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jfryjfry SuperDork
6/27/23 9:30 a.m.

If it's throwing the code AND you think you can feel it, it's happening. 

doesn't mean it's going to blow up but something is amiss.... (haha)

Manual_Trans New Reader
8/26/23 3:31 a.m.

So the truck has been running really well for a while now. It seems as though the misfire has vacated the premises. I guess the new O2 sensors and harness replacement, combined with resetting the computer has it running great again. That's a relief. On to more fun stuff. Time to address that sad interior. 

The truck came without floor mats when I bought it. I had some mats from Lloyd's in my last car and they fit really well, so I ordered some for the truck. I ordered them in black with red stitching to match the seats. They look great.

The next focus wast the headliner and cigarette damage. The previous owner(s) had smoked quite a bit in the truck, which really sucks. The headliner was trashed. It was dirty and had become incredibly saggy. (The moisture in these pics is on the outside of the glass. These were taken in the early morning, when everything was dewy). 

The door panels still had what was left of the factory seat fabric on them. Both sides were riddled with cigarette burns. They looked like E36 M3. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
8/26/23 3:45 a.m.

I recovered the headliner in my old Jeep XJ years ago and it turned out alright. It wasn't a fun job, though and I wasn't looking forward to trying it again. Even with this little tiny headliner. I also wasn't feeling confident about recovering the door panels myself. Fortunately, I found a shop that was close to me who did headliners and custom interior work. They were kind, had good reviews, and their prices were reasonable, so I decided to let them do it all for me. 

First off, I had them replace the door fabric with black vinyl to match the seats. They're very simple, but they look so much cleaner than the old panels. 

For the headliner, I wanted it to be black as well. I also had them do the visors because they looked terrible. Everything together looks really nice. I'm not completely fond of the pale A and B pillars or the plastic bits that remain on it, but I will brainstorm ideas to either paint, dye, cover, or replace those pieces with darker replacements. Overall, I'm very happy with the outcome. 

Next up: exterior! I have some new body parts that I'm currently gathering bids to have painted and installed. I hope to have that sorted before the end of the summer. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
8/29/23 2:20 a.m.

I made a small improvement today. This had been bugging me for a while. The old fogs looked especially gnarly when seen next to the super shiny headlight assemblies. The other fog light was also crooked. 

Problem fixed.

I also removed the front plate and holder. They're technically mandated in WA, but I really don't drive this thing that much. My last car never had a front plate and no one ever bothered me about it. This one was hanging really low and was getting all scraped up coming in and out of steep driveways. Off it went. I have a new bumper cover that I'm going to get painted and installed, so this view will improve soon. 

So much better! I also threw in some LED bulbs, but I really need to realign everything. They're aimed way too low at the moment and it's not ideal.


Manual_Trans New Reader
8/29/23 2:32 a.m.

I snapped this picture while I was out and about tonight. It's a crappy picture, but I'm kind of blown away by how small the truck looks. Dakotas were always considered a mid-size truck, but this thing looks straight up mini here. I mean, the berkeleying Kia Soul looks big next to it! The lowered suspension definitely downsizes it visually, but still. It just looks like such a little guy in this picture. 

fouckhest New Reader
8/29/23 8:41 a.m.
Manual_Trans said:

For the headliner, I wanted it to be black as well. I also had them do the visors because they looked terrible. Everything together looks really nice. I'm not completely fond of the pale A and B pillars or the plastic bits that remain on it, but I will brainstorm ideas to either paint, dye, cover, or replace those pieces with darker replacements. Overall, I'm very happy with the outcome. 

Highly recommend SEM Trim paint, stuff works great and has a very OEM finish.  They also make a specific soap that does a really nice job of cleaning the plastic before hand, again, highly recommend that or any plastic paint prep soap.  I am sure any local parts store or paint store would have something that would work 

Manual_Trans New Reader
8/29/23 6:05 p.m.

Funny you mention that. I attempted to paint the overhead console with a semigloss Rustoleum that was recommended for plastic, and it turned out way too shiny and I don't like it at all. I've been eyeing SEM paint and your recommendation pushed me off the fence. I ordered some black paint and plastic prep from SEM. When I get it, I'll spray a couple of the pieces and share the results. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
9/2/23 11:52 p.m.

