How To Repair
1989 Dodge B250 Ram Van 3/4-ton 8-cylinder 5.2L 318 in3

© 2010-2015 Brian Mork

Home  •   Site Index  •  Wiki  • Blog


This web page contains a narrative log and pictorial essay to maintain a 150,000 mile 1989 Dodge B250 Ram Van with 5.2L engine with 136,000+ miles.  At the bottom, I also have some simple graphs aggregating lots of data on costs.  This page is meant to teach you, document technical data, and perhaps most of all motivate and encourage you as you try to figure out your non-working Doge van. I included lots of links to web resources I found useful. Chad's 1989 1-ton B350 van repair log is also helpful.  I have other pages about my 230,000 mile 1994 Suburu Legacy with 2.2L. and 100,000 mile 2003 VW Jetta wagon 1.9L diesel. I always appreciate your link back to this page so Google thinks what I say is important!

Before you start work on a car project that may take several weeks,
consider canceling insurance or doing "storage" insurance. My insurer used to provide a "storage" option that provides only comprehensive coverage and drops the cost of a newer vehicle from $52.50/mo down to $5.00/mo.  More recently, they've changed the definition of "storage" to mean "state mandated minimum insurance," and for the Dodge van in this article that change drops cost from from $27.17/mo to $6.70/mo. Or, if you can handle the risk, you could remove ALL coverage including comprensive and save a boatload of money.


1/14/2011 RN from Minneapolis, MN wrote, "Thank You very much for your informative article on troubleshooting the Dodge B250 Van. I just experienced the same situation with mine and thanks to your expertise I was able to do as little as jiggle the wires around the relays and it started right up. It was a LIFESAVER!"

1/19/2012 RS from wrote, "In reference to your page on Dodge van exhaustive information ....  THANK YOU !!! Fantastic information ... great detail ... so much appreciate!  Very best regards ...."

4/11/2012 SS from Texas wrote, "I am impressed! Gee, will you marry me! For  the sake of the baby, of course...(smile)  Honestly, you have obviously spent many, many hours on your Dodge van project. Thank you so much for your time and energy, in both the labor you have spent on the van, but moreover, the excellent record log you have provided!"

4/1/13 BR from Québec wrote, "
The problem you describe on internet that you finally solved was of great help for me; I had a similar problem and your explanations solved it.  I talked to a mechanic and there was so many things possibly wrong, that it would have cost me a fortune to leave it to a garage. I saw your article on internet and followed what you have done or checked and my problem is solved. Considering the age of my vehicule, it was a matter of finding and fixing the problem or scrapping my Dodge with  'only 122,000 miles' on it.  My wife and I love it very much.  You saved our vehicule and our way of life."

11/21/14 RS from wrote, "Found the same thing on a van that was parked outside all summer, went to move it in and no start.   Checked fuses and then checked internet, viola the relay was replaced prior and was hanging upside down.  Just wanted to say thank you for posting that blog."

Pictures for Reference as You Read

Click on any picture to see a close-up view.

Our van is affectionately known as "Big Blue". It's been across the nation at least seven  times and we hope it has a lot more life in it! Looks pretty nice even in the cold snow.  We have loved camping in it so far, and the rear seat comes out for cargo hauling. 

Tools are stacked up behind me for easy access.

One convenience of the full-size Dodge vans of this era is that the engine is worked on from the inside of the van.  This is particularly nice during Michigan winters when no garage is available!  Water on the floor is snow melt off my boots.

Ignition parts up close.  The distributor is beige with wires coming out the top. The coil is round and lays horizontally to the right. I pulled one of the spark plugs going to the right in the picture, and could get no spark.  Finally I pulled the central cable going *into* the distributor and hooked it to a spark plug. Nothing. Not good.

3/4 view of the ignition coil and the spark plug I had out and was testing.  You can see the plug I pulled. Actually, it looked in pretty good condition. Looks like my valve gasket is leaking a bit of oil.

Coil and distributor. another view of the coil assy. See the little grey wire?  There's one on the other side, too.  They both disappear into the wire bundle, and I don't know where they go. Unscrewing the terminals is pretty easy and I did tests with wires removed and in place.

Dropping a bolt or screw down the throttle throat would be bad!  To work on the twin fuel injector harness, you have to remove the air filter and jostle the metal support aside.

Inside the distributor looked really clean for 135,000 miles.  Must not be original. I picked up a spare spinner and magneto pick up from the junk yard.

With the distributor cap off, you can see the black disk in the bottom (magneto pickup), and the spinner that puts spark out to each of the 8 cylinders.

Side view.  The distributor body looks a bit corroded, but everything inside was nice and clean.  A little bit of pitting on the tip of the spinning conductor.

With the lower dashboard panel removed, you can see the black box ASD relay I was working on for 90% of this project.  Uh.. turns out that feeds only the custom interior lighting!  It was the WRONG ASD !

Having exhausted every other possible problem, I dug into the "brains".  This the the computer ECU (Engine Control Unit) or PCM (Powertrain Control Module) or SBEC (Single Board Engine Controller).

I went to the local junk yard and pulled and ECU from a year (1988) earlier 6-cylinder van.  Would it work?  I pulled the air cooling cover and compared them. Torx driver required to remove the cover.

The top plate or layer inside the computer is the higher power switching transformers and voltage controllers (heat sinks) that use the white connector.  Underneath, the fully encased computer circuits using the red connector.

1989 8-cylinder. If you zoom in close, you can see the individual IC chip numbers.  Hey, I used to use these CPU chips in other projects computer projects!

1988 6-cylinder. Only significant difference I could see was one less air cover mounting screw.

This is what turned out to the be the real ASD (mounted on the firewall).  See the little grey box? That's the corroded ASD relay that someone put into the harness.  Water dripped down the harness and collected in the relay

On the left: culprit and cause. In the middle: the interior custom-lighting switch relay found under the dashboard. On the right: two relays pulled from a 1989 model van. They seem identical electrically, but have plastic molding that keys them into one connector or the other.

Original ASD ready to be connected to the wiring harness.  See how the relay body itself makes a little water-proof hood?

