By on December 3, 2014

transmission. Shutterstock user Scharfsinn

TTAC Commentator anti121hero writes:

Hello Sajeev! Very long time reader, but first time I’ve ever reached out. To start, I happen to be a huge RWD ford fan, (I’m actually helping my best friend put together his 94 mark viii). Now with your interest gained…

I have a 1993 jeep cherokee, 2 door, 4.0 high output, AW4 trans. It has been a pleasure to own, as I’m a jeep guy at heart, and i have lots of money into well done suspension and offroad modifications, far too much to list. To be frank, I’m in love with the thing. But about two months ago, it started rattling at idle. I chalked it up to something in the engine bay or possibly flywheel bolts. It always ran and drove perfect.

All of a sudden, one day after leaving work it was slipping hard into gear, and a mile down the road I lost all gears. (Automatic “bulletproof” AW4). I checked all linkages, changed the fluid and filter, tried it in 4 wheel high and low, but nothing. It can run all day and the transmission wont get hot so I think the pump went out. So I bought a 1987 dodge dakota, carbureted 3.9 v6, AT 2wd for 700 bucks to drive while I hopefully swap a transmission in my jeep.

My problem now is, with a full tune up, all new filters, this Dakota idles extremely rough, it shakes and wants to die. It wants to stall going up hills. Other than that, the truck runs great and is a good beater. I don’t know what to do to fix this dodge to be more reliable, and if I should do the swap in my jeep or if I’m possibly looking at another problem with that. My goal would be to have my jeep as toy, and the truck as backup vehicle. I don’t know if maybe I’m thinking this out wrong and I should sell both and get something more reliable/ better shape, or focus on fixing one and selling the other. The truck is a beater and will only last a few more years, and will be a nightmare in winter being 2wd and carbureted. I guess I’m looking for some good professional advice here. Thank you for any input!

Sajeev answers:

You are in the same place I was before buying a new truck…except you’re working on a Mark VIII that you do not own.

I reckon you need a newer, more reliable, less shitty vehicle and have the Jeep as a weekend project/toy.  Because no man can live on project cars (or trucks) alone!  Unless you are chronically single and dependent free, work from home, have a time value of money equal to zero, etc.

But I find that hard to believe: everyone has commitments requiring a reliable vehicle.  So get a cheap-ish, fuel-efficient car that gives you plenty of monthly income (i.e. easy on insurance/gas) left over for your project. Get a FWD, compact-ish (depending on your physical size), mainstream Japanese, American or South Korean sedan for maximum cheapness. You might be a hard-core Mopar guy, so get a Neon.  They are fun. And you can probably fix most problems in a single weekend, for cheap.

Why so thrifty?  I think it’s time for a professionally rebuilt and/or upgraded trans for the Jeep.  Or better, swap to a GM transmission.  Or even better…wait for it…LSX-FTW SON!!!

The Neon, with the right tires will also be decent in the snow and most people hate them to the point that depreciation is right up your alley.  Tidy up and sell the Dakota.  Get a boring sedan so you can continue as a normal human on the weekdays, and a bad-ass Jeeper on the weekend.

That’s how you win at life.

[Image: Shutterstock user Scharfsinn]

Send your queries to [email protected]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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33 Comments on “Piston Slap: Fanning the Dakota’s Fail Flames for Cherokee LSX-FTW?...”

  • avatar

    That old 3.9 is never going to idle smooth. Its a non-balance shaft 90 degree V6.

    Stupid question? Did the “full tune up” include the use of a timing light and tachometer? Sounds like the carb could use a little tuning, at least bump the idle speed up and make sure the choke is fully releasing (a problem I’ve experienced in an 87 Dakota 3.9 myself). The good (or bad) thing about that Dakota is that if you show it just a little bit of love, and it doesn’t rust away on you, it will probably last way longer than you want to keep it.

    • 0 avatar

      Full tune up included every single bit in the ignition and a basic tune of the carb but I have not set timing or torn apart the carb. I started with the easy stuff

      • 0 avatar

        I’d set the timing to factory specs, looks like the distributor is electronic, so nothing to fiddle with with regard to vacuum advance.

