"Excuse me, but I believe you dropped your engine back there."
Sounds ridiculous, right? And it is ... unless you own a 2004-08 Chrysler Pacifica which has the dubious nickname of “engine-dropper.” OK, I made that up -- but those cars do have a known issue where the engine cradles rust, rot and split apart to the point where the engine can actually fall out, so that nickname is entirely possible. But why these years specifically? And what is Chrysler doing to correct this dangerous problem? (spoiler alert: it's not much)
Lawsuit Filed over Engine Cradle Rust Problems ∞
A class-action lawsuit was filed in Ohio accusing Chrysler (now FCA US) of not properly coating engine cradles, allowing them to rust to the point of becoming a safety threat. The plaintiffs claims that:
- Chrysler improperly coat the engine cradles during manufacturing, allowing rust to damage them early
- Chrysler knows about the problem through a series of Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) but only covers a small percentage of affected cars
- Thousands of Pacifica owners have been forced to pay for expensive repairs, or have had to stop using their cars entirely
- The resale value of the affected cars is essentially gone because no-one is crazy enough to buy a car with an engine dragging on the ground.
We'll update this space if anything comes of the lawsuit.
About Engine Cradle Rust and Rot ∞
If you open the hood of a car to look at your engine you'll likely be greeted with a mess of wires, tubes and mechanical parts. Unless you have some newer cars where you'll likely be greeted with a cover ... which hides the big mess of wires, tubes and mechanical parts. Either way, all those things (i.e. the engine) are sitting in a giant hole in your car's frame and they'd fall right through if it weren't for unheralded parts like the engine cradle.
The cradle is attached to steering gears, control arms and lower engine mounts so that you can steer, control and move your car. What I'm trying to say is the cradle is very important.
Road salt and street grime are the engine cradle's worst enemies and so it is typically treated with a blend of unpronounceable chemicals to protect it from rust and corrosion during manufacturing. But some think that Chrysler skipped that whole step when building the 2004-2008 Pacifica. Guys -- what did they tell you about always reading the directions!
Owners Are Shocked ∞
The cradles in these cars are rusting to the point where mechanics can stick their hands through it like a wet paper bag. Susan Deneen, a Pacifica owner, took her car in for an innocent oil change only to find out her engine could fall out. The mechanic was wary of even letting her drive home.
"He told me if you were my wife, I wouldn't want you driving this home"
Another mechanic was concerned about the problem because no-one even thought to look:
"People here are driving time bombs, that don't even realize it," Grand Master mechanic Greg Hoops said
An Expensive Fix ∞
Once cradles start to rust you're in trouble because they usually can't (and shouldn't) be repaired. Instead, you need to replace the cradle entirely and that comes with an estimated price tag of $4,000-$5,000, or about 2x the cost of what a used Pacifica is actually worth.
Chrysler's Technical Service Bulletin and Warranty Extension ∞
Back in October 2010 Chrysler, now FCA US, issued a TSB to dealers regarding complaints of Pacifica cars that were vibrating and shaking violent. The mechanics were told to check the engine cradles and front suspensions if the vehicles were sold or registered in Canada or one of the “salt belt” states]4.
A month later, Chrysler offered extended warranty coverage to 2004-2005 Pacifica owners and offered to reimburse owners who had already paid for cradle rot repairs.
A couple of years later, Chrysler issued another TSB which limited the warranty coverage to vehicles built during a specific six-week period in 2004 (02/23/14 -- 03/31/04). For those keeping score at home, that meant in order to be covered you needed:
- A 2004-2005 Pacifica...
- That was sold or registered in a "salt belt" state ...
- And manufactured in a specific two-month period
In total, that's only about 7,000 vehicles. If you consider that owners with model years up to 2008 and owners not in salt belt states have also complained about this problem, that 7,000 vehicles is only 1.8% of all potentially affected vehicles. No wonder owners are pissed.