Dodge Caravan

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Mechanic for a Dodge Caravan

May 2008

Looking for a good, honest, reliable auto mechanic in Berkeley for our Dodge Caravan. Have used Carlson Garage for years, but they have become very expensive and not so reliable. Would like to find someone who knows what they're doing, won't do unnecessary work, and won't break the bank! The listings on BPN that I saw are quite old. Does anyone have experience with Bauer's Auto Repair on University? Appreciate your help! Car Repair Blues

I love Precision People's Car Repair on San Pablo near Gilman. They're honest, don't do unnecessary work, charge a fair rate, and don't talk to you like you're dumb if you don't know cars. They worked on my VW Bug, and my Nissan. Talia

I recommend Campus Auto at 1752 Shattuck Ave. Their number is 845-8828. I have a 2000 Dodge Caravan that I have been taking there after the dealer told me I needed $8,000 worth of work. My van isn't even worth that much. So I took it to Campus Auto and they checked everything out that the dealer had said I needed done. They fixed a few things that needed repair right away for $600. The other things were not immediately necessary and we have been keeping an eye on them. They even showed me under my car what we needed to watch. I feel they are honest and they do a good job. And they are conveniently located for me. I usually deal with Pat. Give them a call. julie

Buying a used Caravan

Feb 2004

My husband and I are in the market for a (used) minivan. He has been researching them and come up with the Dodge ''Caravan'' as being a good choice for us as far as safety, size and cost. He is not home to ask, but I recall that he said that post-96s had a better engine and/or transmission. I'd like to hear what other peoples experiences have been with the ''Caravan,'' and its sister vehicles, the Plymouth ''Voyager'', and the Chevy ''Town & Country''. What is the good, the bad and the ugly on these minivans? Thanks in advance for any helpful information. marianne

Many Daimler Chrysler Vehicles have Generation 3 seat belt buckles that, due to poor design can pop open without the wearer intending them to be released. Tragically, this tends to happen when vehicles are involved in sudden stops, turns, collisions or rollovers - exactly when drivers and passengers need their seat belts the most.

The Caravan, Voyager and Town and Country are all on the list of affected vehicles. More information about the buckles can be found at , and the list of affected vehicles is at .

You may also, if you have or are planning on having children who are in child safety restraints, want to use the car seat compatability database available at as you select a new vehicle. Sue Pavlik, Child Passenger Safety Technician

This is probably not what you wanted to hear, but it does seem relevant to your search. When I bought my Toyota Sienna I got lots of unsolicited comments and questions from strangers. One day at the grocery store an older man congratulated me on my new car (it still did not have license plates). He went on to tell me how his daughter had a Caravan and how after a only few years it had constant problems, and after pouring tons of money into it, she finally gave up and bought a Sienna which had been trouble-free since day one. He was very critical of the Caravan and told me I would love my Sienna. He was right. Have you checked Consumer Reports (or some other similar source) about the reliability of used Caravans?

We bought (new) a 1998 Dodge Caravan and now have ~61K miles on it. It has been ok for us- no major mechanical problems. The mileage is poor-- 18/19 around the city and only in the low 20's on long trips (e.g., to L.A.). The sticker suggested we'd get better. One of the attachment bolts for a strut on the rear tailgate broke about a month ago-- I've never seen that happen in all the cars I've owned-- so, until we find a way to remove the sheared off bolt, we have only one strut to hold up the tailgate-- which is not enough. An example of poor U.S. quality? The flexibility of a mini-van is great, but I'd probably get something other than Dodge the next time. Jim

I have one of those ''sister'' vans, a 97 Plymouth Voyager that I inherited from my parents almost 3 years ago. I must say up front that I have seriously resisted this car, dreading becoming a ''minivan person'' and feeling like I don't need all the space, but as time has gone on I've really become attached to my van. I have had no maintenance problems to speak of, as I have one of those post-96 transmissions. Currently I have almost 125,000 miles and the car is running great. I just had my parents out here and schlepped 6 adults and 1 child all over northern california and the car didn't make a fuss. It also hauls an incredible amount of stuff -- my siblings and I have each used it for several moves for all of our stuff including furniture. The biggest pain for me is moving the seats around -- they're very heavy and awkward to move and require two people to get them in and out. And if you want more storage space, you need to keep one of the seat out, since they don't fold flat like the new vans, so you have to have a garage or storage space (though my back porch works ok for this -- we consider it our porch sofa!). All in all, if you want the extra space, I think it's a great car. Tara

In the market for a Caravan

April 2002

We are in the market for a Dodge Caravan for our expanding family and would love to get some advice about where to buy it and get it serviced. There doesn't seem to be a dealer close to Berkeley (but we're new to the area and could be wrong.) I've checked the website archives and the info is from 1997, so we were hoping someone might have had a more recent experience. Thank you in advance! Maryanne

