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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hello all! New member here, hailing from the Great White North of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. I'm happy to have joined this community, and hope to learn more about my first Dodge — a 2002 Dakota Club Cab SLT 4x4 with a Patriot Blue Pearl coat. It has the 4.7L V8 SOHC under the hood coupled to the 45RFE automatic transmission, and there are 104,000 miles on the clock. She came with the following notable options:
  • Trailer Tow Group
  • Heavy Duty Service Group
  • Tire & Handling Group
  • 9.25" Corporate Rear Axle
  • 3:55 Rear Axle Ratio
Why I Purchased A Dodge Dakota
This is the first Dodge that I have ever driven or been inside, much less owned. I purchased it with a specific purpose in mind after performing some extensive research on truck towing specs. If all goes according to plan, I'll be using it to tow a 6x14' enclosed trailer possessing a total loaded trailer weight ranging from 3,000–4,500 lb. I may also put a light duty snow plow on it for winter months.

A bit of background on what led me to this specific Dakota, for those interested in such things. The most important criteria in my search for a tow vehicle was locating one capable of towing a trailer in the weight range above while possessing a Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) of 10,000 pounds or less — the threshold above which USDOT registration, reporting, and compliance is required for interstate travel. Since I am a by-the-book type of fellow and USDOT compliance can be a lengthy, stressful, time-consuming, and expensive endeavor, I decided it would be in my best interest to select a tow vehicle which enables me to avoid the nightmare altogether.

This wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, as most half-ton trucks are rated for 10,000+ pounds, and most compact trucks like the Tacoma, S-10, and Ranger didn't have enough towing capacity for my needs. The Dodge Dakota's popped up on my radar as filling this niche, pending the right chassis, engine, and drivetrain combination. The '02 Club Cab paired with the 4.7L V8 and the 3:55 rear axle ratio has a Max Towing Capacity of 4,850 lb. and a GCWR of 9,200 lb.

Aside from the GCWR implications, I was looking for a Club Cab rather than a Quad Cab since I will be primarily using the truck as a work vehicle. I expect to get far more use out of the extra 1'3" of bed length than I would out of a larger back seat. Conversely, I chose the Club Cab over the Regular Cab since I am married with two kids — a one-year-old and three-year-old — and wanted the truck to serve as a backup vehicle to the normal family hauler should the occasional need arise.

I chose the 4.7L V8 expressly for the better gas mileage over the 5.9L V8, and the fact that I expected the 3.9L V6 to be underpowered for my needs. The Tire & Handling Group was an added bonus, as was the 9.25" rear axle. The only option I was looking for that this truck didn't possess was the Limited Slip Differential (LSD).

All That Glitters Is Not Gold
The truck popped up on my Craigslist radar as meeting all of my ideal specs, with low miles for the model year and an attractive price tag to boot. Vehicle Record Lookups indicated no accidents reported and no salvage title. After some basic communication with the seller, we made plans to make the drive to look at it the very next day. Turns out, the truck was pretty significantly misrepresented by the seller both in the ad and in our communication prior to arrival. I identified a total of 15 issues after I had finished my once-over, some of them quite significant:
  1. Check Engine Light on due to four unique DTC's
  2. Check Gauges Light on due to no indicated oil pressure
  3. Low Windshield Washer Fluid Warning Light on
  4. Parking Brake Cable cut
  5. Horn inoperable
  6. Cruise control inoperable
  7. A/C blowing warm
  8. Auxiliary Power Port inoperable
  9. Headliner sagging severely
  10. Broken Passenger Side View Mirror
  11. Broken PF Parking Lamp Assembly Lens
  12. Dented PF Fender
  13. Cracked Windshield
  14. Truck Topper Lift Supports Missing
  15. Tires all leaking
Needless to say, this was quite frustrating. On the flip side, there appeared to be no fluid leaks or visible body rust, the tires had lots of tread left, and the seller had a scanner that indicated all four DTC's were the result of a visibly broken O2 sensor (Bank 1, Sensor 1). The oil was full and in good condition, and the engine wasn't ticking. I have a '91 Chevy S-10 4x4 that in the past had a similar issue with no indicated oil pressure, and it turned out to simply be a bad sender. I had a feeling that was the culprit behind the oil pressure issue here as well.

The truck was running pig-rich on account of the bad O2 sensor, so a short test-drive didn't give me a very good handle on engine or transmission performance. Given all of the above, I was ready to walk away without making an offer until the seller offered to lower the already-low price fairly significantly. His explanation was that he didn't have time for a DIY fixer-upper. At this dirt-cheap price I figured it was worth a shot, as I'm somewhat experienced under the hood and felt I could tackle the various issues with a grand total of $200-$300 in parts and come out the other side with a good running truck or one that I could sell with a clear conscience and some profit to boot if I opted to go a different direction.

Initial Repairs Completed With Blood, Sweat, Tears... and Colorful Words of Affirmation
I kept the truck to 50 MPH on the trip home due to the bad O2 sensor, and made it home safely while watching all gauges like a hawk. Since getting it home, I have thankfully managed to repair many of the original issues, the most difficult of which was the bad O2 sensor. I tried every trick in the book:
  1. The application of Liquid Wrench penetrating oil over the period of several days
  2. Shock therapy with a 6" socket extension and a BFH
  3. Spiteful and repeated application of heat via a MAP gas torch
  4. Heating the bung to cherry-red, then spraying the sensor with cold water to shrink it
  5. Candle wax melted on the threads
  6. Tightening then attempting to loosen incrementally
  7. 4' Breaker Bar
  8. Cordless impact wrench
  9. Colorful words of affirmation
After all this, the nut ended up snapping off flush with the bung — much to my dismay. I then resorted to cutting down a hacksaw blade to about 1/2 of its normal height and fishing that through the threads. After a day's worth of sawing, I was able to cut through the sensor threads within the bung in two locations and hammer the stupid thing into the down-pipe. Thankfully, the bung threads were undamaged, and a simple tap cleaned them up for the new sensor without issue.

The new O2 sensor resolved all four CEL's, and a new oil pressure sender took care of the indicated lack of oil pressure on the cluster gauge. A $10.00 clockspring from a boneyard Durango resolved the horn and cruise control issues, and I was able to nab a replacement parking lamp lens, passenger side view mirror, and auxiliary power port from the same place. At this point, things were looking up until I discovered a few major "hidden" issues and items of concern that are not easily apparent to the untrained eye of someone unfamiliar with the build of a Dodge Dakota. I am currently in the midst of addressing these issues, and will likely be posting related threads in the next few days seeking input from other Dakota owners regarding them.

Planned Modifications
After all of the mechanical and cosmetic repairs are complete, I hope to perform the following mods/improvements:
  1. Add an aftermarket Transmission Fluid Temp Gauge
  2. Update 45RFE Transmission to the 5-45RFE via TCM Flash Update
  3. Add Nerf Bars
  4. Add Tow Hooks
  5. Add Skid Plate Package
  6. Replace Hard Top Tonneau Cover with a Soft Top Cover
  7. Add Remote Start
  8. Upgrade Steering Wheel to unit with audio controls
With the help and expertise of other forum members, I hope to be able to give this truck new life and put it back on the road in better shape than it has been in some time while contributing any knowledge gained in the course of doing so to the collective hive-mind!
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