The ECU is connectd with three hex head bolts.  Two were badly corroded.  One snapped off when it was removed.  I was going to drill it out, but managed to untwist it with a pair of vice grips.

Original 8-cylinder ECU back into position.   The 6-cylinder ECU was in position when the van came back to life, so I know either can be used.

The first problem I worked on was doing a repair to the ignition. Early spring 2009, my 1989 Dodge van with 135,000 miles was working fine, then one Sunday morning, it sparked a bit, almost started the engine, and quit.  The engine turns over fine - good and strong electrics, but it won't produce any spark, and won't run.

Thursday (4 days into a repair job):

No spark. I pulled a spark plug and held it up in the cabin area against the engine block to see if a spark was visible.  Nothing.  Fuses okay. Trying to figure out why there's no spark. How can I check the coil?  Where do the signals come from that go into the coil? 

Friday (5 days):

I opened the distributor (pic r2c3,4,5) and played with the ignition coil (pic r2c1). In picture r2c1, you can see the two terminals, with almost-red copper tips to the little bolt ends.  The two terminals are the primarly, and the large central wire is the high-voltage output (compared to ground).

When I removed the upper nut and grey wire, across the coil primaries measured about 3.9 ohms (later tested to 1.6 ohms with a better meter).  I turned the keys on and the forward and lower nut was about 11.7 volts compared to ground.  Later, this was not reproducible and there was no voltage on the coil anywhere. [later note - I think the skittish voltage was because the shutoff relay contacts were intermittent and failing with water corrosion.] The upper disconnected terminal was also 11.7 volts through the coil until I connected the grey wire back on.  The grey wire seems to be holding the whole thing grounded because both terminals then moved to about 0 volts.

The red wire secondary coming out of the coil center seemed loose so I played with it.   It spun out easily, taking the center stem of the coil with it.  I disconnected the two and screwed the coil stem back in firmly with a phillips screwdriver.  While the wire was off, I measured the wire alone and I think it was about 1.4 Kohm. I remembered that these wires have built in resistance to cut down on ignition noise, so that seemed okay.  Chilton's books specifies a maximum of 7 Kohm per foot.  I clicked it back firmly onto the centerstem of the coil. 

I did the spark plug test again by turning over the engine, and this time got about 5 sparks, then intermittent, then it quit doing any sparks while turning over the engine.  I jostled the wires around and my hold on the spark plug and tried again.  No more sparks.  Something is marginal, but mostly not working.

The voltage spike coming out of the ignition coil primary is routed into the distributor, and then it farms out the voltage to the right cylinder in sequence.  After pulling the distributor top, I couldn't figure out how to remove the spinning stem from inside the distributor to look deeper.  A friend sent an incidental description of how the distributor is suppose to work:

"Dwell time is a term used to describe how long (degrees angle) the points (mechanical) stayed closed.  Mechanical points stay closed much of the time (shorted to ground).  It is at the moment the points OPEN that the Spark actually occurrs.  When the points OPEN, the field in the coil collapses and causes a high-voltage spark in the secondary circuit of the coil, many thousands of volts, enough to cause your spark-plug to spark.  So........a coil is basically a step-up transformer you could say.  The AC type current you are apparently seeing at the primary terminal on your coil while the engine is rolling over is normal and to be expected.  Actually, it should be AC current in that is vacillates from zero volts to around 12 volts right?  As you said, without an occilloscope, it would be difficult to actually see this pattern with much accuracy using a volt-meter.

Dwell time in a computer-controlled system is greatly enhanced because the dwell can be increased thus providing more field saturation time in the coil and the subsequent hotter spark."  

Saturday (6 days):

I pulled the coil off the engine and started testing things.  Across the primary tests 1.6 ohms, which matches specs I found at Autozone. I found 9.6 Kohm from the secondary to either primary terminal. NAPA had no way to test this, but let me check one of their coils.  Identical.  I think the coil is okay.  I don't have my oscilloscope out and running, so I can't see exactly what happens, but the voltage settles into an AC signal across the coil primaries, so I think the ignition module is doing something.

Oh, BTW, I let the grounding lug for the coil mount float unconnected and turned on the ignition.  When I did this, the fuel injectors went full bore ON and started pouring lots of gas down the throttle valves (pic r2c2).  I couldn't tell what the gushing sound was, and then saw it!  Don't do testing with the ground wire lug of the ignition coil disconnected or you're sure to flood the engine or start a fire.

Autozone was willing to test the ignition module transistor, but I can't find it yet. I've looked all over on the firewall.  It's just not that complicated, and I can't find it.  There is a big bundle of wires going into a plastic shroud covered item about 6-8 inches across about in horizontal center of the firewall. I think it's the computer module.  I'm fearful that the ignition module is buried in the bundle somewhere, or part of the computer module. [later note - yup, the transistor is in the ignition moduel on this van; that's why I couldn't find it.]

I read on on the internet, a post about control modules from years prior:

"I have the same year and make of pickup [truck]. The problem is in 1988 depending on how early or how late in the year it was produced it could have 2 different ignition systems. If its a late model like mine it wont have an ignition module. Late models ran a hall effects pick up in the distributor. Which just relays a signal to the computer and tells it when to ground the coil to send spark to the distributor. But on the early models it should be on the fire wall or the drivers side fender well. good luck hope this helps you."

This matches my observation in my 1989 model that there is no separate ignition transistor module.  It's embedded in the computer module.

Monday (1 week 1 day):

I found out how to do Chevrolet 1980s-1990s computer service codes (more authoritatively listed on the Mopar computer spec sheet, linked below).  Basically, within 5 seconds, turn the ignition power on-off-on-off-on, and then wait and count blinks.  I was getting codes 12, 42, and 55.  12 is a generic "battery has been disconnected" code that seems to always show up.  55 is a "end of message" code.  42 is meaningful, and can have several similar interpretations as listed on Alpar's web page and the Chilton manual:

I don't know that I have any trouble with the fuel pump.  In fact, when I was playing around and disconnected the high-voltage spark coil, I left a ground lug unconnected that is normally connected with the mounting screw.  Turning on the ignition in this condition fully opened both fuel injectors and flooded fuel into the throttle body.  We're talking like a shower head of spray.  I haven't fully interpreted this, but the fuel system did act strange associated with the ignition coil.

