Neon Miscellaneous Information

5.1 General Information

This section is a repository for all the information that can't be easily classified.  As such, the questions will vary mightily in subject and scope.  Particular items may also move out of this area if new sections are added.
5.1.1    Q: What are all these acronyms that people use?
A:    Below are some of the abbreviations commonly used in the Mailing List and Message Boards.
ACR:    A factory race-oriented Neon model.
ATX:    Automatic Transmission.
BHG:    Blown Head Gasket.
CAI:    Cold Air Intake.
CC:     Chrysler Corporation.
CEL:    Check Engine Light.
DCC:    Daimler-Chrysler Corporation.
ECU:    Engine Control Unit.
EGOD:   Evil Groove Of Doom.
FMM:    Front Motor Mount.
FSM:    Factory Service Manual.
MAP:    Manifold Absolute Pressure.  The MAP sensor supplies info to the ECU.
MTX:    Manual Transmission.
M/Y:    Model Year, as opposed to calendar year.
OBD:    On Board Diagnostics (I or II)
OEM:    Original Equipment Manufacturer.
PCM:    Powertrain Control Module, also known as the ECU.
PCV:    Positive Crankcase Ventilation.
PL:     The Neon's platform code.
PL2K:   Unofficial platform code for the Next Neon.
P/N:    Part Number.
TB:     Throttle Body.
TPS:    Throttle Position Sensor.
TSB:    Technical Service Bulletin.
UDP:    Under-Drive Pulley.
WOT:    Wide Open Throttle.
These are some of the common abbreviations used for non-technical expressions.
AFAIK:  As Far As I Know.
BTW:    By The Way.
FWIW:   For What It's Worth.
IIRC:   If I Recall Correctly.
IMHO:   In My Humble Opinion.
J/K:    Just Kidding.
LOL:    Laugh Out Loud, or Lots Of Luck.
N/M:    No Message.  So don't bother to look!
5.1.2    Q: Here are some telephone numbers for Daimler-Chrysler.  Enjoy.
A:    These numbers are valid in the U. S. only.  Sorry.
1-800-NEW-NEON    Information about Neons
1-800-992-1997    Chrysler Customer Service
1-800-998-1110    Neon Racing Headquarters (fax number 810-553-2138)
1-800-253-0823    Order a catalog of replicas of Chrysler vehicles
1-800-4-A-DODGE   Get a Dodge catalog or other product info
1-800-890-4038    Chrysler Tech Authority
1-800-677-5782    Chrysler 5-star Dealer line
1-248-969-1690    Mopar Performance Techline
This one works outside the U. S.:
810-978-6428      Chrysler International
5.1.3    Q: How do I get a Service Manual?
A:    The Neon Factory Service Manual is a two volume set (p/n 81-270-5025 for the main volume and -5025a for the supplement), and is specific to the model year.  Note that ordering the first part number should get both volumes.  The '95 m/y set costs approximately $65; later years run almost $100.
Chrysler Corporation Tech Authority
CIMS 423-21-06
26001 Lawrence Avenue, Center Line, MI 48015
Credit Card phone:  1-800-626-1523 or 1-800-890-4038.
Haynes also publishes a Neon service manual, which is available at many parts stores and book shops.  At about $20, it is substantially cheaper than the FSM.  However, it contains much less detailed information.  If you are serious about working on your car, I recommend the Mopar manual.
5.1.4    Q: How do I find a good dealer in my area?
A:    Chrysler maintains a list of dealers who have consistently scored well in customer satisfaction surveys.  Call the Chrysler Five-Star Dealers line (1-800-677-5782).  They'll give you names and numbers of the dealers in your area who have earned the Five-Star rating. You'll also receive by mail a brochure explaining how the dealers earned that designation.
5.1.5    Q: What is a TSB?
A:    TSB stands for Technical Service Bulletin.  This is a document issued to dealer service departments, describing a common problem, symptom, or complaint.  Also included is the recommended diagnosis/repair procedure.  TSBs are issued in cases where the problem is not a safety issue requiring a recall.  Until recently, Barry Drodge maintained an excellent list of Neon TSBs at his website.  However, this has reverted to the Neons.org site at this time.

