The Dodge Caravan is a series of minivans that were produced by Chrysler. They have been in production since 1984 until the 2020 year models. But just like any other vehicle, the Dodge Caravan shifting problems have been their major shortcoming in the recent past. This article delves into common problems associated with these minivans, causes, and costs involved in diagnosing them.
These minivans were offered as both passenger and cargo vans. The improved version saw them transformed it from the Dodge Caravan to the Dodge Grand Caravan, but it’s still the same. A Dodge Caravan has a short wheelbase while the Dodge Grand Caravan has a long wheelbase.
The Dodge Caravan was produced alongside the Plymouth Voyager in 1983 and marked as the Dodge version of Chrysler minivans. The Dodge Grand Caravan was offered alongside the Plymouth Grand Voyager and the Chrysler Town and County and was produced from 1987 to 2020.
They were produced for 5 generations across 36 model years.
- 1st Generation 1984-1990
- 2nd Generation 1991-1995
- 3rd Generation 1996-2000
- 4th Generation 2001-2007
- 5th Generation 2008-2020
These minivans were primarily sold in the USA and Canada but also in Europe and other international markets as Chrysler Voyager or Chrysler Caravan. Over 14.6 million Chrysler minivans have been sold to date. Their production was discontinued on 21st August 2020, after the production of the 2020 model year. It was replaced by Chrysler Voyager in the USA and Chrysler Grand Caravan in Canada since the 2021 model year.
In this article, we’ll look at Dodge Caravan shifting problems…
Dodge Automatic Transmission: How It Works
The Dodge Caravan models that have been fitted with the traditional automatic transmissions have sensors installed in them. These sensors usually aid in controlling the vehicle’s gear shifts. This enables the vehicle to shift accordingly using internal fluid pressure.
The automatic transmissions must always disconnect from the engine temporarily to shift the gears. The disconnection is usually controlled by a lock-up that is fitted in the torque converter.
Dodge Caravan vehicles fitted with automatic transmissions have a gearbox that is capable to handle different levels of speed. This is achieved by being able to produce different gear ratios.
The torque converter also does a lot of work by transferring power from the engine to the transmission through a process called “fluid coupling”. This, therefore, means there must be a regular fluid level inspection to ensure there is always enough fluid to facilitate this process successfully and enable the smooth running of the transmission.
Symptoms Of Dodge Caravan Shifting Problems, Causes, And Solutions
Every shifting problem in your Dodge Caravan normally starts with some symptoms that can alert you very early on of an impending mechanical problem. These early signs should not be ignored because they can become costly in the end. The signs include:
1. Noisy In Neutral
When odd sounds are emitted from your transmission only while in neutral and not moving, it’s a clear sign that the transmission or the engine could be the culprit. The common issues include:
- Worn bearings
- Loose internal parts
- Loose exhaust system
- An engine problem
A thorough inspection of the systems on your Dodge can isolate where the noise is coming from and point to where you should do a more in-depth inspection.
A shuddering transmission usually stems from issues with lack of holding by the clutches or bands due to wear or pressure issues. This could be caused by many things, including dirty or low fluid, improper signals from the computer, an ill-running engine, worn or damaged clutches, valve body issues, and more. Have a trusted technician look at any codes the Dodge may have and look at all the associated systems that could cause this.
3. Check Engine Light
This can mean different issues happening depending on your Dodge make and model. When you get a check engine light, even though it’s called a check “engine” light, it doesn’t point directly to your engine.
It could be your transmission, brake system, air conditioning, or any system on the Dodge Caravan, so you must have the codes retrieved from the Dodge’s computers to allow for a pinpoint diagnostic of the system and problem. If the light is flashing, that could mean a severe problem that is causing other damage to the engine and or transmission, so do not delay.
4. No Shifting
Transmission bands wrap around the parts of the internal transmission components to allow upshifting and downshifting. The friction clutch and one-way mechanical clutches do that, as well. Inside the transmission, there are pistons, solenoids, valves servos, and a fluid pump that provide and control pressure.
The computer takes information from all systems of the Dodge to determine when to shift and how hard. If these systems cannot operate correctly, you’ll find your Dodge Caravan unable to shift correctly or shift at all. Even though it may feel like a transmission problem, it could be caused by another system on your Dodge Caravan. Have a professional check it out for you.