To check these codes, I unconnected the negative battery terminal while charging the battery from another car.  I unscrewed the computer covers and took some pictures for about 1/2 hour and then hooked up the negative side cable and read the codes without trying to start first.  I received 12 and 55 (no 42).  Then I tried to start and it happily cranked over and over with plenty of power, but did not fire once.  Checking codes, I am now again receiving code 42.

The local Chevrolet dealer says they have no more 1989 manuals, and so he can't advise where the ASD relay is at.  He said it should be stamped with the number "52-33-302" and costs about $28 to buy a new one.  I found two relay-box looking things bolted to the firewall.  One to the immediate side of the main computer box toward the driver side.  The second is down by the driver's right foot.  One has an obviously different number; the second has no discernable number. [later note - the one on the firewall by the driver's foot was the ASD relay, but I didn't recognize it at the time.]

Tuesday (1 week 2 days):


I found the ASD Relay.  It's a black box in the wire bundle up under the dash, outboard side of driver's left leg.  [Caution - read this entire article! I initially found an ASD relay that had been wired inside the cabin for the custom interior lights.  It has nothing to do with the ignition, which is why I started getting unexplainable behavior thinking it was the ignition ASD relay.]  Mine has a part stamped "46385" and inked "4273307 0179".  Lots of electrical testing today.  I found an ASD relay electrical mechanical pinout diagram at  Basically apply 12 volts across the side terminals activates the relay, and the up/down terminals are the contacts.  Normally-Open on the top.  Normally-Closed on the middle.  Common on the bottom.

The four terminals are numbered 30, 85, 86, and 87.  Looking at the male pins of the relay, pin 30 is on the bottom and pin 87 is on the top.  Pin 85 is on the right, and 86 on the left.  Looking at the female connector for the relay, pin 30 is on the bottom, and pin 87 is on the top.  Pin 85 is on the left and pin 86 is ont he right. A textual description of ASD relay pinout is available at  I posting by "dsramprat" at gives a checkout procedure for the ASD relay.

Okay.. that's all great.  Relay appears to work out of the van.  In the van, things get wierd. [later note - Remember, this was the incorrect interior ASD relay that I found; I was basically testing the interior custom lighting circuits.]

White wire ignition +v on the hot side of the relay coil stays at constant +12v when ignition is on and not cranking the engine.  It drops to about 1v within a second when cranking, and then returns to 12v as soon as cranking stops. Chilton claims this is direct from the battery through a fuse link.  Another web page says fuse 9, but that did not check out on my van.

Brown wire relay output goes to +12v when the ignition is turned on.  It drops to 0 v when cranking and returns to 12v when cranking stops.  This is true with or without the (-) side of the ignition coil connected.  This is an important distinction because theoretically 12v / 1.6 ohms or 7.5 amps of current goes through the coil, and this could draw down a voltage.

Resistance checks indicate the (+) side of the coil does not appear to be connected to the brown wire pin 87 ASD relay output as shown in Chiltons.  So I'm not sure the simple circuit diagram is complete. [later note - I was testing the wrong relay; the output was literally connected to nothing]

The hot side of the coil primary behaves differently, too.  With the negative side disconnected (no load), it sits at 12v with the ignition on, and drops to about 4v when cranking.  Remember, this is without current flowing through the coil. With the (-) side of the coil connected, the hot side is never above 1 volt DC.  I don't have an oscilloscope to watch the fast time behavior, so it might be pulsing up to 12v as it should, but I can't be sure.

When the coil hot side is at 12v, the relay output is also at 12v.  In order to be sure I wasn't reversing the relay connectors, I floated the entire meter and just monitored voltage across the relay coil (pins 85 to 86).  It was 12v when the ignition was on, and dropped to 0v within a second of cranking the engine. Based on this, the relay is initially energized, and then is NOT energized as soon as cranking starts.  Output voltage is 12v when the ignition is on, and drops to 0v within a second of cranking the engine.

Wednesday (1 week 3 days):

With the relay hooked up in place in the van, I hooked up 4 jumper cables to monitor voltages [later note - remember, this entire day of testing was with the wrong relay].  The relay coil measures 80-65 ohms, depending on how long I let the voltage die away after having the ignition on.  It stabilizes long term at about 65 ohms, which is okay since there are other circuits in parallel.
Relay primary
With the voltmeter floated across the relay coil primary circuit, it is 13.7v with ignition on (coil is energized). When cranking, it drops to about 0 volts across the coil, and rebounds to 13.4 v after cranking. I can also feel the relay click on, with ignition, then off when cranking, and on again when cranking stops.  Interpretation - during cranking, the ECU releases the grounding on Pin 85 allowing both sides to rise up to +V, or the ignition +V drops down to ~0 v to match what the ECU is commanding.  Is ECU releasing, or switched ignition +V is dropping? [later note - actually, the pin 86 +v ignition voltage was dropping away because the *real* ASD relay was being turned off by the computer almost as soon as it turned on - whenever the computer sensed the relay contacts were not closing.]
Relay contacts
The hot side of the relay contacts stays at permanent +V no matter if the key is in the car, or ignition is on, or off, or if cranking or not. Connecting the voltmeter across the relay contacts, shows that the voltage across the relay always hovers about 0 volts, bouncing around a little bit.  That's strange since I would expect the output to not hang around +V when the relay is open.

Output of relay contact compared to ground is ~ 0v when the car is off, +V when the ignition is on (should be since relay is closed), and t hen ~0 v when cranking.  Strangley, across the relay contacts always hover about 0 volts, cranking or not.  Since Pin 30 is confirmed fuse 6 +V, this means the output side of the relay must float up to about +V even when the relay is not closed. [later note - the output was a floating wire connected to nothing; voltage reading was meaningless and I should have noticed that by the floating around behavior.  Using an oscilloscope would have shown random voltages on the unconnected wire.]

