HappyAndy PowerDork
April 21, 2017 8:52 a.m.

I've decided that our next family vehicle should be a mid sized quad cab pickup. I'm shopping in the $4000 to $5000 range. I'm figuring that puts me the 2000 to 2008 model year range. 4wd is preferred, but not absolutely necessary. Auto trans is necessary. I may want to tow a light camping trailer, and the shortness of the bed is not going to be a problem for me. I might be willing to do a fly and drive to get one.

I'm a Ford guy at heart when it comes to trucks, but I doubt that I'll find a quad cab F150 in good shape at a price I want to pay, and I detest the 4.0 SOHC engines in the Explorer sport-tracs. I might consider one of those if it comes with proof of all the cam chain updates have been done. Were there any years that had all the fixes already done?

That leaves me with Chevy S10 Crew cabs, maybe a Nissan frontier and the Dakota.

I not real keen on GMs, but they do seem to know how to build an ok truck. The crew cab S10 is probably the smallest of all contenders, but don't seem to command a high price, even with low mileage and clean condition, so I'm keeping them on the table.

I know my way around Nissan trucks pretty well. Sadly the few the quad cab frontiers that I've come across were trashed.

That brings me to the Dakota. The look like the largest of the trucks on my list, which is a plus for riding with the family. I've never really been a fan of Mopar products, but it does seem like there is a lot of bang for the buck to be had in Dakotas. I've also been pretty happy with my ownership experience with my Jeep ZJ, I know most don't consider it a full blooded Mopar, but darn near every part on it has a pentastar stamped on it, so it's Mopar to me.

So what should I look for in these Dakotas? What's the best engine/trans from a cost of maintenance point of view? Any hidden fatal flaws to watch out for?

GRM community, please share your vast knowledge and experience. Thanks.

Woody MegaDork
April 21, 2017 9:04 a.m.

I had a 2001 with the small V8 (4.9?). I loved the engine but the transmission was crap, especially the overdrive. I had no confidence in the transmission's longevity. The size was perfect, but the seats weren't great. I got rid of it just as the warranty was about to expire.

Oddly, I had two Dakotas, bought both new, 1991 and 2001. The fuel gauges in both trucks failed by 30k miles and the dealer couldn't fix either one of them.

Kreb UltraDork
April 21, 2017 9:05 a.m.

I'd avoid the AWD. They don't handle as well as the 2wd, have a suspect transmission and get abysmal gas mileage. Other than that, mine was a pretty fine ride, but those are three big items.

psteav Dork
April 21, 2017 9:07 a.m.

The 4.7 V8 is less than ideal, especially pre-2008. They're not very powerful, but they make up for it by being unreliable. You don't see very many good ones in junkyards. If you do find one you like, make sure it has oil change records and keep the oil clean. They made some improvements in 2008 that increased power (by like 80 hp), and supposedly those are more reliable, but it's more anecdotal evidence AFAIK. Your budget probably won't stretch to those anyway.

I don't know much about the 3.7 V6, other than I've heard anecdotal evidence that they're not great.

The 5.2 Magnum is thirsty, but hard to kill. Decent power for the era. It's essentially an updated 318. The valley pan gaskets eventually go and they consume coolant slowly, but they'll usually run forever like that. I think the last year for those was '99. So I don't think you can get the quad cab with one.

The 3.9 Magnum is 2 cylinders cut off the 5.2. It's also kinda thirsty but hard to kill, and isn't terribly powerful either. It's adequate if you're not towing.

FWIW, a Dakota is roughly the same dimensions as a 1/2 ton truck in every direction but width. I had a '94 single cab short-bed when my dad an '87 D150 in the same configuration. The Ram was exactly one inch longer. So an actual half-ton might be your best bet. $5k would buy a very nice late-90's extended cab short bed 4wd anything, provided you could find one that wasn't used up.

penultimeta
penultimeta Reader
April 21, 2017 9:09 a.m.

This is far outside my realm of automotive knowledge, but I'll share with you an anecdote. My uncle is an electrician and has been a die-hard Ford truck guy his whole life. Several years ago he was new-truck shopping and, after realizing the huge markup on Ford trucks, went the Ram route. He was happy at first, but felt that the truck simply did not live up to the Fords in longevity, performance, or livability after hard use. He traded it for a lightly used Silverado and is happier, though he still prefers the Fords I think.