5. Torque Converter
A torque converter is a device that transfers torque from the engine to the transmission and onto the driven wheels of the Dodge. It is an important part of the transmission and also drives the fluid pump to make the transmission work. When the torque converter goes bad, it will cause overheating of the transmission, shuddering sensations, and will even not allow the transmission to go into high gears.
If you experience slipping, overheating, and shuddering, or the check engine light is on, this might be part of the problem. Most transmission problems involve overlapping symptoms, so be sure to check out the entire system before jumping to conclusions and blaming your torque converter. It could be something else less costly that controls the torque converter instead.
6. Solenoid Issues
Solenoids are a major component that controls upshifting and downshifting while you drive. Solenoid wear can cause damage to your transmission, shifting problems, pressure problems, and diagnostic codes in your computer. The symptoms for a damaged solenoid are:
- Strange shifting patterns
- Won’t go into gear
- Inability to upshift or downshift
- Shifting delays
- Slipping or flaring shifts
The Dodge’s computer signals the solenoids of what it receives from other parts of your car, telling it how much pressure it needs when to shift, how fast to shift, and when not to shift, amongst other things. Some solenoids move 100s of times, if not 1000s of time a second, so you can imagine the wear that can occur and why maintenance with good clean fluid is so important. Fixing this issue can sometimes simply require replacing the solenoid that has become defective.
If you notice a large delay in going into gear or between shifting gears where your engine is revving really high before it shifts, it may point to several problems with your transmission:
- Transmission Solenoid problems
- Engine problems
- Low or dirty fluid
- Clogged transmission filters
- Clutch or converter issues
- Transmission cooler issues
You can test delay patterns in shifting on your own. Simply observe the time between shifts.
Transmission leaks are probably the most common transmission problems that lead to some devastating internal transmission issues. Most transmission leaks occur because of a leaking pan gasket, axle or driveshaft seal, or a transmission cooling line. This leads to low fluid, burned fluid, overheating, and damage that cannot be repaired by just adding fluid.
If you spot a leak in your transmission, try to spot where it comes from. Repairing a cooling line or a pan gasket can be a quick, inexpensive solution. An axle seal, output shaft seal, or converter seal is a bit more work and labor, but if you catch the leak soon enough before internal damage can occur, you probably saved yourself a bunch of money for a replacement or rebuilt transmission.
9. Slipping Gears
You have slipping gears if the engine is revving higher than it should when driving down the road, and you lack power. There are other warning signs worth looking out for as well:
- The transmission has a hard time shifting into the next gears
- Weird sliding sounds between gears
- High RPM
- A burned look and smell to the fluid
- Low fluid levels
- A check engine light
These symptoms sometimes come before or after your transmission slips. The issues can occur when you haven’t replaced your fluid levels at the correct intervals, you have an ill-running engine, or the clutches are worn.
You can prevent a slipping transmission by maintaining your fluid levels regularly and ensuring there are no leaks. Burned and low fluid can be easy fixes. Replacing, clutches, bands and other internal parts require a professional technician.
To fix slipping gears yourself, make sure your issues fall into the categories listed above before targeting your transmission. You may create more issues by “fixing” the wrong parts.
10. Burning Smell
A burning smell comes from the very hot or leaking transmission fluid. Preventing this requires checking your fluid levels regularly to look for indications of a leak. Low fluid levels often cause major problems if you don’t catch them quickly.
11. Shaking And Grinding
Since your computer tells your transmission when to shift, and your transmission automatically does the work of shifting, shaking, or grinding is a sign that your transmission needs attention. Most times, shaking and grinding result from damage to the planetary gear system, a bearing issue, or sometimes it is outside of the transmission in u-joints, half shafts, or even engine. See a trusted technician to have it looked at as soon as you notice these signs to avoid more serious damage.
Common Dodge Grand Caravan Shifting Problems, Causes, And Solutions
The Dodge Caravan transmission has some of its unique shifting issues that we also need to be aware of. These include:
1. Delayed Forward Or Reverse Engagement With A Double ‘Bump’ Sensation For 41TE Transmission
Delay when shifting into drive or reverse and a series of ‘bumps’ or ‘bucks’ when the selected gear engages.