Checking the relay out of the car, with the car battery across the coil, gives a solid click and release.  Resistance goes from infinite down to less than an ohm.  Interpretation?  Relay is fine.

Summarizing three states:

power off ignition on cranking Description
pin 86 relaly coil - ignition +V power available
0 12v 1v This is capable of sparking and heating small jumper cables - be careful what you let this touch, especially pin 85!
pin 85 relay coil - ECU grounding relay energize not measured not measured not measured I don't know, but I'm betting there is a transistor inside the ECU with a transistor collector terminal pulling this to ground when appropriate.
across 85-86 coil 0 13.5 v 0 v.  ECU commands relay closed with ignition. Commands open when cranking.
pin 30 contacts input 12v 12 v 10 v.  Slight loading, but otherwise stable power.
pin 87 contacts output (suppose to be switched 12 v)
0 12 v ~0 Feeds downstream circuits with +12v power when the ignition is turned on.
across 30-87 0 ~0 ~0 Consistently measured ~0 volts [later found output wire was floating unconnected to anything]

Other observations. Maybe a tan wire from pin 87 output goes to fuel injector?  Checked with ohmeter.  No.  Fuel injectors have about 3 ohm across coil.  Top two pins and bottom two pins of 4-pin connector.

Why does ECU command ASD relay open when cranking?  OR, why does switched ignition power die?  Is this about the crank case indicator not giving a pulse when trying to start?  Chilton manual shows crank reference signal error diagnostic codes for years 1996-1998, but nothing for 1993-1995 vans, and nothing about crank signal for 1989-1992 vans (mine).

Check this and confirm crank sensor is giving a good signal.  Otherwise ECU cuts out the ASD relay.

Saturday (1 week 6 days):

Salvage yard shopping trip with a friend (thanks Kevin!).  I came home with replacement computer, replacement distributor wires, replacement oxygen sensor, replacement fuel injectors.  I should have grabbed the coil, too.  In case your local salvage yard does not have the appropriate vehicle, you can also purchase new SMEC computers from Mopar.  Looks like my 8-cylinder 5.2L 3-speed vehicle uses part R4379887, 4-speed uses R4379889 for FEDeral state-side vans.  (Okay, side question:  If I have 3 spd plus and O/D overdrive switch, does that mean mine is a 4-speed?)  The one I actually found at the junk yard came from a 1988.  I'm not an engine expert, but considering it had a 6-cylinder, it must have been a 3.9L LA V6.  That would be SMEC or SBEC part R4379929 for FEDeral or CANadian vehicles.  Direct replacements are available on the web from or other distributors for about $170.

computer schematic

60-pin CPU connector

14-pin CPU connector


Sunday (2 weeks):

Replacement computer didn't change anything.  Relay output still stays high with ignition, drops low during cranking. Error code 42.  

Monday (2 weeks 1 day):

ASD relay under the dash still works fine.  Actually, I found another relay forward of the firewall on the end of a dangling wire bundle that has the same electrical connection with the middle pin 87A (NC Normally Open) tab in place.  Not sure what this relay is for, but regardless of the part number, it looks like it could be used for an ASD relay. [later note - boy was I dense!  My brain still didn't recognize this as the real ASD ignition relay!]

Is there a ballast resistor circuit that needs attention?  Actually, it would be the parallel circuit that needs attention.  The ballast resistor circuit is used when the car is not cranking.  It provides power to (or indirectly to) the ignition coil.  This is to limit the current flow so the ignition coil doesn't burn up.  However, when cranking, the starter pulls the battery so low, that the ignition coil needs direct power on the (+) side. If the parallel non-ballast resistor circuit is open, then I would get the behavior I am experiencing.

Rooting around, I see two wires on the starter, one big and one little.  Follow them up, and I find the little one is a brown wire that goes to a connector, joined with a little red wire direct from the battery. Other side of the connector is a brown and pink wire, just like the the two colors on the ASD relay.  Maybe?   No... no continuity.

 However, I did find two wires under the dashboard labeled "ignition +v" and "battery +v" with single wire connectors.  Looks like you can plug one or the other into the red wire (and 20 A in-line fuse).  Turns out this is what feeds all the interior lights for the custom van.  At least I've learned something today!

The brown and pink wire disappear into a wiring bundle, and from there I have no clue where they go.  How exactly does one "trace the circuit" without knowledge of where it's suppose to go?

I need a working van to start making comparisons to.  Or, I'm about ready to
assume it's a fault on the ignition of the ASD relay that is dropping the ASD relay, and hotwire +12v onto the Z1 circuit relay output and hope that nothing blows up.

At this point, thank you to friend Neil who sent an email summarizing with essentially this thought: "When it really starts looking complicated, it's amazing how often it really is a simple thing that has been overlooked."  How Prophetic.

I couldn't sit still and do computer work.  I went outside and after confirming things were still responding as previously, I turned on the ignition.  ASD relay output was +12v.  Then I cranked the engine and ASD relay output dropped to no voltage. Then I did something differently, while monitoring the current flow with a 10 AMP meter, I hooked a jumper wire across the relay so that it didn't matter what the relay was doing.  I decided to force +12v onto the Z1 circuitry while cranking the engine.  Initially a quick tap to see if there would be a spark.  Nothing.  Longer, and feel for heat in the jumper wire.  Nothing.  Nothing on the meter.   No change.  No current draw.  Switched down to a 300 milliamp fused scale on my meter.  Still nothing!  There was NOTHING taking current through the relay.

This confused me enough that suddenly realized I had never determined where the relay output went to.  I needed to know. Because if it fed the ignition coil, there is NO REASON for the ignition coil to be at zero volts if I was shorting +12v to it.  Instead, if there was a short or something, then the whole ignition coil should have burned up. Something wasn't right.

Short story?  After tearing into the dash, I found the ASD relay I found fed the wire labeled "ignition +v" wire I had found earlier in the day.  Since my custom interior lights were hooked to another "battery +v" line (so I can run lights while camping with the engine off), there was literally nothing hooked to the output of the relay.  Uhh... very clearly, the ASD relay I had found and been diddling with for a week was not the ASD relay and it's output wasn't even being used!

