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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Greetings,

Okay, I'll start from the beginning.....(2008 Dodge Caliber SE, 1.8L, Manual Transmission)

Took the car to Belle Tire for an oil change and to address some grinding noise I was hearing during steering. Their diagnosis was that the ball joints (front and rear, lower and upper) were shot. They also recommended that I get new struts since mine were showing some leakage (car has 208k miles). I decided to do the work myself to save some money.

So, here is what I did....

1. Replaced the front left and right strut assemblies. Note, these are whole quick-strut assemblies with springs, struts, etc ready to mount. They were an off-brand (Prime Choice Auto parts). Here are the exact set that I got and put on the car - 2 Complete Strut Assemblies. It states that these are for the "SE-SXT" (?). I have the SE. Are the strut assemblies for the SE and SXT different? From other parts stores I've searched, they appear to be different and don't use the same part (?). More on this later....

2. Replaced the A-Arms with ball joints, front left and right (Moog brand parts). Also replaced the control arm links on both sides.

I then proceeded to test drive the car. The clunking and grinding noise was gone, so the new A-arms with ball joints took care of that problem. However, there was a very noticeable vibration/shutter during acceleration. It was consistent, especially noticeable going through 20 mph during acceleration. At that time, I thought well, it needs a front-end alignment now. Research also told me that my CV joints could be bad too. Maybe the new strut assemblies were uncovering other problems now?? I do not know for sure if I had vibration shutter problems before any work was done. There were times here and there where I thought I may have felt a shutter/vibration during acceleration, but not sure.

So then I did this....

1. Replaced both CV axles. Exact part numbers from PartsGeek.com: 29037-05232902, and 29037-05337962.
2. Replaced both steering knuckle assemblies. I was hearing what I thought might be a wheel bearing starting to go, plus I thought it may go soon anyway, so if I'm going to have everything apart up front, now would be a good time to replace the wheel bearings. It was easier for me to replace the whole knuckle assembly with hubs, bearings and all than to push out bearings, hubs, then push them back in, etc. So, new knuckle assemblies with hubs and bearings.
3. Replaced both left and right, inner and outer tie-rod ends. Again, everything was going to be apart, might as well replace those too as they are easy enough.
4. Replaced rear strut assemblies. Here are those - 2 Rear Strut Assemblies. Again, website states they fit RT-SE-SXT?? One part is good for all models??
5. Replaced rear, left and right, upper and lower control arms. Moog brand parts.

At this point, all the work that I wanted to do was done. I took the car for another test drive. I was expecting that the vibration/shutter during acceleration would be gone now since I had brand new CV axles. The vibration/shutter was still there. Eh....now what? Front-end alignment???

1. Took the car in for an alignment. Alignment within OEM specs (<= 0.4°) after the alignment work done.
2. Had them check for any damaged/worn engine mounts. Engine mounts good.

Took the car for a test drive. Vibration/shutter during acceleration still there. Very noticeable still. So, at this point I was at a loss, so took it back to the local auto repair shop that did the alignment work. After a look-over of the car, they were stumped too. However....they did notice that the ride height is now about 2.25 inches higher than original OEM. The height difference now is visually noticeable. They were questioning if now that the ride height is a bit higher, is it putting the CV axles too far out of dimensional tolerances to where the CV joints aren't able to turn freely completely??? They couldn't say for sure.

I then took the car back to Belle Tire to have them look at it. They too are at a bit of a loss as to what the exact problem is. They put the car up on the hoist and there were several technicians looking at it and checking things out. They were turning the front tires to apparently check for any CV axle joint issues. Nothing, both tires turned freely no problem. He then got in the car and accelerated while the car was up on the hoist. Again, nothing and no apparent noises or vibration. I would think that in theory, if the CV axles were binding because of excessive ride height, that it would be especially noticeable while the car was up off its wheels and on the hoist, because you're increasing the "ride height" even more by doing that (?). But nothing, seemed fine. Of course, there's no load on it either because the car is up on the hoist. So, it appears now that we are at a process-of-elimination phase. They swapped the left-side CV axle with a known good one. Nope, problem still there. Tomorrow morning they are going to do the same for the right side CV axle. I don't presume that will fix the problem either, but who knows? If not, we're moving on to the front strut assemblies.

Any ideas from anyone here? Is that 2.2 inches of increased ride height causing a problem with the CV joints or are we barking up the wrong tree?

Thanks,
D.
 