Reading the TSB list can help the Neon owner isolate a problem and explain it to the service manager.  Each bulletin usually includes a specific model or range of build dates to which the item applies; however, cars outside these indicators may also suffer the same problem.

People usually think that the Neon has an excessive number of these bulletins, until they get a chance to see the list for a Ford product.  And that's not even counting safety recalls.

5.1.6    Q: How can I find out information about a specific Neon?
A:    Chrysler, like most modern car manufacturers, tracks the history of each Neon by the Vehicle Identification Number.  Owners, or potential buyers, can get access to some of this information through a Dodge or Plymouth dealer service counter.  If you ask politely, the service advisor can print out a service history and a build sheet.  These are an invaluable asset to anyone considering purchase of a used Neon.

The service history contains most information pertaining to the life of the car since it left the factory.  It includes the build date and time, the in-service date (date the first retail buyer took possession), the dealer the car was originally shipped to, the dealer which sold the car,  the name and address of the original buyer, and (usually) names and addresses of subsequent buyers if the car was resold through a dealer.  It also contains at  least the last 24 months of dealer-performed services and the complete recall history.  This indicates any safety recalls (not TSBs) to which that particular Neon is subject; it also indicates which have been corrected and which are outstanding.  Note that any uncorrected recalls should be taken care of at no charge by the dealer.

The build sheet is a document used by the assembly line when each Neon is constructed.  It contains the alphanumeric ordering code for each particular item on the car, such as engine choice, transmission type, and options; as well as more detailed information such as braking system, wheel size, etc.  It may also include additional codes that pertain to the car's history.  For instance, my '95 ACR was taken directly from Belvidere to the Chicago Auto Show in January of 1995 and put on display to illustrate the competition package.  Its build sheet includes a code listed as "Show Car Tracking".

5.1.7    Q: What is 'Rice'?
A:    This is a perennial question on the Neon Message Boards.  Generally, being 'ricey' centers around having a lot of Touring style appearance items without any actual performance modifications, but that's not the whole story. Just adding gargantuan exhaust tips, tall spoilers, multitudinous stickers, ground effects, driving lights, hood pins, huge wheels (and calling them rims), etc. doesn't  automatically mean you are 'rice'.  Style, after all, is a personal thing.

Rice is more of an attitude problem.  Ricers confuse appearance with reality, and convince themselves that a car that looks fast is fast.  Talking the talk without enough performance work to walk the walk is what makes someone a true Riceboy or Ricegirl.

The term 'rice' itself derives from the predominantly Japanese cars favored by the early trendsetters of this style, and the graphics of untranslatable Asian characters that they often carry.  It is not a reference to Asian people in general.

5.1.8    Q: Here is a veritable potpourri of Neon trivia.
A:    Information taken from the Belvidere Assembly brochure I picked up at Neon97:

´    2027 total parts in a Neon
´    302 total part suppliers
´    2.5 day supply of parts in stock ($9 million), 150-200 semis & 15 rail cars unloaded daily
´    3.3 million sq ft (67 acres) of manufacturing space, 11.5 miles of conveyors, 4000 employees
´    Satellite stamping stamps 36 parts/Neon, 280 tons of steel per day, 64% material utilization
´    3254 welds in the Neon, 100% welding automation, 195 welding robots
´    It takes about 14 hours to build up a Neon from start to finish
´    Two shifts produce 1064 cars/day at Belvidere
´    Annual volume is 240,000 without overtime
 

