1989 Dodge 350 1-ton Van

By Chad Hauris: Updated 2/18/08

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This is kind of a long story, but if you like automotive matters, you may find it interesting.

I bought this van in 2003 for $700. I really needed a good cargo van, but most of those I had seen were twice that price. On the test drive, the performance seemed to be OK, even though there were a few problems. One major problem was that the power steering gearbox was leaking fluid. This apparently is a fairly common problem on Dodge trucks of this time frame. First I tried replacing the power steering hoses but this did not solve the problem. The gearbox would have to be removed.

The gearbox is secured to the frame with three bolts, which screw into nuts welded to the frame. These bolts were on good! I could not get enough leverage using penetrating oil and a breaker bar. I used an 1/2" air impact wrench to remove two of the bolts, but one was located where I couldn't fit the impact! I removed the driver's side tire and found that I could reach the bolt through the wheel well. I then used a box end wrench over which I placed a 6' length of pipe.This provided the leverage to remove the final bolt. I then used a pitman arm puller to remove the pitman arm.

The gearbox was available at Autozone for about $142.00. I installed it and have had good performance to this day.

Other problems included: low oil pressure. The oil pressure warning light was coming on at idle after the engine heated up. To combat this, first I used 20w-50 oil to provide more viscosity at high temperatures. Then, I changed the oil every 200 miles about 4 times. Every time I changed the oil, more old sludge and dirt came out. This procedure brought the oil pressure back up to an acceptable level. There was also a bearing growl when the engine started up, that I have been able to significantly reduce. The oil now still looks brown when I change it, instead of yucky black.

Also, the exhaust was overheating. I could smell a "rotten egg" smell. I attributed this to the fact that the smog pump had been disconnected, causing the catalytic convertors to operate improperly. I replaced the smog pump, pulley, and belt, and have not had this problem since.

And, the air conditioning compressor had seized up, and one day I found that I could not get the truck started because of this! I was at church and had to cut the belts to the AC compressor and alternator to free the engine so I could get it started to get home! Luckily it drove OK on purely battery power. I measured the distance from the crankshaft pulley to the alternator, bypassing the AC, and got new shorter belts to run the alternator only.

After a few months of driving the van I started getting a lot of vibration above 50 mph. Because I had had tire trouble with my Grand Marquis, I decided to have the tires replaced. New tires and wheels were installed which improved the performance greatly.

Now, one more thing is the brakes! Also about 3 months after getting the van I was getting a grinding noise when applying the brakes. Removing the drums indicated that all of the pad material had worn off of the shoes and one of the drums was severely scored. Also, one of the brake shoe springs had broken and was rolling around inside the drum! I installed all new shoes and springs and one new drum. This worked well for a while. Then, I was finding that I had to pump the brake pedal in order to get good brake action. Bleeding the system seemed to cure that.

However, the brake problem was getting worse...the pedal was sinking to the floor and the warning light was coming on. Took it to a shop in Odessa and they replaced the shoes and pads and turned the rotors and drums but they didn't do anything to the hydraulic system, they said the master cylinder was OK. Well, I didn't quite believe that, because although the performance was improved, the pedal traveled quite a long way toward the floor before the brakes activated. However I thought that maybe that's just how it was supposed to be.

Then, the brake problem got worse again, you had to pump it to get brakes to work. This was October 2004 and the van had been out of commission for several months because the brake performance was just so poor. I took it to Midland Frame and Wheel and they found that indeed the master cylinder was bad. They replaced it and WOW! The brake action was amazing. I would recommend Midland Frame and Wheel for any brake or suspension repair. They do a GOOD thorough job and are priced fair.

The van is now back on the road, doing well.

Update: 8/2/05: The van has been doing fairly well this summer...have noticed that the oil pressure light will flicker after stopping directly after 20 minutes or so of freeway driving. However, when idling at a stop light in-town, the oil pressure light does not come on. Gauge indicated adequate oil pressure at all times so I am not too worried about it...it may be a thermally related problem in the sensor.

Update: 12/24/05: Last week I changed the oil on the Dodge and noticed the old stuff that came out looked pretty thin.
I refilled with Castrol 20w50 "High Mileage" and have gotten better oil pressure than I ever had on this van. It is a whole mark higher on the gauge than before, plus the oil light never flickers on at idle now. This oil is what I would recommend for very well worn engines such as this one which tend to have low oil pressure.

Update: 5/6/06: The Dodge had been laid up for a while as it needed a new inspection sticker and needed to be cleaned out! Last weekend I repaired the door mechanism (the driver's door was not opening from inside latch) and cleaned out the last of the stuff from Texas Recycles day into the barn. I was noticing that the van was having trouble starting...sometimes it would start and other times it wouldn't. Last Sat. I got the TV's loaded that I wanted to get and drove the Dodge to Retro.

Well, it wouldn't start when I went to go home!  (it cranked but would not fire up) I checked the distributor cap, pickup coil cable, and other cables for loose connections. No change. I had some starting fluid and sprayed it into the throttle body and opened the throttle and it started and kept running. Next morning, would crank but wouldn't start. I knew it was a fuel problem but was not sure if it was fuel pump or injectors. Put some fuel injector cleaner in the gas tank, sprayed injector cleaner into the throttle body, replaced air filter, and cranked it, started up. Every day last week I tried it and it would then start.

