Serviceability Report: Dodge NeonPosted 3/12/2006
By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM
AutoInc. continues this Tech to Tech series asking that question techs ponder every day at work: "What were the engineers thinking when they designed this particular car?" When cars, trucks, vans and SUVs are redesigned, do they consider the fact that some day we would have to fix them?
For a long time we have heard the term the "Big 3" - referring to General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Now that Chrysler is part German, and many Japanese car companies are part American, it is time to use the term the "Big 6." The six are GM, Toyota, Ford, Honda, Chrysler and Nissan.
Let's look at Neon cars this time and see how they fare. The Neon was first introduced in 1994 as a 1995 model. Back in the day, Plymouth had a Neon - as did Dodge. It was small (still is) and one of its claims to fame was that it had fewer parts than any other car made that year. This cut down on costs for materials, and of course, assembly time.
As you know, Chrysler Corporation was bought by German-owned Mercedes-Benz in 1998 and ever since, both brands have been merging closer. Now known as DaimlerChrysler AG, the joke goes like this: "How do you say DaimlerChrysler in German? Answer: Daimler, the Chrysler is silent." How true is the joke? Many things have changed dramatically in eight years. How has the Neon seen a German influence?
When the Neon was brand new, it got a lot of attention for a small car. Chrysler had built a brand-new car for roughly the same cost of converting the Daytona and Acclaim into the Shadow. The Neon had lots of interior space, good gas mileage and superior handling. Chrysler was, at the time, very proud of its Neon. The company made it more environmentally friendly, involved workers more in the assembly of it and had done more in safety and quality. Unfortunately, a large number of design flaws surfaced, and questions were raised as to the quality. In 1999, almost a third of the Neon's components were changed, and the current model was much more refined. It rode better with less wind noise, road noise and engine noise.
While earlier models were practical and fun to drive, later models added comfort to the list. In 1999, the Neon was redesigned and the new Dodge Neon R/T focused more on performance than frills. For a little more than $14,000, the R/T came with Viper stripes and most of the go-fast parts found on the Chrysler's Neon American Club Racer (ACR) competition car that helped the Neon win four consecutive SCCA Showroom Stock national championships.
Broad Viper stripes on flame red, intense blue or bright white paint set the R/T apart from standard Neons. Like its ACR competition model, the Neon R/T came with a sports suspension, quick-ratio steering and a close-ratio gearbox. Specially tuned springs, front and rear anti-roll bars and new rear spring isolators comprised the sports suspension.
In model year (MY) 2000, Neons came in two body styles: coupe and sedan. Two engines were available: a 132-horsepower 2.0-liter single overhead cam (sohc) engine and a 150-horsepower double overhead cam (dohc) engine. They came with a choice of 5-speed manual gearbox or 3-speed automatic transmission.
The front suspension was MacPherson struts with asymmetrical lower control arms, while the rear was Chapman struts with dual lower transverse arms. For most folks, the standard 132-horsepower single-cam engine provided plenty of performance, even when equipped with the optional 3-speed automatic.
It achieved an EPA fuel economy rating of 27/40 mpg (city/highway) in MY 2000. Curb weight was 2,470 pounds. Not bad numbers at all.
Even with years to get it right, problems on this vehicle continued with failures of the engine head gasket, the oxygen sensors, the vehicle speed sensor and the spark plug wires. Electrical problems created havoc with the gauges on the dash. At times they would just die, but after hitting a bump on the road, all was fine. Failure of the vehicle speed sensor prevented it from starting, as did power train control module (PCM) and coil driver failures, all resulting in the Neon's bad reputation. It was relegated to rental fleets.
How does the new 2005 Neon compare with previous generations? Well, the Neon has retired. 2005 model year was the end, with it never having had a complete makeover. In the end, it was a good car but it still had engine problems that hurt repeat business.
The replacement is the '07 Dodge Caliber, a compact 4-door wagon. The Neon will not be offered as a 2006 model. Likely to be an early 2007 release, the new model will be much like the Caliber concept seen at the recent auto shows. It will use a new front-wheel-drive platform developed by Chrysler and Mitsubishi. The new Caliber will most likely use an engine built in Michigan, the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder developed by Chrysler, Mitsubishi and South Korea's Hyundai. We will see what these three come up with. It must be better than the old Neon if DaimlerChrysler plans on changing the minds of owners and techs who had to deal with the shortcomings of the Neon. May the Neon rest in peace.
'99 Neon Ups - Parts are easy to get. Well-documented problems. Great for business as these cars can keep you busy in the service bays.
'99 Neon Downs - Once fixed, it may be back with another problem but the same symptom. Makes for a tough relationship with your customer.
'05 Neon Ups - Quality was better, fewer TSBs and recalls. Headgaskets were still a weak spot, although they have been redesigned.
'05 Neon Downs - 2005 engine designers needed to fix the Neon years ago. Now, with the new Caliber, they get to try it again. I sure hope they do a better job.
Overall rating: The quality was good but not great. Ease of service was never a real problem; after all, it was always a four banger. It will be interesting to see if the new Dodge Caliber continues to improve its quality to compete with Honda and Toyota. Were technicians thought of when the Caliber project was on the drawing board - or in today's world, make that the computer-aided design system? I sure hope so. After all, the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must read AutoInc., and we have been asking them for consideration for years now. We need access to parts that normally see wear and tear. Like I have said many times before, some little thought ahead of time would save techs many hours and customers many dollars. Plus, OEM warranty claims would be considerably less expensive. Dodge needs a small, fuel-efficient car - because the price of gas hurts the sale of their larger vehicles. Wouldn't it be great if technicians helped with the design before the car was built?
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