Will the Germans Improve the Minivan Lee Iacocca Started?Posted 12/13/2003
By Criag Van Batenburg, AAM
Will the Germans Improve the Minivan Lee Iacocca Started?
Back in 1984 the world was introduced to the Dodge Caravan - a novel idea that started a new mode of travel and added a new type of vehicle to service and repair.
Over the past 20 years, many have imitated the Chrysler design. Some have improved on it. Honda, Toyota and Nissan have minivans that have taken away some of DaimlerChrysler's sales.
So how are things with the Chrysler cousins: Caravan, Voyager and Town & Country? After three major revisions, Chrysler's people-haulers have done well. Did they improve in serviceability? This is our fourth installment on the serviceability of the most popular cars, light trucks and minivans sold in the United States.
Let's start by looking at a 1996 Plymouth Voyager: 2.4, 3.0, 3.3 and 3.8 engines were available. The Mitsubishi 3.0 engine was the most popular, but was it popular with the working technician? The boss liked them, especially if you were in the transmission business.
So how good and serviceable was a 1996 Voyager with a 3.0 engine? The van had its share of problems. In no particular order, the 3.0 minivan could be expected to tear up a transmission, wear out motor mounts, have distributor issues, stall often, lose valve guides, break drive belts, wear out tensioners, have inner CV joints fail and keep you busy.
Seeing as this minivan was 12 years old in 1996, Chrysler had more than enough time to address all of these problems. Most people who owned them back then loved them; they were repaired quickly and the repair industry was kept quite busy.
It was good enough to sell well and somewhat easy to fix.
Following are some questions to ponder. I also posed these same questions to technicians, from both dealerships and independent shops that work on them. Is there anything that you would have done differently if you were the designer? How easy is it to access the normal items you have to get to on a daily basis? What is the dumbest part of this design, if any?
Here is a summary of what they said:
In the seven years since the 1996 model, the quality of parts is better. No major changes were made that affected the ease of service. The 3.0 was dropped in 2001, and now the trusted 3.3 (made by Chrysler) is the engine that is most often installed. The 3.3 had head problems in the area of the rocker tower. It was reported to me that that is now fixed. No one misses the problematic 3.0 Mitsubishi.
The dumbest design? Why would anyone install a fuel filter that is trapped by the fuel tank? This is by far the most irritating part of repairing cars. For years the fuel filter, a normal replacement item, has required the lowering of the fuel tank and every customer brings in a full tank when this service is due, of course. After a while, in the salt belt states, the gas tank strap holding bolts get rusty. Why can't a simple design change happen?
This is the type of poor engineering and lack of respect that technicians see every day and leave work wondering, "Why?" Why can't the designers install a fuel filter that is in the open? It is not hard to do. Why don't the engineers work on a car or van for six months before they sit at their computer and start placing the components on the car? Why can't a simple idea, like moving the filter just in front of the tank, be done in less than a decade? It is no wonder technicians get frustrated with their jobs when a normal replacement item is located in an inaccessible place.
Getting back to the minivans: The 2003 model still has the same fuel filter, and is very much the same vehicle. Transmission problems are less frequent, but are still there. The quality is better.
The minivan was Chrysler's baby. It can still be a big seller,
but not if Toyota, Honda and Nissan continue to improve and Chrysler does not. You can't say "buy American" anymore, as DaimlerChrysler is mostly a German company. One thing for sure: You can't stay at the top of your game unless you are always improving. Let's hope we see more attention paid to the technician when the fourth-generation Chrysler minivans come out.
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