My theory is that the fuel injectors clogged up with debris and it took injector cleaner plus several instances of starting and running it to get it working. If you have a Dodge 360 or 318 engine TBI vehicle that sees occasional use do not let it sit for long periods without being started, or when you really need it you may have trouble. Driving it some at least every week is my recommendation.

Update 6/24/06: It looks like I haven't completely got this problem solved yet! Got the Dodge all cleaned out and took it for its inspection last Thursday and it passed.
Loaded up the chairs plus pizza to go to the Big Sky Drive-in.
Get to the end of B street after the engine was running for about 3 minutes and the engine shuts off.
I pulled off the doghouse and removed the air cleaner and sprayed starting fluid into the throttle body. No luck. Keep trying, still no start. Gregory got into the drivers seat and I tried to push the van back to B Street Studios, it's pouring down rain. It's uphill so I can't push very far! 
Finally through some divine intervention Gregory pumps the accelerator pedal and it starts so we back it up to the B Street carport and park it, not tempting fate to drive it anymore.
Today I went back to the van for some troubleshooting. I figure it must be an ignition problem as it stops instantly and starting fluid will not start it up. It must have been coincidence last time that that did it. I got it started, and started moving the multi-pin connectors and wiring harnesses to see if I could make it shut off. I did once but could not make the problem recur.
I checked the codes from the computer by turning the key on and off and on and off then left it on and watched for flashes from the check engine light. I had the codes printed out and it appeared that it was not detecting the hall effect sensor (distributor pick-up coil) during cranking, and also that the battery had been disconnected recently.
I am going to clean all the contacts in the multi-pin connectors, clean the battery cable connections, and probably replace the pick-upt was not detecting the hall effect sensor (distributor pick-up coil) during cranking, and also that the battery had been disconnected recently.
I am going to clean all the contacts in the multi-pin connectors, clean the battery cable connections, and probably replace the pick-up coil.

Update, 6/25/06
I did some research on the world wide web and found a lot of instances of distributor pickup coil failure on Chrysler products. Today I decided to troubleshoot some more. Turned the key and the van would not start. I got out the 12 volt test lamp and connected it to the "hot" terminal of the ignition coil primary. There was a small flash when the key was first turned but otherwise no power. This proved there was an ignition problem.

Then I tried wiggling the pickup coil cable and it started up. The test lamp was lit up.
Wiggled it some more and it shut down. It looked like this was the problem. I opened the distributor cap and had to spray LPS-2 under the rotor to get it off as it was stuck fast. Removed 2 screws on either side of the distributor and removed the pick-up coil and replaced it with one from Advance Auto Parts for about $35.00. I also replaced the rotor.
Put the dist cap back on and turned the key...starts right up. Wiggling the cable has no effect. Took it for a spin and it keeps running fine. Knock on wood...I have the problem solved!

Update 7/4/06: The Dodge has been running fine driving to and from work all week so the problem should be solved for good. Here are some more pictures of the Dodge engine and repair: (please click for larger view)

Old Dodge 1989 Hall-effect pickup coil.
Old pickup coil and distributor rotor. I took these to Advance Auto Parts and got new ones for about $37.00 for both.

New pickup coil installed in Dodge 360 engine
Here is the new pickup coil and rotor installed. It goes where the points would go on a points-type system. Installation is easy...it just mounts with 2 screws, one at the front of the distributor and one at the back.

360 CID engine, 1989 Dodge 1-ton van.
Here is the 360 CID engine. You can see that most of the engine is actually inside the van. It looks very similar to the carbureted version, however this is fuel injected with 2 injectors in the throttle body.

Looking into the Dodge van from the driver's door.
Looking in through the driver's door.

1989 Dodge van dashboard.
Dashboard view 1. This arrangement has changed very little since the late 70's. The only changes have been: The windshield wiper switch and high beam switch are now built into the turn signal switch; the steering wheel design is slightly different; and the knob on the end of the gear shift is different.

1989 Dodge vandashboard view 2.
Dashboard view 2 including radio. The key is in "accessory" so there is no oil pressure reading. The heater controls are in real poor shape and I cannot get the blower to come on. This is next on my "to fix" list. Unfortunately the AC compressor is seized so there is no AC. It does have front and rear HVAC systems.

Driver's cab area.
Driver's cab area.

Update 2/18/08: I had to fix a lot of little problems on the Dodge. I disassembled the drivers door and made a better repair to the latch mechanism which had broken again. Also, I added a new handle to the driver's door to pull it shut. The connecting rod between the windshield wipers had come undone, so I removed the hood and the cover panel over the wiper mechanism and repaired it. Also, new wiper blades were installed. The smog pump had seized up again! So I replaced it and put on a new belt.
Also the brakes had problems again...the pedal was very mushy. Took it to Midland Frame and Wheel and they installed a new bronze master cylinder, restoring good brake function. It's now back in fine form and I made a promise to myself to drive it more often so it doesn't suffer problems from infrequent use.

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