5.1.9    Q: Where can I get all those funky tools listed in the Service manual?
A:    You can purchase all the Special Tools from:
Miller Special Tools, 28635
Mound Rd, Warren, MI  48092
(800) 801-5420
5.1.10    Q: How do I decode my '95-'99 Neon's VIN?
A:    The VIN or Vehicle Identification Number is a 17 digit code used to identify a particular car from all others.  The number is alphanumeric, meaning that it is made up of both letters and numbers.  A typical Neon VIN looks like the following:

1P3ES22Y8WDxxxxxx     (where xxxxxx is the last six digits)

With this number, one can identify almost all the information about what year the car was made, which engine it should have, and other assorted information.  Decoding can be accomplished by following this chart:

First Digit (Country of origin):
    1 (US, Belvidere)
    3 (Mexico, Toluca)

Second Digit (Make):
    D or B (Dodge)
    P (Plymouth)
    C (Chrysler, built for export)

Third Digit (Vehicle type):
    3 (Passenger Car)

Fourth Digit (Passenger Safety):
    E (Active Restraints, dual front air-bags)

Fifth Digit (Vehicle Line):
    S (Neon/Neon Sport sold in USA/Canada/Export)
    6 (Neon/Neon Sport sold in Mexico)

Sixth Digit (Series):
    2 (Baseline '95-'97 and Highline '98-'99 US/Canada)
    4 (Highline '95-'97 and Sport '98-'99 US/Canada)
    6 (Sport '95-'97 US/Canada)
    M (Manual SE BUX cars)
    A (Automatic BUX cars)

Seventh Digit (Body Style):
    2 (Coupe)
    7 (Sedan)

Eighth Digit (Engine):
    C (2.0L SOHC)
    Y (2.0L DOHC)
    ? (1.8L SOHC) [yes, thatÝs really a question mark]

Ninth Digit (Check Digit):
The check digit is used to determine the authenticity of any given serial number.  It is derived from a mathematical formula based on the first half of the serial number (all digits to the left of the check digit).  If you are interested in how the check digit is determined, email me at <[email protected]>.  I have the formula but it is too large and obscure to include in the FAQ at this time.

Tenth Digit (Model Year):
    S (1995)
    T (1996)
    V (1997)
    W (1998)
    X (1999)

Eleventh Digit (Assembly Plant):
    D (Belvidere, Illinois - US/Canada/Export)
    T (Toluca, Mexico - US/Canada/Mexico)

Twelth-Seventeenth Digits (Build Sequence Number):
    Tells what number car it was that came off the assembly line that year.

Using our original example VIN:  1P3ESS22Y8WDxxxxxx, we can determine that this was a 1998 Plymouth Neon Expresso coupe with a DOHC engine for sale in the United States and built at the Belvidere plant.  The xxxxxx would have been what number the car was off the assembly line.  [Updated VIN information courtesy of Dan Stewart]

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5.2 Troubleshooting and Maintenance

This section contains problems and questions common to the Neon; it is intended to stay fairly Neon-specific in content.  Emphasis is placed on mechanical issues rather than appearance care; however, some aesthetic questions are included.  Also, this section is not a How-To list, which appears elsewhere on this site.  It is  meant as a quick guide to some of the common symptoms and their causes.  Another good source of information is the Neon TSB list; some common TSB numbers are included here as well.
5.2.1    Q: Are headgaskets really a problem?
A:    The Neon has a reputation for headgasket failure, and it has affected many Neon owners.  Since the blocks are identical, both the SOHC and the DOHC are susceptible.  Chrysler revised the original gasket twice to address this issue, and finally released an all-new part.  The new MLS (multi-layered steel) gasket supersedes the old part under the same p/n.  The new gasket went into production SOHCs in September of 1998 (part of the '99 m/y), with the DOHC following shortly after that, probably before November of '98.  TSB 09-05-98, which describes the revised part, was issued on November 06, 1998.  This means that the new piece was available at parts counters around that time.  (Thanks to Greg Smith for this additional information.)