The retainer that separates the lockup control valve and the TCC accumulator valve may need to be replaced.
2. PRNDL Lights Malfunction For 41TE/42LE Transmission From 1996 And Onwards Models
The PRNDL lights in the driver information center (in the gauge cluster) may work properly when the vehicle is shifted into reverse, overdrive, drive, and low. However, they may malfunction when the vehicle is shifted into park or neutral. There may be no diagnostic trouble codes or apparent transmission problems.
This may point to an issue with the ignition switch or a short in the related wiring.
3. Speedometer Reading When The Vehicle Isn’t Moving For 41TE Transmission / 41TES Transmission
The speedometer can jump to over 20 mph while the vehicle is stopped in gear. There may also be a jerking sensation that feels like a 1-2 shift. Gear changes may also feel unusually rough.
The most common cause of these 41TE transmission problems is a malfunctioning alternator. However, there could also be a wiring problem related to the output shaft speed sensor OSS signal going back to the TCM.
4. Engine Stalls While In Drive Or During Coast Down For 62TE Transmission
Engine stall when the gear selector is placed into Drive. The engine runs excessively rough or stalls when coasting to a stop.
These 62TE transmission problems may be caused by a mechanical failure with the electronically modulated converter clutch variable force solenoid / EMCC VFS solenoid, which can cause the torque converter clutch to engage when it shouldn’t. To fix this, the EMCC solenoid will have to be replaced.
5. Transmission Shifts Into Neutral On The 1-2 Shift For 2007 Onwards Models With 62TE Transmission
Dodge Caravan shifts into neutral upon the 1-2 shift. This may cause the vehicle to go into limp mode, where the transmission becomes locked in 3rd gear. Sometimes, the Dodge may not move and will require the engine to be shut off and restarted before a limp mode can be activated.
These 62TE transmission problems are often caused by worn sealing ring bands on the low clutch housing. To correct this, place the housing and possibly the piston from the direct clutch.
A Look At Various Models Of Dodge Caravan Shifting Problems
No vehicle model will always be perfect. Some models perform excellently well than others. Most of the issues with vehicles are common during the launch of a new brand or during the transition into a new generation. Some model years stand out as the best of the best or the worst of the worst. The Dodge Caravan isn’t an exception.
Dodge Caravan Years To Avoid
These model years have severe transmission woes such as Dodge Caravan shifting problems, according to carcomplaints.com.
This model had the worse transmission problems. It had a transmission failure at 67,000 mileage. The repair cost totaled $3,500. Other problems experienced included grinding, heavy vibrations, whining sounds, rough shifting, and slipping gear. These issues were so severe and frequent.
It had the worst transmission problems. Shifting failures were experienced below 50,000 mileage. The average repair cost was $4,000. Its transmission failures were very frequent and completely catastrophic. Though Chrysler offered a 36,000 mileage warranty, most of these problems became increasingly chronic at 41,000 of mileage.
Some of the most common issues with this model were transmission lurching on shifting, lunging forward unexpectedly, transmission going out at 30,000 miles, rough riding, grinding, whining during gear shifting, and difficulty in shifting.
It had few catastrophic failures, but they could be costly and very annoying. The repair cost could sum up to $4,000. Some of the common problems included loud rough shifting at around 25,000 to 30,000 miles, stuttering while in reverse at a low mileage of 2,500 miles, clunking noise of drive mode, and sometimes experience hard shifting or shifting on its own unexpectedly.
This model had less frequent concerns, but if they happened could be very severe. Its repair cost was around $2,000. Some of its common issues were jerking and rough transmission.
Model Years With Moderate Dodge Caravan Shifting Problems
These were Dodge Caravan vehicle models that never had many serious shifting issues.
Had torque converter issues, though not as much as the worst models. Some kind of noise from the transmission could also be heard. In certain instances, there were also total transmission failures. But they were not that frequent.
Some issues reported included rough shifting. Though fixing this could cost an average of $4,000, the issues were quite minimal. Since it came after the 2013 worst model, buyers approached it with some suspicion and doubt, but it turned out to be one of the best.
