By on November 2, 2018

Bob writes:

Hello Sajeev,

My wife’s 2012 Grand Caravan has a quirk: an intermittent no start condition when the key is inserted into the ignition and turned. Dash lights come on, but engine doesn’t crank. Doesn’t seem to matter if I cover the brake or not. Doesn’t seem to matter if the row the gear selector a couple times. After 3 or 4 attempts of turning the key it suddenly starts and drives.

I researched fuse boxes, but the symptoms don’t quite match. I researched the neutral switch device, but once again symptoms don’t quite match. Ignition switch might be the culprit? My red herrings:

  1. The car has stalled, intermittently, a half-dozen times while driving to work at roughly 35 mph. Pull over, and it restarts.
  2. My best friend’s wife has a 2013 Town & Country with the same problem. We were both shocked.
  3. When we first bought the car, we lost the one and only original key. So not wanting to pay the dealership fee of $500+, the internet found a guy who could do it from the back of his car for $200. The keys are Dodge keys, but not Grand Caravan specific. They have worked fine, but I wonder if once in a blue moon the ignition switch decides it doesn’t like the impostor keys? And my friend, who has the same problem, has their original keys?

The van has been a godsend for our three kids and dogs, so the idea of going to a SUV or Mega-truck sounds like a lot of money for less space, but I can’t have her driving around wondering if she will stall in traffic, or — more annoying — just can’t start after loading up to go somewhere with the kids. The dealership is useless unless they can replicate it. And it never does it when you want to show someone.

Perhaps the car is possessed by the ghost of passenger from its prior rental life?

Sajeev answers:

I love these questions because, if I get it right, we both learn something new.  After bricking my (seemingly) rudimentary Ford Ranger when the gauges mysteriously failed died from owner stupidity, I realized the level of connectivity in modern vehicles. Behold the CAN bus system: even more than before, throwing parts at problems is beyond stupid.

Instead, pay for an expert diagnosis, but read this article by Brandon Steckler first. Remember the recalls on related modules in this body style’s recent past: we also discussed the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM) previously — I reckon it’s the problem behind this intermittent no start condition.

Or it is the power/ignition/ground wires to the TIPM.

Or maybe both: how you gonna know, son?

You find a zen-master level technician, paying handsomely for a complete diagnosis: there’s a highly-educated, local automotive mastermind at an independent shop, or an FCA dealership nearby that’ll be up to it. Reassure them you are willing to pay for a diagnosis that unequivocally gives a clean bill of health to the TIPM, WIM, ECU and (maybe) the entire CAN bus.

The work is pricey (hourly rates for skilled techs is brutal for good reason) but the alternative is spending hundreds on a new TIPM while mindlessly hoping it’ll do the trick.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler]

Send your queries to [email protected]m. 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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36 Comments on “Piston Slap: CAN Busing Around a No-Start Van?...”


  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I am surprised the OP was not able to find some information on the FCA forums, if two people are having the problem than it stands to reason a bunch of people have had the problem. Either way, I would put my money on a bad ignition switch.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      Had same issue with our 2013 Ram. Similar problem to the GM ignition switch recall. Take all the excess keys, lanyards, tags, etc… off the key ring. When the FCA key is in the ignition port it gets misaligned and won’t allow the ignition fully function. You need to tilt the key upwards slightly when it does this engage it properly. Having less weight on the key ring makes it happen less frequently.

  • avatar
    gtem

    The one remaining bug-a-boo on these stalwarts: electrical issues. I can’t even keep track of all of the strange behavior I’ve heard about these. The crazy thing is each one can have a different symptom: random headlight flashing on a coworker’s car, wipers turning on when you open the door, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      RSF

      Typical FCA. If they could ever get their electrical reliability issues solved I’d be a buyer.

      • 0 avatar
        teddyc73

        Typical FCA? I have had many of their products over the years(still have one)and I have never had any electrical issues. Neither have family members with FCA vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Statistically/historically, yes, typical FCA. The TIPM they used across their line has been a total disaster, I’m hopeful however that the newest generation of vehicles avoided it. The Pentastar is a gem, as are the 8-speed transmissions. The interiors have come an incredibly long way with Sergio leading the charge. I am genuinely eyeing lightly used Pacificas for our first family car, my rental impressed the heck out of me. Did not at all feel like a compromise (in dynamics, handling, etc) for the sake of utility from behind the wheel.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            That original TIPM design was a Daimler-Chrysler product, not an FCA product. Worse, Daimler sold off Chrysler’s electronics division to Siemens. From what I’ve been reading, FCA has migrated slowly to an in-house TIPM module which has greatly reduced the number of issues caused by that Daimler-Chrysler module.

        • 0 avatar
          cdotson

          My parents’ 1996 Grand Caravan would randomly activate the wipers a single swipe going down the highway. Seemed to happen more frequently near semi trucks but never did isolate why (electrical gremlin).