Nearly all failures occur in the driver's side rear of the engine block, where an oil passage crosses between head and block within 1/4" of the outside edge.  The most common symptom is an oil leak at the block joint in the vicinity of the brake fluid reservoir.  Other, less common symptoms of headgasket failure include:  water in the oil (indicated by foam on the dipstick or drain pan), oil in the coolant overflow reservoir, and burning of coolant (continual steam or light grey soot in exhaust pipe).  However, most Neon headgasket failures do not cause mixing of oil and coolant.

Two items should be kept in mind on this subject.  First, with more than a million Neons on the road, even a large number of failures is a small percentage of the unaffected cars.  Second, this problem is common among most cars with aluminum heads, not just Neons.  This kind of head design saves weight, and is typical on modern cars. However, aluminum heads are sensitive to overheating and may crack or warp, which leads to gasket failure.

Headgasket failure is enough of a problem, however, that Chrysler has made special provisions for headgasket repairs beyond the normal warranty period.  While dealers probably won't volunteer to fix a car that has exceeded its warranty, many Neon owners have found that a call to the Customer One phone number may help.  Depending on the age of the car, Chrysler may pay a portion of the replacement cost; in many instances, repairs have been made just as if warranty coverage existed.  Also, owners who have paid out-of-pocket to have the headgasket replaced may be reimbursed under this extension.  In many cases, full coverage of headgasket failure has been extended to five years or 100,000 miles.

5.2.2    Q: My engine's leaking oil, and  I'm scared.  Help!
A:     OK, don't panic yet.  Both engines may leak oil at the cam position sensor (CMP), which is located below the intake piping that leads from the airbox to the throttle body.  There is an O-ring seal at this sensor which can fail, but is relatively easy to replace.  The resulting oil leak can appear to be either the head gasket or the main seal between engine and transmission.  Check this spot first before freaking out.

Another common leak is the oil pressure sensor, located on the back of the block under the exhaust manifold.  This is also sometimes mistaken for head gasket failure.  Remove the sensor unit using a 1-1/16" six-point deep socket, apply teflon pipe tape to the threads, and reinstall it.

5.2.3   Q: My Neon makes a gurgling or boiling noise when I turn it off.  Could this be a problem?
A:    "I shut off the (well warmed) Neon, it "boiled", then I went to squeeze the upper radiator hose. VOILA!  It had NO pressure in it, and when I squeezed it the overflow tank "gurgled".  This meant that the radiator cap was not sealing in the pressure, and allowing the system to vent all the time.

[The dealer] flushed the coolant but didn't replace the original cap which had seated itself onto the rim of the cap mount.  When they put the cap back on, there was no way it was going to seal again, so the cooling system never pressurized and eventually boiled a significant amount of coolant out of the system.  That meant that there was void in the cooling system that deprived the head and upper combustion chamber of much needed coolant for extended periods of time and numerous heat cycles. This (I suspect) caused the head to warp and the gasket to fail causing my oil leak.

If anyone out there has a "boiling" or "gurgling" noise when they shut off their Neon, it is likely that your radiator cap (not exactly on the radiator anymore) is bad, and you could be boiling away precious coolant.  Replace the $6 part now and save yourself $$$ later. The cap can be bought at NAPA (p/n 703-1447); it's a 16 lb cap made by Balkamp.

It is not likely that I will be able to pin this on the dealer even though it was their negligence that ultimately caused the failure."

