Home » The Quicker Fixer-Uppers: 2004 Mitsubishi Outlander vs 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan

The Quicker Fixer-Uppers: 2004 Mitsubishi Outlander vs 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan

Sbsd 1 3 2024

Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! After yesterday’s major projects, I thought we’d take it a little easier today and check out a couple of potential bargains, one of which needs what is almost certainly a simple fix, and the other basically just needs some elbow grease.

I’m not alone in my admiration of a clean shiny old J-car, it seems. Either that, or the animosity towards Chrysler’s worst engine is greater than I thought. The little red Sunbird cleaned house, and it would be my choice as well. Several of you brought up a potential engine swap idea for it that I had completely forgotten about: the 2.8-3.1 liter 60-degree V6, which was available in both the Cavalier and Sunbird in later years. Cheap, plentiful, and an easy forty horsepower bump – makes sense to me.

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(And for the record, although it seems that only one of you agreed with me: Waterworld is a lot of fun. It’s silly, sure, but the right kind of silly. And Dennis Hopper, between Waterworld and Speed, is one of the best villains of the 1990s. I would throw Flashback in there as well, but Huey Walker is more of an antihero than a true villain. But I digress.)

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The idea of getting elbow-deep in the inner workings of an old convertible isn’t for everyone, I admit. But if you’re willing to wrench just a little, or give a car a good scrubbing, you can find some decent bargains out there. Neither of these will set your soul on fire, it’s true, but they will get your ass to work, and sometimes that’s all you need.


2004 Mitsubishi Outlander – $1,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Milpitas, CA

Odometer reading: 284,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but has misfire


It’s hard to know when to give up on a car. Sometimes the decision is made for you, as was the case with my wife’s old Explorer; when the transmission started slipping for the second time, and the OBDII codes were multiplying like a virus in a petri dish, it was time for a new car. Or, if the timing chain suddenly decides it wants to see daylight, it’s a good time to unload. But more often, it’s just a feeling; you get to a point where you just don’t want to fix the next thing, no matter how minor it might be. You’re done.

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From the sounds of it, that’s where the owners of this Mitsubishi Outlander are. After racking up nearly 300,000 miles, it still runs and drives, but it has thrown a check engine light. They have elected not to sink any more money into it, and are letting it go cheap, apparently right after having new tires installed.

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But through the magic of OBDII, and armed with a little bit of experience, I can wield Occam’s Razor well enough to diagnose this car’s woes from here, sitting on my sofa, hundreds of miles away. Code P0303 is a misfire on cylinder number 3, which can have many causes, some of which require serious repairs. However, the seller also states that the car recently passed a smog test, and that the problem happened suddenly. This means it’s unlikely to be a burned valve, because that gets worse over time, and likely would have caused it to fail the smog test. It’s limited to one cylinder, and isn’t accompanied by a rattling noise, which likely rules out any timing problems related to a loose timing chain.


No, I’d bet a dollar that the problem here is a bad ignition coil pack on the number 3 cylinder. Modern engines don’t have a distributor or spark plug wires anymore; each cylinder has its own ignition coil sitting right on top of the spark plug. They don’t often go bad, but when they do, they cause the exact symptoms described by the seller: shaky idle and a “Check Engine” light. It’s probably down on power and getting crappy fuel mileage, too.

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The ignition coil is a $40 part, it looks like, and should take about ten minutes to replace. Actually, take an hour, and replace all four spark plugs, too. I have a feeling it will purr like a kitten again after that.

2006 Dodge Grand Caravan – $1,800

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Engine/drievtrain: 3.3 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD


Location: Austin, TX

Odometer reading: 160,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives fine

Here we have, once again, our old friend the Dodge Caravan. Chrysler sold so many of these things for so many years that they have become a fixture on the used car market, and are likely to remain so for many years to come, even though the Caravan is out of production. I pass over many ads for them every day, but this one for some reason jumped out at me, so here it is.

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This is the C/V model, typically favored by tradespeople rather than families. It’s really basic inside, with rubber floors, crank windows, and simple cloth upholstery. Usually the C/V models don’t have seats in the back, but apparently they were an option, and this van has them. They are not, however, of the “Stow ‘n Go” variety; they’re more like “heave it out ‘n try not to drop it on your foot.”

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This was a work van, though; you can see ghosts of graphics on it that look like they used to say “Collision On Wheels.” I assume they mean “Collision Repair On Wheels,” but whatever. It bears the scars of a life of work, but didn’t rack up too many miles doing it; 160,000 miles is low for an eighteen-year-old work van. It’s in good shape mechanically, it sounds like, with a new battery, starter, and alternator. Not only that, but it has air conditioning, and it works! The only thing wrong with it, according to the seller, is that the speedometer works “when it wants to.” No biggie; download a GPS speedometer app, and you’re good to go.

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Mostly, what I think this van needs is a good deep cleaning. It’s pretty grubby inside, and the windows are filthy. Common wisdom is to at least wash and vacuum a car before putting it up for sale, but that rule sometimes falls apart at the low end of the market. But the price is actually pretty low for a good-running Caravan with lowish miles, so a little sweat equity seems worth it. (And they say grime doesn’t pay…)


You can’t expect miracles in this price range. We know that. But there are still deals to be found, if you’re willing to do just a little work. One of these needs a quick fix, and the other wants a detailing, but for less than two grand each, they both feel like good deals to me. Which one feels like it to you?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Stephen Walter Gossin
Stephen Walter Gossin
3 months ago

Thanks for the hyperlink, Mark!

Great showdown as always and I’m going with the Mitsu for this one. Same engine that’s in my Stratus Coupe.

Also, excellent couch diagnostic – spot on!

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
3 months ago

I just can’t stand these goddamn outlanders, they’re like mobile soulsucking black holes that kill all joy as they pass by. Curiously they later generation is fucking everywhere around here but not these older ones. I guess that’s because they’re crap and nobody wants them.. The Caravan however I have better memories of and they always seemed like the kind of car that get shit done without much fuss, so I would rather spend a day cleaning and disinfecting that.

Last edited 3 months ago by 67 Oldsmobile
3 months ago

The novelty of the Mitsubishi is about all it has going for it, which is more than the Caravan has.

Dirk from metro Atlanta
Dirk from metro Atlanta
3 months ago

Having spent nearly a quarter million miles with just such a Mitsu, I can report, that Outlander with the four-banger is torquey-er than you’d think. I’m pretty sure it could pull stumps if needed.

(I couldn’t kill it, but my still-learning-to-drive spawn, unfortunately, could.)

3 months ago

I’ll take a chance on the Mitsu’s coil pack and plugs. There’s nothing particularly likeable about that generation of Caravan, especially not with its potential for electrical and transmission issues. The wonky speedometer might be all that this one’s afflicted with, or it could be the herald of more, much worse gremlins in hiding.

3 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

I am going to also say that the faulty speedo might be why the miles are as low as they are. neither of these vehicles are all that desirable, but I think the Mitsubishi is likely the nicer of the two rides at the end of the day.

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