This write up should work for any fourth generation (2001-2007) Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler van with the 3.3L V6 engine. The larger 3.8L V6 may be the same, but I do not know. Note that not all vehicles are always the same. There are often slight differences between them that you will need to figure out on your own and adjust accordingly.
It was extremely difficult to find helpful write-ups or Youtube videos on this repair. I would advise that you use other write-ups or Youtube videos for visuals on parts and positions only. You do not have to go through the steps shown in the videos currently available on this repair. For example, one video shows a man removing the fans from his van, and another shows a man removing the heat shield and plug wires. There is no reason to remove other items that are not directly bolted to the starter. It is difficult to get to the top bolt in particular, but it can be done, and you can do it.
Jack van up/pull onto ramps/place jack stands. I jacked the drivers side up so that the tire was not even off of the ground and still had plenty of room to work (remember to place jack stand!).
Unhook positive battery cable. I used a 10mm wrench.
Slide in under the van from the drivers side and find the starter to the drivers side of the oil filter, front of the vehicle. Go look up a picture of a starter if you do not know what one looks like (cylindrical).
You can use a wrench or socket wrench to remove the nut that connects the large red positive battery cable to the starter. I used a 13mm wrench, but a socket probably works better. (You should get a new nut with your new starter, but from here on out, make sure to keep up with all of the parts you remove, as always!)
Unplug the small wire with the plastic connector. Please be careful not to break the clip(s) or the wire, and use a screwdriver inserted into the little slit to pry/push the plug out.
There are two starter bolts. They run horizontally, and parallel to the grille and firewall of the van (or perpendicular to the fenders). Look at the the bottom right of the starter and you will see the end of the bottom starter bolt sticking out. The head for the bolt is at the opposite end, of course, on the other side of the bracket. I used a 15mm socket wrench to remove this bolt. You will bump into the fan a bit, but don’t worry, there is room to work, though very little of it at first.
Get out from under the van and look under the hood. Look down behind the exhaust manifold up against the engine. I used a flashlight to see the large head of a bolt, and underneath it, a thinner bolt that connects the black ground wire to the metal. The bolt you want is not the large one, but the thinner one down under it with the ground wire hooked to it.
You need to remove the nut holding that ground wire on. I used a 13mm wrench, although you can also use a deep well socket with a long extension.
Once you have removed the nut that held the ground wire in place, you will need to feel back further up the bolt. There is another ‘nut’ that is actually the head of the starter bolt.
This is where people in the write-ups and videos were running into trouble. The top starter bolt is extremely difficult to break loose, and there is not a whole lot of room with which to work, but it can be broken lose and removed without going to extreme measures and removing other parts. Here are some tips:
Use a deep well socket. I bought a 15mm deep well socket for this very purpose.
Use a lengthy extension. Put the deep well socket onto the bolt and then hook the extension into it, leaving barely enough room on the right next to the inner fender well for you to clip your socket wrench into the extension.
You will want to have your socket wrench far out to the right as I have mentioned above, clear of the exhaust manifold, as you will need to work very hard to break the bolt loose, and you need all the room you can get. I had barely enough room to get the deep well socket, long extension, and 3/8″ drive socket wrench into place a little crooked. (Be careful not to round or wring the bolt off!) If you have a swivel adapter that allows you to flex the ratchet for a slightly different angle, you might want to use that (I did not).
Try to break the bolt free with steady, even pressure. If that does not work, try ‘bouncing’ on the ratchet with your all of your strength. (Be careful to position your arms, hands, and fingers in such a way that you do not severely cut yourself on all of the stuff around there, like those sharp edges on the heat shields that cover the manifold!) If that does not work, use a rag between your hand and the ratchet for a cushioned grip. If that does not work, try tapping the end of the handle of the ratchet with a hammer to break the bolt loose. If that does not work, try putting the closed end of a large wrench on the ratchet in such a way that you can have more leverage to pry the bolt loose. If that does not work, try removing all of your tools and spraying either a type of rust remover or WD-40 into the place where the head of the bolt is up against the metal. Or, just use a pipe or ‘breaker bar.’ I tried all of the above, minus the breaker bar, since I did not have one handy.
You might also want to put the bottom bolt back in to relieve pressure from the top one. In fact, you probably should not have removed the bottom bolt first, but that’s my fault. (I know, I should have said this earlier.) If you are having difficulty with this step and feel like everything is hopeless, go inside and do something for 5-20 minutes like watch TV, get something to drink, or use the bathroom. You’ll come back and break the thing loose without any problems. Trust me. It’s magic. Ask any mechanic!
