I purchased my very first new car in 1999 from Pierre Auto Centers in Seattle, Washington. It was a Dodge Caravan 6 cylinder. I was excited as I was 5 months pregnant and assumed this would be a very safe family car. My first service issue with the Caravan just seemed like luck of the draw. Something went wrong with the output turbine speed sensor. This happened twice, once in 2002 and then 4 months later. The van had 27,000 miles on it and was covered by an extended warranty - non-Chrysler as our dealer preferred a company called One Care. Keep in mind this is my first car.
What's two turbine speed sensors on your first car?! Little frightening to just suddenly decelerate on the freeway, but flashers and a good shoulder later... Everything was okay. I had already had steering lines replaced due to a TBS on that and had the Solenoid Pack looked at as the Dodge, from the moment we got it, seemed to be shifting gears up and down even when in park or at a stoplight - it would accelerate and then sound like shifting. The mechanic said it needed a solenoid update kit but that warranty wouldn't pay for the repair as it wasn't hurting anything - just annoying.
It wasn't until May of 03 - exactly one month off of warranty by date - and 1,000 miles under warranty by mileage (28,899) - that we started in with the so far seven year nightmare of the tensioner, tensioner pulleys and serpentine belt replacements at every 5000-25,000 miles. It has been non-stop since the car was three years and 28,000 miles old.
The first service - Pierre Auto Centers - Seattle WA, 5/14/03 - inv.# ** -- note on invoice “Inspect serp belt to see if it needs to be replaced. "S" belt is okay, AC belt is dirty, and the belt tensioner is weak and should be replaced. Replaced belt and tensioner.” At under 30,000 miles I first replaced the tensioner and belt. On 9/25/03 I have invoice # ** from courtesy tire that notes "check for belt squeak" as the belt was whining and I was concerned. He didn't find anything notable at that time. Mileage 35,813.
April 4, 04, Nov. 12, 04 - I also had Courtesy Tire check the squeak, put on new brakes, etc. They tightened the tensioner and suggested checking it every few thousand miles. I stopped driving it for a while - used my old Toyota P/U (25 years old, no problems still) instead. Began driving it again in March 2005. At 55,000 miles the belt broke while on a trip. I had a local replace it not remembering that the new belt had only 20,000 miles on it. That was 12/30/05.
Less than 9 months and 20,000 miles later, I had the belt again replaced. This time by Firestone - 9/12/06, mileage 70,000, invoice # **. Two months later, Firestone replaced the belt again and the tensioner invoice # **. They charged me to do this work, but took off the cost of the serpentine belt from two months before. It hadn't even been 2,000 miles.
Ledoux Auto then came into the mix, putting a belt on in Mar. 07 @ 76,000 mile and again in Dec. @ 90,000 Miles. Note: It would be nice to use your same mechanic each time for these repairs. But when you are having a breakdown that stops every system in the car, you have to take what you can get.
By Feb. 09, the serpentine belt again shredded @ 102,000 miles. This time I was barely able to limp it into a Chrysler garage off of the freeway in the Dalles, Oregon. C. H. Urness Motor Co, service (invoice #) ** diagnosed the problem as the serpentine belt fraying - needs new belt and tensioner.
Six hours down the road from that repair, I was in Parkway Chevrolet's repair shop in Deer Park Washington, where they, concerned about the tracking of the belt and the longevity of the repair, removed the a/c fan belt thinking that I stood a better chance of making it back to Salem, Oregon if I wasn't stressing anything. When I got home, I parked it for a couple of months until I could save some more money to have it repaired again.
This time, Withnell Dodge in Salem put on a new tensioner and replaced the belt again. They were good enough to charge me a cut rate since the tensioner was a Dodge part and since it had only been two months since the previous repair and since the mileage was now only 106,000. (Invoice # **). I took the van in for brakes in June 09. Things looked good. An oil change in Sept. 09 - Still good. In March '10 replaced the ignition switch, thermostat and gasket. 15,000 miles on the new belt and tensioner!
At 30,000 miles -- thunk, thunk, thunk. Serpentine belt is sheared. This time, Withnell Dodge in Salem, invoice # ** wrote on the invoice - the following note: "Tensioner replaced here 4/9. Replaced belt. Needs pulley update kit - belt moves to side of power steering pump when started - temporary fix right now. The mechanic suggested that I call Dodge as surely they would help considering the documentation and the fact that I had this problem since the car was one month over the 3-year warranty and still under miles when all of this began.
Also, there has been an update kit available through Dodge since 2005. How many times have I had this replaced and by how many Dodge Authorized Repair shops?? No one thought to mention the pulley update kit??? Out since 2005??? Hmm. The Dodge Caravan has been recalled because of this issue in Brazil. You can go on the internet and read hundreds upon hundreds of complaints with the same m. o. as mine.
I do live in the Pacific Northwest and it is quite rainy and snowy here. As you can see from my repair dates, the serpentine belt was always shredding during our rainiest times of years so that would make sense as to other people mentioning rain/water as a factor. When I called Dodge, the case manager basically said, "Too bad, so sad, tell someone who cares." I asked him why they wouldn't do a recall, or admit to a design flaw (when the Dodge certified mechanics are saying just that) and yet they have created a kit that fixes the original tensioner system design.
He offered me a free year's worth of oil changes instead of giving me a real answer - like why would I need to change oil on a car that has lost power steering on the freeway due to a snapped belt and has killed me and all the passengers in the van because I was unable to control it.
No thanks Dodge! I don't think that I will take a chance driving on the freeway in your super-sized family coffin on wheels. A crash in town going 25 mph is one thing - but most people I have read about are shelving the vans for any real driving until they can find and/or afford the fix since you will not do the right thing and fix your design flaw and make your consumers safe. My advice, before you buy Dodge - buy something else.
I was hit on the driver's side front fender and the knee buffer airbag deployed. I pinned both my lower legs back against the seat and I felt like my legs were on fire! I had to struggle to free my legs from the hot steel plate and my lower legs began to bruise and swell immediately. Two weeks later I am still in pain daily and struggling to walk as my legs continue to swell daily from this massive crush injury. I also have a large deep tissue hematoma on the left aspect of each lower leg. These hematomas are visible externally due to the massive slowly draining blood blister that sits atop each one!
I received more bodily injury from this "safety feature" than I did from the seat belt, driver's side airbag, and broken right hand. This knee buffer is deployed at 200 mph by a blast that creates enough heat to burn your legs! I actually thought my car was on fire due to the excruciating burning pain in my legs. These crippling airbags are in the 2005 and newer Caravans. DO NOT BUY A DODGE MINIVAN!