Minimal transmission failures were reported at 60,000 miles. Fixing this could cost an average of $2,000. Other chronic issues included clunking and whining sounds, though were less frequent.
Common issues associated with this Dodge Caravan included whining and shifting noise, vibrations, shaking when shifting or reversing, and transmission failures. These problems could start at 30,000 miles but were minimal.
Best Dodge Caravan Model Years To Avoid Dodge Caravan Shifting Problems
The 2009, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 Dodge Caravan model years have probably been the best models ever. Although, that doesn’t mean they don’t have transmission problems. They have very minimal complications with their transmission failures.
The issues are not severe compared to other models discussed above. These models are worth investing your money in, but it boils down to how effectively you maintain and service your Dodge Caravan to improve its transmission lifespan.
Dodge Caravan Reliability
The Dodge Caravan minivans are still considered reliable despite the many transmission problems. According to statistics from repairpal.com, the Dodge is ranked 2nd among most reliable minivans out of the 8. These minivans also have very low repair costs and the severity of their shifting-related complications is average. Major repairs are uncommon. The annual repair cost is at an average of $673 compared to an average of $647 for minivans and $652 for all vehicle models.
Dodge Caravan Maintenance Costs
Typically, a Dodge transmission repair cost comes to a price range between $300 and $1,400. If you need to fix a new transmission and a new clutch, you can expect to pay between $800 and $1,500, while a complete transmission replacement can range between $1,800 and $3,400.
Dodge Automatic Transmission Types
The early Dodge models had shifting issues when cold. The most common issues were where the transmission would shift hard between 1st to 2nd or bump when downshifting. In recent years, the 8-speed Dodge transmission made by ZF has improved to where it has become one of the most reliable transmissions on Dodge vehicles.
Over the years, Dodge has had many transmissions, including:
- 4-speed (45RFE) automatic transmission from 1999 to 2003.
- 5-speed (545RFE) automatic transmission from 2001 to 2011.
- 6-speed (65RFE) automatic transmission from 2012 to 2017.
- 6-speed heavy-duty (66RFE) automatic transmission from 2012 to 2020
- 8-Speed (845RE / 8R70) ZF Automatic Transmission was installed in many 2014 and newer models.
Best Maintenance Practice To Prevent Experiencing Dodge Caravan Shifting Problems
The lifespan of the transmission in your Dodge Caravan will be influenced by the service history you give your car. Some symptoms associated with Dodge Caravan shifting problems will start unfolding very early and it’s good practice diagnosing them before they become worse or costly. Some of these symptoms can be prevented through routine checkups of your transmission. To ensure a long lifespan of your Dodge Caravan:
- Regularly perform transmission fluid flush and filter changes for your Dodge Caravan vehicle.
- Always use a recommended transmission fluid that is normally stated in your Dodge Caravan user manual.
- It’s good to minimize towing very heavy loads with your vehicle as this unnecessarily strains the transmission, lowering its efficiency and lifespan.
- Upgrade the transmission coolers and the lines this will prevent heating of the transmission and the transmission fluid.
Dodge Caravan Shifting Problems: Conclusion
Dodge transmissions hardly clock 200,000 miles with the original transmission. The average lifespan of a Dodge Caravan transmission is 130,000 to 180,000 miles. Problems unfold at 50,000 miles. But the lifespan of a Dodge transmission is affected by the service history. Even though the problems can come despite good maintenance, they won’t be too frequent and severe.
Changing transmission fluid, using the recommended fluid, upgrading transmission cooler and lines, and minimizing towing heavy loads can help your transmission live longer.
The majority of Dodge transmission problems are often caused by low transmission fluid levels. Other problems include inadequate transmission fluid cooling, worn gear clutches, transmission software issues, excessive towing, failed torque converter, and neglecting to perform transmission service on time.
It is crucial to identify the transmission model in your Dodge and research problems for that particular model. These problems don’t affect all Dodge vehicles. Generally, Dodge makes reliable vehicles, but specific models, such as pre-2000 Dodge Ram 1500 truck and Dodge Grand Caravan vans, had higher than normal transmission failure rates.
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