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I'm not an ASE Certified mechanic or anywhere close, but I have to ask this question. Is there any chance that the struts you bought are NOT the same for both sides? What I mean is are they side specific? If they are, maybe you got the one for the left side on the right and the one for the right side on the left. That's about the only thing I can think of. I've never heard of anyone gaining that much ride height just by changing struts. I've replace a LOT of them over the past 45 years and never had an issue like that at all. Did you double check the part #'s and compare the new ones with the old ones? They should have been very close to the same height, no matter that the old ones were worn. Upon looking at a couple of different parts websites, I see that the struts ARE side specific. The extended length is 20 and 1/16th of an inch and compressed they measure 13 and 9/16th. The travel length is 6 and 9/16th. I don't know if these measurements will help you or not. Keep in mind that's FULLY EXTENDED and FULLY COMPRESSED measurements.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I'm not an ASE Certified mechanic or anywhere close, but I have to ask this question. Is there any chance that the struts you bought are NOT the same for both sides? What I mean is are they side specific? If they are, maybe you got the one for the left side on the right and the one for the right side on the left. That's about the only thing I can think of. I've never heard of anyone gaining that much ride height just by changing struts. I've replace a LOT of them over the past 45 years and never had an issue like that at all. Did you double check the part #'s and compare the new ones with the old ones? They should have been very close to the same height, no matter that the old ones were worn.
The front struts are side specific. The rears are not. If I recall during installation, you can't get them wrong up front because they only go on one way. The front left strut assembly can't mount on the right side and vice versa because the mounting holes won't line up. Also, this was not just a strut replacement. This was struts and springs. These are "quick strut" assemblies with springs, shocks, mounts and all, ready to bolt on. Unfortunately, I did not visually compare them with the old ones. It was obvious after I installed the new strut assemblies that the car was sitting up a couple inches higher, but I figured that was normal because these are new springs and not worn and compressed like the old ones that were on the car (208k miles), so it would naturally sit a bit higher now (?). This was my first time really doing this amount of work on a car, so my inexperience doesn't help. Although the mechanic said that there was nothing wrong with my workmanship when he was looking it over. Also, I'm SOL on putting the old strut assemblies back on since I didn't save them after I put the new ones on. Lesson learned there too.
 

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I don't know what else to tell you. I'm sorry that I can't help. I'm just wondering why nobody else seems to even have a suggestion. Why don't you try allpar.com and see if someone there can help. There are two members I trust implicitly and I've been a member there for a LONG time. They're Imperial Crown and Dana44. IC actually owns a Caliber too!
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I don't know what else to tell you. I'm sorry that I can't help. I'm just wondering why nobody else seems to even have a suggestion. Why don't you try allpar.com and see if someone there can help. There are two members I trust implicitly and I've been a member there for a LONG time. They're Imperial Crown and Dana44. IC actually owns a Caliber too!
No problem. I was discussing this with a colleague at work, who used to work for Nexteer where they manufacture CV axles, among many other automobile components. He, along with my boss, who I would consider both to be very knowledgeable on the mechanicals of cars, do not think its the increased ride height causing issues. They think that a couple inches more in ride height is negligible and would likely not cause issues with the CV joints. From what I know and have seen, I tend to agree with them. I was right there at Belle Tire when they had the car up on the hoist and the technician was turning the tires up front. There was nothing as far as noise or feel that would indicate the CV joints aren't turning freely. Anyway, I threw in the towel and ended up taking it to the local Dodge dealership yesterday after work. I told them to call me when they have a definitive answer. They are supposed to get to it sometime middle to end of next week. I'll update here when they find out what the problem is. Even though the first mechanic shop said the motor mounts were fine, I still think there's an issue there and maybe they missed it? We'll find out. Thanks.
 

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Running the car up on the hoist isn't going to show a problem caused by a suspect suspension component not working correctly when loaded down.

My own personal experience with my Caliber (which is also a manual) is that there can be a bit of a shudder when starting up from a dead stop, like the tires are quickly grabbing and slipping. I've not done any research into this since it's a very intermittent thing, but I can't help but wonder what the weight difference is between the manual and CVT trannies. Is the suspension affected by the manual possibly being lighter, and is less weight being placed on the front tires causing some sort of slippage?

And if I'm right about that, is it at all possible that the change in suspension geometry caused by your new taller quick-struts having a similar effect? Something to think about I guess.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Running the car up on the hoist isn't going to show a problem caused by a suspect suspension component not working correctly when loaded down.