Now that I knew what an ASD relay looked at, I went back with vengeance to find it.  Turns out tucked up next to the brake system on the firewall, there was a little box hooked to nothing, hanging on a metal bracket.  Dangling near the bracket was a terminated wire bundle, but when I looked closely, it was not terminated with tape and a plastic plug like other terminate wire bundles.  There was a little plastic box connected to it.  I unplugged in and VIOLA!!  the plugs looked and were labelled exactly like an ASD relay.  

I poked and prodded with my ohmeter and found that this was a relay, and it clicked fine with voltage on it, but the normally open contacts dropped to only about 4 Mohm resistance when closed.  The connector look copper blue and corroded.  I think dangling down in the engine compartment made this a perfect water run-off connection and water got inside the relay and corroded the contacts.

I took the inside ASD relay from the interior light circuitry and jumper cabled it into position because it physically would not fit onto the cable connector.  Measured volts and everything looked good.  I cranked the engine, and within 1.5 seconds, the old Chevy 318 came to life!  Boy was it good to watch the fuel injectors popping fuel into the throttle body.  It was still running on the junk-yard 6-cylinder computer.

I ran to the junk yard with my toolkit and pulled two ASD relays from a similar van - a 1990 Dodge full-size van with the same engine.
I also grabbed two headlights.  From the 1988 Doge Ram Van with the smaller 3.9 L engine mentioned earlier, I took a few spark plug wires, and the ignition coil.  $10.  I almost got the air conditioning compressor out to replace my broken one but one bolt was rusted up badly.  I need my long arm socket.  I guess that's for another day...

Tuesday (2 weeks 1 day):

Now that my eyes were familar with what to look for, one of the little boxes bolted to the firewall started looking like a relay.  And... the wiring harness I found would perfectly reach it. I unbolted the firewall device, and looking at the bottom.. sure enough it was an ASD relay.  I tested it with my meters and it behaved perfectly.

Instead of using one of my new relays, I plugged the wiring harness into the relay that had been bolted unused to the firewall the entire time.  Result?  The van ran beatifully!

I pulled out the 6-cylinder 1988 ECU and repaired the one stripped mounting bolt hole.  I put my original ECU back into the van. I taped up wiring bundles, tucking some behind the battery away from water dripping, and plugged the ASD harness into the firewall mounted ASD relay that had been there all along.

Summary?  Someone had unconnected the harness from the factory ASD, plugged in another one, and let it dangle in the water.  
I have no idea why someone would have plugged a dangling ASD relay into the wire bundle harness and left a perfectly good relay bolted in position to the firewall. I fixed the van by plugging the harness back into the factory mounted relay and discarding the water damaged relay. What a trip to get to this simple answer!


Hopefully our "Big Blue" van has a few more trips in him.  We're anxious to spend a night out at the soaring club field now that Spring is coming on. I now have a small plastic storage bin under the back seat.  Spare injectors. Spare fuses.  Spare coil. Spare relays.  I should go pull the distributor sensing coil from the salvage yard van, maybe the entire distributor stem going into the engine.

May 2009:

Three months later, and several thousand miles later, the van unexpectedly won't start again!  This time, it wouldn't turn over even though all electrics look strong.   Again my friend Neil's words echoed in my head, ""When it really starts looking complicated, it's amazing how often it really is a simple thing that has been overlooked."  Uh... yea.. check that the shift lever is settled into the Park detent!  On an older van, after the cables have stretched, this may not perfectly match the dashboard indication.  With the transmission secured into Park, the van started with no problem. Everything is not a difficult problem.  It's okay to look for the simple, first.

May 2010:

Fifteen months after the starter relay fix, Big Blue successfully made another cross-the-nation road trip.  Working fine. No other repairs yet.  ...still ticking after 22 years.

October 2010:

One more round trip across the nation, for a total of 5 one-way trips so far.  Keeps on ticking!

June 2011:

Stuck in the office too much, and not enjoying the outdoors enough, and doing huge job commute distances, I haven't driven the van for a while.  I took it out to drive it around the block.  It was hesitating and had no power, even under no load.  Pressing the gas pedal all the way down accomplished almost nothing.  The catalytic convertor was making strange rattling noises, and in fact, the van was behaving as if a potato was in the tail pipe.  Took it to have the catalytic converter replaced, and yes.. it was all destroyed inside.  $198.75 including parts and labor.

But the lack of acceleration is still there.  Looks like more work.  Timing chain slipped? Distributor shaft is loose in it's bushing? Timing adjustment (distributor body) came loose?  It runs fine to start and idle, so I don't think it's a timing issue. Weak spark so that it can't do high RPMs?

Research about loss of power and no acceleration on the web at  No fix immediately apparent. 

November 2011:

I was pre-occupied most of the summer with some contract work requiring a l-o-n-g commute.  I didn't have a chance to test the van more until now.  I pulled computer codes and it reported an O2 sensor stuck at full rich.  After about 2 hours mucking around trying to get the sensor out from it's rusty threads, I decided to give up, and took the van to the commerical repair shop to replace the sensor.  Or so, I thought...

They rang up a day later and reported that the van needed $1600.00 repairs.  Uh.. this I needed to see.  A visit to the shop the next morning whittled down the work to about 1/3 of that. After it was repaired, I received Big Blue back from the repair shop.  It had been showing zero to no acceleration, chugging, pausing, no power, every time I pulled away from a stop sign.  All I could tell was the computer was complaining about an O2 sensor stuck on full-rich.

What came of the visit?  New front shocks.  New passenger-side exhaust manifold. New valve cover gaskets. Not exactly related to the original problem, but the original problem became CND (Could Not Duplicate) at their shop, so they couldn't do much with it. Price tag for the named repairs was $511 plus $78 mail order for the new exhaust manifold. Big Blue balked and choked and stalled twice on the way home, but that was during a wet and rainy morning. For several days afterwards, the van has run well.  However, all the dashboard vents would no longer blow air out.  It wasn't this way when it went into the shop.  See the narrative underneath the first picture to understand what happened.

