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Sounds like your transfer case in neutral. You have to engage the transfer case back into gear then shift selector to drive or reverse. When your transfer is in neutral the transmission will not operate. Good luck.
Shut off the vehicle. Place the transfer case indicator into whatever gear you want and then start the vehicle. You placed the transfer case into neutral while the engine was running in gear that's why all the grinding.
unfortunately what it sounds like is the transfer case like you suspect. inside are bearings and gears and a chain what happens is the chain will stretch and cause this problem it will actually jump the teeth on the gears, you will need to have the chain replaced in the transfer case. sorry to have to tell you this but i hope it helps.
there are 2 systems.
one is a part time system only.the 4x4 locks and is for ice mud and snow.Driving full time will damage the transfer case.The other system is a full time system and the selector says 2wd,4wd part time ,4wd full time and 4 lo. if in full time,it can be driven all the time even on dry roads.The full time is really an all wheel drive system.
the 4low is a very low gear and the main shifter has to be put in neutral and then the transfer case put in 4 low.attempting to put it in 4 low while in "drive" will make a gear grinding noise.
getting out of 4 low is the opposite.shifter to neutral and then put it in 2wd and then in drive.The newer durango has an electronic transfer case with a dial on the dash.The 2002 was available with 2wd,4wd,awd and 4 lo on a switch.The 1999 has the lever on the floor .
Your problem is similiar to mine . the web-site has been helpful. $2000.00 sounds way to much for repair on that vehicle with such high mileage. I went to a dismantler and bought a used transfer case for under $350.00. Did the labor myself with a little help. It's not too difficult if you have a some diy experience or ability. As your working on it stay with the web-site for install hints or go to autozone.com for repair diagrams.
Good luck have a good day.