My own personal experience with my Caliber (which is also a manual) is that there can be a bit of a shudder when starting up from a dead stop, like the tires are quickly grabbing and slipping. I've not done any research into this since it's a very intermittent thing, but I can't help but wonder what the weight difference is between the manual and CVT trannies. Is the suspension affected by the manual possibly being lighter, and is less weight being placed on the front tires causing some sort of slippage?

And if I'm right about that, is it at all possible that the change in suspension geometry caused by your new taller quick-struts having a similar effect? Something to think about I guess.
I agree that having the car up on the hoist won't reveal at least some suspension problems. But if there is suspicions that the CV joints aren't turning freely due to excessive ride height, which increases the CV axle dimensional angles, then wouldn't raising the car up off its wheels further increase that angle, therefore compounding (making worse) the CV joint not turning freely?? In theory, it makes sense that you'd be able to hear or feel something with the CV joints by turning the wheels with the car up off its wheels. I'm not an ASE certified mechanic, but I work with one and apparently that's how its typically done. That's how they were checking the CV joints at Belle Tire too.

I have experienced the same shudder that you have described. Agree, its very intermittent and probably the wheels skipping on the pavement. The problem I'm experiencing now is not the same. I don't think the wheels are spinning during acceleration. I'm not laying down on the accelerator. It's just a "normal" acceleration. The shudder also happens at all speed ranges. I can't imagine that I'm spinning/skipping the tires at >70 mph, but then again, who knows? I've been surprised by other things. Thanks for the feedback though. I appreciate it.

With that said, another thing that tends to make me think it's not the increased ride height causing CV joint issues is that after doing some research, according to the company website where I purchased the struts, they've sold several hundred of these struts. I can't imagine that I'm the only one that purchased these for 1.8L engine Dodge Caliber. If they didn't work for the car, it would be well documented and they wouldn't continue to sell them for this vehicle. I'm sure they sell them for other vehicles though too, probably Dodge Patriot (?).

I still tend to think its an engine mount problem that was missed by the company that did the alignment.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
UPDATE: Well, the Dodge dealership called me and said that the problem is/was definitely a transmission problem. Said they were driving it down the road when the transmission "locked up". Wheels turn fine but nothing out of the transmission. So, I guess the good news is that it appears for the time being that we've finally found where/what the problem is. Maybe a bearing in there was worn and going and then finally went?? I've sunk so much work and new parts in this car in the last month that I'm afraid to part ways with it now. So......I'm going to have a used transmission installed along with a new clutch. I'm hoping that I can then milk another 100k miles out of the car. Found out through the dealership and through my own searching, that the manual transmission for this car is hard to come by. They're rare. I suppose that figures.
 

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Thanks for the update and good luck with finding that used trans. I just find it kind of "coincidental" that it took a dump while the stealership had it. I don't believe in coincidence. I'd have it brought home and check it out myself, but then again, I'm a very suspicious, paranoid old fart that doesn't trust anyone else to work on his cars!
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks for the update and good luck with finding that used trans. I just find it kind of "coincidental" that it took a dump while the stealership had it. I don't believe in coincidence. I'd have it brought home and check it out myself, but then again, I'm a very suspicious, paranoid old fart that doesn't trust anyone else to work on his cars!
Oh, trust me, I know where you're coming from! I'm the exact same way - very skeptical and paranoid of dealerships or other people/places working on my car. But especially dealerships. Drives my wife nuts the way I am with that. She's the exact opposite and that she trusts them straight away unlike me.

In this particular case though, I'm tending to believe/trust the dealership that it is/was the tranny since it was such a mystery at where this shutter problem was coming from. Recall from the thread, all parts are new up to the tranny, including suspension. What else could it be? Another thing, and I don't believe I mentioned this in the thread because its occurrence was so rare and I didn't believe it was related. But, there were on very rare occasions (prior to doing all the work), where I would accelerate from a dead stop and there would be a violent shutter (more than what was described before), with it becoming more violent the more I accelerated. I would have to let up off the accelerator briefly, then back down on it and the shutter would just disappear and everything was fine. Couldn't duplicate the problem after that as I tried, and it would only occur on very, very rare instances. At the time, that was a mystery to me as to what that was all about but I didn't think too much about it. However, now (putting 2 plus 2 together) I'm thinking what that was was very possibly a bearing (or gear) in the transmission that was locking up or not turning freely, causing the violent shutter. Me letting up off the accelerator released the load off the bearing so that it could "re-seat" or get passed its hiccup if you will, and then start turning freely again. Well, I think that bearing (or gear) is/was the consistent vibration that we were feeling now. It got worse and then when the dealership test drove it (they were probably riding it hard to try and determine the problem), it finally broke completely in the transmission. Anyway, that is my theory.

