January 10, 2013
A minor coolant leak that lets coolant drip onto a hot exhaust manifold, causing smoke, may make you think the radiator is bad. It’s not. The cause is a bad “Y” connector in the cooling system, an easy fix, detailed in a Youtube video or check out this thread.
2012 Dodge Grand Caravan. Click image to enlarge
A small number (according to Chrysler) of “Pentastar” 3.6L engines were built with poorly made cylinder heads, repored in an Autoweek.com article.
At the risk of being too blunt, the Grand Caravan’s brakes are crap. The rotors warp easily, pads wear out quickly, and calipers seize frequently. Wheel bearings are another weak point.
If the power sliding door, power window and rear seat heater on one side of the van all fail simultaneously, it’s probably due to a chafed wire damaged by the sliding door mechanism.
Here’s a handy page at AllPar.com, detailing some of the standard features of the 2008-and-newer Chrysler vans, as well as year-to-year changes.
Here’s a discussion about the Pentastar motor’s real-world fuel economy.
From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2008–2013 Grand Caravan gets the crash testing organization’s top rating of “good” in moderate overlap front and side impact crash testing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave 2008–2010 Grand Caravans five-star ratings in front and side impact protection, but revised test measures introduced in 2011 reduced the front impact protection rating to four stars.
As I said when I reviewed the Dodge Journey in November 2012, it seems clear, when digging for details, how Dodge is able to sell its vehicles at such attractive prices. The money has to come from somewhere, and in this case, the low prices and deep discounts come at the expense of materials quality. Thankfully, at least to this point, the major stuff doesn’t break too often, but it will be interesting to see how that situation evolves as the Grand Caravans on the road now continue to age.
This is a vehicle that sells well when new because the price is right. With that in mind, I wouldn’t buy a used one unless the same is true: the best used Grand Caravan is going to be the one with the lowest price. If you can do without, I’d also advise skipping convenience goodies like power tailgates and sliding doors. These are, almost universally, the things that fail on many aging minivans, no matter who built it. As always, be picky, and choose a van that comes with complete service/maintenance records, and gets a passing grade in a once-over from a trusted mechanic.