Should I save my dying van?
August 14, 2006 7:27 PM   Subscribe

My van's transmission is very sad. It's on the verge of being considered a junker car: should I repair it or buy another crappy car?

I drive a '95 Dodge Caravan and the transmission recently made a high pitch whiny noise (the sound a wind-up toy car would make it if were as big as a van). More importantly, though, it doesn't shift into the top gear. It drives around town fine for the most part, but I can't get on a highway lest it try to drive at 5000 RPMs.

The van already has no air-conditioning, needs new tires, and has a cracked windshield. I'm a college kid with one year left, but I need a car to get to work. I'm more poor than rich.

Is it even worth taking the van in for an estimate for repairs or should I just drive it until it dies and then by a $500 junker car to get me through the year?

Have any of you had a similar problem in the past? How long did the car last after the trouble began?

Am I risking imminent death by driving it around in its current state?
posted by ztdavis to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Is the transmission a 3 or 4 spd? The 3 spds need regular band adjustment or they'll start slipping and is something that can be done by anyone with an inch-pound torque wrench (which can be "bought" and then returned at Sears). Plus the cost of a $10 filter and $7 worth of RTV.

No A/C is nothing (many cars don't even have A/C). Any clunker you buy is going to need one or more of tires, battery or exhaust. I get a set of rims and tires at the junk yard (u-pulls are the cheapest).

I wouldn't sweat the windshield until you either get a ticket or the crack is actually a visual hazard.

How long have you owned the van and do you know it's history before you owned it?
posted by Mitheral at 8:02 PM on August 14, 2006


I have had it for two years now and it was previously owned by an aunt that used it regularly. Cosmetics aside, the van's transmission seems to be the only real problem with it.

I know so little about cars that I assumed any transmission problem = lots of money. I guess what I really need to do is take it in for an estimate.
posted by ztdavis at 9:16 PM on August 14, 2006


does the transmission shift at all? some of those autos have a failsafe mode - it'll shift into 2nd gear and stay there. if it does that then your transmission is shot. if it's shifting up and down, but not just into the top gear, then mitheral's suggestion is probably correct, go to allpar and grab a Haynes/Chilton manual and go to town.
posted by mrg at 9:43 PM on August 14, 2006


I've been rooting around allpar, it's a pretty awesome site.

It does shift to everything except the top gear, so I'm going to try mitheral's advice as soon as I can and go from there.
posted by ztdavis at 9:46 PM on August 14, 2006


What are the odds that a $500 dollar junker is going to get you through the year? Pretty slim.

What does it hurt to get an estimate (or more than one)? Not much.

Why isn't public transportation an option? Most college towns I've been too have pretty good mass transit.
posted by oddman at 10:46 PM on August 14, 2006


This is prolly a stupid question, but I'm asking just in case, cuz you said you know little about cars. Have you checked the transmission fluid? It's a small reservoir under the hood with a tiny dipstick. If you're out of tranny fluid, it definitely won't run well, but I'm sure you know this. Also, if you run for any length of time without trans fluid, it will destroy the transmission. I am ashamed to say that I speak from experience. heh
posted by wsg at 1:55 AM on August 15, 2006


fwiw we also have a dodge caravan ('93) with flaky transmission, and it's still going semi-fine ten thousand miles after becoming flaky ... so yours may have a good chance of lasting your studies.
posted by anadem at 3:47 AM on August 15, 2006


wsg writes "It's a small reservoir under the hood with a tiny dipstick."

On a Caravan (either 3 or 4 speed) the dipstick directly measures the fluid level in the transmission.

ztdavis writes "I have had it for two years now and it was previously owned by an aunt that used it regularly. Cosmetics aside, the van's transmission seems to be the only real problem with it."

If this is a 4 speed it is really common for someone ignorant of the particular fluid needs of the revolutionary AOD transmission to add Dexron instead of ATF+3. If you have the 4 speed and you know that fluid has been added in the last 10K but you aren't 100% positive that it was ATF+3 or Mopar 7176 that was put in then have the fluid changed. I've fixed many a misbehaving AOD with a fluid and filter change. Note that ATF+3 or 7176 is twice as much as Dexron so you'll pay a premium.

anadem writes "we also have a dodge caravan ('93) with flaky transmission, and it's still going semi-fine ten thousand miles after becoming flaky ... so yours may have a good chance of lasting your studies."

The 3 speeds are a FWD variant of the legendary 727 and are amazingly tough transmissions. The only serious weak point is the cross shaft retaining pins which can shear off when abused.
posted by Mitheral at 7:11 AM on August 15, 2006


Berrymans makes a line of transmission additives, which you can find at stores like Pep Boys. They're designed as sort of a last-ditch response to keep a worn transmission working for just a little while longer. You might try that, or another brand of additive.

The posters who are telling you to keep the van are probably right - I've had lots of $500 junkers, and most of them were total crap that I regretted. At least you know what's wrong with yours.

If worse comes to worse, drop a few coin on a junkyard transmission.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:45 AM on August 15, 2006


I wouldn't replace a transmission on a car I intended only to keep a year, personally. If the simple tweaks don't resolve the issue then you can just baby it a little and live without top gear. While the noise is a little less than pleasant it becomes annoying well before its bad for the tranny (at least for a healthy tranny, anyway...)
posted by phearlez at 9:47 AM on August 15, 2006


The Car Guys on NPR have said repeatedly that fixing a car that's paid for is more cost effective than buying another car which will, inevitably, also need to be repaired. Take that for what it's worth.
posted by lekvar at 11:35 AM on August 15, 2006


Mitheral, whether your advice helps or not (I'm going to try it all out Thursday), thanks for all of your advice and input.

That goes for the rest for you as well. I love this community. Thanks to all of you.
posted by ztdavis at 10:13 PM on August 15, 2006


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