- Stephan A. Zweidler

5.2.4   Q: My Neon makes a whistling or squealing noise when I turn it off.  Could this be a problem?
A:    The PCM (Powertrain Control Module) may emit a high-pitched "whistle" sound after the engine is shut off.  The sound may last up to eight minutes.  The noise can vary in pitch and intensity from one PCM to the next and with changes in temperature and battery system voltage.  This noise is due to the PCM being "powered up" after ignition-off to enable a diagnostic routine for the O2 heater operation.  This diagnostic routine will only occur when certain parameters are met, which include engine operating temperature and how long the vehicle has been driven. This noise may also be heard with the ignition on and engine running, but is usually muffled by the normal engine operation sounds. Replacing the PCM may seem to eliminate the noise for a period of time, but this is only due to the system not meeting the qualifying parameters to run the ignition-off diagnostic routine.  THIS IS AN OPERATIONAL CHARACTERISTIC OF THE PCM AND NO REPAIRS SHOULD BE ATTEMPTED.
5.2.5   Q:What is the deal with motor mount failures?
A:    The front motor mount (FMM) on the Neon has a somewhat undeserved reputation for failure.  The motor mount isolator (p/n ATX - 4668182, MTX - 4668183) is circular in shape with two vee-shaped slots (see image here) in it.  A web of rubber joins the point of the vee with the bottom lip of the circle.  This web may tear under normal use, giving the appearance that the mount has failed.  Note that this web was placed to facilitate the manufacturing process only, and is not a structural part of the mount design.  Tearing of the bottom web does NOT mean that the mount needs to be replaced.  Unless one of the upper flanges of the vee is torn, the mount will function normally.

The OEM motor mount is somewhat soft, to control vibration.  This allows the engine to move a noticeable amount, which aggravates the appearance of mount failure.  The soft mount can allow wheel hop during hard launches.  Performance drivers will benefit from installing inserts (Rex units, homemade inserts, or poured-urethane filling).  See the question on stiff motor mounts for more information.  [Motor mount image courtesy of Jeff Ball.]

5.2.6   Q: Why is my manual transmission getting hard to shift?
A:    The manual shift linkage contains several rubber bushings to isolate noise and vibration.  These may deteriorate over time, which means that precise control is lost and the shifter becomes loose or balky.    If shifts are no longer smooth, or you have difficulty finding a certain gear, check there first.  Most dealers will not sell just the bushings, and the linkage assembly costs over $100.  Numerous owners have made their own bushing replacements using rubber stoppers or faucet washers.
5.2.7   Q: My clutch is making popping noises, or feels funny.
A:    The Neon has a self-adjusting clutch cable, which contains a small ratchet that takes up slack as the clutch wears.  An occasional "pop" will be heard as this happens from time to time.  If the popping occurs frequently, however, it could be one of two things.  First, check the path of the cable from firewall to transmission, making sure that curves are gentle and removing any kinks.

Second, and particularly if the clutch pedal feels different, inspect the cable end where it terminates inside the transmission.  On top of the transaxle, where the cable enters, is a small black plastic access hatch.  This panel snaps out to reveal the cable end, which is a washer/brass ball that sits in the crook of the actuator fork.  Examine the cable for frayed or broken fibers; replace it if any are found.  If the cable breaks while driving, you will lose clutch operation.  Also, the broken end or washer can fall into the bell housing and may cause damage to the flywheel or other components.

5.2.8   Q: My Neon yelps or chirps when I shift hard, or when I go from 'R' to 'D'.
A:    This squeeking noise is caused by the infamous exhaust donut, which is a metal seal between the exhaust manifold and the pipe leading to the catalytic convertor.  As the engine moves in response to shifting (it is more common in the ATX due to more engine motion), the two pieces squeek against each other.  The problem can be fixed by replacing the donut and careful reshaping of the pipe flange.  Installing a stiffened front motor mount, which limits driveline movement, will also help but may not cure the problem.
5.2.9   Q: My Neon made a horrible noise when I hit some deep puddles, and I thought it was going to explode.
A:    The mysterious 'puddle growl' was finally diagnosed a year or two ago.  This is happens when substantial water splashes onto the exhaust piping, causing it to cool suddenly and thus distort.  If it is not tightly secured in all of the rubber hangers, the pipe may rotate enough to vibrate against the sheet metal heat guards under the car.  The resulting noise should disappear when the pipe returns to a consistent temperature and resumes its original shape.
5.2.10   Q: I changed my spark plugs, and the well was full of oil.  Is my head gasket shot?
A:    No (relax).  Assuming the actual electrode end of the plug is dry (discounting fresh drips from removal), oil in the plug wells does not mean head gasket trouble.  Each plug well has an O-ring seal ot the bottom where the plug goes through the valve cover.  Failure of this seal will cause oil from the valve train to seep into the plug wells.  The seals are not terribly difficult to replace since removing the valve cover is not major surgery; however, care should be taken any time the interior of the engine is exposed.
5.2.11   Q: Why does my gas mileage suck so bad?
A:    Because your Neon is so fun to drive.  The Neon's fuel economy varies widely depending on conditions (of course) but also upon your driving style.  Heavy use of the accelerator, or extending cruising above 65 mph, will both put a serious dent in your mileage.  (Un)fortunately, the Neon thrives on being driven that way.

