1995 Dodge Dakota Sport Club Cab 4x4
1995 Dodge Dakota Sport Club Cab 4×4. Click image to enlarge

Well, 14 recalls over seven model years is not encouraging. In fact, if you’re looking at an older 1990-1996 Dodge Dakota pickup, the recall notices suggest you pay particular attention to a thorough under-body inspection.

You’ll want to look at the upper control arm attachment bolts, fuel tank support strap attaching studs, the right front brake hose, the steering wheel armature and the frame itself. There are other areas of note, too; the details are under “Buyer’s Alerts.”

All that said, there’s much of value in the first-generation Dakota. The cabs in these mid-sized pickups are roomy, many trucks were sold with V8 engines, and hauling abilities are good compared to similarly priced compact pickups.

The original Dakota, of course, arrived in 1987. With its launch, what was then the Chrysler Corp. hoped that its Dakota would capture the hearts and minds of buyers in a big, big way.
Yet when the Dakota first hit the market it didn’t, despite Chrysler’s boast that the Dakota offered more standard payload, the largest cab, the largest pickup box and the highest trailer-tow rating of any compact truck. The Dakota had all these advantages because it was and remains today a mid-size pickup priced competitively with compact-size trucks.

Okay, so what went wrong? In the words of one Chrysler engineer who preferred to remain anonymous, “We proved that you can’t compete in the truck market without a powerplant.”

What our engineering friend meant was that Chrysler had the body, the box and the chassis, but under the hood things were pretty tame. Chrysler did not offer a V8 engine at the time.

Meanwhile, even by 1990 the V6 engine, which should have been ideal for all-around light duty, fell in at about 125-horsepower–just not enough grunt for many folks.

Then in 1991 Chrysler took a big step forward. An optional V8 engine rated at 170-hp became available, making the Dakota the only mid-size pickup with a V8 offering. For the 1992 model year, Chrysler went even further.

Chrysler’s engineers improved the breathing of both the 3.9-litre V6 and the 5.2-litre V8 engines, added sequential multi-point fuel injection and topped everything off with significant improvements to the drivelines supporting those powerplants.

The horsepower rating for the 3.9-litre V6 jumped from 125 to 180, with peak torque going from 195 foot-pounds to 225. Likewise, the 5.2-litre V8 hit 230-hp (remember, the previous model was rated at 170-hp) and maximum torque went from 260 ft.-lbs. to 280. The re-engineered engines had appropriate names, too–the Magnum Series Engines.

Up until the 1997 model year when an all-new Dakota arrived, Dodge continued to tinker with this truck, yet build quality and overall reliability remained a sore spot. The fact is, when Chrysler was creating the Dakota in the 1980s, then-chairman Lee Iacocca was directing Chrysler funds in many areas other than product development. As a consequence, the Dakota has a long history of panels that don’t fit right, paint that flakes off, CV joints that fail and so on.
So if you’re looking at a used one, an especially thorough mechanical inspection is an absolute must. That said, there are plenty of Dakotas out there and many of them do their duty just fine. And prices are extremely affordable.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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