I'm at a crossroads as to if I want to try and fix this car. My wife isn't going to be happy about it if I do. I looked at new cars yesterday and we're supposed to finish up the transaction this afternoon on the new car. But it's hard for me to just part ways with the Caliber and basically just let the dealership have it. They aren't giving me anything for it since it needs another tranny and it has 200k+ miles on it. I'm now looking into how difficult of a job it would be for me to try and do the tranny swap myself and keep the Caliber as a backup vehicle. I have all the tools other than a tranny jack, but I could get one of those too. I've never done a tranny swap, but then again I had never done all the work on this car that I just did, prior to doing it. I'll look through the service manual tonight to get an idea of what I'm getting myself into if I want to replace the tranny myself.
 

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There was a lady on here who with help from her father I believe replaced all the bearings in her t355 trans. You might search for those threads. I believe the 1.8L is the only engine that used the small 5 speed gear box. Pretty sure the 2.4 used a 6 speed. (R/T and SRT 4)

You could possibly find a wrecked 2.4 with a 5 speed and swap the whole 6 speed and linkages in if you had a donor car for under $1000.

That is if the bellhousings and clutch plates match on the crank and engine.


Research!

I've got the 1.8L and the 5 speed too. Way better than the CVT that's for sure. But never trust Dodge when they say lubed for life.

My 5 speed is getting new trans oil before winter, I'm at 225K km a far cry from 200K miles.
 

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What you described sounds more like a clutch problem. If one of the springs in the fiber clutch broke and came apart, it could cause crap like that to happen, I think. BUT, as I've stated, I'm NOT a mechanic and really don't know **** about anything. I just hate to see people get screwed because of something someone else tells them. Me, I want to see the old parts and proof, before you'll convince me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
What you described sounds more like a clutch problem. If one of the springs in the fiber clutch broke and came apart, it could cause crap like that to happen, I think. BUT, as I've stated, I'm NOT a mechanic and really don't know **** about anything. I just hate to see people get screwed because of something someone else tells them. Me, I want to see the old parts and proof, before you'll convince me.
Well, I discussed this with a good colleague and friend at work yesterday and he suggested that I have the car towed over to his place. He has a hoist, full garage, tools, etc.. It will probably be a few weeks before we can get to it though as he said he's got another car in there right now. Still, better than just letting the dealership have it, especially after all the parts and work I just put into it. I hate to just throw in the towel and quit on this now. Plan is to still buy the new car though from the dealership as I still need a car. We are going to obviously have to drop the transmission in the Caliber and dig into that and see where/what the problem is. Hopefully, its a simpler fix than a full tranny swap. Maybe it is just a clutch, as that would be great. Keeping my fingers crossed on that but not gonna count on it. As Tonatom suggested in his post, I'll see about replacing bearings in the existing transmission first, before doing a full swap. So if it's obvious that its not the clutch, then we're going to dig into the transmission a bit and see if its worth fixing. There is a used T-355 tranny down near Toledo, OH. If it comes down to it, I'll drive down there and get it instead of having it shipped. Might be a few weeks before my next update on the car since we won't be getting to it for a few weeks probably. Thanks to all for the input and advice.
 

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Well, just keep us posted, okay? And if I were you, I'd go ahead and get that transmission in Toledo. Even if you don't need it, I don't think you'd have any problem reselling it.
 

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UPDATE: Well, the Dodge dealership called me and said that the problem is/was definitely a transmission problem. Said they were driving it down the road when the transmission "locked up". Wheels turn fine but nothing out of the transmission. So, I guess the good news is that it appears for the time being that we've finally found where/what the problem is. Maybe a bearing in there was worn and going and then finally went?? I've sunk so much work and new parts in this car in the last month that I'm afraid to part ways with it now. So......I'm going to have a used transmission installed along with a new clutch. I'm hoping that I can then milk another 100k miles out of the car. Found out through the dealership and through my own searching, that the manual transmission for this car is hard to come by. They're rare. I suppose that figures.
Same identical problems I've been trying to resolve over the last two months. I stopped off at a mechanic I always used years back. He said straight forward, it's a transmission issue. I should get several quotes and opinions from reliable transmission shops, before having additional work done. I have rebuilt the underside of my 2012 caliber with 5 speed manual transmission.
 
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