        I’d also throw a bottle of fuel injector cleaner in the tank at the next fill up, can’t hurt. The carb looks like it has electronic controls, and its possible that one of those has failed and causing problems.

  • avatar

    Good luck with your Jeep! Your struggles are an inspiration to all other helplessly obsessive single-car/brand loyalists.

    I also (used to) have a pet car. The 91 Mercedes W124 in which I learned to drive. That car is incredibly reliable, but whenever something did go wrong with it the repairs are expensive and often too technical for me alone. I was somehow stubborn enough to keep it as a daily for years and got used to blowing my meager college-student savings on repair bills once a year.

    I was just about ready to demote the Benz to “almost-project” status when I got accepted to a degree program in Germany. I left the car with my parents, and my sister uses it to drive to school, the mall, and wherever else 16 year old girls go. She’s fine with it as long as my parents cover the infrequent, but usually costly, repair bills. I just need to get back before my sister moves out and ditches it for something cheaper…

  • avatar

    A carbureted 3.9L Dakota is quite the penalty box. I’m not sure if your “tune-up” included a carburetor rebuild, but that’s where I’d go to sort out it’s issues. Old carbs get all gummed upw ith varnish and cause the engine to run like crap, a good cleaning and adjustment does wonders.

    If you’re at all thinking maybe the Dakota isn’t be best choice as a DD, ditch it. I had one, and it sucked for daily use too, no power yet still crappy fuel mileage. If you don’t need/want a pickup bed, any 20 year old mainstream sedan should fit your bill, obligatory Pather recommendation.

    While the LSX swap is the obvious answer for your Jeep woes, I’d probably jsut grab a boneyard trans, add new fluid, filter and pan gasket and toss it in.

    • 0 avatar

      Getting rid of the dakota and getting a small beater like sajeev mentioned is probably going to my plan, as for the jeep I actually just got a transmission out of a 98 with about the same miles. I plan on throwing that in there and getting the original rebuilt. I make enough to drive a newer vehicle but I prefer he older stuff for ease of repair, familiarity, and lack of computers. It’s only recently come to bite me, I’ve owned everything from carbed k cars to caprices to ancient f series.

      • 0 avatar

        Right on. I lived many years on the same principles. In the past few years I’ve had little time for working on my daily drivers so I’ve been taking advantage of new cars for daily use. My hands-on shop time is spent working on project cars instead.

        Cars in the 20 year old range can still easily be good economical transport if the maintenance is kept up. The quality compared to cars build 20 years prior to them is night and day.

        • 0 avatar

          Where I hang my hat if you daily drive a 20 YO car then you would need to re-sole your shoes frequently from contact with the pavement. Think Fred Flinstone.

          • 0 avatar

            claytori, not necessarily.

            My BFF’s grand daughter uses his 1989 Camry as a daily driver, and she is no Wilma!

      • 0 avatar

        “I make enough to drive a newer vehicle but I prefer he older stuff for ease of repair, familiarity, and lack of computers. It’s only recently come to bite me, I’ve owned everything from carbed k cars to caprices to ancient f series.”

        Dude you are awesome.

  • avatar

    Sounds like it might be your harmonic balancer, pig of a job if it is. Worth looking at.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    “Wanting to die going up hills” is not a symptom of a bad harmonic balancer or the absence of a balance shaft in a 90 degree V-6. More likely, it is a symptom of ignition and/or carburetion problems. A “tuneup” with a vehicle of this vintage should include replacement, or at least cleaning and gapping of the spark plugs, replacement of the points and capacitor, re-setting the dwell and adjusting ignition timing to specs. More likely, with a vehicle of this vintage, it also means replacing the distributor cap and the high voltage wires between the coil and the cap, and between the cap and the spark plugs. You should also check the vacuum line to the distributor and, using a timing light, verify that the spark advances when you open the throttle. Regarding the carburetor itself, at this age, its likely to need all new seals and gaskets as well as a cleaning of any accumulated “gunk” and varnish. Also replace the gasket between the carburetor and the intake manifold. Once you take the carburetor off the manifold to work on it, the gasket most likely is ruined.

