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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My wife and I live in our 2018 3500 ext. and are in the Bay Area while I recover from recent surgery. In a great example of "when it rains it pours," on the way to a doctors appointment yesterday, our van started shuddering while accelerating, then stalled out in the road and wouldn't start again. We called and had it towed to a nearby shop via our insurance's roadside assistance.

We have known for a couple weeks that something was up with our engine. We started getting the check engine light and occasionally having a hard time getting it to start. We took it into a shop then, who said we were having a cylinder 2 misfire. They tried changing coils and spark plugs, it didn't fix the issue, and then they did a compression test - cylinder 2 was at 60 psi. They quoted us at 5k to replace the cylinder head, which we declined.

I was hoping that we would be able to get the van back to Washington state, where our families live, so that I could replace the head myself once I'm recovered enough to do so. I'm not a mechanic or historically a car guy but I'm frugal (poor) and stubborn, and so far that's gotten me pretty far with the van, and I've learned how to do all kinds of things I've never done before. But clearly that's not going to happen this time since we can't drive the van and I'm out of commission for at least another week.

I've done enough reading here on the forum to know this is a fairly common issue, and I'm having a really hard time swallowing the prices I'm being quoted vs. what I'm seeing people say this should cost. The shop we were towed to said a used engine would be 8k just for the engine itself (???). I've also seen @Kip-on-truckin write on here about how this is an often misdiagnosed issue with lifters and rockers and wondered if that could be the case for us?

Does anyone have any advice on how best to proceed? Hoping with all the expertise here someone might have advice the best way forward with this. Shop recommendations in this area welcome too. Thanks for reading.
 

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I can't help you, but I'll tell you our experience. We started having cylinder #2 misfire a year ago or so on our 2016 1500. The van ran fine except for a little rough idle at times, and the light came and went. A very good mechanic somewhere out west said it would take weeks to fix it, but he thought we'd get home, which we did (we live on the east coast). Finally the light came on at a good time to have it looked at. We were told it needed a new cylinder head (same compression reading you got). Unbelievably, our extended warranty covered the cost, which was about $3,000. However, the service manager said that the extended warranty companies pay less than full price, and if we had to have paid it would have been more like $6,000. It did take weeks to fix, but fortunately we were between trips.

I had not heard that this was a common problem or that it was commonly misdiagnosed. Our van had less than 50,000 miles on it. I'm used to engines going hundreds of thousands of miles without major problems, so this was a shock for me. However, all seems to be well at this time. As far as doing it yourself, the parts alone are around $600 at the dealer. If you look under the hood, it looks pretty much impossible, but the service manager told me it's not really that bad a repair once you remove a bunch of stuff. Of course they have lifts and tools and the mechanics are relatively young.
 

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I'd look into having it towed and repaired closer to "home" (Or at least where you may have family support). Even if you don't do the repairs yourself, you'll have more options if it takes longer than expected or other things come up.
 

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My wife and I live in our 2018 3500 ext. and are in the Bay Area while I recover from recent surgery. In a great example of "when it rains it pours," on the way to a doctors appointment yesterday, our van started shuddering while accelerating, then stalled out in the road and wouldn't start again. We called and had it towed to a nearby shop via our insurance's roadside assistance.

We have known for a couple weeks that something was up with our engine. We started getting the check engine light and occasionally having a hard time getting it to start. We took it into a shop then, who said we were having a cylinder 2 misfire. They tried changing coils and spark plugs, it didn't fix the issue, and then they did a compression test - cylinder 2 was at 60 psi. They quoted us at 5k to replace the cylinder head, which we declined.

I was hoping that we would be able to get the van back to Washington state, where our families live, so that I could replace the head myself once I'm recovered enough to do so. I'm not a mechanic or historically a car guy but I'm frugal (poor) and stubborn, and so far that's gotten me pretty far with the van, and I've learned how to do all kinds of things I've never done before. But clearly that's not going to happen this time since we can't drive the van and I'm out of commission for at least another week.

I've done enough reading here on the forum to know this is a fairly common issue, and I'm having a really hard time swallowing the prices I'm being quoted vs. what I'm seeing people say this should cost. The shop we were towed to said a used engine would be 8k just for the engine itself (???). I've also seen @Kip-on-truckin write on here about how this is an often misdiagnosed issue with lifters and rockers and wondered if that could be the case for us?

Does anyone have any advice on how best to proceed? Hoping with all the expertise here someone might have advice the best way forward with this. Shop recommendations in this area welcome too. Thanks for reading.
You didn't mention your mileage..
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for the feedback so far. I’ve contacted a few other shops for a second opinion but am having a hard time finding anywhere with a good review that does engine work and can accommodate a vehicle of this size.

Looking into a tow and have been quoted 1700. Hard to swallow but may be the best bet.

