The head gasket blew right after the warranty ran out. The dealer charged me a thousand ($1,000) dollars to fix it. Which seemed OK at the time, because it really is a hard job to do, and I had the belts replaced at the same time. However, later on I found out that all kinds of people are getting it fixed for $250. Only after hearing about that did I get a little angry. Chrysler should have recalled it. They didn't, partly because we didn't band together and sue them. Oh well.
The brakes are kind of funny. In the beginning they were very good. They would slow the car very nicely and had decent feel. Over time though, they would get mushy and not work so well. One time I had to leave the road because they wouldn't slow the car, no matter how hard I pushed on them. It kept warping front rotors and I kept buying new ones. There had to be an underlying cause... I think I found it. The rear drum brakes have a new-fangled kind of self-adjuster. It's not like the conventional screw-type style that I'm used to seeing. It's a sort of cam and post arrangement, and apparently it can appear to be working fine and actually not be. It will be working, in the sense that it is taking up slack, but not enough. Replacing the self-adjusters finally restored the car's brakes back to proper performance. I think that the lack of rear brake strength because of the worn adjusters was causing too much load on the fronts and overheating them, causing the warpage. So far I've been about a month on the new brake rotors and no warping. This is a good sign. I'll report back later on whether or not this solution is a permanent one.
The automatic transmission is an interesting piece. Mine did not come with the autostick, but it does have interesting features. You don't select the gear you wish to be in. It's more like you select the shifting philosophy. D is just what you'd expect out of an automatic. 3 is like an automatic with the O.D. turned off, only it's not as simple as that. There are shift point modifications as well, and L full race mode. It carries each shift to the red line no matter what the throttle setting and downshifts as soon as it can do so, and ends up at about 4000 RPM. It really is neato. That being said, it can be touchy. I have always serviced it religiously. Fluid and filter changes at or better than the schedule in the manual. However, once, right after a service, it developed a problem. When you would put it in gear and try to move away, it would feel like the trans was banging in and out of gear rapidly. Sort of a yanking feeling. After a week or so it cleared up and never did it again. I never have figured out what happened. That has been about 3 years ago now.
OK, on to plugs and wires. Back in the good old days you could tell when these things were going bad. The car would start to run a little rough and just feel tired. Not so with my Stratus. Just going along fine and one day BANG, it runs awful. No warning, nothing. So I thought it must have been some sort of critical sensor failure or maybe a bad computer. Just to try the cheap fix first, I did the plugs and wires, and that cured it just as quick as it showed up.
Something I've heard about is people having problems with the power steering. It will start making a noise, and the dealer will change out the pump. Well, if it's a humming sort of "mawwwing" noise, then it's probably cavitation of the fluid (air bubbles). Older fluid gets like this easier than new fluid. So before shelling out for the new pump, change out some of the fluid. Get yourself a turkey baster or siphon hose or something, and take the fluid out of the reservoir. Replace it with new. Start the car and run the steering back and forth. Repeat 3 times or so. This has stopped my noise twice now, and I still have the original pump.
Aside from these things, the car has a lot of good points.
It's peppy and it handles quite well. On the limit, under steer becomes neutral cornering with a slight tap on the brakes. With a little heavier stab of the brakes combined with some throttle, you can get a little over steer drift until your momentum bleeds off. Then you go back to neutral or understeer if you weren't smooth. I don't know how they got a front drive car to handle like something other than a dog with no front legs, but they did it. Camber control is quite good for a stock car, and with 5 PSI extra in the tires or so, there is hardly any rollover on to the sidewalls.
The ride is fairly quiet and well controlled. It's not as floaty as you would expect, and it's hard to put the car in a situation where it feels out of control.
The interior is nice too. It has pretty good seats comfort wise, and the cloth ones grip your clothes so you don't slide around in the corners. Also, for some reason, the back seat has an unusually large amount of leg room. More even than some full size cars I've been in. I'm not sure how they pulled that off either. The trunk is even nifty. It has these nice hinges that don't intrude into the trunk space. Everyone knows the deal with most trunks and their u-shaped hinge bars that crush your luggage down when you shut the lid. Not so here, the hinges are very well executed and cause no problems with the inside space.
All and all I'm not sorry I bought it. The head gasket and brakes are a bummer, but it could have been so much worse. I would recommend the car to anyone who is mechanically inclined because I do believe it is worth it. For someone who must have a worry free car, though, I cannot recommend it.