Overview & Reviews
Some vehicles lead their segments; others even revolutionize them. The Dodge Caravan, however, invented an entirely new one: the minivan. Offering an especially useful amount of room in a surprisingly easy-to-drive package, the Caravan quickly became the new synonym for family transportation and spawned competitors from all sides.
The Dodge Caravan has traditionally stayed a step ahead of the herd. It was first to market with the sliding door, then the first with two. It pioneered the integration of safety features like airbags. And for many years, it was also regarded as being the most versatile and pleasant-driving minivan. Given all this, it should come as no surprise that the Caravan, along with its longer relative, the Grand Caravan, became the top-selling minivan year after year.
However, today's minivan scene is much different from the one of the 1980s or '90s. Though other American automakers have essentially given up trying to make competitive minivans, Japanese and Korean automakers have raised the bar considerably in the past few years. As a result, the Caravan fell behind in terms of power, driving refinement, interior design and safety content.
With the introduction of an all-new minivan for the 2008 model year, Dodge officially discontinued the short-wheelbase Caravan, offering only the extended-wheelbase Grand Caravan model.
Most Recent Dodge Caravan
The most recent Dodge Caravan (2001 to 2007) represented the vehicle's fourth generation. Whereas most "minivans" (including its "Grand" brother) extend to the 200-inch mark, this Dodge measured a slightly tidier 189 inches from bow to stern. Combined with a likewise shorter 113-inch wheelbase, the Caravan was among the easiest vans to maneuver and park.
It was also one of the most affordable. The base Caravan SE was the value leader, featuring a 150-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. The SE had bench seats in the second and third rows, air-conditioning and a CD stereo, but was otherwise sparsely equipped.
The more desirable Caravan SXT (known as Caravan Sport until '04) came with a 180-hp 3.3-liter V6, a four-speed automatic transmission, an optional power-sliding passenger door, dual-zone air-conditioning, second-row bucket seats, full power accessories, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control and keyless entry. After 2003, the Caravan also came in a V6-powered Cargo Van version targeted for business use.
As long as the underpowered four-cylinder is avoided, the last Dodge Caravan is quite capable. While lacking the famous "Stow 'n Go" seats of its "Grand" sibling, this Caravan has adequate room for seven adults (and plenty of room for five) or 129 cubic feet of cargo with all rear seats removed. Just note that this conversion takes patience and strength, as the rear bench seats are quite heavy.
It's on the road where this Caravan falls short. We once found it to be the most fun-to-drive minivan, citing its precise steering and substantial feel. However, the latest competition makes its pushrod V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission seem outclassed for both performance and fuel economy. In addition, compared to newer competitors, the Caravan's ride is on the wallowy side and its brakes are a bit weak.
We also took issue with its cheap interior finish, and the fact that an important safety feature like side curtain airbags was an option. Stability control was unavailable altogether. Finally, its reliability record has been spotty, as with all past Caravans.
There was only one substantial change made to this final generation Dodge Caravan after its debut for 2001. In 2005, Dodge eliminated its optional front seat side airbags in favor of optional curtain airbags protecting all three rows. That was an important upgrade, but considering the Caravan wasn't tops in its class to begin with, it's still hard to recommend it except as a budget buy. Those consumers who do decide to buy a used Caravan would be wise to expand their search to include the nearly identical Chrysler-badged versions -- the short-wheelbase base model Town & Country (2004-'07) and the Voyager (2001-'03).
Past Dodge Caravan Models
Newer Dodge Caravans trace their basic design to the third-generation model, which was produced from 1996-2000. (Note that for this generation as well as all previous ones, a near-identical version called the Plymouth Voyager was also sold.) Compared to the most recent model, this Caravan was an inch or two smaller in most dimensions, and the engine roster was much different.
Back then, the 3.3-liter V6 only made 158 hp. The 2.4-liter engine still made 150 but was paired to a lowly three-speed automatic transmission. This generation of Caravan also had access to the Grand Caravan's top-of-the-line 180-hp, 3.8-liter V6. Plus, there was a fourth engine: a Mitsubishi-built 3.0-liter V6 with 150 hp.