Viewed from the passenger seat, this is the vacuum adapter mounted into the intake manifold. It has several hoses connected.  The little vacuum hose hooked on the left side was unbelievably slid over one of the spring clamp arms rather than the vacuum connector!  I corrected this and now the dashboard vents work again.

This is the vacuum distribution center.  Electrical control comes in from the top left of each switch.  Vacuum lines come out the bottom and go various places.

Picture of the new exhaust manifold.  The old one had a rare perfectly working riser valve (chokes off exhaust if the engine isn't warm which worked like a spring bi-metal thermometer).  The new manifold has a port plug where the riser used to be.  Two aft bolts were missing for the last 20,000 miles, and it was time to fix the problem. Expensive 2.8 hours of labor to drill out most of the bolts, which were rusted and snapped.

Heat and A/C vacuum lines.  The top one comes from the vacuum adapter on the intake manifold (first picture).  Based on what you select with the control, vacuum is routed out one of the other tubes.

Example vacuum control, visible top center underneath the open hood.  This is with the A/C selected ON.

Example vacuum control, visible at the top center underneath the hood.  This is with the A/C selected OFF.

Another picture of the vaccum distribution center, back passenger side of the engine. Not sure why I took two pictures of this.

Looking into the engine compartment on the driver side, you can see the stainless steel line coming up from the catalytic converter.

Oil was still oozing out of the driver side valve cover gasket and caused asphixiating smoke when it dripped onto the hot exhaust manifold.  This picture is from under the car, looking up to see the bottom of the manifold where the oil collected.

New blue shock on the driver side, looking from behind.

Passenger side front suspension, looking from underneath the van.

New catalytic converter.  The other one had ceramic honeycomb broken and shattered into dozens of pieces. Notice the tube coming off the side, which is routed up into the vacuum system.

Driver controls for environmental controls.  The little vacuum lines come in and connect on the bottom back left side of this picture.  Photography flash was not positioned right, so you can't really see them, but that's where they're at!

August 2012:

The van is running fine, but with a planned trip to the moutains, it was time to replace the rusted tight rear brake cables.   I purchased to new rear cables from Rock Auto.  Price to have both cables delivered was just under $20. 

The old left rear brake cable had 43" from crimp to crimp.  The new one came in a bit long, and I suspect it's 44-1/8" long.  The new left brake cable is on the right side of this rearward looking picture.

Closeup of where the front parking brake cable (top of picture) connects to the two rear brake drum cables.  Notice the clips to hold the cable sheathing in place are not yet in place (between the rubber sheaths and the metal mount flange).

You can see the right rear cable extend over the exhaust pip and over the drive axle.  The bolt

Removing the old cables had only one significant problem.  The end of the cable from the front of the van terminates in a long threaded bolt with an adjustable nut.  That nut was rusted solid onto the cable end, and I could not grab the bolted end enough to rotate the nut off.  I used a lot of WD-40, and two vice grips on the bolt, but still no rotation.  I ended up torching the nut with my propane torch for about a minute and then after letting it cool, held the bolt with two vicegrips, and the nut with a non-ratcheting socket.  The heat/shrink cycle of the metal was enough to crack the rust loose.  Wiggling back and forth and more WD-40 finally got the nut to let loose.

During installation, two modifications were made.  The new cables did not have the expando-rubber sheaths that prevent water from blowing into the cables.  I slide the old ones off the old cables and installed them onto the new cables.  Also, when installed, the cables came up about 1" different in length.  Either one was too short, or one was too long.  I considered cutting the longer new cable and crimping on my own end piece.  I took a more reversible path.  I hack-sawed off an old crimp with about 4" pig tail, and used two cable clamps to use the pigtail to extend the new right side cable. 

I still don't know for sure which cable is incorrect.  Suggestion for you: remove your old cables and actually measure them before cutting them up!  After finding the length mismatch, I layed out my short left side cable and measured 43" between the crimps.  Rock Auto's parts catalogue refers to 44-1/8" length several places, so I'm thinking my van must have had some shorter version cable installed years back.

BTW, these brake cables are almost sure to lock up or rust up.  The NEW right side cable is so long, it has tons of friction in it.  I will make sure to use the parking brake every time now, just to make it practice wiggling in the cable sheath.  Dry desert air also will tend to help.  I dribbled some oil into the short cable, but I'm not sure it will help.  I didn't get around to oiling the long cable before it needed to be installed to make a departure schedule.

September 2014:

After sitting in the garage for several months, the old battery (7 years ago) just wouldn't take a charge any more.  I purchased a new one at Walmart.  Their cross reference provided a battery type that was all sold out.  The battery tech walked by and said, "Uh.. you have an old Dodge van, right?  That's the wrong number anyhow - it's too tall and skinny.  Buy this one.  You can get the 3 yr warrantee for $86, or the 5 year warantee battery for $94."   And so I did.  Van is back to starting right away when I turn the key.

Now I need to go work on the pesky air conditioner compressor, which locked up a while ago.  I have a new one purchased but just haven't had the time to install it yet.

Top of the van paint is peeling due to baking in the hot desert sun.  Looks like it's time to paint the van, too.

January 2015:

I started crawling around under the van to route wires for an electronic brake controller.  The brake line going into the rear axle divider looked a bit rusty and the more I thought about, I had no desire to loose my rear brakes while pulling a trailer around.  I decided to replace the brake line

If you're doing brake lines, you have to obtain a set of "line wrenches" - they're like closed box end wrenches with a slot cut in them to slide over a brake line and then turn the coupling nut.   In this case, Harbor Freight is not the way to go because theirs have a receeding edge design.  It's easier to slip over a nut, but doesn't grab as much of the nut - and you need all the surface area grab you can get because these nuts are almost guaranteed to be rusted badly.

The front of the brake line connection was along the front left side of the van and the rear connector was directly into the flexible hose that fed the back axle divider.  After unclipping the brake line from the van body, the front connector nut actually came loose and leaked a little fluid.  I retightened it until I could get the rear coupler loose.