There is a dealer called Smith Dodge on 12300 San Pablo Ave, Richmond (Tel. 510 215 4720). They sell new and used cars and do all kinds of repairs/services. We actually bought our Dodge Grand Caravan from a Budget Outlet in Napa. The car was a few months old, had few miles, carried a three-year warranty and was not very expensive. The warranty we already needed for some repair. We had it done by Smith Dodge. They were doing a good job and most of all they offered a cost-free taxi service between my home and the garage. (This goes no further than Gilman Street though.) If you are looking for some older car you should try the Internet (like parents' network marketplace) and the newspapers. Good luck! Ute

We bought our Dodge Caravan in 1996 from Negherbon Dodge on Broadway in Oakland. We were happy enough with the sales experience, but were unhappy with the dealership service center. The regularly scheduled services were quite expensive (and this was a brand new car!). When they told me I needed a $600 brake job on my relatively young car, I took it to my old mechanic at Griffen Motorwerkes in Berkeley (who i trusted) who told me there was nothing wrong with the brakes at all. I never went back to the dealership for service after that. As a caveat: the Caravan now has 72,000 miles on it and needs a new transmission, which will cost around $2200. The AAA tow dispatcher, the tow truck driver and my mechanic all told me that Chrysler has a problem with their transmissions dying at around this level of mileage. Just anecdotal information, but you may want to look into it before buying a Caravan. Adele

Smith in Richmond is apparently out of business, which is sad because it was the only place where we got good service. I agree with the earlier poster about Negherbon being overpriced. Also, you have to leave your car there all day, no matter what they are supposed to do with it. Butler-Conti in Lafayette is the next closest dealer, but we had a bad experience with them--they failed to diagnose a transmission that was clearly breaking down, even after we told them it was acting up. An independent mechanic immediately spotted the problem. So, in answer to your question, I don't know a local dealer worth going to. Does anyone? Louise

We have a regular Dodge Caravan, 1994 I think, and we're on our third transmission. The first transmission failed the week after the van was out of warranty and we had to pay to replace it -- very expensive. We bought the second one from a non-dealer, and it failed while still under warranty. Seems to be a problem in the basic design.

We were also disappointed in the quality of the work done by Dodge dealers during the warrantee period. I dropped it off with a problem, went to pick it up as scheduled, and was told they didn't see any problem. I walked over to it, started it up, said, See!, and they said Oh, yeah. My husband now takes it to a Dodge dealer in Marin who does better maintenance work.
Beverly (7/99)

We're on our third Dodge Caravan. We bought an '85 a '91 and a '98. We had some transmission trouble at 72,000 miles on the second one, but other than that, they've been very reliable. We love 'em.

On a side note about the transmission, we took it to Aamco instead of the Dodge dealer, and lived to regret it. They rebuilt it instead of replacing it, and couldn't seem to get it right.

The main difference between the caravan and the grand caravan is that the grand is about 8 longer, which gives you more cargo room, and enough space to haul 4'x8' sheets of plywood with the seats removed. Our second and third ones have been grands. When the kids were young, we had two bench seats, but with the last two, we've gotten the quad command seating which gives you four bucket seats and a rear three passenger bench.

Roger (7/99)

We have a 95 Caravan and are thrilled with it. We got it barely used (17000 miles). We're now just over 50,000. We did have a few problems...a fluid leak which stained some of the carpet, and have had to get brakes replaced already (not too surprising for a heavy car). The built-in child seats are a real plus, and it's great having plenty of room for 6 or 7 people during multi-family outings. The Grand is nice since it has room for groceries/luggage/ beach gear, etc. behind the back seat. I don't think I could go back to my old Volvo wagon at this point.

Jeff (7/99)

I just bought a 97 Dodge Caravan - the short wheel base is what they call it - not the Grand. I did research for months on it - mostly from Consumer Reports, the internet, and by personally checking them out. The Grands were rated unreliable by Consumer Reports. The Unreliable rating did not have too many specifics. But they were quite clear about the simple fact and put it on their Do Not Buy list. The short wheel base version however, was rated a best buy - behind only the Toyota Sienna (the best but priced accordingly and somewhat hard to get) and the Honda (a significantly smaller sized van). There are 4 versions of the Caravan: The base model which in its truest form has nothing extra, not even dual sliding doors. But, you can get them with lots of extras - as I did. The SE model has most options that you would probably want. The Sport model has things like spiffy stripes and moulding and other items that didn't interest us. The LE has everything you could ever want. The 1995 and 1997-1999 are all rated well. The 1996 had electrical problems. I got a 1997 base model with lots of extras for $16K. You could even do better than that. I got desperate. New ones are easy to find, and you can probably get one with most extras you'd want for $21K. Used ones in the short wheel base version are harder to find. I finally went to Roseville to get one. If you want more info, feel free to email me and I'll pass on whatever info you might need and the names and numbers of several used car folks who get them all the time from auctions, etc. and can do the legwork for you. We love ours. JoAnne (7/99)