Chrysler exec warns of engine vulnerability

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

 Tuesday, May 17, 2005 Christopher JensenPlain Dealer Auto Editor

Alton, Va.- Chrysler’s 2.7-liter V-6 is more vulnerable to sludge damage if oil changes are not done at the proper time because the automaker decided to use less oil in the engine, said a top Chrysler engineer who helped develop it.

The engine has angered some consumers who have suffered engine failures because sludge, a gelling or thickening of oil as it ages, can reduce the lubrication of an engine, causing it to fail.

Chrysler has denied any defect and blamed problems on poor maintenance.

However, the 2.7-liter V-6 on the 1998 to 2002 Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring has been a "nightmare" for consumers because of catastrophic mechanical failures, according to Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

When the engine was being developed, Chrysler wanted to lower the cost for consumers and chose a smaller oil pan that would require owners to buy less oil, said Burke Brown, who is now the chief engineer for the automaker’s large, rear-wheel-drive vehicles including the 2006 Dodge Charger.

But having less oil means it deteriorates more quickly, which makes proper oil changes crucial.

"In retrospect, that took away the margin. More oil means it [the oil] deteriorates slower," Brown said during an interview here at a media preview for the Charger. "If you don’t change the oil on schedule, they [the 2.7-liter V-6s] don’t tolerate a lot of abuse in that regard."

When the 2.7-liter was introduced in the 2005 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum, the engine was given a larger oil pan with a six-quart capacity. The older 2.7 V-6s had a five-quart capacity, and that has not changed on the Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring.

Ditlow said his Web site ( has about 700 complaints from consumers whose engines have failed, often around 60,000 miles. Replacing the engine can cost $5,000 to $6,000.

However, in an e-mail Monday, Chrysler spokesman Sam Locricchio said the automaker has only 600 complaints, and some of those may be duplicates. About 750,000 1998-2002 vehicles have the 2.7-liter V-6, and sludge failures are not "a widespread problem," he wrote.

Ditlow has asked Chrysler to reimburse consumers whose engines have failed and issue an extended warranty on the engines.

Chrysler responded that it is helping consumers on a case-by-case basis. But consumers must prove they have done proper maintenance. Some of the failed engines were on resale vehicles, and current owners couldn’t prove that the previous ones had changed the oil as recommended, leaving them with huge repair bills.

In a telephone interview, Ditlow said the extra quart of oil could have helped some consumers. "A quart will give you a little more robust system," he said.

Chrysler is not alone in having a sludge problem. Toyota, Volkswagen, Audi and Saab have all acknowledged problems with some engines and have offered extended warranties. Only Chrysler has declined to offer that.