1989 Dodge B250 Ram Van 3/4-ton 8-cylinder 5.2L 318 in3
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.
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
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
$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 mac.com 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 mymts.net 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
on any picture to see a
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.
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
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
garage is available! Water on the floor is snow melt off my
parts up close. The distributor is beige with wires coming
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
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
in pretty good condition. Looks like my valve gasket is
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
the wire bundle, and I don't know where they go. Unscrewing
terminals is pretty easy and I did tests with wires removed and in
a bolt or screw down the throttle throat would be bad! To work on
the twin fuel injector harness, you
to remove the air filter and jostle the metal support aside.
the distributor looked really clean for 135,000 miles. Must
be original. I picked up a spare spinner and magneto pick up from the
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
view. The distributor body looks a bit corroded, but
inside was nice and clean. A little bit of pitting on the tip
of the spinning conductor.
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 !
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).
went to the local junk yard and pulled and ECU from a year (1988)
earlier 6-cylinder van. Would it work? I pulled the
cooling cover and compared them. Torx driver required to remove 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
the red connector.
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
1988 6-cylinder. Only
significant difference I could see was one less air cover mounting
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
collected in the relay
On the left: culprit and
cause. In the middle:
the interior custom-lighting switch relay found under the dashboard. On
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?
ECU is connectd with three hex head bolts. Two were badly
corroded. One snapped off when it was removed. I
to drill it out, but managed to untwist it with a pair of vice grips.
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.
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
any spark, and won't run.
(4 days into a repair job):
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
that go into the coil?
opened the distributor (pic r2c3,4,5) and played with the ignition coil
(pic r2c1). In picture r2c1, you can see
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).
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
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.]
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
moved to about 0 volts.
red wire secondary coming out of the coil center seemed loose so I
it. It spun out easily, taking the center stem of the coil
it. I disconnected the two and screwed the coil stem
firmly with a phillips screwdriver. While
the wire was off, I measured the wire alone and I think it was about
I remembered that these wires have built in resistance
cut down on ignition noise, so that seemed okay.
books specifies a maximum of 7 Kohm per foot. I clicked it
firmly onto the centerstem of the coil.
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
the wires around and my hold on the spark plug and tried again.
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:
time is a term used to describe how long (degrees angle) the
points (mechanical) stayed closed. Mechanical points
closed much of the time (shorted to ground). It is at the
the points OPEN that the Spark actually occurrs. When the
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
a step-up transformer you could say. The AC type current you
apparently seeing at the primary terminal on your coil while the engine
is rolling over is normal and to be expected. Actually, it
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
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
pulled the coil off the engine and started testing things. Across
primary tests 1.6 ohms, which matches specs I found at Autozone. I
from the secondary to either primary terminal. NAPA had no way
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
coil primaries, so I think the ignition module is doing
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).
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.
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
that complicated, and I can't find it. There is a
of wires going into a plastic shroud covered item about 6-8
across about in horizontal center of the firewall. I think
the computer module. I'm fearful that the
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.]
on on the
internet, a post about control modules from years prior:
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
have an ignition module. Late models ran a hall effects pick
the distributor. Which just relays a signal to the computer
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
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.
(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).
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:
42 Automatic shutdown relay circuit open or shorted, OR
42 Fuel pump relay control circuit, OR
42 Z1 voltage missing when autoshutdown circuit
The Z1 voltage is the voltage of the circuits fed by the
autoshutdown relay, shown in the Chilton's
schematic diagram. This
includes fuel pump and
switched-battery feed to the ignition coil(s). The Z1
circuit leaves the Auto Shutdown Relay and splits into two paths: the
pump and the positive side of the ignition coil. The ASD relay (and,
the Z1 circuit) also feeds the fuel injector(s) driver(s).
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.
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
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.
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
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.]
(1 week 2 days):
found the ASD Relay. It's a black box in the wire bundle up
the dash, outboard side of driver's left leg. [Caution
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.]
has a part
stamped "46385" and inked "4273307 0179". Lots of electrical
testing today. I found an ASD
relay electrical mechanical pinout diagram
at dodgeram.org. 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,
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
on the left. Looking at the female connector for the relay,
30 is on the bottom, and pin 87 is on the top. Pin 85 is on
left and pin 86 is ont he right. A textual
description of ASD relay pinout is available at
justanswers.com. I posting by "dsramprat" at
automotiveforums.com gives a checkout
procedure for the ASD relay.