We are at about 93,000 miles and not under warranty anymore. Have had the van since 2020.
 

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Lots to say about this. Very tricky problem because you are far from home, and that ratchets up the expense. You could buy an entire engine for $1700, the price of the tow. But how/where would you install it? Parking lot of a Wendy’s is probably not a viable plan.

Here’s a fun wrinkle: if you know the engine is going to be junker, nothing stops you from driving it home.At 60lbs, it’ll fire most of the time. Running it in 5th gear instead of 6th will actually help it not misfire. If it has trouble starting, ether.

Another, probably better, option is to just bite the bullet. In my shop, we’d probably do a complete cylinder head for something like $1000-2000 all in, depending on many factors. Even in California, I cant see how you could pay more than $4000 for that job. It become more a question of finding the right shop. The thing about the van being big is nonsense. It’s not like you need to get under it to do the cylinder head.

Motor city mechanic on youtube has an excellent video on doing a cylinder head. Yours is the front head, which is far easier. Could a fella with no training and no experience do such a job? Yes, armed with that video. The special tools he uses in the video are $30 on amazon. Could that same fella do that job by the side of the road, in Oakland, at night, after a surgery? Probably not.

But if it were me in your spot, I’d just accept the fact that it’s going to cost more in the long run trying to off cheap. I’d put my efforts into finding the right shop, then just throwing money at the problem. It’ll hurt, but it would hurt worse when you try to do it yourself and fail, at which point you’ll be right where you are now, but with less money and even fewer options.
 

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I don't do any mechanical type work but I live in the SF Bay area / east bay if there is anything that I can do to help out.

As far as the actual repair - there might be a vehicle mover that can do that move for less - maybe not a lot less, but I would at least try to have have it towed on the road for that kind of distance if possible.

I have replaced a head before on a different vehicle - the main challenge was not the actual head replacement, it was pulling all of the other stuff off.

My wife's toyota / Lexus had to have the head gasket replaced and it was pretty expensive by the time they dug in there and replaced all of the stuff that needed to be done at roughly the same time. It is the only vehicle that I have ever owned with an extended warranty and definitely our last one of that brand. If not for that warranty, it would have been ridiculous.

____

Size wise, there is a real problem in this area for shops with a tall enough garage to do that kind of repair. I struggled to find a place that you can even drive a tall van into.
 

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If it were me - I would rent another truck, buy a tow bar, disconnect the cv joints (axels) and tow that sucker back home.
Many years ago (probably mid 90’s) I sold my well used & worn MBZ 209D (an earlier model Sprinter) to a guy in Washington state. I lived in the Boston area. We arranged to meet in Michigan at his mother in laws place as it was about half way. I had a Chevy mini-van (Astro) at the time. I welded up a tow bar, bolted it on the front of the van, removed the driveshaft and towed that thing all the way from Boston to Michigan without incident (For the cost of gas & tolls). It would be worth your while to find an old tow vehicle, buy it and sell it when you got back home. For $1700 you could probably get it moved to Kip’s!!!
 

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If it were me - I would rent another truck, buy a tow bar, disconnect the cv joints (axels) and tow that sucker back home.
Many years ago (probably mid 90’s) I sold my well used & worn MBZ 209D (an earlier model Sprinter) to a guy in Washington state. I lived in the Boston area. We arranged to meet in Michigan at his mother in laws place as it was about half way. I had a Chevy mini-van (Astro) at the time. I welded up a tow bar, bolted it on the front of the van, removed the driveshaft and towed that thing all the way from Boston to Michigan without incident (For the cost of gas & tolls). It would be worth your while to find an old tow vehicle, buy it and sell it when you got back home. For $1700 you could probably get it moved to Kip’s!!!
It is a pretty challenging drive from the SF Bay area to Washington state with a heavy tow like that.

Crossing the Siskiyou's is nothing to take lightly. It is most definitely different than driving on I80.

I would be tempted to look for a shop in the Tracy / central valley area and see if the prices / time line are more interesting. There is a pretty massive drop in cost structure as you go east, which is why I have my shop in Livermore.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks for everyone's feedback so far-- still having a hard time finding a shop that will even do a head replacement on a vehicle of this size, but I'll keep looking. Really appreciate everyone weighing in as its been hard to sort out what our options are and what the best option will end up being. So disappointed to have an issue of this magnitude happen after only 2 years of owning the van, but we do love her and want to get her running again.

We are in a hotel in San Mateo, and the van is in a shop in San Francisco (the one our insurance paid for a tow to-- they quoted us 8k for a used engine and didn't seem very interested in doing the job themselves). For the right shop I'm definitely willing to pay for a tow somewhere else in the general area.