A week later...  what a nightmare.  My brain was thinking the nut was like the back of a refridgerator ice maker tubing line, where the nut screws over the threads.  Not true.  For brake line fittings, the nut slides into the threaded receptable and pinches the double-flared end into the coupler.  I could not get it loose until I remounted the hose back into the van frame holder (which had a hex shaped hole and kept it from rotating).  Finally the nut let loose.  I rotated it a few times and the rusty line just in front of it tore open.

Turns out moisture gets down between the brake line and the brake line nut and rusts the nuts up tight.  You can expect that the brake line will twist off or break off or you'll have to cut it off.   However, save the pieces because you'll need them to get the right length.

You can measure a brake line with twists and turns using a roll of solder, holding them side by side.  However, because I had a double flare tool (invaluable!), I was able to buy a 25' of bulk 3/16" brake line for $21.27.  Buying the nuts was a pain.  They're only $2.89 for 5 of them, but do you know that 3/8" and 10 mm are nearly indistinguishable?!  The threads are either 24 tpi or 1/mm, which is 25.4 tpi - also indistinguishable.  Only by looking up the hose fitting did the guy at Autozone figure out it must be the SAE size.  That was strange to me because I needed to borrow a friends 9 mm line wrench when my 3/8" line wrench didn't fit.  I think someone during the last fix accidently put in a metric nut. 

Next problem - unless you know otherwise, buy the nuts that have thread run all the way down to the end.  Otherwise, installing the brake line won't engage enough threads to make a good connection.  I know this because I totally build a new brake line and then had to cut all the ends off and swap out brake line nuts.

Use a tubing bender to get the brake line about right.  Then use a plier to wiggle and loose the rusted spring surrounding the old brake line and install it onto the new brake line so that it does not chafe against other metal things.  I ended up using an abrasive cutoff wheel to cut the spring into several sections so it would slide on easier. 

Slide the nuts on the ends and create the double-flared ends.  Then fit and test fit over and over again unti the ends nestle into the couplers straight and snug without the nut.  Only then, gently spin the nut down over the line into the coupler.

I started bleeding the brakes and the left side worked great.  On the right side, the bleeder valve broke off.  There was no way I could recover the nub, so I had to go buy another wheel cylinder (brake hydraulic actuator for drum brakes).  Fortunately the new one costs only cost $11.  However (!!) this means I had to now pull the brake line going into the old wheel cylinder.  Suffice it to say that it too was very rusted.  I used a torch to heat the nut and it came loose, but when turning the nut off, it was still rusted to the tubing and so eventually the tubing torqued off.  Now I had to replace a second brake line.

Turns out the rear axle brake line divider is bolted down to the rear axle with an incidental axle vent bolt.  It backed out easily after pulling off the connecting tube.  With the brake line divider loose, I was able to grab it with a big crescent wrench and torque the brake line nut free from the brass fitting.  After another morning of re-making brake lines from scratch it was back in place. 

Caution to self:  for some reason, the new wheel cylinder has 6 mm threads and requires a 7 mm nut on the hex part.  I wish the manufacturer had not mixed metric size in because I can so easily see stripping this some years later by assuming it's the same as the left side wheel.

Bled all the brakes.  They work good.  Checked for leaks and tightened the ones that were oozing.  I wrapped the connections in Parafilm - it's something I learned about in Chemistry laboratories.  It's like stretchy and sticky wax paper.  I hope the nuts will not rust this time.

For some reason the dashboard brake warning light is still on.  I drained a lot of brake fluid and I wonder if the sensor saw low brake fluid levels and somehow got stuck.  Or maybe I left some bubbles in the brake line?  

... a week later after driving about 200 miles on the van.  Although the brakes felt firm, I bled the back brakes again and got a few good sized bubbles.  However the brake warning light was still stuck on.  I pulled the front wheels on the van one at a time.  Bleeder valves were stuck firm.  I treated them with a propane torch for about 45 seconds and while they cooled, used a 6-point socket and a small ratchet.  They gently came loose.  No problem bleeding them.  Afterward, the brake warning light is off.  Yea!

Incidentally, while the engine was running, I pulled the sensor wire off the font/rear brake proportioner valve down below the master cylinder.  Light stayed off.  I wish I knew how this worked. 

To see full-size images, right-click and open in a new tab.

Original problem. The brake line looked just a little bit too corroded to take the van on a cross crountry trip.

Pulled the front coupler loose.  You can see the clip and a little stone I used to hold the line out away from the van body.  The fluid source side is wrapped in Parafilm to keep it from leaking.

Work area on the right rear tire.

When I was bleeding the back passenger side brakes, the bleeder valve broke off.

I bought a new drum brake hydraulic actuator ("wheel cylinder") and pulled the bleed valve from that one.  It was much different in size.  Picture shows old wheel cylinder with brake line removed, showing a shiny brass colored compression fitting seat.

In order to replace the wheel cylinder, I had to disconnect the brake line - which broke, so now I needed to disconnect the brake line from the fluid divider mounted to the reare axle.  After unscrewing the axle vent line tub, the brake divider could be lifted up enough to grab it

On the right is the line nut that did not seat enough threads.  Plan B is on the left, which worked fine. I could have gotten a taller one - the important part is that the threads run down all the way to the bottom.

Tool kits to make new brake lines. The anti-chaffing sprinks were wiggled off the old lines and then cut into pieces to easily slide onto locations where the clips will grab the new line.

Old brake line at the top (with nuts broken off becuase they were too rusted to turn).  Bottom is the new line.  With no flares or nuts, check the fit and bend/cut as necessary.

First step in double flaring a tube.  Clamp the tubing end after sliding springs and nuts on.

Second step in making a double flare is pushing teh 45 degree polished point into the end.

New double flare on the end of the brake line.

I made several mistakes with wrong nuts and wrong lengths and bad flares.

This is the new wheel cylinder about to get bolted into position on the brake housing.  The cylinder cups came new.  The rods out each end were salvaged from the old cylinder.

New line into position where the original problem was first noticed near the back axle passenger side. Viewed from the wheel well.

New long line into position where the original problem was first noticed near the back axle passenger side. Viewed from under the van.