30 - pink/red wire - bottom of relay receptacle or cavity. Always has
+12v even when there's no key in the car. This is confirmed
connected on the rear or bottom side of Fuse 6 in the glove compartment
(0.7 ohms with fuse removed). It also goes to Pin 3 of the
according to Chilton's. This voltage drops to about 9.75 v when
cranking the engine ... yea my battery is getting weak after all this
87 (pin 87A middle pin on my relay is clipped off,
pin is intact) - brown wire - top of the relay cavity connectory. This
is the relay output. Power from Pin 30 is switched to this
when the relay is energized. Feeds the "Z1" circuit that
fuel injectors, ignition coil, and probably oxygen sensor heaters, and
generator (alternator) field.
white wire - +12 v when the ignition switch is on. Other
indicate it is fed through Fuse 9, but that appears to be not true with
85 - black - I believe the ECU grounds this in order to switch the ASD
relay on, probably by pulling the collector of a resistor towoard
ground. Resistance between pins 85 and 86 is about 82 ohms,
implying 12/82 or abou 146 milliamps draw when powered. That
would not be too much for a transistor.
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.]
wire ignition +v on the hot side of the relay coil stays at constant
ignition is on and not cranking the engine. It drops to about
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
out on my van.
wire relay output goes to +12v when the ignition is turned on.
It drops to 0 v when cranking and returns to 12v when
stops. This is true with or without the (-) side of the
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.
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]
hot side of the coil primary behaves differently, too. With
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
oscilloscope to watch the fast time behavior, so it might be pulsing up
to 12v as it should, but I can't be sure.
side is at 12v, the relay output is also at 12v. In order to
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
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.
(1 week 3 days):
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,
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.
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.
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.]
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
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.
the relay contacts always hover about 0 volts, cranking or not.
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
floating wire connected to nothing; voltage reading was meaningless and
I should have noticed that by the floating around behavior.
oscilloscope would have shown random voltages on the unconnected wire.]
the relay out of the car, with the car battery across the coil, gives a
solid click and release. Resistance goes from infinite down
less than an ohm. Interpretation? Relay is fine.
off the van - Supply side of contact (pin 30)
is at +V.
on - Coil hot side pin 86 is at +V, ECU is grounding pin 85,
energizing the relay. Supply side of contact is at +V, and
output pin 87 is +V.
- 0 volts across relay coil, indicating relay is commanded
de-energized. No voltage output at pin 87 output but it also
seems to float up to +V when a floating measurement is made; this is
true even with fuel injectors and ignition coil disconnected (no load).
Also output shows no AC signal, and no conductivity to ground
with power off.
|pin 86 relaly coil -
+V power available
||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
||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.
relay closed with ignition. Commands open when cranking.
|pin 30 contacts
but otherwise stable power.
|pin 87 contacts
output (suppose to be switched 12 v)
downstream circuits with +12v power when the ignition is turned on.
||Consistently measured ~0
volts [later found output wire was floating unconnected to anything]
observations. Maybe a tan wire from pin 87 output goes to fuel
injector? Checked with ohmeter. No. Fuel
have about 3 ohm across coil. Top two pins and bottom two
Why does ECU command ASD relay open when
cranking? OR, why does switched ignition power die?
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.
(1 week 6 days):
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
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 autopartswarehouse.com
or other distributors for about $170.
computer didn't change anything. Relay output still stays
with ignition, drops low during cranking. Error code 42.
(2 weeks 1 day):
relay under the dash still works fine. Actually, I found
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
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
Rooting around, I see two wires on the starter,
one big and one little. Follow them up, and I find the little
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.
No... no continuity.
However, I did find two wires
under the dashboard labeled "ignition +v" and "battery +v" with single
Looks like you can plug one or the other into the red wire
20 A in-line fuse). Turns out this is what feeds all the
lights for the custom van. At least I've learned something
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.
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
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
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
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...
(2 weeks 1 day):
Now that my eyes
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
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
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.
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
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.
One more round trip across the
nation, for a total of 5 one-way trips so far. Keeps on ticking!
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
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 about.com.
No fix immediately apparent.
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
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
What came of the visit?
New front shocks. New
passenger-side exhaust manifold.
New valve cover gaskets. Not
related to the original problem, but the original problem became CND
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
control, visible top center underneath the open hood. This is
with the A/C selected ON.
Example vacuum control, visible at
center underneath the hood. This is with the A/C selected
Another picture of the vaccum
distribution center, back passenger side of the engine. Not sure why I
took two pictures of this.
into the engine compartment on the driver side, you can see the
stainless steel line coming up from the catalytic converter.
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.
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.
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!
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
from Rock Auto. Price to
have both cables delivered was just under $20.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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"
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
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
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
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
... 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Finding the switched brake line
operated by the brake pedal in the van proved to be a problem for
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
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
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
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.
The 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
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!
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
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.
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!
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
Click on the little graph here to download a
© 2010-2013 Brian Mork. Please
contact me using the copyright link prior to commercial use, or
distribution in a commercial context.
SALE: One live-tested fully working ECU PCM SBEC SMEC computer
to 1989 Dodge van 6-cylinder or 8-cylinder van, $65.