My van won't shift out of 1st gear, rev, neu, works but 3rd and low won't engage when physically shifted.

Keith Grant

Asked by Keith Oct 29, 2012 at 09:41 PM about the 2003 Dodge Caravan Sport

Question type: Maintenance & Repair

7 Answers


There are a couple of obvious possibilities. Linkage and/or the bands need adjusting. Both require a certain amount of expertise. The linkage get old, stretch and no longer engage when the shift knob is moved. If you have a couple hundred thousand miles on your van it could be the bands are out of adjustment. If you can find an honest transmission shop they could inspect it and make the determination. Unfortunately most transmission places will put it on the lift, drain the fluid out and show you all the metal fillings that have collected for the last month and tell you your tranny is shot. They do have to pay the rent after all. Depending on the make and model sometimes low fluid can cause strange behavior as well. But low fluid indicates a leak and to replace seals involves tearing the transmission out and apart.. Again they have to pay the rent. To do that they rebuild transmissions. If you need a seal they will want to rebuild your transmission. Fact is the kits to rebuild most transmissions cost under $100.00. Pulling them out and tearing them down takes hours and skill. So, they charge you $2500.00 labor and $500.00 in parts. Which is why so many folks buy used transmissions and have any ol mechanic swap them. You can often buy a whole running car with a good transmission for a fraction of rebuilding one. Swapping them is a serious repair but any mechanic can do it. Good luck and HAPPY MOTORING!

4 out of 4 people think this is helpful.

You vehicle has no adjustments for the bands or much of anything else. You are probably stuck in 'Limp Home' mode which means it's time to pull the unit and rebuild it. Any reputable shop would recognize the symptoms instantly and offer to rebuild it. Unfortunately this is not considered as a very robust unit and what you're experiencing is normal for most owners although there are some that get surprising mileage out of them. Since this is such a weak unit and you now have a decision to make, adding to your grief by purchasing a used unit is rife with potential nightmares, as you already have a used unit; why buy another unknown and used unit? If you don't mind taking the used unit out for another used unit you get from a junkyard - I guess you could eventually find a better (albeit used) unit that may or may not survive a day, a week or somewhat longer. FWIW: I owned a transmission shop, worked in others and did so for over 47 years before I retired a couple of years ago. Send from my Nexus7.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Before you go into a costly repair, you might try replacing your INPUT SPEED SENSOR which tells your van when to shift. It costs around $20 and is easy to replace.

11 out of 11 people think this is helpful.

It's usually 1 of 2 things in and out pot sensors $20 each auto parts store and/or transmission shift selonoid. $85 on amazon

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Speed sensors also send a signal to the speedo/odometer, and since no mention of an inop speedometer was raised, that may be a red herring. When one hears hoofbeats, don't assume zebras. Face it, anything more than 60k miles is a gift on these units. They just don't live very long and the symptoms as stated usually indicate a rebuild with the adaptive strategy in theTCM/ ECU reset to factory parameters. The biggest design flaw is that there is NO direct drive condition for this transmission. They are either in underdrive OR overdrive all the time with planetary gears working constantly. This is a tremendous disadvantage to longevity and reliability. Add in the electronic adaptive strategy of the TCM/ECU constantly compensating for the unit slowly dying as it's driven and when it eventually fails, it is quite by surprise and usually at the most inopportune time. One will get PARK, REVERSE, SECOND and lots of neutrals at that point. That's the BIG CLUE. Sooooooo, as originally requested by the OP, the most obvious thing to do is find a trustworthy, non-nationally recognized facility with their team of lawyers to deny your claim against shoddy rebuilds (HINT - Starts with: "AA"). One should find a transmission shop by getting a service performed a long time before trouble, for two reasons: 1. Your transmission needs service (but not a flush) BEFORE it exhibits imminent failure symptons or needs to come in on a tow truck. 2. You'll find a shop with a good attitude, personable mechanics and a technician who will talk to you other than trying to grab your 401k or Social Seurity check away from you. I would usually see a new customer the first time, with them asking for a transmission service after the unit is already failing - sometimes for a total lack of service - some because they got used too much when they were new. Either way, I never was angry with an untrained new customer: after all i could never get mad at someone slapping me in the face with $$$. I always made sure that after rapport was established between me and the customer, that I'd take them into confidence and tell them how to not need a premature rebuild in the future and in my shop. That said: SOME units would fail like clockwork anyway, and this MOPAR K-car derived unit was in the latter category.


1996 Caravan won't shift sometimes out of 2nd gear. I read your post about this and just want to make sure of a few things. I have same issue sometimes. Only way to fix, is turn van off, and restart, and it will usually fix it, but it's getting worse. I brought to a ship and he put on his machine and he said I need "a new controller, and solenoid". WHen he says controller, is that the tcm you mentioned in your post? He wants $1,000 for install with parts. I just want to buy the right stuff and fix it will a friend of mine. Please advise.


I don't remember any way of changing operations for this unit by a restart of the engine. The TCM/ECM can be a risky call by a shop because of the big ticket so I'd get two or three more shops to take a look,,and btw, you'll get an attitude check of them when you ask them for a look-see. Tell you what though, have a shop give an estimate on paper, which should be free in this economy (which I did all the time anyway) just to see what they think. Diagnosing a problem over the ethernet and me with no hands-on your vehicle can be tricky. I tend to not trust any shop that I cannot visit person-to-person, and as I know that transmissions are full of technical voodoo to a customer, you've still got to eventually trust someone if you cannot do it yourself.

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