    And, after all that is done, adjust the idle speed when the engine is fully warmed and verify that the automatic choke is fully open at the same time.

    Assuming you can get the parts and have access to a dwell meter and a timing light, this is not as big a job as it sounds.

    • 0 avatar

      Yo DC…did you read my whole post are are we just picking out bits and pieces to critique? If you read the whole thing I said it will not really ever idle smooth because of its basic design, and the up hill and stalling problem most likely revolves around the carb and its tune.

      Geez…and people wonder how rumors get started :)

    • 0 avatar

      There hasn’t been a car sold in the US with points and condenser since the 70’s so no need to replace them and nothing to use a dwell meter for. Timing is still adjustable but w/o points it usually just needs to be checked but not adjusted.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        Was thinking the same thing…..did he say 64′ Dakota? Oh wait dint come out then…97′ ummm points have fun asking the guy at Napa for a replacement condenser.

        It is my belief that all old dodges run rough. If it wants to stall use neutral and your right foot to keep the idle high enough, problem solved. For $700 one has to keep there standards a bit lower.

      • 0 avatar

        I doubt even the timing is adjustable on an 87. Not to say that the timing can’t be off but it’s more a matter of looking for a loose timing chain or worn distributor gear.

  • avatar

    @Sajeev – “Fanning the Dakota”? You still can’t get her off your mind, can you?

    Me neither, “only” since she went street legal…

  • avatar

    Check your vacuum hoses. Do you own a vacuum gauge?

  • avatar

    Was this done to remedy the idle problem or was this problem seen after the new parts were installed? Never trust new parts as everything is super cheap now. That said, I would go after carb/harmonic balancer as mentioned above if all else fails. You should be able to get TDC on cylinder 1 to see how far off the HB is.

  • avatar

    I agree with small car recommendation, however – since you like utility things, and you like Mopar, and the Neon isn’t… something. I dunno. What about a Caliber?

  • avatar

    OP, before throwing parts at a poorly running engine, do a compression check.

  • avatar

    The 3.9, 5.2 and 5.9L Dodge engines of that era were pretty well known for wearing out the distributor drive shaft bushing and distributor drive gear. There are a couple Miller special tools (dealer tools) that make it relatively easy to remove, replace and size the bronze bushing that is pressed into the block. If you replace the bushing, replace the drive gear/shaft too — the gear teeth will be worn to a sharp edge.

  • avatar

    I’ve used Saturn SLs in winter since 2006, but the basic advice of small disposable unloved economy car remains the same. However I would point out Neons and J-bodies have very poor crash ratings, the Z-body SLs only doing marginally better (I have no off the cuff crash knowledge on Focus/Escort). If I was as mechanically inclined and have access to a place to perform repairs as the OP seems to, I would look for old, unloved, but safe beaters for winter (depending on the amount of driving required of course).

  • avatar

    “Unless you are chronically single and dependent free, work from home, have a time value of money equal to zero, etc.”

    You rang?

  • avatar

    You couldn’t pay me to own/drive anything with a carburetor any more – I’m old enough to have owned more than my share, and computer-controlled fuel injection is way more efficient, reliable, eliminates the need for regular adjustment and rebuilds, and doesn’t eat exhaust valves. But if you like spending time under the hood, by all means, enjoy your carburetors.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a bunch of carbureted cars. Some of them were pretty miserable, with or without emissions complications. The best of them had throttle response to rival any fuel injected engine and I never even took the air cleaner housing off of it, let alone fiddled with the settings. On the other hand, this was 24 years ago, so the car never had to choke on phlegmy fascist gasohol. Carburetors would probably be awful to contend with in today’s market environment.

      • 0 avatar

        The biggest problem with carburetors is their inability to adjust fuel mixture to compensate for varying load, rpm, air temp, etc. The best you can hope for is that you’re only running a little too rich or a little too lean much of the time.

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