One of, if not the most challenging part of working on an uncommon model is the lack of parts availability. For whatever reason, one of the previous owners had removed the full-size factory center console in my truck and replaced it with a little half console that belongs in the extended cabs. They covered the holes in the carpet with a cheap cup holder thing that can be purchased at any local auto parts place. Here's what it looked like when I bought it:

For years now, I've been looking for a replacement full-length console for the truck and kept coming up empty. They're so hard to find! I could occasionally find one in another state, but the yard would either refuse to ship it or they'd ask several hundred dollars for the console itself, without adding freight, thus making it not worth the expense for me. Recently, I found one listed at a yard in Utah for $75 and it was listed as being in great condition. Freight was another $150 which was a tough pill to swallow, but I did it anyway. When it arrived earlier this week, I unwrapped it to much disappointment. Not only did it look like it had been pulled out of a mud pit, but the lid was broken and wouldn't stay shut, and there was a large crack in the main base assembly that made the whole thing really flimsy. Super frustrating! 

Manual_Trans New Reader
9/3/23 12:08 a.m.

I went to work on it over the past two days. I scrubbed the thing with soap and water, let it dry, and then did it again. I completely disassembled it and scrubbed all the nooks and crannies with a toothbrush and some super strong cleaners. I purchased a new panel for under the lid, which came with a new latch so it would shut properly again. I used JB Weld epoxy to fix some broken tabs, as well as the cracked base. I put a layer of epoxy over the inside of the crack, placed a thin piece of plastic over the crack that I had cut to the proper shape, and then let it cure. Then I covered the whole area with more epoxy and let it cure again over that. It seems to be holding up pretty well. 

After all of the restoration work on the console, I installed it tonight and I'm really happy with how it came out. There's something so satisfying about dropping in a factory part, that snaps into place perfectly and just... works. It's kind of silly to get excited about a stock console, but man did I hate not having this in there. It's cavernous and there's a power outlet in it, which is super handy. 

buzzboy SuperDork
9/3/23 10:47 a.m.

Is the headliner glued to pressboard in these? I re-glued the headliner in my XJ and the pressboard I think held too much moisture for it to adhere well.

Manual_Trans New Reader
9/3/23 10:13 p.m.

Yes, as far as I know. The headliner board itself is fairly stiff, unlike the one in my old '96 XJ. That one was basically just pressed fiberglass. When I pulled the saggy fabric off of that one, it kind of came apart in hairy sheets. It was a mess. In the end I got it to stick fairly well, but holy E36 M3 did it take a lot of adhesive. It was slightly lumpy, too. My experience with the XJ was my motivation to have this one done professionally. So far, no regrets. It looks great. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
9/11/23 12:49 p.m.

I finally got around to painting the little plastic trim pieces on the roof of the truck, as well as the pillars. It really made a big difference, visually. Especially the A/B pillars. Everything flows together so much nicer now. Altogether, there are more than twenty pieces of plastic that attach to the headliner and the pillars. A couple of pieces are destined for too much movement and friction to be painted, but I got everything that I felt would stay black. 

Here's a before and after for comparison:

I'm currently in the process of replacing every single bulb with LEDs. Some of the interior bulbs are nearly impossible to get to, while the exterior bulbs are incredibly expensive. I've made the mistake of buying cheap LEDs before, so I'm hoping to use nicer options whenever available. This truck doesn't have a removable flasher relay that can be upgraded to handle LED turn signals, so my only option is to install resisters with the bulbs. I hate inline resistors. There are a few manufacturers who make bulbs with resistors built in, so I'm planning to go that route, but options are fairly slim. One place wants $180 for a pair of 3157 LED taillight bulbs and that just feels kind of insulting. I'm weighing my options. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
9/11/23 8:57 p.m.

More than a year and a half ago, I purchased some generic black mesh for the grill of this truck. The factory plastic inserts had been sloppily painted at some point and were a chipped up mess. Since I wanted this truck to aesthetically simulate sort of a Japanese import vibe to pay homage to the many FWD tuner cars that I've tinkered with over the decades, I felt that a mesh grill insert would be perfect. However, I quickly realized that it was going to be more complicated than I had originally expected. The hood latch release was accessed through the upper left quadrant of the grill. You simply slide your fingers through the factory plastic louvers, lift the handle, and the latch releases. With mesh in that opening, it wouldn't work and the hood would be stuck shut. I realized I'd have to rig up some sort of extension to drop below the bottom of the grill. The way the grill inserts were mounted was also problematic. 20-year-old plastic is pretty brittle and the mounting tabs were prone to breaking off with little effort. All things considered, I put the project on the back burner and kind of forgot about it. 