Now that you have (hopefully) removed both of the bolts (don’t lose them!), your starter is technically free. Hopefully it did not fall to the ground on its own once you removed the top bolt. Mine did not.
Get back under the van, careful to shield your face from the (now) loose starter. Move your head to the side (so that your face is not under the starter), reach up, and pull the starter free from the engine, out, and down to the ground. There should be a metal gasket/flange that comes out with the starter.
Congratulations! You got the starter off. Now wrap it up in a rag, wash up, and drive your other vehicle to the auto parts store for a ‘new’ one. I could not find a new starter available in the parts stores. That is normal. I picked up a re-manufactured starter for $84. You will need to bring your old starter back to remove the ‘core charge’ from the bill! Without my old starter, the re-manufactured one would have cost $20 more than it did.
Make sure to compare the two starters. They most likely will not look identical, but you need to make sure they are the same size, shape, and have the same holes, bolts, and fittings in the same places. The guy at the parts store will take your old starter, and try to sell you some bulb grease. I always get it right away so that I don’t have to hear an entire sales pitch when the stuff is only a few bucks at the most, and can be helpful.
Now that you’ve got the old starter off, and a nice new one ready to go on, get back under the van with the starter and gasket/flange.
You will need to put the flange back onto the starter, place it back up onto the engine the way the old one was situated, and start the bottom starter bolt with your fingers, then the socket wrench. Have fun. I did.
Start the top starter bolt from underneath of the van. Yes, you can reach up and feel the hole it should go in, so you can start this one with your fingers from underneath the van. It’s much easier than trying to get the bolt lined up with the holes in the bracket/flange/starter from the top. I found that virtually impossible because the flange kept sliding down. Also, there is a third hole in the middle, to the right of the bottom and top starter bolt holes. Use it to get everything lined up.
Once you have the two starter bolts started, tighten them with the 15mm socket and deep well socket with extension. You will tighten the bottom bolt from underneath the van, and the top bolt from the top of the van underneath the hood. Make sure to switch back and forth at least once, just to make sure you’ve torqued the starter back on evenly. I don’t know if that’s actually necessary, or if it even accomplishes anything, but it made me feel better.
Your new starter should have come with a new nut on the little bolt that the positive red battery cable hooks to. Take it off, slide the metal end of the positive red battery cable back on, screw the nut onto the bolt with your fingers, then tighten all the way with a 13mm wrench or socket. Careful, not too tight! You definitely don’t want to break or round off anything into your new starter.
Clip the plug on the little wire back onto your starter. My new starter came with a wire attached to it already, which I removed, then clipped the old plug back into place like it was before. If you got the bulb grease stuff, you’ll want to squeeze some into the contact points before hooking the wire up again.
You should have everything hooked back up now, and all of your tools etc. out of the way and out from underneath of the van.
Hook the ground wire back onto the long top starter bolt. Just follow the reverse steps of how you took that pesky thing off when you started. You see now how mechanics get so good at what they do, don’t you? Remember how hard it was to find that little bolt when you went to get the nut off? Remember how difficult it was to remove? But now you’re putting that ground wire back on, followed by the nut, like a professional! Tighten it down with the 13mm deep well socket. Make sure the ground wire is a few inches clear of the manifold pipes and is tight enough that it does not wiggle, but don’t over-tighten!
Make sure all of your tools are out of the way, but don’t put them up just yet. (Always leave your tools out until after you’ve tested your vehicle.) Be slow and methodical in everything you do right now. Make sure that you’ve tightened the starter bolts, hooked up the two different wires underneath of the starter, and tightened the ground wire back into place.
Now, hook up the positive battery cable to your battery. Tighten the clamp. I used a 10mm wrench. Remember, you want a good, solid connection, but you don’t want it too tight!
Brush yourself off, wash your hands, dry them, and then get in to start your van. Start it a few times, just to make sure everything is working properly. Hopefully it does!
Put your tools away, remove the jack stand(s), let the jack down, pull it out, and close the hood.
Now you’re ready to go drive your van!
If you have any additional thoughts, comments, concerns, questions, etc. I would love to hear them. Please leave your comments below and I will try to promptly respond. Thanks!