Initially, the Caravan's trim lines consisted of base, SE, LE and ES models, though Dodge subsequently moved to position the regular-length Caravan as a budget minivan, resulting in the discontinuation of the top-of-the-line ES for '98. The midrange LE lasted until 2000. The base model came with only the four-cylinder and 3.0-liter V6 at first, then added the choice of the 3.3-liter V6 in 1997, only to lose it again after '99. The SE started with the same three choices, but dropped the four-cylinder after '97 and the 3.0-liter V6 after '98. The upscale LE and ES stuck with the bigger 3.3- and 3.8-liter V6s.
Consumers looking at used Dodge Caravans would be wise to zero in on SE and LE models, as both came with essentials like antilock brakes, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel and 15-inch wheels. The LE also provided standard air-conditioning and power windows and locks. (A/C was also standard on '99 and '00 SE models.) The high-line ES added 16-inch alloy wheels and a driver-side sliding door (an item that later became standard on lower-line models). Depending on the trim level, major options included second-row captain's chairs, an upgraded Infinity CD stereo and a self-leveling rear suspension. However, the most important thing for used Caravan shoppers to look at is the engine under the hood: Either the 3.3-liter or 3.8-liter V6 is a must for adequate performance.
The late-'90s Caravan was regarded as the state-of-the-art minivan, setting the standard for spaciousness, comfort and convenience while offering a carlike driving feel. It was first in the class with dual sliding doors, and we found its interior flexible and easy to configure despite the always-heavy removable rear seats. A redesigned version of the Honda Odyssey edged out the Caravan by the end of its run, but it was always competitive.
Our only real hesitation, aside from its never-great reliability, concerns safety, as this van's crash test scores were mediocre all around. Note also that like most minivans of this era, the Caravan had only two airbags. Making partial amends is the availability of traction control starting in 1997 and the switch to depowered airbags in 1998.
The second-generation Dodge Caravan was produced from 1991-'95. Derived from the infamous Chrysler K-platform of the 80s, the Caravan's trim lines were base, SE, LE and ES. Three engines were offered: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 100 hp (paired to a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic), a 3.0-liter V6 with 142 hp (three- or four-speed automatic) or a 3.3-liter V6 with 162 hp (four-speed automatic). All-wheel drive was newly available for this Caravan, as were antilock brakes.
Seating was still comfortable in all rows and the rears were still removable. Note that only the front seats had head restraints. The Caravan's most major update came in 1994 when a second airbag, better side-impact protection and more dashboard revisions were added; all-wheel drive was dropped. For 1995, Caravan lost the stickshift as well.
While we definitely recommend sticking to newer Caravans for better engineering, safety and convenience, this was the only generation in which Dodge offered all-wheel drive on the regular-length Caravan. Just be sure to exercise caution when shopping for models of the early '90s; the four-speed automatic found in most was known for its extremely high failure rate.
User Reviews:Showing 1 through 10 of 577.00
Low quality - 2005 Dodge Caravan
By Mike Pinhole - December 16 - 8:42 pm
MY Dodge caravan is crap - 2006 Dodge Caravan
By Mike - November 9 - 3:28 pm
We bought the 2006 SXT new in 07 just after they got rid of the 100,000 mile warranty, dealer stated because the dodge caravan vans were built much better with fewer problems "yeah right" The vehicle drove OK up to 70.000 miles with routine maintenance, accept for the automatic doors, poor design wire kept breaking. After that The transmission 2,200 rebuilt went due to a faulty over heated converter was on the recalled list but we were never notified but dodge replace it only converter thanks. ECM electrical board went 1,800 AC starter, alternator twice, breaks disk drums, tie rods , front and rear struts 3,000, oil change every 3,000 miles but is burning oil ( maybe or seal PVC val) A/C e-vap unit but we were able to get that fixed for a small fee 100.00 recall ya! Over all with the money we have had to put into caravan I am giving it a two starts over all. The good stow and go, good acceleration, when need it rides smooth if nothing is going on it. Ok in the snow. I should have dump this car after 70,000 miles when the transmission went was a sign this only good up that. I have rear review where people have done well with theres but mine was built on Monday. I will not buy another Dodge due to this bad experience after all said and done 1119, 000 miles we have spent 37,000 dollars over all 24,500 for the vehicle and over all the maintenance and repairs again thanks Dodge.
