Can the New Ram Dakota Avoid the Problems That Plagued Early Models?

Heads up to the Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, and all the other mid-size contenders. The new Dakota will most likely be the latest entry in the segment that will be at dealerships in late 2020. The name is a throwback from Dodge’s past but this pickup is definitely a Ram.

Not your dad’s Dakota

According to Car and Driver’s Eric Tingwall, FCA is rebooting the Dakota name from the 2000s-era Dodge pickup to debut its mid-size 2021 Ram Dakota. It will share the Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission with the new¬†Jeep Gladiator. It will also be based on a modified version of the Gladiator’s platform and will be built at the same Toledo, Ohio plant as the Jeep truck.

But there is where the similarities between the Dakota and the Gladiator end. FCA hopes to capture a bigger portion of the mid-size truck buying market with the Ram Dakota by pricing it in the mid-$20,000s, making it more affordable than the Gladiator’s starting price of $35,040.

The Dakota will be marketed to drivers who need a truck rather than those who simply want one. This means that its focus will be more on utility and less on lifestyle.

How will Ram market this truck?

In order to appeal to mainstream buyers and to compete in the growing mid-size truck field, the Ram Dakota will probably be offered in several cab and bed configurations. It will have a body-on-frame construction like many mid-size trucks in the segment. And unlike the Gladiator with its live front axle, the Dakota will have independent suspension.

As far as the styling goes, there’s a good chance that the Dakota will look like its bigger sibling, the Ram 1500. We hope that Ram will incorporate even more of the great characteristics of the Ram truck line into the Dakota. And the very fact that it is made by Ram and not Dodge is a huge plus since the Dodge Dakota saw more than its share of troubles in the early 2000s.

Headaches for Dodge Dakota owners

The Dodge Dakota was produced from 1987 to 2011 when it was discontinued due to the decreasing demand for compact trucks. Another reason Chrysler stopped making the truck was that its full-size sibling the Ram 1500 was priced similarly, making it difficult for buyers to justify spending the same money for the smaller truck.

The model years 2000 and 2002 for the Dodge Dakota were especially problematic for owners, however. CarComplaints.com rates the 2002 model year Dakota as having the highest number of complaints at 165.

But even though the 2000 model year has only 102 complaints reported, it’s actually the worst of all model years because of the higher cost of repair or the number of problems reported at relatively low mileage.

The 2002 model year Dakota suffered from a number of problems, with 69 complaints related to brake problems. Of these problems, 51 involved brakes or brake cylinders locking up and were rated as “pretty bad” in severity.

In fact, the brake cylinder lock-up problem was the most reported one for all model years of the truck. NHTSA also received numerous complaints about the truck’s brake system, according to CarComplaints.com.

It gets worse for the Dakota

The remaining complaints about the 2002 Dakota included 22 air conditioning or heater problems, 19 engine problems, 15 electrical problems plus a variety of troubles related to drivetrain, transmission, and lights, among other components. Overall, this model year earned the “Beware of the Clunker” badge.

Engine troubles are what earned the 2000 Dakota the dubious distinction of the worst model year because it was the worst problem category. And although owners reported just 29 engine-related problems, they were doozies.

The worst of the worst in this category was the engine’s loss of oil pressure due to oil sludge which occurred on average at around 90,000 miles. In some complaints owners indicated that the engine seized. This problem ended up being quite costly for owners who typically spent over $5,600 to repair or, in three cases, replace the engine.

Mechanics at the Dodge dealerships often didn’t know what caused the problem, and Dodge didn’t take responsibility for it. All told, CarComplaints.com gave this problem a severity rating of “pretty bad”.

For years, Dodge has struggled to overcome its reputation of producing mediocre to bad vehicles. Ram trucks, however, don’t have that kind of baggage thus far. Ram seems to be committed to producing quality trucks. And if the Ram Dakota is anywhere near as good as the Ram 1500 is, its prospects should be far better than the beleaguered Dodge Dakota.