

            I’d love to see an M on Wheeler Dealers, but I won’t hold my breath for one.

        • 0 avatar
          True_Blue

          Yup, you know it, JimZ.

          Many of the issues we see on the 42LE is a careless trans service where the cheap “universal” fluid is dumped in. Amazingly, 200 miles later, the car is shifting strange, and the owner wonders why.

          Solenoid packs, speed sensors, and wrong fluid: the major enemies of the 42LE. Most transmissions don’t need rebuilt after “failure”, they just need these parts.

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          Hold on a minute. You can still use any generic Dex III fluid and then add a friction modifier. I have been doing this for the past 75K miles in our 2001 Odyssey – the cheapest Dex III ($2.29/qt @ Sam’s Club) plus Lubegard black. It was an experiment at first, but it is holding up much better than the stock Honda ATF ever did.

          After 50K on the Honda ATF, the fluid was dark and semi-burnt smelling. Then I did a 4x drain & refill with Dex III plus the Lubegard (on the final fill), and after 50K on that fluid, it still looked perfect.

          YMMV

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            ” You can still use any generic Dex III fluid and then add a friction modifier.”

            Why would you take such a dumb risk? It’s not like ATF+4 is that expensive.

            cripes, I don’t get some people. they go out of their way to ignore what the oem says to use, then inevitably blame the car for their own negligence.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Modifying something as precisely engineered as a valve body in an automatic transmission with a $100 aftermarket kit just sounds all kinds of sketchy. Briefly looked into it for the jatco in my Maxima that started to slur 2-3 and 3-4 upshifts under brisk acceleration, peoples’ experiences were mixed. I honestly think with correct spec fresh fluid and a trans cooler, that 42k mile transmission will last just fine for years to come. Jim brings up a good point below, I think people underestimate just how many of those failures arose from improper fluid changes, or on higher mile cars, absolute neglect of any fluid changes at all.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          the valve body on Ultradrives is a lot simpler than the maze of hydraulic circuits on other automatics. solenoids directly control most of the actuation so they don’t have a dizzying array of pistons, valves, check balls, etc.

        • 0 avatar
          brakeless

          Typical transmissions are precisely engineered to shift smoothly in order to avoid customer complaints. However, the smoothness is definitely at the expense of clutch life. Most shift kits are nothing fancy, and completely reversible. You might have some different sized holes on a valve body plate and a heavier accumulator spring. Kits for newer cars will add computer programming.

    • 0 avatar

      This is the second Ultra drive I have owned myself (first was a 99 voyager that was still working great at 130k when an accident totaled it.) I think among immediate family it’s likely the 7th or 8th. Most had very little trouble. The only one that was a real problem was a first year New Yorker with one my parents had. Looking online if you change the fluid some what regularly they are fine to 150-200k miles then they do seem to need some serious repairs.

      The first years had real problems but my the late 90’s early 2000’s most were solved. It’s not a great transmission but the later ones are about average.

      Oddly my last car a 01 XC70 is known for killing its auto early (a former dealer tech told me the were doing 2-3 trannys a week on them circa 2004) but mine was one of the few solid things on the car when I decided to dump it. I did change the fluid at 90k miles when I bought it.

  • avatar
    r129

    I would agree that the best thing is to focus on the transmission on one of these cars. As for everything else, unless it’s something that can end up causing more damage if it breaks (like that timing belt), or something that will improve the driving characteristics, I usually just leave it alone until it fails.

    While older low mileage cars can be troublesome, sometimes you get lucky. I purchased my 1996 Cutlass Supreme in 2013 with 58,000 miles and drove it for 3 1/2 years and 20,000 miles and it needed nothing besides oil changes and tires. The last 6 months are a different story, but nothing too catastrophic. I hope you have many good years with your 300M.

    • 0 avatar

      My last older low mileage car was a 1993 eagle summit(sedan mitsu mirage). Bought with 60k miles in 2005 drove it another 70k or so milea and only replaced a wheel bearing and welded one exhaust leak. Most reliable car I have ever owned.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    I bought a MityVac vacuum pump for DIY transmission oil changes, per the recommendation of someone in the comments here a few years ago.

    Definitely worth it if you don’t want to get under the car.

    • 0 avatar
      StudeDude

      A vacuum pump might be a good idea for some transmissions with a non-accessible filter, but you need to do the filter service on these Chrysler units when the fluid is changed/flushed. Otherwise, it’s a useless exercise. Underneath it is….

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Why the filter? It’s just a coarse screen to keep big chunks of debris out of the pump. Most of the solids in the fluid eventually plate out at the bottom of the pan and stay there (not hurting anything).