never had a problem!!!! - 2003 Dodge Caravan
By carol - October 9 - 12:52 am
I have had this van for 12 years. never had any major repairs. great on gas. would not trade it in.
Awesome Minivan - 2001 Dodge Caravan
By Eddie Leal - September 1 - 4:24 am
I have it forl 15 years. honestly speaking its the best car I ever had I have no problem whatsoever hes just run it every time where I want to go I have two hundred seventy thousand miles on itno major issues since I bought it just routine maintainence oil change brakes batteries which are all normal to replace.
Lemon of the Year Dodge Caravan SXT 2006 - 2006 Dodge Caravan
By Bart Tur - July 28 - 3:18 pm
Major problems with the braking system. Axel failed at 14k. Rack & Pinion failed 23k. 5 Alternators replaced last 9 years. Major engine problems, water pump 38k, head light cheaply made. Poor Fuel. Transmission failed 59k, Radiator replaced 61k. Great for taking kids to the park but after extended warranty expires you need a bank. Thank you Chrysler. These van have braking issue due to bad clapier pin not retracking. One final note, The heater cores are known to fail around 100k. My van is currently 95,. Never will I buy a DODGE /CHRYSLER. I am done. Close up shop guys.
Done with Caravans - 2006 Dodge Caravan
By weicht - June 3 - 8:59 pm
I hate Caravans! I bought it used with around 36,000 miles. Around 50,000 miles had to have a position sensor replaced. Now I have 136,000 miles on it and the transmission went.
Nice family car for most parts - 2004 Dodge Caravan
By Halldor Geirsson - March 3 - 4:41 pm
I had this car (model 2004) for 5 years and drove 64k miles on it (56-110k). The car probably had some prior frontal damage before I bought it, which may have propagated into some of the maintenance issues I ran into. We had to replace a number of things (radiator, alternator/battery, window motor, rotors, tail light, etc) and had the check-engine light on for most of the time, due to some emission codes which could never be figured despite a few tries by the local dealer and another garage. But the great thing about owning a Dodge in the US is that spare parts are easy and quick to get and we probably only lost a couple of days when we would have needed to use the car. Overall likable car.
Best car Ive ever had!! - 2002 Dodge Caravan
By abbsmarie - November 6 - 9:21 pm
My family has had the 2002 dodge caravan since 2004 and its been the best car weve had. It is so safe and thats what Ive loved!! its been in a car accident with the front all dented in, its been hit by the side and had 2 deer hit it and its still kickin You will never find a more safe and reliable car in my book. I have over 225,000 miles on it and it still runs and drives great Too!!
Reliable car - 2001 Dodge Caravan
By kirat12gill - August 11 - 10:28 pm
I purchased this minivan in 2013. This 2001 model has 136000 kms on it, since then the only problem was the key was stuck in the ignitor and a part had to be replaced for 200$, once i entered the wrong fuel in the van but got it drained later on and had no problems. Its a great family hauler at a very affordable price. Good value for money. Less repairs. Had a 2000 model before this which also ran good
Great vehicle - 2003 Dodge Caravan
By miller1980 - February 12 - 2:52 pm
I got my caravan at 78,000 miles Ive only had a couple problems since owning the car. First the O2 sensor went out (kind of an expensive fix for a single mom) and the power steering pump is going out. Other than that it has been a gem. Ive driven it in the snow and curvy mountain roads for two years with no issues. The car is now at 130,000 miles and still running even after hitting a deer really hard.