The van starts "sometimes," according to the shop. This was quite an acceleration of the issue, we previously had a very intermittent CEL (sometimes it wasn't on for days of driving), and an occasional hard start, then on this particular drive we started getting the blinking CEL, then shuddering while accelerating, and then finally the van stalled, shut down, and wouldn't start again at all. To our surprise, after we had it towed, the guy at the shop started it up and drove it in. If I thought it was at all possible, we would drive to Washington, where I (or someone else) could fix it on my own timeline and for a lot less money.

The self-towing idea is interesting, but because I'm recovering from surgery I can't sit for long periods of time, so my wife is our main driver back. She's absolutely a more than competent driver for the van, but I'm not sure about putting that tow drive on her, especially on that terrain.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Just an update here -- we ended up deciding to replace the engine at a shop here in the bay area. I found an engine on car-parts.com from a 2019 Dodge Caravan with 53k miles for $3300 w/ shipping and year warranty. Thanks to @Kip-on-truckin for all the posts you've made on this in the past, they helped me source a lower mileage engine for cheaper than shops were quoting. Here's hoping I don't have to deal with this issue again, at least not for a long time.

Labor cost in this area is astronomical, but no getting around it and any savings we'd get from going elsewhere would be basically canceled out by tow costs, since we went to try today and she wouldn't start at all.

So disappointing, but glad to at least have the logistics sorted out.
 

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Just an update here -- we ended up deciding to replace the engine at a shop here in the bay area. I found an engine on car-parts.com from a 2019 Dodge Caravan with 53k miles for $3300 w/ shipping and year warranty. Thanks to @Kip-on-truckin for all the posts you've made on this in the past, they helped me source a lower mileage engine for cheaper than shops were quoting. Here's hoping I don't have to deal with this issue again, at least not for a long time.

Labor cost in this area is astronomical, but no getting around it and any savings we'd get from going elsewhere would be basically canceled out by tow costs, since we went to try today and she wouldn't start at all.

So disappointing, but glad to at least have the logistics sorted out.
Alldata calls out the labor time to swap an engine at 16.3 hours, which I feel is pretty low. Generally speaking, if you were to bring that into my shop I would probably charge a flat rate of $2750 for labor all inclusive, which works out to 22 hrs at our rate. I would do it that way because nobody likes to be nickled and dimed for oil, and replacement bolts, and all the little bits that end up going into an engine swap. There are often parts that are found to be marginal once the engine is out (cooling stuff mostly). The point is what I as a customer would want is to know the total price ahead of time, rather than getting sticker shocked at the back end with a lot of extras.

Bay area, I'd guess he'll hit you for something like $4000 labor, which is pricey but still not crazy.
 

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@djforest, you are recovering from surgery so please take your time and get back to me when you are well again. But being also an owner of a 2018, I am curious:
  1. were there any early warning signs of cylinder head failure? For example, was there a ticking sound from the engine? (The infamous Pentastar tick?)
  2. how well were the van and engine maintained during its life so far? Oil changes at the prescribed intervals or earlier?
  3. how was it driven? Hard? Driven heavily loaded? Up steep grades?
  4. Did whoever diagnosed the problem give you any more information on why exactly the head needed replacement? e.g. was it cracked? Warped?
In my not-very-expert mind, low compression in a cylinder means either a problem with the piston rings or the valves (the valve seats or maybe the valve guides). If it's the valves, back in the day, you could fix it without replacing the head. Both the seats or the guides, or even the valves themselves, could be replaced. None of which should need the entire cylinder head replaced.

Are things different these days? Are mechanics now only able to swap out major components? What happened to actual "expertise" or "skills"? What happened to "repairing" things?

Thinking about it, I guess maybe the head could be indeed cracked or warped but wouldn't you be able to see clouds of white smoke as coolant got into the cylinder(s), burnt, and then exhausted out the tailpipe?

Anyhow, I hope all goes well and you get better soon!
 

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I was running under the impression that he’s got damage of some sort, enough to make the determination to replace the whole engine, rather than just replace a head and valvetrain.

But I had meant to ask. You said earlier dude started it and drove it into the shop. This implies that the chain and block are intact. If so, you could simply replace the head, get new rockers for the new head, get a new cam(s) if you need them, for far less than replacing the whole engine.

By the way, two tidbits you may not know.
1. The filter will easily catch any bits of metal made by the disintegrating valvetrain. No sweat.
2. Once the spark plug is out, a good mechanic will confirm that the rings are good, even though the compression is bad. He does this by putting compressed air into the cylinder at a point with both valves closed. Hissing sound in intake; intake valves bad. Hissing in exhaust; exhaust valves bad. Hissing out the oil cap; rings bad. Bubbles in radiator; block cracked or head gasket. Motor spins; the cylinder is fine.
 
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