1996 Dodge Dakota Base 3.9 from North America


Solid, no frills vehicle. The V6 has a great balance of towing, mileage, and performance


The check engine light came on about a week after I bought this for my son. We changed both O2 sensors (as indicated by the CEL codes), and the truck has been trouble free since.

Slight leak that wets (not soaks) the floorboard carpet when it REALLY rains heavily. From what I've read, it could be the windshield, which I plan on replacing soon, as it is chipped in a couple of places, or plugged drains in the vent. I'll update this review once the problem is solved.

I'm hearing chain slap, and the Achilles heel of these vehicles is supposed to be the timing chain stretching/wearing with age. I'll be replacing it with a double chain/tensioner setup soon, and hope to drive it for another 100,000 miles.

General Comments:

I bought this for my 18 year old son, and he enjoyed driving it and never had any problems. However, he's a big fan of the Old Jeep Cherokees, so I scored a deal on a Cherokee for him, and now use the Dakota as my commuter vehicle. I have never owned a pickup, and haven't had a manual tranny vehicle in years, so this truck is truly enjoyable to drive. With the long wheelbase of the extended cab, it rides like a dream! (Just don't try any tight u-turns.) She's great for hauling, and gets about 20mpg around town.

I'm 6'2", 225 lbs, and don't feel cramped in it. Seats are very comfortable. If you do your own repairs, this vehicle is very easy and affordable to work on - LOVE the space and accessibility of the engine bay.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 30th December, 2019

5th Jan 2020, 04:32

Get that timing chain replaced ASAP!!!

These are odd-fire V-6 engines, and they are rough on timing chains. Otherwise, they are very reliable :)

8th Oct 2021, 22:02

***I am the original poster of this review....

I coughed up a few hundred bucks to get the timing chain (upgraded to add a tensioner), water pump, rear main, and fan clutch replaced. 225K miles and she runs like a champ!

Another weakness of these trucks is the fan switch on the climate control. Mine burned up the connector every few months. I replaced the switch, the connector, AND the fan (in the dash). I believe the old fan was worn out and pulling too much current, thus burning the connectors. The new fan blows substantially more air, and seems to have done the trick.

1996 Dodge Dakota Work Special 2.5 Jeep engine from North America


Tough little beastie


Crank sensor at 50K.

Mirror knocked off by car wash (design flaw - they don't fold in).

Cup holder was made of the cheapest plastic known to mankind.

Ignition barrel broke at 60K - fixed myself.

That was it!

General Comments:

My parents hate Mopar with a passion, having had a first year K car. However, my experience was different.

I was 19; poor, and driving the world's worst Mustang II, which promptly soiled itself on the Dodge dealer's lot. I wanted a cheap new car, and there were two on the lot that fit the bill - a basic Neon coupe, and the red Dakota. I test drove both, and chose the Dakota, because it had the old fashioned 2.5 Jeep engine, a manual transmission, and I thought it had the best chance of being reliable in the long term.

Being a 'work special', it was not loaded. No AC; no radio; no carpet, no cruise, well no anything really. However, it had all of the things I wanted: full instrumentation, airbag, rear ABS, mud tyres (on a 2wd!), a rear step bumper, and thank you Dodge, really good speakers already installed in the doors! Oh, and a flimsy cup holder, which I think the parts department only sells in packs of 3 now.

Needless to say, they saw me coming. Being young and stupid, I can say that I paid too much, and got ripped off on the finance deal. However, although I don't rate the dealer highly (Chrysler/Dodge dealers in my experience do have a reputation for poor sales and service), the truck itself was brilliant.

I drove the thing everywhere - off road, through the Rocky Mountains, through 2.5 foot of floodwater in New Orleans, through snow in Detroit on unplowed roads, and across I-94 around Lake Michigan during a lake effect snowstorm, and the thing always made it home.

The 2.5 engine is one of the best truck engines ever made, with engine internals way over-engineered for the job required. I would compare it to an old 2.25 Land Rover engine in terms of ruggedness. Way better than the K-car engine that was in the '95 Dakota.

I also found the interior to be comfortable, with a good cloth bench seat, a dashboard with full gauges including temp, oil and amp needles - all on a base model. Mopar has always been good for giving full instrumentation. Furthermore, I really appreciated the rubber floor instead of carpet - far more practical for truck use.

The chassis on the truck was built to a high standard, the brakes were excellent, and for a 2wd truck, it really handled the snow well.

Servicing was a breeze, with that huge V8 sized engine bay and a little four banger, so my 4000 mile oil changes could be done in 10 minutes, without having to jack it up.

The bodywork was typical '90s Chrysler, with EZ-fade red paint that required constant polishing to look good; door hinges made of tin foil, and panels that dented if you looked at them wrong. But for all of that it had front and rear bumpers, something that Rangers and S10s didn't, as well as a frame that looked twice as strong as the others. Plus, the bed would hold a sheet of plywood flat on top of the wheel humps.

The styling? Well the '96 was the last year of the old body, so it looked like a '72-91 Ram in miniature, which I kind of liked. Compared with the S-10 or Ranger, which I think looked a bit round and girly, the Dakota was a proper truck.

Driving the Dakota was quite an experience. It really had the ruggedness of a truck and the handling of a car. It had rack and pinion steering, instead of a vague and woolly steering box like the Ranger. The gearbox was long throw, but precise, and the brakes were ABS on the rears. I don't remember having a single Oh Crap moment, even in the weather mentioned above.

My best buddy purchased a S-10 the same year, also on a rip-off finance deal. The trucks were like chalk and cheese. The Dakota felt robust and truck like, was bigger and had a real truck engine. The S-10 seemed like a Cavalier with a bed put out back as an afterthought. He had all sorts of trouble with his, and mine was reliable as the day is long. Looking underneath, the springs, shocks, and frame were all heavier gauge on the Dakota. Clearly the S10 was aimed at people who valued style over substance. My buddy now drives a Ram.

The thing about Chrysler, is that they design and engineer excellent cars. If you happen to get one built properly, you'll have a 200K+ mile vehicle. It's a lottery though, and I won.

That Dakota got me through the toughest years of my youth, and I only sold it to get out of the car note so that I could go to university. However, I was so sold on Chrysler, that I promptly went to the St Vincent De Paul and purchased a Slant 6 engined '83 Gran Fury for $500... But that's another story entirely.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 25th October, 2011