Engine Cradle Rust and Rot in the Pacifica

I'm pretty sure those are supposed to be attached

“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 has been 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 properly 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 unhearalded 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 unpronouncable 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[1].

Chrysler’s Technical Service Bulletin and Warranty Extension

Back in October of 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.

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 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:

  1. A 2004–2005 Pacifica…
  2. That was sold or registered in a “salt belt” state …
  3. 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[2]. No wonder owners are pissed.

Chrysler Vehicles Affected by Cradle Rot

Year Model Complaints* Worst Complaint
2004 Pacifica 256 Motor Mount Failure »
2005 Pacifica 406 Engine Cradle Rot »
2006 Pacifica 223 Motor Mounts Broke »
2007 Pacifica 112 Broken Motor Mounts »
2008 Pacifica 27 Broken Motor Mounts »

*Complaint totals are a sum of reports to both CarComplaints.com and NHTSA. There are other engine complaints included in that total. The worst complaint links to cradle rot specific complaints.

Actions You Can Take

This step is crucial, don't just complain on forums! The sites below will actively manage your complaints and turn them into useful statistics. Both CarComplaints.com and the CAS will report dangerous trends to the authorities and are often called upon by law firms for help with Class Action lawsuits. Make sure to file your complaint on all three sites, we can't stress that enough.

  1. Step 1: File Your Complaint at CarComplaints.com

    CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases. Add a Complaint

  2. Step 2: Notify the Center for Auto Safety

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits. Notify the CAS

  3. Step 3: Report a Safety Concern to NHTSA

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues. Report to NHTSA

What Owners Have Said About Cradle Rot

“Took my Pacifica in for a routine oil change and walked out with the news that my engine is about to fall out. I keep this vehicle in mint condition, heck I even bust out those microfiber cloths after washing it to make sure there’s no water spots. ”Sucks to be me" I thought. That is until I started researching this problem and found out it’s a widespread issue. Guess it sucks to be all the rest of us.” – Chris in Beverly, MA

“This rust problem is HUGE….my wife and my two kids who ride everyday in this car and travel at high speeds to get them to daycare, school, sports, work, all use this car. We could’ve died today because nothing was ever mentioned about this defect in the rusty engine cradle. I had five really great mechanics looking at this today and they were SHOCKED at the rust.” – evanmnmski, Bellevue, MI

  1. A 2004 Chrysler Pacifica with standard options, in “fair” condition and bought from a private party is only worth $2,122 according to Kelley Blue Book  ↩

  2. There were 389,783 Pacifica vehicles sold in Canada and the USA from 2003–2007 (covering the 2004–2008 model years) according to Good Car Bad Car  ↩

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