Piston Slap: Fanning the Dakota's Flames?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

TTAC commentator Ian Anderson writes:

Hi Sajeev, I have something here for you and my fellow B&B to ponder over,

Back in May I bought a rust-free 1999 Dodge Dakota Sport (Extended cab, 3.9L Magnum V6, 5speed AX-15 manual, 2WD, 3.21 8.25″ open axle) for $2000 from a guy in South Philly. I bought it so I could take my rusty 1992 Dakota off of the road so my dad and I could fix all of the rust on it. Well now the ’92 is on the road (and growing more rust) and the ’99 is sitting on the street with a supposed ticking time bomb in the trans tunnel. When I bought the truck I was told by the previous owner’s mechanic that the throwout bearing was going out and would need replaced soon. Lo and behold, the next day while beating around in it I had to call AAA when I could no longer shift it (and when the clutch suddenly didn’t do anything, made stopping interesting). $600 later I had a whole new clutch kit and was on my way.

Now fast forward four months, myself and the Miss (not Mrs.) are coming back from dinner in the middle of August when it suddenly stalls while shifting gears to make a turn- shifting into third from fourth specifically. I chalk it up as my error and keep going until it does it three more times five miles down the road, then being accompanied by a soft BANG and me wrestling it to the side of the road. We made it home by driving in second gear with the flashers on. Now it will behave itself most of the time, but every so often going uphill it will become hard to shift, stall or get stuck in third, which makes it interesting trying to get the little 3.9 to motivate 4000 pounds with a line of traffic behind you. My mechanic ripped it back apart to check the clutch out, everything was fine. He’s stumped and telling me to drive it local until it blows, my dad says the transmission is shot, and the forums are all over the place with it saying it’s the trans, the clutch or that I can’t drive stick (the 30K I put on my ’92, including learning manual, beg to differ).

Now the question- What do I do with the truck? I love driving it since it handles great, has good brakes and will leave most “Ricer/tuner” cars in the dust even with the aforementioned 175HP 3.9 hauling 4000 pounds. But on that subject, I do have a stronger, newer, 500mile NV-3500 transmission in the shed from the same era Dakota that I snatched up for a bargain, and I’ve been thinking the truck could use a few more ponies under the hood. Do I:

  • Get a junkyard (with a warranty) trans or a rebuilt unit and just have it throw in
  • Use the later, heavier-duty trans I have with either the stock V6…OR…
  • With a V8 swap. Low mileage 5.2L Magnum V8s are plentiful in my area. Thankfully Chrysler made it a bolt-in job since it was a factory option.
  • Slap myself for the last two options
  • Throw it on Craigslist to get what I can for it and move on

I’m sure you and some of the B&B have been in the “Okay it’s broke, do I fix it to stock or upgrade” boat before and have some insight into this, especially you with half of your stable being occupied by older Detroit iron.

Thanks again Sajeev and the B&B!

Sajeev answers:

If you are considering slapping yourself for options 2 and 3, maybe you don’t like this truck as much as you should. Or could, as significant power train upgrades on a depreciated truck like this won’t net you much $$$ value. You’re a fool with plenty of spare time and excess cash to even consider a V8/Tranny swap.

But obviously, the power train swap is the correct answer. Like, obviously!

You have a spare truck (’92 Dakota) to use. You have the “good” transmission for a truck where it will supposedly drop right in. And yes, Magnum V8s are dirt cheap, unlike those fantastic LSX-FTW beasties that would be nice, but far more complicated. This is a no brainer, son! Get a used motor (as much as possible, like accessory brackets, emissions stuff, etc), get a heater for your garage, clean/re-gasket it and start swappin’!

It’s either that, or dump it on Craigslist with the upgraded transmission in the bed to sweeten the deal. But then you’ll be bored out of your mind, doing the swap is totally worth it. And nobody wants that!

[Image: Shutterstock user luchunyu]

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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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3 of 35 comments
  • Cardenio Cardenio on Dec 23, 2013

    Intermittent shifting problems can mean a broken motor mount. Engine shifts a little to one side and you can no longer shift gears.

  • Ian Anderson Ian Anderson on Dec 23, 2013

    Thanks everyone for your replies and Sajeev for posting this! In the time since I've sent this in the clutch/trans/etc have been playing nice which I'm taking with a grain of salt but enjoying for now. As of "now" the V8 swap isn't going to happen as I have that planned for the '92 as a project, and the truck also now needs U-joints and a carrier bearing. With the trans behaving it's between replacing the J-joints/bearing and throwing four snow tires on it, or selling/trading it in as-is. The '92 is currently serving as daily driver while the '99 is keeping a spot in the driveway dry.

    • Bball40dtw Bball40dtw on Dec 24, 2013

      I like the V8 swap in the '92 now that you mention it. That's a more classic bodystyle now. I remember my Dad having a '93 two tone black and grey Dakota. I definetly like the look of those.

  • FreedMike Well, here's my roster of car purchases since 1981: Three VWsTwo Mazdas (one being a Mercury Tracer, full disclosure)One AudiOne FordOne BuickOne HondaOne Volvo I think I hear Lee Greenwood in the background... In all seriousness, I'd have bought more American cars had they made more of the kinds of cars I like (smaller, performance-oriented).
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X I'll gladly support the least "woke" and the most Japanese auto company out there.
  • Jmo2 I just got an email from the dealership where I bought my car and it looks like everything has $5k on the hood.
  • Lou_BC I suspect that since the global pandemic, dealerships have preferred to stay with the "if you want it, we will order it" business model. They just need some demo models on hand and some shiny bits to catch the impulse buyer. Profits are higher and risks lower this way.
  • Probert When I hear the word "patriot", I think of entitled hateful whining ignorant traitors to democracy. But hey , meant to say "Pass the salt."