This was probably not a helpful story now that I think about it.

rslifkin Dork
April 21, 2017 9:16 a.m.

The 4.7s aren't terrible engines or anything, but make sure the oil has been changed and it hasn't been overheated. Those are the 2 things that make them blow up.

Trans-wise, the 545RFE behind the 4.7 isn't the best feeling trans out there, but it's pretty sturdy. The 44RE or 46RE that'll come with one of the older Magnum V8s (5.2 or 5.9) is fairly solid and can be built very strong if it ever goes (they're basically old-school torqueflites with an OD unit stuck to the back).

Being that you've owned a ZJ, drivetrain-wise, the Dakota isn't massively different or anything. Drivetrain in a 5.2 / 5.9 Dakota is basically what you get in a V8 ZJ. The 4.7 Dakotas are more like a V8 WJ. IMO, that vintage of Dakotas, Durangos and ZJs / WJs are some of the last of the simple, built from the bin of parts type of Mopars before the electronics got complicated, etc.

John Welsh MegaDork
April 21, 2017 9:28 a.m.

Play the fringe too and maybe find something cheap because no one else is looking.

The Dodge was also sold as the rebadged Mitsu Raider.
The Nissan was also sold as the rebadged Suzuki Equator.
The Chevy was also sold as an Isuzu under names of i-290 or i370.

John Welsh MegaDork
April 21, 2017 9:41 a.m.

EDIT: Oops, I missed where you wrote the goal of under $5k.

Anyways...

I dont know if this Suzuki is priced cheaper than a similar Nissan but I will bet the dealership is very willing to negotiate on this since I'll bet few people have actually come looking for it.

This Suzuki appears to have long bed and quad cab. I am not sure of that was a Nissan option?

Stefan MegaDork
April 21, 2017 10:13 a.m.

Ball joints.

They are thirsty and a 1/2ton Ram is only slightly bigger and in some cases gets better mileage.

The original Dakota was a compact and useful truck. Later they got way too big for their good.

chandlerGTi PowerDork
April 21, 2017 10:25 a.m.

I went to the dealer in 2002 to order a new Dakota and walked out with paperwork for my special order Ram 1500; same fuel economy, larger size, more capable, better looking and pretty much the same price. Looking back the 1500 had suspect front suspension (ball joints are junk) and the brakes were horrible although those were updated to a dual piston caliper on a TSB because the single piston was not hitting enough area on the massive rotor. Otherwise I kept it for 94,000 miles and was very happy with it. I had purchased two Dakotas before, one new; and it was a no brainer to step up for the same money. It didn't fit in my garage though....

Dusterbd13 UltimaDork
April 21, 2017 10:31 a.m.

I put 300k on dakotas between a 97 and 98. One v6 5 speed, one v8 5 speed.

Plan to do a timing chain on the old cam in block engines around 150k.

Cats only last 100k.

Seats need some help for more than 2 hour trips.

Drilled rotors help a lot in the rain.

Get 4 wheel abs if at all possible. Stopping quick without is an exercise in front end collisions.

Skip the automatic entirely. Tbey are junk.

I would own another in a heartbeat. By far the best trucks of daily drivers ive ever owned.

DrBoost UltimaDork
April 21, 2017 11:45 a.m.

You should get an NB Miata.

Sorry, this IS GRM after all.
What someone else said, stick with the 5.2 or 5.9 and it'll very similar to your Jeep.

Advan046 UltraDork
April 21, 2017 11:50 a.m.

Really a Honda ridgeline seems to fit your needs best.

I think a 2002-2004 Dakota Quad cab would be the best option for you. I never bought into the 4.7L dislike. I worked at Chrysler at the time and they seemed to have failures mostly due to owner neglect. I do recall seeing many reports of engine failures with the root cause identified as, "Original oil filter still installed". Meaning we received the failed engine with the oil filter we installed at the factory. So at 20,000 miles the owner didn't yet change the oil. Maintained properly they ran properly. The transmissions were a problem for sure very old design if I recall properly.

I drove three of them in the 1998-2003 era and found them to be very nice trucks with lots of capability. 2005 on they didn't seem to work out as well.

chrispy HalfDork
April 21, 2017 1:56 p.m.