          My 2002 Ram 1500 has a passenger front power window that works 1/2 the speed or slower as the other windows and always has, no idea why. Also had a severed ground strap on the bed that took out a taillight circuit board.

          • 0 avatar
            18726543

            Thank you cdotson. Yes, I’ve read about the head gasket issues. This was a one-owner, dealer serviced vehicle so I believe it’s been well cared for and the Carfax reports many preventative maintenance trips to the Jeep dealer in its history. Completely flushing the cooling system and filling with Zerex G0-5 is on my list once I get the dash back in the damn thing. Apparently the blend doors fail in these things with a 100% certainty. Once I’m all back together and flushed I’m going to say 10 Hail Marys and hope the valve seats don’t fall out of the head. …another little easter egg for these engines.

          • 0 avatar

            cdotson, that sounds like a radio-frequency interference (RFI) problem. Truckers are more likely than most to have two-way radios, especially citizens’ band radios (assuming Canada/US). RFI can explain this problem.

        • 0 avatar

          Same here as Teddyc73. No electrical issues for the Chrysler products I’ve owned and I keep mine over 10 years (20 on my current DD).

    • 0 avatar
      18726543

      I picked up a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the 4.7L HO motor and 545RFE transmission a few months ago. One of the many issues I found in the vehicle was no reverse lights. Generally this tends to be a simple fix but I read online that the most common cause is a failure of the Transmission Range Sensor which is a solenoid pack located on the back of the transmission valve body. An updated unit was released around 2005 that had a differently colored electrical connector so you can tell which your vehicle has without taking it apart. Other failure modes of this unit include no-starts sometimes solved by raking the shifter Park-to-first-to-Park while holding the key in crank and your foot on the brake. Since the transmission range sensor takes the place of both the reverse light switch and the park/neutral safety switch its failure can show up in a number of forms.

      Another issue I had was no power window movement or door lock actuation on the passenger’s side of the vehicle. I found a broken wire in both the driver’s and passenger’s front door jambs. Soldering a short extension piece into that wire solved both problems. This is my first modern FCA vehicle and so far I’m not terribly impressed.

      • 0 avatar
        cdotson

        I have a 2002 Ram 1500 with the 4.7L (non HO) motor in it. Keep an eye on the cooling system. Make sure to use the orange HOAT coolant. If it’s got green standard coolant in it find out how to flush flush flush that out and get HOAT back in. Don’t let it overheat. Never top off with straight water.

        Your head gaskets and your wallet will thank you.

      • 0 avatar
        ahintofpepperjack

        “This is my first modern FCA vehicle and so far I’m not terribly impressed.”

        Your 15 year old vehicle has had 2 minor issues and one of them is a known failure and the manufacturer released an easily identifiable updated part.

        How could you ever be happy with anything?

        Also, that is not a Modern Vehicle, and also not an FCA vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      18726543

      The easily identifiable part still had to be purchased and if it had not been installed by me would’ve cost about 1000 dollars to install. It’s nice to release updated parts, but if you don’t issue replacement campaigns, you’re basically just saying, “yeah, we know there’s a problem with the way we designed that last one, but it’s your problem now”. The broken door harness wires are just sloppy design. Doors are going to open and close for the life of the vehicle and the harnesses should have enough length that the contained wires aren’t stressed by this. Another extremely common issue I encountered has to do with the way the climate control is designed. The HVAC box doors are supposed to run full sweep for calibration every 20-or-so ignition cycles and this causes the blend doors specifically to break off their pivot axles. This is a dash-out repair when done properly and is inexcusable design work. Have you ever had blend doors physically deform during normal use? I’ve owned over 15 vehicles and never once had a blend door failure. I understand cables break now and then but this failure is a direct result of how the climate control is designed to work and you have to remove the dash to fix it. The lug nuts on the vehicle are those garbage 2-piece, chrome sleeve design lug nuts where the sleeve either rounds off or falls off leaving you with non-matching lug nut sizes at best and a few hours of chiseling off rounded off lug nuts at worst. I’ve replaced various sensors on the vehicle and all the brake lines/hoses which I agree would be reasonable for the age. I would argue that it is in fact a “modern vehicle”. It makes use of CAN/BUS communications and has “recent” options like TPMS, navigation, and rain-sensing wipers. I use that statement to differentiate it from my previous Chrysler vehicles, a 1989 Cherokee and a 1987 Comanche.

      But you’re right, I mis-spoke, it’s a Daimler/Chrysler vehicle.