        Just do topside fluid changes and that is all that is really needed.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I hope your LH experience is better than mine was. Good advice from Sajeev, as usual.

    Good luck with it.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice piece Sajeev.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    The key is a proper transmission fluid and filter change. Do not under any circumstances allow someone to hook up a “flush” machine. If they are using a flushing machine you can be guaranteed they aren’t putting Chrysler ATF+4 in it. They are putting in a Dexron product and a bottle of converter if you are lucky.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah never do a flush. I always do things like that myself (drain and fill). My usual time to go to a mechanic is when something takes to long. I have to much going on to devote more then 4 hours to a car project longer then that and too the shop it goes.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      unfortunately most transmissions don’t have drains on the torque converter, so just dropping the pan means you’re only changing 4 quarts of fluid; leaving 6-8 quarts of dirty fluid still in there.

      • 0 avatar

        True I like to change it. Then drive 6 months change it again and go another 50-60k miles. I figure between the two changes I got most of the bad stuff out.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        using the flush machine doesn’t get all of the old oil out either, even if you are exchanging the full transmission capacity. The fresh fluid mixes with the old in the pan and the high velocity swirling of fluid in the torque converter assures that any new unmixed fluid that made it there is instantly mixed with old.

        So I recommend dropping the pan, cleaning it out, changing the filter and installing a drain plug if at all possible. Fill, drive some, drain, fill, drive until you have done ~150% of the transmission capacity. If you can do it yourself even though you are burning a few quarts of fluid it will usually be cheaper than paying for a transmission fluid exchange.

  • avatar
    salomervich

    I’m the happy owner of not 1, but 2 LH cars; a 1997 Chrysler LHS and 2004 Chrysler 300M Special; I’ve owned both since new and both are extremely low mileage, with the LHS having 35,000 miles on it and the 300M having 13,000 miles on it. They are both great driving cars, long haul cruisers; that I’ve kept and enjoyed thoroughly.

    And that’s my advice, fix whatever is off, and maintain what needs maintenance.

    I must say I had never read about the shift kit, care to elaborate?

  • avatar

    As an update bought the car in early august. I have now put about 3500 miles on it.

    The car is great to drive quiet comfortable handles well. It’s really just about as quiet as my P2 volvo inside and shockingly the materials on the interior are only slightly worse and far better the my Durangos interior. On handling I’m not sure how to describe it. It goes around corners at high speed shockingly flat and fast it also feels good. But it doesn’t feel sporty like the compacts I have owned nor does it feel like a euro luxo barge.

    The car has a huge interior it actually has 3 separate sets of latch points for car seats unlike most cars which share the center position. I have had my 3 kids in the back seat multiple times with no complaining. The leg room is huge. The trunk is great as well. I’m really more a wagon/SUV guy but the trunk and fold down seats make this fairly use-able.

    I did change the cam sensor which cleared an engine code and got rid of a 2500 rpm stumble ($25 and an hour of work). The sunroof is a bit finicky online some people mention a possible bad ground. Mine will vent but it dosen’t want to slide open so I will have to check that out. The dash light are intermittent. 300mclub points to the inverter to power the EL back lights as the likely culprit looks like a aftermarket inverter will work for under $30. The dash does have a small crack near the defrost vents. I have applied some 303 protectant to keep it from getting worse but I haven’t decided if I want to fix it or leave it alone.

    Overall I’m happy so far. Next will come a newer Durango for the wife’s DD, then maybe some time for a project truck.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Re Durango – I realized a few weeks ago that there are a shocking number of 1998-2003 Durangos running around my local area given the general perception of their quality.

      2004-2009 Durangos? Not so much.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        1G durangos are pretty stout. Prodigious rusters and a history of trans issues and weak front ends as well, but in the best of classic American beater fashions they can take a lickin’ and keep tickin.’ Durangos both 1st and 2nd gen are ‘hood favorites around here, usually in quite dilapidated shape. The 2nd gen is jut appalling ugly, the gen 1s I really quite fancy.

    • 0 avatar

      Mine is a 2000 Durango.
      4.7 SLT plus.
      It has been very good owned it for almost a decade now. The upper ball joints I did myself last year. lowers were done last month. Has 170k miles on it. Rust didn’t start on mine until 2014. Bumper started looking like crud. I bought a new repop on Ebay painted in the paint booth at work. Still looks great a few years later. Got a rust bubble on drivers qtr a couple years ago. Now starting to spread and have some on that side rocker as well. Over all mine has very little rust for 17 years in New England.

