Vehicle Type: Minivan
History / Description: Few can argue with the overwhelming value of a minivan when it comes to affordably moving around families, their things and their pets. Sliding doors, plenty of space for the buck, and plenty of versatility make a minivan a machine that’s ready for anything – including growing up with and adapting to the family that’s made it their own. Or, if you’re not a family person, maybe you’re using a minivan as a pickup truck, with the seats yanked out. Or, as a camper. Or as a delivery vehicle for your business. There are plenty of reasons to run a minivan, and most centre around the benefits of having lots of space for not a lot of money.
The most popular minivans on the road, and the models that arguably formed the segment, are from Chrysler – in the form of the mainstream Dodge Grand Caravan, and the more upscale Chrysler Town and Country. Each launched for 2008 in their most recent full generation, and both are currently being phased out to make room for a new-generation minivan model called the Pacifica.
Expect great ride quality, countless thoughtful touches, and plenty of power. Feature content, depending on the year and model, could include power doors and liftgate provisions, remote start, navigation, a back-up camera, power-folding rear seats, rear-seat entertainment consoles, a pop-up activity table and plenty more. A household power outlet, advanced safety systems, automatic lights, wipers and climate control, and numerous other high-tech features could be specified, too.
Storage bins built into the floor could be used to fold seating implements into for added interior space, or to accommodate gear, tools or additional cargo best left out of sight. No surprise that storage and all-around utility were highly rated by owners.
Engines: An update for model year 2011 and on saw a new-age Pentastar V6 engine (3.6L, 285 hp) replace numerous previous V6 engine options, with an eye for improved performance and efficiency. If your budget allows it, a 2011 or newer unit, with the new engine, is the way to go. Earlier engines ranged in displacements from 3.3 to 4.0 litres, depending on the year and model. All units were front-wheel drive and came with an automatic transmission.
What Owners Like: Space, comfort, noise levels and all-around utility and flexibility were highly rated by owners and their families. A great combination of affordable pricing and generous room helped round out the package. Grand Caravan is said to be accommodating, handy and ready for any activity. Town and Country owners report an even more upscale cabin and premium finishes.
What Owners Dislike: Typical owner complaints centre around poor fuel mileage on some models, cumbersome handling, and difficulty parking, given the vehicle’s length.
The Test Drive: Some owners have reported shorter-than-expected life of various brake and suspension components, as well as tires. Be sure to have each of these inspected by a mechanic ahead of your purchase if you’re not sure how. There’s some more reading here. And a little more. Note that driver habits, locale, and maintenance all play a role in the lifespan of parts like tires, brakes and suspension components, though a check of each is advised nonetheless.
A “Sexy” Minivan? First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Unwelcome noises from beneath the vehicle on a test drive, including popping or clunking sounds, are key indicators of a worn-out suspension component, and uneven wear of the tire treads across their width typically indicates an alignment-related issue. Finally, note that squealing from the front of the vehicle typically indicates that a brake job is needed.
Shoppers are also advised to triple check for proper operation of the air conditioner, and rear-seat climate control system on their test drive. Here’s some more reading on A/C system problems. Note that failure to properly maintain a clean A/C condenser, and cabin air filter, can cause issues with air conditioner performance. Both components should be addressed by regular maintenance, and are common causes of non-functionality.
If you feel a shuddering sensation from the transmission while reversing, the owners community says it’s normal, especially on earlier models from this generation. Note that any other transmission-related issues, including hard shifting, slipping, or failure to respond, could be caused by engagement of the transmission’s “Limp Mode”, a protective provision resulting from some detected issue. A technician with a code reader can look at the transmission’s computer brain and investigate. In many cases, updated transmission control software is the fix, though shoppers are advised to be sure that’s the case with the model they’re considering. Here’s some more reading.
Note that some transmission problems can be the result of a failure to properly maintain the component, perhaps not observing fluid change intervals, or filling the transmission with a fluid other than the fluid specified by the factory.
Here’s some reading on leaky CV boots and axle seals. Before purchasing your used Chrysler minivan, have a mechanic check for any signs of leakage from the transaxle, axles, transmission, and the like.
Here’s another bit of reading for shoppers after a model with the older 4.0L V6 engine, which explains that random stalling can be caused by a wonky EGR valve, which may clog and fail to operate properly. Cleaning or replacing the valve, according to many owners, remedies the problem. Some more information here.
Another frequently discussed problem relates to parasitic battery drain, which has left numerous owners with dead batteries that have discharged overnight. A key culprit seems to be the overhead DVD player, which may fail to power off when instructed, and stay on for hours, killing the battery. Some owners have disconnected the power supply to this unit as a fix. In other cases, a bad radio head-unit fails to fully power off, draining the battery overnight. There’s a technical service bulletin relating to this issue, which may involve replacing the radio head unit. Newer models with the same problem may use a simple software update as a remedy.
Note that the unit you’re considering likely has two or more rows of seats that flip, fold, slide and otherwise move about to reconfigure the vehicle’s interior for numerous combinations of passengers and cargo. Cycle through the various seating configurations, ensuring each seat moves through its various positions as outlined in the owner’s manual. Now’s the time to confirm that all power seat adjustments for front seats and the power-folding rear seats (if equipped) are working properly. Confirm all power-sliding doors, and the power tailgate, if equipped, are in proper working order, too. If the power liftgate isn’t working properly, it may require a software update, an adjustment to the hinges and latch, an adjustment to the rubber seals around the tailgate itself, or a new motor and control module.
If the power tailgate is not motorized, note that worn-out liftgate struts can be head-smacking safety hazard, especially with kids and pets around. To check, open the liftgate and give it a little downwards tug. If minimal effort is required to close the liftgate, you’ll want to replace the struts. Thankfully, installing a new set is relatively cheap and easy.
Two final notes: when investing in a new-to-you Chrysler minivan, be sure to budget for a full mechanical inspection ahead of your purchase, and complete a full fluid change and tune-up if the vehicle’s service history is unknown. Though the number of complaints logged versus the number of units sold isn’t worrisome, these models have a plethora of possible configurations of equipment, powertrains and features, each of which should be inspected for maximum peace of mind before purchase. Paying $100 to $200 for a pre-purchase inspection may save you from considerably pricier repairs down the line. And second, because of a lengthy list of recalls issued to fix latent safety defects in these models, shoppers are advised to visit a dealer with the vehicle’s VIN number to address any outstanding recall work, which is free.
The Verdict: With a clean bill of health and no warning signs of potential issues, you’re well on your way to confidently joining the huge community of Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country owners.
A list of recalls.
Crash Test Scores:
NHTSA: 4/5 Stars
IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2013)