By on May 29, 2013

TTAC Commentator PartsUnknown writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I have a transmission issue, but to mix it up a little, it’s not attached to a Honda.  This is my dad’s 1999 Dodge Dakota with the 3.9 liter V6 boat anchor.  When shifted into drive, it will move forward but will not shift itself out of first gear.  Moving the column shifter does nothing.  Reverse gear works fine. The level and condition of the trans fluid is good.  The truck isn’t worth much as it’s a 2WD regular cab (worthy of a scarlet A in New England), but here’s the thing: it only has 74,000 miles and is in otherwise good shape. 

My dad needs to decide whether to fix it or sell it as-is.  Is he looking at a new tranny, or something simple (and relatively cheap) like a solenoid or a control module?

As always, thanks for the advice.

Sajeev answers:

The “Magic Box” known as any automatic transmission is impossible to diagnose from an armchair position. If no warning light appears or an error code on a diagnostic tester, odds are the transmission must be somewhat disassembled and repaired.  Which means it’s time for a full rebuild, because once you crack that bitch open (at this age, even at this low mileage) you might as well do the damn thing.

As much as I’d like to stay fair and balanced with such modest information, I’ve seen/heard too many horrible Chrysler transmission nightmares from the past 20+ years to not jump to one conclusion:  replace the transmission with one that works (and has a warranty) from the junkyard and sell it immediately.

If it quacked like a duck but now smells like pâté…it is probably a grenaded Chrysler transmission.  Such is the life of an old Chrysler product.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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6 Comments on “Piston Slap: Crystal Ballin’ The Mighty Dak’s Tranny...”


  • avatar
    danio3834

    While Sanjeev sometimes has sound advice, in areas where he has no idea what he’s talking about, he should probably abstain. Throw a trans in it and dump it? Why don’t you just tell him to flush $1500 down the toilet?

    If the transmission simply won’t shift from first, but engages in first and reverse and doesn’t slip, and the fluid condition is good, it is likely you have a relatively cheap fix on your hands.

    The transmission shifts automatically when fluid pressure from the pump is sufficient of overcome governor pressure. Since this is a mostly electronic transmission, the PCM monitors various sensors to determine when to command the clutch control components when to shift. If there is a missing input or incorrect pressure reading, it won’t know when to shift.

    Again, the crucial things here are good red fluid color and no burnt smell as well as good engagement of the gears you do have. In that case, a rebuild most likely is not necessary, just some diagnosis as to what inputs or outputs aren’t working properly.

    Take it to a reputable shop that specializes in transmission repair, and they’ll help you get it sorted out for far less than hucking a transmission in it and selling it would cost you.

  • avatar
    tienbac2005

    I’ve had an issue like this before, even though its on a different car, it may be worth it to check. My issue ended up being a blown fuse, I think it was the ECU fuse, even though the car started up and ran without issues (except for not shifting out of 1st gear). But this was on a Toyota so it might be a different fuse for you, but try to start there.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I had a shift solenoid die on a Toyota which caused it to try to start in 3rd and it wouldn’t shift. I had to drop the valve body to get at it. Not difficult but messy. I would at least have it diagnosed but you need to find a real transmission shop. Many nowadays don’t really do any diagnostics…they simply call it bad and toss in a reman as there is more profit in this sort of operation. I had 3 shops tell me I needed to rebuild my Land Cruiser’s transmission even after I told them it worked fine before I had it out for the motor replacement. Turns out It needed the neutral safety switch adjusted (tells the TCU what gear the trans is in, in this case it was so far out it was telling it that it was in a different gear). The fourth shop figured this out in a matter of about 20 minutes.

  • avatar
    PonchoIndian

    Had the exact same problem with a 2000 Dakota 3.9 with 4wd @51000 miles. Turned out to be a valve body issue. I believe all of the transmissions in that body style Dakota are electronic.

    Brought it to the dealer and they replaced the valve body and it has been fine ever since.

    As others have said, it most likely doesn’t need a complete rebuild if the fluid looks ok and it suddendly just started doing this out of the blue. There is a slight chance that it is an o-ring internally, but that usually causes other shifting problems (of course depending on how the transmission is set up).

    Have you tried disconnecting the battery to reset all of the electronics? Sometimes a re-boot of all the computers can do wonders.

  • avatar
    greaseyknight

    A bit of googling reveals that the transmission in this truck is a descendant of the A904 TorqueFlite from the 60′s with another gear and electronic controls. So I don’t think its that unreliable of a beast.

    Now, to fix it, I would get the vehicle to a good shop that is skilled in diagnosis of both transmissions and electronics. It could be everything from a wasted trans to the VSS not working and thus not telling the computer to up-shift.


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