Typical mileage for the ATX car is 22-28 mpg, with slightly higher numbers possible on extended trips if you're careful.  The MTX version with its taller top gear tends to get 26-34 mpg, with the lower final drive transmissions toward the bottom of that range.  Numbers over 40 mpg have been posted on long trips.

5.2.12   Q: My Check Engine Light is showing codes 12 and 21.  What's wrong?
A:    Codes 12 and 21 (from the OBD II diagnostic check) are a common occurrance.  These codes seem to appear when the electrical system voltage drops sharply for a very short period of time, such as when lifting suddenly after wide open throttle, or if the engine stumbles momentarily.  If the car is running normally, there is likely no problem and the codes should disappear by themselves after a dozen starts or so.  If there is a problem, the PCM will keep the CEL lit.
5.2.13   Q: My Check Engine Light is showing code 43.  What's wrong?
A:    Code 43 (from the OBD II diagnostic check) indicates a misfiring cylinder.  It may be set even when no symptoms are noticeable to the driver.  In this case, it usually means a loose plug or plug wire connection is causing weakened spark on that cylinder.  Retorque the spark plugs and make sure all plug and coil wire connections are secure and dry.
5.2.14   Q: My spare tire well or my rear set foot well is wet!
A:    Chances are this water is coming in around the taillights.  Clear replacement taillights are notorious for leaking due to cheap gaskets; however, even the OEM units leak.  Get a fresh set of gaskets (about $15) from the Dodge/Plymouth dealer.  When installing them, make sure the rim of the body opening is clean and smooth.  Try also setting them in a small bead of RTV silicone sealant.
5.2.15   Q: My steering wheel shakes at 73 mph (or some particular speed) and it's driving me mad!
A:    This question is also answered in some detail in the How-To section of this site.  It is caused by compliance in the lower control arm bushings ( a revised part with stiffer material is rumored to be available).  However, here is additional information which may help cure the problem without replacing the bushings:

The Neon is *very* sensitive to wheel balance.  Have your wheels rebalanced to the nearest 1/8 ouce instead of 1/4 ounce, and make sure the machine has been calibrated recently.

Make sure that your tire pressures are even between the two front tires.

If you have aftermarket wheels, remove the sheet metal retaining washers that are located over one wheel stud on each hub.  These are used for assembly purposes only and are not required.  Unlike the factory alloys, some aftermarket wheels do not have a small depression in the mating surfaces of the wheel, which provides clearance for this retainer.  If so, the wheels can be off axis with the spindle, causing fluctuating toe in/out with each revolution.  [This info courtesy of Aaron Mihe and the Australian Neon FAQ.]

If you have aftermarket wheels, get hubcentric rings to ensure that the wheel is truly centered on the spindle.  Many aftermarket wheels have wider tolerance on both the stud holes and the center bore to allow fitting on multiple vehicles.  If the wheel is not perfectly centered it will shake as each revolution is slightly eccentric.  [This info courtesy of Jason Artley among others.]

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