  • avatar
    snoproblem

    How about the ground? Had a truck do something similar a while back.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    There’s likely an intermittent ground somewhere; sounds like a frayed signal wire more than a corroded body ground line.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “When we first bought the car, we lost the one and only original key. So not wanting to pay the dealership fee of $500+, the internet found a guy who could do it from the back of his car for $200. The keys are Dodge keys, but not Grand Caravan specific. They have worked fine, but I wonder if once in a blue moon the ignition switch decides it doesn’t like the impostor keys? And my friend, who has the same problem, has their original keys?”

    this could be. I had a third (transponder) key made for my Ranger, which was an aftermarket one from the hardware store. the aftermarket key definitely takes longer to authenticate; there’s a delay of about a second or two to crank after I turn the key to START which doesn’t happen with the original Ford keys.

  • avatar
    forward_look

    Intermittents are very hard to diagnose and fix. One little glitch and all those bits are in chaos, and the “turn it off, then back on” routine sets them all right again, smiling like nothing happened. Things that just break are so much easier to fix.

    I had a similar thing happen to my Focus: the A/C would randomly quit, because a glitch reset the outside air temp (in the passenger side mirror) to absolute zero, and called for no cooling. In the olden days, the A/C would freeze up and quit, but now it takes a computer.

    Putting more gadgets on the bus is only going to make things worse.

    If bad things happen when you open a door or hit a bump, I’d suspect wiring, but otherwise you’re having a “blue screen” problem.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    I had a Chrysler which did the same. I found that there was a wire attached to the fuel injection rail (from the front of the car, rear left rail on V6) that needed to be pulled off, cleaned and reattached once and a while to prevent this problem. Simple as that.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      There’s a contact grease you can buy in a tube that’s designed to limit corrosion and maintain contact. A small dab on that connection (make sure you don’t short two contacts) may well eliminate the need for that periodic service.

  • avatar
    Willyam

    I’ve had a spate of cars from 2001 to 2008 Model Years. Yep, hate payments. Still, it gives me an opportunity to try lots of cars out as we, uh, broke enthusiasts just can’t settle on one automotive lobster, can we?

    Anyway, I’ve found that many domestic makers still don’t engineer for the long run. The most awful thing I’ve found related to the topic? My 2005 Mustang. It has a brain that Ford refers to as the SJB (Smart Junction Box). This little 8-track sized wonder controls everything Christine-style in the car. Where did Ford put it? Right passenger foot well, lovingly protected by a piece of foam over the connections which, of course, are on TOP of the box. Gravity people, gravity. The door and cowling foam insulation all turned to dust by 2011 or so, and the factory often forgets to remove the rubber plugs in the bottom of the doors I guess, and the car doused itself one morning really well in a downpoor. I wound up limping to the house with systems failing one by one like a shot-up B-17 in a WW2 movie. Windows stuck down, wipers off, dash lights and ALL gauges off, even the speedo. I drove slowly as the wipers were dead, radio blinking, no defrost, etc., my head out the window like a dog in the breeze, squinting into the rain and waving at traffic.

    I stuck it in the garage and found that the SJB was full of water, as was the passenger footwell. Ford doesn’t make them anymore, so I had to source one from a yard and sync (pun) the windows and radio to it. Fortunately, its alive again. There are TSB’s for most of these issues, so it’s not unique. Many of the fixes involve new, heavier duty weatherstrip pieces made of heat shrink rubber.

    After all this I present my much cheaper example 2001 CR-V. 17 years of service, one cracked radiator (and it drove me home on no coolant). No squeaks, no rattles, interior looks new. Idles smooth. Sold it because I was bored and it was too slow for highway trips.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      It’s weird. I’m sure when new a 1992 GM/Ford product was statistically less reliabile than one from 2002. But, in 2018 I think I’d take my chances with the 1992 vehicle in most cases(*).

      (*)– there is no rust where I live.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        There’s no rust where I live either. I know I substantially slowed down the process by moving the family heirloom Mustang from Ohio to New Mexico.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        I’m kind of the same way ajla, and the rule applies across the board: I’ll take my fairly mechanically simple V6 A4 Quattro over a newer one with DI and stretching timing chains, I’ll take a ’92-’96 Camry over a ’07-’08 with an oil burner motor and cracked dash and whatever other consequences of decontenting. On the older stuff, if something does go wrong (rust aside) it’s oftentimes easier and cheaper to fix.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          I know at least one elderly owned dealer maintained 2005 Grand Prix 3800 that I’d proudly rock as a commuter and wouldn’t loose any sleep at night worrying about it.

          My Dad has a 1996 Caprice and with the exception of the Opti-spark and known Dexcool stuff I’d be happy to use that as a highway cruiser as well.

    • 0 avatar
      wayneoh

      I’m curious, how many timing belts on the CRV in 17 years ?
      Had a golf buddy with one many years ago, always took it to the Honda Dealer.
      IIRC, the timing belt replacement was almost a grand.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    The TIPM is certainly a possibility, though I would expect a lot of other, strange but otherwise unrelated issues like the key fob’s buttons unlocking the wrong door (a fairly common and long-term issue I had on an ’08 Jeep before near-total failure about 4 years later) and other seemingly random incidents.

