2002 Dodge Grand Caravan Radiator Replacement and Transmission Cooler repair

This weekend I replaced the radiator on my dearest's 2002 3.8L Dodge Grand Caravan.  It wasn't terribly difficult, but there are a few gotchas to know about.

The replacement procedure is:
  • Remove the negative battery cable.  Really do this, as you'll be working right next to the ABS impact sensor.  I also cover the battery with a towel to prevent accidental sparky oops.
  •  There are two bolts and two plastic pins that hold the plastic radiator bar cover on.  Remove them.
  • Put alignment marks on the radiator crossmember and remove the four 13mm bolts that hold it in place.  If you jimmy the plastic cover about so you can reach the bolts, it's possible to remove this without removing the hood latch.  That's a good thing, as the hood latch adjustment is not something I enjoy.
  • Lift the crossmember up and set it out of the way.  The hood latch cable is still attached so it won't go far.
  • Remove the electrical connectors from the fans.  There is a red plastic clip that has to be pushed into the unlocked position, then squeeze the connector and it should slide off.
  • Now the two fans can be removed.  They are each held on by one screw at the top.  With that screw removed, they'll lift right up out of the grooves they lock in.
  • Drain the cooling system.  There is an almost impossible-to-reach drain plug above the lower radiator hose to do this, or you can remove the easy-to-reach lower radiator hose.  Your choice.  Catch the coolant (you need room for a couple of gallons) and dispose of it properly so you don't kill the neighbors cats.
  • Remove the upper and lower radiator hose.
  • Remove the coolant overflow hose from next to the radiator cap.
  • Remove the two bolts on the outside front of the radiator that hold it to the AC Condenser and transmission cooler.
  • This next part isn't exactly fun.  You want to separate the radiator and AC condenser assembly and then get the radiator out.  This requires holding the radiator down while pulling up on the condenser, then once the two separate you pull the radiator up, then out, and set the condenser down gingerly without breaking it.
  • Installing the radiator is moving all of the parts (rubber feet, grommets, and flaps) to the new one and then executing all of the above backwards.
  • The mounting holes for the rubber air dam did not align on my new radiator.  I drilled new holes in the rubber piece to match the new mounting holes.
So now the gotchas.
  • You should have grommets in the AC condenser mounting holes that may or may not be stuck to the old radiator or stuck in the old condenser.  Find, clean, and move them to the new radiator.
  • You should have grommets on the bottom of the radiator that may or may not be stuck to the old radiator or the frame rail.  Find, clean, and move them to the new radiator if your new radiator didn't include them, clean and move them to the new one.  (I can neither confirm nor deny learning this the hard way.)
  • My transmission fluid cooler mounting brackets were broken, and the cooler flopping around is what caused the old radiator to fail.  If yours is broke, I'll tell you how to fix it. If yours isn't broke, put a big zip tie around it as an anti-murphy measure.
Fixing a Grand Caravan broken transmission fluid cooler mounting bracket
  • Drill out the old broken rivets and put in the new ones.  It sounds so simple...
  • I didn't have a riveter, so I bought this one for $11 from O'reilly Auto Parts

  • There are 6 rivets two each on the upper, lower, and driver's side brackets.  On my van all 6 rivets were broken. 
  • The upper and lower brackets can be fixed on-car.  The driver's side has to be removed to be fixed.  I, being a masochist, removed all 3 PITA brackets and hoses for the repair.  I have lots of scratches and peeled knuckles for my trouble.
  • If the two "short" mounting bracket rivets on the driver's side are broken, you have to remove the bracket to repair it and fix these before you do the long bracket repairs.  It's held in place with one very difficult to reach 10mm bolt.
  • Gingerly, without drilling into the fluid cooler, drill out the old rivets with a 5/32" drill bit.  If you are doing the bottom one from one under the car then wear safety glasses.  The swarf from drilling will fly into your eyes with cruise missile accuracy.
  • Once the holes are clear, install shiny new 5/32 rivets to replace the broken ones.  The rivets from the O'reilly kit fit fine.
  • If you're feeling really fancy, you can add some RTV sealant between the bracket and cooler to help dampen the rivet-breaking vibration.
Work has had me swamped.  It was nice to spend some time in the shop.  My in-laws came over for a bit as well.  It was good to see them.