New short line into position near the rear axle fluid divider.  Connections are again wrapped in Parafilm until I'm ready to connect them to prevent oozing out lots of brake fluid. 

Parts photo, so I know how everything mounts.

OriParts photo, so I know how everything mounts in order to replace the wheel cylinder.

Passenger side rear brake adjustment.  I can never remember which way to move the tooth gear when reaching in with a screwdriver, so this picture is to help me remember!

Driver side rear brake adjustment.  I can never remember which way to move the tooth gear when reaching in with a screwdriver, so this picture is to help me remember!

February 2015:

Back to the electronic trailer brake controller.

There was lots of tedious work.  Of course, a brake wire had to be run to the back bumper.  This comes from the new controller mounted on the instrument panel of the van.  When I used only the trailer mounted battery separate from the vehicle to actuate the brakes, the brakes took about 4 amps, so I figure that's about what would be pulled through this new wire.

I also decided to run a hot 12-volt line fromt the battery to the back in case I wanted to run any systems and to keep the brake break-away backup battery (say that 5 times quickly!) charged.

view inside brake controllerFinding the switched brake line operated by the brake pedal in the van proved to be a problem for me.  I initially used the White w/Pink wire because the Engine Controller schematic above shows it comes out of the ECU (signal D40, pin 29) and goes to two brake lamps.  It seemed that this is what I wanted because it would be used to light up the brake lights and this is what the controller needed.  After connecting, stepping on the brake worked fine (the brake controller LED stepped up in intensity slowly bringing the trailer brakes on line).   However, when I used the manual slider switch on the brake controller, the fuse I installed feeding the brake controller popped.

I opened the case of the controller to see what I had fried.  Fortunately all looked okay. So.. out came my voltmeter and I took apart the switch on the brake pedal and documented what's what. Turns out the White w/Pink is hot all the time.  Hmm..  This doesn't seem to match the schematic.

The brake switch is a 3-pole switch.  Two of the poles are NO (normally open) and one is NC (normally closed).  When the button is pressed, the NO poles operate first and the NC operates last.   That said, the NO and NC descriptions are electrical descriptions for the switch, out of circuit. As installed in the van, the switch is normally fully compressed and when you press the brake pedal fully, it's released to it's normal status.

brake switch 1 of 2brake switch 2 of 2The normal switch normal is reversed operationally for the brake switch. The NC is usually open and closes first when when the pedal is pressed.  The NO poles then open.

White - NC - Pink
Black - NO - White w/Pink stripe
Blue - NO - Yellow w/Red stripe

The Pink wire carries battery power to the switch even when the car is off and the key is out of the ignition.  For me, it was 12.1 volts with the engine off and 13.5 volts with the engine running (alternator was raising the voltage).  When the brake pedal was ~not~ stepped on, this pink wire fed voltage to nothing.   When I stepped on the brake pedal, the NC usually open connection was closed and the white wire received the 12 volt power.  I connected the brake controller to the white wire and now it works fine.

I purchased a bumper 7-wire trailer connector, and added to the rat-nest of wires tucked into my rear bumper!

rear trailer socket


Replace the A/C compressor and other things that came with the kit remains an open item.  Commerical estimate was $1200 even with the parts provided and that is inreasonable considering I did it for a Ford Aerostar one Saturday morning using a compressor salvaged from the junk yard. 

Also, the top and front panels of the an need a paint job or they are going to start showing deep rust spots instead of blemishes. $600 estimate, but I'm not sure it's worth the super nice job the car restorer is capable of.  I'll probably sand blast, air disk sand, spray prime and mostly match the color with whatever paint I can get.

April 2015:

After driving the 18' car hauling trailer around for a few days, it became clear that using the ball on the step bumper made the metal plate flex.  Several people reminded that flexing metal over and over makes it fatigue and fail.  Building up the bumper would have taken a lot welding skills I don't have.  The only option was to purchase a frame mounted hitch, which I had avoided doing because all of them say the hitch can't be used with the step bumper.  After comparing several brands, I settled on a Curt hitch,

I was fully prepared to run across the country with no bumper on the van because the trailer would be connected the entire time.  However, things worked out better than expected.  The step bumper is bolted to the vehicle with 4 horizontal bolts on the left and 4 horizontal bolts on the right side.  By inserted 3-4 spacers (washers) on the bolts between the van and the bumper, there was room to mount the bumper after the hitch was installed.  I also had to grind away about a 1" x 1/8" strip of metal edge from the body frame as explained in the hitch installation instructions.  No drilling was required, but I did use a high pressure air hose and blow out a lot of dirt and stones from the body frame before inserting the bolts.

I have a dozen or so installation pictures I have not had time to post, yet.  If they could help you, let me know and I'll get them to you.

I didn't see any reason spacing the bumper backwards about 1/4" with spacers caused any problems, so after removing the bumper and installing the hitch, I put the bumper back on the van.  To be clear, the Curt C13041 hitch DOES work with the factory step bumper if space the bumper backwards a fraction of an inch.

October of 2015, we used the van to move about 1.5 cords of firewood, which weighed in at about 7000 pounds (trailer and wood).  The Class III hitch worked fine.  Not bad for a 26 year old vehicle!


Financial Finale:

After the the costs incurred above, I began to wonder what the vehicles actually cost me and if it's worth my time to fix them.  I've kept mileage and repair and insurance data for years and spent some time with a spreadsheet program to reduce this to meaningful data.  The answer has two parts:

1) I work on cars because I want to understand them and see preventative issues and manage the ownership of the vehicle rather than letting it manage me by breaking unexpectedly. This management process probably saves money.

2) The big dollar issue, however, is depreciation cost.  You can stop depreciation cost by being comfortable with older vehicles and being willing to hande the repair costs.  This would happen even if you preventively did nothing.

Click on the little graph here to download a pdf document.


© 2010-2013 Brian Mork. Please contact me using the copyright link prior to commercial use, or reproducing for distribution in a commercial context.

FOR SALE:  One live-tested fully working ECU PCM SBEC SMEC computer for a 1988 to 1989 Dodge van 6-cylinder or 8-cylinder van,  $65.