      The 2nd gen didn’t sell as well as the first it also had some electrical bugs as I recall. It did have a heavier duty chassis thou and you could get the Hemi. The rear suspension was also a big improvement first gens tend to have a little wander in the rear thanks to long leaf springs. The 2nd gen added a watts link to correct this. Mine had a issue with the rear end trying to skip over bumps when I bought it. Some better quality off road shocks fixed most of it.

      Overall I would recommend a first gen if you can find a clean one which there are a few out there.

    • 0 avatar
      someoldfool

      No one has mentioned changing the spark plugs. When I had my 300M in the early 2000s the “internet wisdom” was to NEVER EVER try to change the plugs yourself. Take the car to a dealer, yes dealer, and have them do it. Something about plastic or nylon bolts that hold the coil packs on top of the plugs. The first time someone touches these bolts with a wrench, they break. The dealer’s mechanics will know how to get the coil packs out and back in place. A mechanic for an independent or chain shop probably won’t know about this booby trap and who knows what the mechanic’s attempts at a fix would be.

  • avatar
    sckid213

    My parents are still rolling in a 2000 Chrysler 300M they bought virtually new (something like 3k miles), and still love it. In fact, it was covered in this column on this blog three years ago: https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/piston-slap-impala-vs-300/

    They’re still loving the 300M, and my dad waxes it every six months. It’s red and still gets compliments from people thinking it’s a new car (!!).

    I love visiting and just sitting in the 300M. It’s indeed very comfortable, and I appreciate the honest simplicity of the gauges and controls in this day of touch screens and so many electronic nannies. The drive is slightly crude – but in a good way. Hydraulic steering that lets some of the road feel through. It’s aged very well (as have my parents!)

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      “It’s red and still gets compliments from people thinking it’s a new car”

      I wanted to say that too, but thought I’d sound like braggart.

      There’s two types of 300Ms in 2017 – stunning, well maintained examples; obviously loved by their owners, and roach coaches of the first degree (last degree?)
      Doesn’t seem to be much middle ground anymore.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    Keep on top of the transmission fluid, coolant and cooling system and you’ll be fine (with oil changes on schedule, of course). The 3.5 is a good engine, just use a good synthetic oil and oil filter, like Castrol full synthetic with Bosch Filtech or WIX filters.

    I have owned two LHs, a ’97 Concorde and an ’04 Intrepid. I never had a problem with either aside from a window motor on the Intrepid, and that was with 80k miles between the two. I like the LH so much (specifically, the first-gen Concorde) that I purchased a ’93 a couple of months ago on a whim. It was in tip top shape aesthetically and mechanically and I couldn’t pass it up, because I didn’t know if I’d ever come across a well cared for Concorde again.

    The Concorde is registered and treated as a classic, with the same care someone would give a ’69 Camaro or Charger or such. It was sort of an impulse buy, much like the ’06 Ram 2500 Megacab CTD I purchased a few weeks after, which is hard to find in an unmolested, unmodified condition. Most Ram HDs are lifted, chipped, “tuned” and beat to hell. I had some $ to play with and I came across both at the right time. I want a J-body LeBaron hardtop now, but my wife is giving me the side eye :-)

  • avatar
    EspritdeFacelVega

    These were such pleasant cars. I drove them as rentals on 3 or 4 occasions and they were great looking, very nice to drive and had wonderful interiors for the time. However, I really notice whenever I see one, or any LH car, today as they seem to have a low survival rate compared to early 2000s Asian cars (Tauri also disappearing fast, although clapped out Malibus seem to soldier on). I’m wondering if some of those cooling issues affected their longevity here in Texas.

  • avatar
    Weskyvet

    totally off topic but I’m slightly desperate for an answer as to why this keeps happening.

    I have a 1999 GMC Yukon with the 5.7 Vortec. I’m on my 2nd (soon to be third engine) and here’s the issue I’m having. First engine ran fine up until 148,ooo miles then with no warning other than a slight tick which could be mistaken for the normal chevy tick some late 90s early 2000s engines exhibit from tensioners it spun a main bearing and knocked a chunk out of the block just in front of the first main bearing behind the harmonic balancer inside the oil pan. Now motor number 2 is a used engine that had 100,000 and we’ve put only about 10,000 on it and the front two mains are showing abnormal wear (3 thousandths), the motor knocks, and we have to run 20w50 just to hold 20lbs of oil pressure with a high volume pump. My question is why in the world is it the front 2 main journals? Is this normal for Vortecs or have I managed to get 2 screwed up factory mistakes?
    Either way the truck is going the way of the dodo as my wife cannot trust the vehicle for any trips over roughly 30 miles and my 95 YJ Wrangler with 308,000 has proven to be far more reliable than the Yukon. I also need a couple of suggestions for a good under 5 grand priced vehicle of approximately the same size with 4 wheel drive.

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