A couple of weeks ago, I reached out to a company that makes aftermarket grills for these Dakotas. Their grills come with a pre-made extension piece for the latch and installation instructions. I convinced them to sell me just the extension piece, without the entire grill. Today, I went out and removed the latch from the hood and modified it for the extension piece. After some tweaks and testing, I felt that it worked well enough to add the new mesh. I removed the factory grill inserts, which went about as poorly as I expected. Many broken tabs and four-letter words. Fortunately, it was all on the backside of the grill and not visible from the outside. The grill shell has a couple of cracks and I plan to replace it anyway, so I pushed forward. I laid the new mesh sheet behind the grill and started trimming the edges with a pair of dikes. After a bit of trial and error, I pressed it onto the back of the grill shell and started strategically applying zip-ties to hold it firmly to the tubular brace that holds the assembly to the hood.

Honestly, I think it turned out really well. It sits flush with the inner edge and stays very firmly in place. This generic mesh stuff can go either way, depending on the application. I've seen it look like cheap garbage on some vehicles, so I was a little weary of that as I got started. The only thing I'm going to do as a result of this is throw a fresh coat of satin black radiator paint on the condenser behind the grill, so it looks cleaner. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
9/14/23 3:52 a.m.

Dash lights are important to me. I want them to be bright, readable, and uniform in color. LED bulbs have come a really long way and I'm stoked to see this progress. The interior lighting in the truck was incredibly dim and I wanted to upgrade it all. Dodge dashes of this era were all a pale shade of green with just a hint of blue in it. At first, when the gauges were lit from the side, they put a blue cover directly on the bulbs to achieve the desired green. At some point in the nineties, when they switched over to through-gage lighting, they put a thin blue film under the gauge faces themselves and created the same shade of pale green. 

This creates a couple of problems when it comes to changing the lighting color. You can technically throw colored LED bulbs behind them, but it all has to pass through a blue filter and that colors the light. I'd love to have white dash lights, but white bulbs just end up looking baby blue and I hate that. Also, the little digital odometer color can't really be changed, so it's pretty destined to stay greenish. Rather than overthink it and bust out the soldering iron, or order custom gauge faces and deal with pulling the needles and then recalibrating them, I decided to just stick with green lighting. But this time, a proper, bright, true green. 

For the overhead console, I disassembled the whole thing to replace three tiny bulbs with green LEDs. While I was in there, I applied two layers of green light gel that I cut into the appropriate shape and stuck on top of the digital readout in an effort to darken it. The gel layers were sandwiched between the digital screen and the tinted plastic cover that goes over it. It's not a perfect match, but I'm okay with it for now. 

The gauge cluster was the easiest. I used seven T10 sockets with 194 omnidirectional LED bulbs. I also slid two layers of the green light gel in front of the odometer screen, under the gauge face. Also, my phone picked up some crazy looking scratches over the gauges here, but in person, I really don't notice them at all. I was super surprised to see them when I looked at this photo, but I can assure you they don't really show up in person. Kinda weird. 

I wanted a light for the cup holder area in the center console, down under the dash. I've had cars with these lights before and Dakotas actually had them in some model years as well. They're super handy. Rather than retrofitting one from another model, I took the easy way out. I purchased a flush-fit, dual USB charge port and plugged it into the outlet on the bottom of the dash. Then I bought a little multicolor LED light that plugs into a USB slot for power and set it to green. Now, when I turn on the truck, that little USB light functions exactly as a factory cup holder light, only brighter and it matches the other bulbs perfectly. 

I used another flush-fit charger and USB LED to serve as a light for inside the center console as well, since it also has a power outlet in it. I set that one to white, so I can actually see in there at night. 

And here's the finished product, from the driver's point of view. It's so much better in there. I legitimately had a hard time seeing the HVAC controls at times because it was so dim. Everything matches really well and I really like the way it turned out. 

At some point, I'll add a working stereo with matching green buttons. I'd like to do a double-din conversion so I can add a touchscreen with CarPlay. That way I can take my phone off the dash and just keep it in my bag/pocket when driving. That'll be a whole other project down the road. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
9/19/23 2:39 a.m.

I really wanted to install LED bulbs in the taillights, but the good ones were as much as $180 per pair. I wanted ones with built-in resistors because I hate the external kind that have to be spliced in and mounted somewhere they won't melt anything. I don't actually like any of the aftermarket taillight options for this truck, but I found a pair that is as close to the OEM look as possible, but also are fully LED. I managed to find a set that cost less than the bulbs I was looking at, so I pulled the trigger. I think they look pretty okay, as far as aftermarket tails go. I prefer the simplicity of the stock lense, but I wasn't in love with the light pattern. 