    On the other hand, there is the possibility of a starter relay not working 100%. This could be due to corroded contacts in the relay itself or an intermittent short caused by a wire whose insulation has been worn away due to friction either where it contacts the body (potentially a grommet missing in the firewall) or routed too close to other metal on or around the engine (possibly melted and touching engine or exhaust.) This could also be the cause of the occasional engine stall due to shorting a control signal.

    I’ll grant, this far out of warranty the TIPM is the more expensive solution but I also believe it is the more likely one. Problem is, dealerships will avoid that because they only treat one symptom at a time, no matter how many different symptoms you throw at them. In my own case, I made the excuse I needed to get something out of the car after it had gone into the shop and got to tell the tech what ALL the symptoms were–at which point said tech immediately realized the true cause. The so-called ‘service advisors’ don’t log all of the symptoms in the paperwork sent to the tech in every case.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yeah those perfect Chryslers you’ve had are so perfect giving you ZERO problems.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @Scoutdude: Not a single problem I mentioned crippled the car. And NONE of the FCA-built cars have offered me any problems. As I said above, my Wrangler was a Daimler/Chrysler product and even then it did everything I needed of it and more. What electrical problems I had were as much the dealership trying to dodge the real fix as it was the Daimler-designed TIPM.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    You need to listen to your vehicle and what it is telling you, in this case it is telling you that it wants a new owner.

    Being a Chrysler it could be anything. I have not seen a no crank due to the TIPM that is more likely to cause things like the wipers or radio to not work when you want them or in the case of the wipers start going even though they aren’t switched on.

    One of the many modules shorting out the CAN bus is another big possibility, the problem is of course it could be any of the modules and the only way to figure out which one is to disconnect them one at a time until it works. Unfortunately with an intermittent problem like this you don’t really know if the module you just disconnected was shorting out the CAN bus or if the module that was causing the problem decided to start working at the same time.

    You can tell if it is a shorted CAN bus with a scan tool because it will not be able to communicate with the vehicle when the CAN bus is shorted.

    Which brings us back to the point that the best plan of action is to waste no time or money chasing down the problem and trade it in sooner rather than later.

    Regarding the key if it is a factory key but not the one dressed in minivan clothes that is not the root cause of the problem it is the same key, just in different clothing. On any Chrysler or Ford you absolutely always want to have 3 keys. You can add a 3rd key yourself as long as you have 2 working keys. So if you loose one you can get another factory key on E-bay or elsewhere and add it in a minute with only the cost of the key and cutting. Less than two keys and you’ll need the right scan tool and access to the car’s code to pair another key which means that you are spending $200 instead of $50.

  • avatar
    CPEM

    I had almost the same exact problem… on a 2006 Ford Explorer. It was in and out of the shop for 2 months, and nobody could figure out what was wrong. Sometimes it would start up fine, make it about 2 blocks, then turn off, pull over to the curb, turned back on, and be fine the rest of the way. Other times, it would do that for the whole trip. Other times, it just wouldn’t turn on and you’d have to wait 30-60 minutes before it would turn on. Other times, no problems whatsoever. Fuses and relays were replaced, throttle bodies cleaned, fuel pumps replaced, electrical system tested, nothing solved the problem. Finally, another shop suggested replacing the crankshaft position sensor and sure enough, the problem has been resolved. None of the codes being thrown suggested the crankshaft position sensor, so it left everyone befuddled, but that’s what it was.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Once you’re down to just one key, use it to bypass the transponder system and use (unlimited number of) “dummy keys” from then on.

    My ’04 F-150 required me to have a factory transponder key within 4 inches from the ignition for the dummy keys to work, but a couple years later, it required it within 2 inches, but now requires the transponder key basically touching the reader. It might eventually have a problem reading the transponder key in the actually ignition.

  • avatar
    Grenade

    You need some specialized equipment, and a seasoned troubleshooter to find CANBUS issues in a Dodge. Here’s a youtube video from South Main Auto Channel where he diagnoses an FCA van with an intermittent issue with the wipers coming on when the power sliding door is opened.

    https://youtu.be/Q0gTP2zerV4

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Eric’s latest GC video is exactly what I had in mind (and what I referred to) when I saw this post this morning. He wrenches on a fair amount of them out his way in rural NY.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      And a lot of luck. That problem could have literally been anywhere along that bus.

      I did want to yell at the screen a couple of times, “pull up that carpet” and “CAN L short to ground” I’m both surprised (because it would be easy to implement)and not surprised (because Chrysler) that there wasn’t a code somewhere that was CAN to ground or CAN L to ground.

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