If you’re thinking of buying a used 2001 Dodge Dakota, don’t. When we purchased our 2001 QuadCab, it was the first year Dodge made them. It was far more comfortable than the competition’s mid-sized quad cab trucks that were available at the time, and with the 5.9l engine, it has great towing capacity.
But for a vehicle with low mileage, it has had far more problems than any other vehicle I’ve ever owned. It just turned over 84K on the odometer, and is 17 years old. That works out to less than 5K/year. That’s pretty low, considering average mileage for vehicles is around 12K/year.
What’s really disappointing about this truck is that every time I’ve gone to research an issue with this Dakota, it ends up that it’s a fairly common problem. It’s not that my truck is a built on Friday afternoon lemon. It is Chrysler’s standard production quality. It was built by a company that shaved every penny off their production costs, regardless of what the impact would be on reliability.
With several problems, the brakes being the most common, it was surprising when the mechanics at the dealerships said they had never seen Dakotas with that problem before. I guess I shouldn’t believe all those people on the Internet reporting the same exact problem.
Brakes – Easily the most troublesome and expensive parts failure on this truck has been the brakes. The QuadCab comes with 4 wheel disc brakes that are a bit undersized for the weight and towing capacity of the truck. But that’s not their biggest problem. The biggest problem is that some design flaw causes the brakes to drag, causing at a minimum a lot of brake dust on the wheels, but can also cause a need for a complete braking system replacement.
The first time it happened to us we were traveling down to the Bay Area. We had been on the freeway for several hours making good progress. I didn’t hit the brakes until we exited in Petaluma, looking for a place to eat. At the first red light we came to, I smelled that unmistakable odor of brakes burning up. But since I hadn’t been using my brakes, I figured it must have been the guy next to us.
By the next light, he had made a turn, yet that smell was still there. So I pulled over to inspect the brakes, and touching the wheel, I burned my fingers it was so hot. Smoke could be seen coming from the brakes. We had to have it towed to a Firestone dealer. Once everything cooled down they couldn’t pinpoint the cause, but they resurfaced the rotors and replaced the pads, and flushed the brake lines. At this point the truck was under warranty, but since we had to have it taken to a Firestone dealer, Chrysler said the repair wasn’t covered.
The next time it happened we were on a trip up to Washington to visit my sister. Again, same thing. Hours on the freeway, no braking, we stop for a break and find the brakes are burning. This time the closest tow location was a Les Schwab, where the calipers, rotors and pads were all replaced along with new brake fluid. Another vacation ruined as we spent the whole day waiting for the repair. By this time the truck was out of warranty.
The third time we were on another trip to the Bay Area and we were able to make it to my mom’s house by taking a long break to let things cool down, and then taking lots of other breaks on the way. I spent the time we were supposed to be visiting with family doing the brake job myself. Again calipers, rotors and pads were replaced, but for good measure I also replaced the front brake lines.
Since the third failure, I don’t trust this truck for long trips, and it hasn’t left Humboldt county since. The failures happened around 25K, 50K, and 75K. The only thing that I can think of that might be the cause is the design of the calipers doesn’t take into account long backups where you need to brake. In two of the three incidents, I had to back down a hill prior to getting on the freeway at some point in the trip. Might have been the problem with the third, but I don’t remember.
Irregular Idle and Cruising RPMs – At idle the engine RPM will fluctuate, and while driving it will surge. It’s very apparent while on the freeway with cruise control engaged. The tach shows the engine surging about 200 RPMs and it’s very apparent in the ride. I’ve had this problem a couple of times and took it back to the dealer. Each time it worked ok for awhile and the problem returned. One YouTube diagnosis is the Throttle Position Sensor (TPS). I may try replacing that myself and see if it fixes it.
Ball Joints – This one was so bad, there was an official recall. The original upper ball joints wore out extremely quickly, which could cause the front wheel to separate from the vehicle. Yep, no problem with that happening when you’re going down the freeway at 65mph.
Shift Interlock – Another recalled item. I actually experienced this problem. I pulled up to our country lane mailbox, put the truck in park and got out to get my mail. As I’m pulling my mail out of the box, I hear the truck make a clunk sound, and I looked up to see my truck backing up down the road. Fortunately it went into reverse and I didn’t get run over by my own truck. I was able to catch it before it ran into anything.
Heater Blower Resistor – This went out when the truck was 10 years old, and probably had about 50,000 miles on it. Easy and cheap to replace, but one of those things that apparently is always going to fail on this truck.