Sorry for the sidetrack but this is my Dakota story. I had a '93 Dakota Sport, regular cab/short bed, 5 speed, 3.9 V6. Got it brand new and put over 100K trouble free miles on it - it was my college car and I could haul all of my worldly possessions in the bed. Ended up trading it to a handy man buddy for some home improvement work. He started his own electrical business with that truck, then sold it to a buddy of his who did flooring. Flooring guy also started his own business with it. I'm sure it's now recycled material. Loved that truck. Like the styling of the baby Ram better though.

HappyAndy PowerDork
April 21, 2017 2:09 p.m.
DrBoost wrote: You should get an NB Miata. Sorry, this IS GRM after all. What someone else said, stick with the 5.2 or 5.9 and it'll very similar to your Jeep.

Was the quad cab Miata ever sold in the US?

Vigo UltimaDork
April 21, 2017 6:48 p.m.

Im a big fan of pretty much every Dakota except 05-07s. Of the 2000-2004 Quad Cabs you're talking about, I'd just say avoid v6/auto combo as the weight is too much for it. v6/5spd would be adequate and v8/auto is downright punchy in all 3 sizes (4.7,5.2,5.9). Believe it or not, you could not get a 5.9 Dakota RT with a manual, but you COULD get a 5.9 Quad Cab with a manual!

Other than the complaints about the front seats which i agree with, I think these things are great. I'm probably less scared of potential issues than most just due to familiarity with working on all of them, but really none of them are junky. As mentioned, the 4.7s are hit and miss depending on their past history, as are the auto transmissions. I wouldn't be scared to buy any version with a good history. And since you CAN get a manual in these and you can basically diagnose the condition of a manual trans by driving it and listening to it, i'd buy a manual version with basically no regard to its maintenance history.

Brian MegaDork
April 21, 2017 7:28 p.m.

Avoid the 3rd gen.('05+)

84FSP Dork
April 21, 2017 8:22 p.m.

I have always thought the Dakota was a smoking deal and would solve all my truck type problems. With that said I have decided the first gen tundras are the answer for similar money with much more reliability. They have none of the tough looks but seem to have more capabilities like the full size beasts mentioned.

Vigo UltimaDork
April 21, 2017 9:16 p.m.

I don't think they're similar money unless you're comparing the top of the Dakota range to the bottom of the Tundra range. They only seem to overlap by a small amount around ~$5-6k. You can get as nice of an 00-04 Dakota as you'd hope to find for $4500. At least here..

HappyAndy PowerDork
April 21, 2017 11:28 p.m.

Thanks for all the input guys. I think that all the tax return shoppers are distorting the market right now, so I'll get more serious about this in a few months I think. It looks like the 2000/2003 quad cab with the 5.9/AT is what I'd seek out. If it was just for me to drive I'd seek out a V8/MT, but SWMBO would be driving it a lot, and she has bad knees.

I still might cross shop S10/Sonoma quad cabs too.

STM317 Dork
April 22, 2017 9:04 a.m.

Is there a reason why we're not considering Crew cab Tacomas?

psteav Dork
April 22, 2017 10:16 a.m.
STM317 wrote: Is there a reason why we're not considering Crew cab Tacomas?

Because they cost twice as much for similar year, condition, and mileage?

EDIT: That's a LOT cheaper than you ever see a Tacoma like that around here. Even with the high mileage and primer paint job, that still seems like a decent deal considering what they normally go for.

HappyAndy PowerDork
April 22, 2017 10:20 a.m.

In reply to STM317:

I don't drink the Toyota Cool-Aid, and I won't pay the Toyota tax.
If the right deal came along I'd consider one, but I prefer domestic trucks for many reasons.

84FSP Dork
April 23, 2017 7:22 a.m.
Vigo wrote: I don't think they're similar money unless you're comparing the top of the Dakota range to the bottom of the Tundra range. They only seem to overlap by a small amount around ~$5-6k. You can get as nice of an 00-04 Dakota as you'd hope to find for $4500. At least here..

Wow - that would be an impressive amount of truck for 4500. At least I have till winter to find a nice one.

smokindav Reader
April 23, 2017 7:48 a.m.
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