I agree with the other comment. If you bought an 11-year-old car with 150,000 miles and all it needs are brakes and shocks, it sounds like a helluva good one!
You got a good deal on a cheap car, so you can afford to absorb a few items of repair and preventive maintenance! For the year/mileage vehicle that is in that price range, you can hardly expect perfection.
Just to make it clear, the brakes and the shocks are not really an issue. It's the check engine light and the water leak. The leak is in the passenger compartment and it ain't small. You can hear water sloshing behind the dash, but I can't actually see where it is coming from. I am worried it could short something out plus, I didn't plan on buying a submarine!
From the few days we've had it, the engine seems solid, the ride is very quiet (no radio yet). The alignment and front end seem to be in good shape. Even if I budget $500 for shocks & brakes the total including the van will come in under $2200. I hope it doesn't turn into a money pit.
Adding to my original post. The Check Engine light was for the O2 heater. In my county of Portland, Or we have a smog test (DEQ). It failed the first time due to the check engine light, but passed the smoke test and everything else. I was able to reset the CEL. This passed DEQ and we're able to complete registration.
Unfortunately I haven't been able to get to the shocks & brakes yet. The passenger window stuck in the down position (it rains in Oregon... a lot). It was $250 (new window regulator motor + labor) and the cost of a rental car. Although it seemed the passenger window motor was bad, the real culprit is more likely the driver's door control switch. I got that for $25 on eBay.
The mechanic said the O2 heater is taking too long (in seconds), to heat the sensor, which causes the code. The van runs ok overall and it's something that I will wait to fix. It's still raining and still leaking on the passenger side. Can't track down the exact spot the water is coming from. Replaced the radio and pray we'll be able to get to the shocks and brakes replaced soon.
Also, had the transmission fluid flushed and filter changed ($225). This was a huge improvement on ride quality. The motor seems to rev more freely and it definitely shifts a lot better.
Arrg! The van is gone! I replaced the brakes and the radiator along with a bunch of other little stuff. The leak was never fixed and it did continue to rain in Oregon, so that was a problem.
I will not buy another Dodge product, but to be a little fair, this particular van was ridden hard and put away wet by the previous owner. It was prettied up enough to lure me in, I admit. I think Dodge is currently paying for their sins of the 1990s.
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