Hub Center Caps – Pretty simple part right? It snaps in and is supposed to stay there, but I’ve already lost two. The Mopar price is $19.13 but I replaced the first one off of Ebay for less. Looking for the second replacement, I found that someone is making rubber retainers to help keep them in place, I’m thinking just a dab of silicone would do the job as well. Found a set of four for $12 on Ebay.
Parking Brake Handle – I don’t usually set the parking brake unless I’m parked on a steep hill. My wife, who doesn’t drive the truck very often, is of the opinion it should always be set. Probably not a bad idea, when your truck decides to go drive itself while you’re picking up your mail. My point is, the parking brake didn’t get a lot of use in our truck. Even so, at around 70K, the cheap plastic parking brake handle broke. By cheap plastic, I mean quality, not price. Online I found this part selling from $73 to $110. I ordered a salvaged one off of Ebay for $13. Even worse, the part is designed for assembly, not disassembly. I broke it further trying to get it off. I hope it’s easier getting the replacement back on.
Oil and Transmission Fluid Leaks – I recently went to change the oil and found that the level wasn’t even showing on the dipstick. It doesn’t get driven enough to burn that much oil, and there wasn’t a pool in the garage floor, so I wondered, how low was it? I put in two quarts to get it back to normal. Looking under the vehicle I could see where there was a lot of fluid leaking, but it was such a mess it was hard to see where it came from. So after seeing the good reviews for Busted Knuckle on Yelp I decided to take it there.
They cleaned it up, and found an oil leak from one of the valve covers, but it was transmission fluid leaking that messed up the underside. Fortunately both repairs were fairly easy, but parts and labor still totaled $570. I would totally recommend Busted Knuckles but they are hard to find as their shop is tucked back off of S. Fortuna Blvd and they have no signage. Just turn down the lane as if you’re going to the auto parts store and go all the way back and to the left.
Driver Side Power Window Regulator – The latest problem and the one that inspired this post is the driver side window became stuck in the down position. Not a great thing to happen when a storm is approaching, and its parking space in the garage is being taken up by the contents of an impending garage sale (if it would ever stop raining on the weekends).
I should mention again, this is a low mileage vehicle, and I don’t roll down the windows very often. Usually the only time is going to the dump or other drive through type situation where I have to send some cash out the door. I would be very surprised if this window had seen more than 500 actuations. Those old images of factories testing doors by opening and slamming them closed thousands of times to test their products. How quaint. Using brittle plastic pieces for items that see wear is stupid, but if the manufacturer can save a penny off of each of the two million vehicles they sell, well, that’s an extra $20K bonus for the CEO. Now multiply that by thousands of parts and you see why CEOs make millions and American quality is shit.
I found instructions online on how to take the door panel apart and found a couple of broken plastic bits but I wasn’t sure where they came from and how it was supposed to look. So I took it down to the local garage and the mechanic on duty told me they usually just replace the whole regulator.
I had never heard that term, regulator, used for the mechanism for raising and lowering your car windows. I assume it must be a very old term, back from the day when rolling the windows up or down was your only option for regulating the temperature in your vehicle. Thankfully now we have heaters, air conditioners, and best of all, heated seats.
While I was waiting for the owner to get back to me with an estimate, I started researching regulators. Our Dakota has power windows, and looking at power regulators I found prices starting out at $23 and going up to $60. Surprised at the difference I noticed that you could buy the assembly with or without the motor. I could hear that the motor still ran, and the plastic bits I found and the loose cable confirmed I just needed the assembly. Good I can get that for $23. I was a bit worried about how to install it until I watched another video for that and they showed the whole process including removing the door panel that I already had done took around 15 minutes.
When the local shop called with the estimate, it was for $130 for the assembly, because Napa only sells the part with the motor. (Still twice what I found the same part for online!) The estimate for labor was 1 hour at $110. So $240 for the convenience of having the mechanic do it but being without use of the truck, or $23 and 15 minutes more of my labor. Parts are ordered, they should be here in a few days, I’ll let you know how it goes.
That’s a lot of misery from a truck with only 84K miles on it. In comparison, our 1994 Honda was sold with 200K on it and we had a radiator replaced under warranty, and a plastic door handle had to be replaced after it cracked from being parked in sun most of its 20 year life. Still had original brakes, the engine was fine, transmission was fair, but the upholstery was starting to give out. Two and a half times the mileage, and one minor repair that cost us money. I’ve sunk probably over $4K in repairs to the Dakota.
I’m never buying another Dodge or Chrysler product again.