In standard "on" position, they have this central, diffused, "C" part that stays solid red. Then the cluster of LEDs within that "C" light up for brakes and turn signals. The reverse section is a bit larger than the stock lense and is crystal clear, thus letting out a bit more usable light.

I also switched out the LED third brake light for a newer, updated version that puts out quite a bit more light. The old brake light consisted of four red LEDs in the center of the housing. They were adequate at night, but too dim during daylight in my opinion. The cab lights were a similar four-LED arrangement that didn't provide as much light as I had hoped. The entire center of this one lights up for the cab light and the brake forms a cool little track around the housing that is not only much brighter than the old one, but more modern looking as well. 

Now I just need to choke up the money for the four front turn signal bulbs and the entire truck will be converted to LED. 


Manual_Trans New Reader
9/19/23 3:47 a.m.

Since I don't plan to keep this 4.7 in the truck, I have been avoiding doing power-adders or engine modifications in general. It feels like a waste of money in the long run. However, I've been craving some more power and I had a moment of weakness that led to some late night online shopping. I purchased a K&N CAI, which was predictably disappointing, but I also purchased a Superchips tuner and that is actually pretty cool. The intake was kind of an impulse buy; I love the induction sounds and reusable filter aspect, plus it's proven to add a few horses despite the warm air setup. 

The stock intake consisted of a "hat" that goes onto the throttle body, which leads to an accordian-like pipe, to the actual filter box, then through a small-ish hole in the front of the box, to a little cone-like piece that draws air in from behind the fender. 

K&N, in all their wisdom, placed their filter in the exact same location as the stock box and then built a heat shield around it. They didn't bother to reroute any air from the original opening in the fender to their new box. Instead, it looks like it pulls air directly from the PCM, which makes no sense whatsoever. I guess CAI means "Computer Air Intake" in this instance. It's not a great design. 

I'm thinking about buying a 90-degree elbow, a 12" aluminum pipe, and some clamps to build an extension like this:

The huge filter that came with the kit, fits perfectly in this area when turned 90 degrees. It would hang vertically instead of horizontally like it is now and it would sit right next to the OEM cold air hole in the fender wall. The only real fabrication will be the heat shield. The one that came with the kit is too wide for that spot, so I might have to make something new. It's probably not worth all the effort, but I honestly really like these projects. 

Also notice the new battery. The truck came with a group 78 battery. It was unnecessarily large for this application and it had a date of 2015 on it. It just so happened to crap out on me while I was installing the CAI, so I replaced it with a group 25 Optima. The Optima dropped more than eleven pounds from the nose of the truck and takes up less space, with almost no change in CCA. I've toyed with lightweight batteries in some of my older projects, including a PC680 that left me stranded more than once. I love the idea of lightweight batteries, but it's always a gamble on a street-driven vehicle. I really wanted an Antigravity battery (15.6 pounds!) for this, but I'm not currently operating on a thousand-dollar-battery kind of budget. 

The Superchips F5 Flashpaq is really cool. Ever since I sized down to a 26" tire for the suspension drop, the speedometer has been off by quite a bit. I've been using a GPS speedometer app on my phone this whole time to ensure I'm doing roughly the speed limit. This tuner allowed me to adjust the speedometer for the correct tire size and it works perfectly. It also removed the top speed limiter (which is something I'm likely never going to test anyway) and raised the rev limiter a little. It features three canned tunes right out of the box. There's a base, 87 octane tune that's good for about ten horses and improved gas mileage, a towing tune that's good for another five horses, and finally a performance tune that has been dyno-proven to add 21 horsepower and 19 ft-lbs of torque. Since the truck has was calibrated to run on 87 from Dodge, that's all I've ever put in it. As sort of a break-in test, I loaded the 87 tune onto the truck and took it for a drive in order to kill off the rest of that tank of gas. 

I can honestly say the intake and tuner together made a noticeable difference in power, even on the weakest tune. No check engine light, smoother idle, additional intake growl from the K&N, and definitely a noticeable improvement in pull. I drove around for a while and got it down to just under a quarter of a tank. Tomorrow night, I'm going to hoon around until the gas light comes on and then fill it with premium and load the performance tune. I'm excited to feel the difference. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
12/1/23 2:05 a.m.

I just realized that I have been neglecting this log. Time to catch up. I did eventually run the truck out of 87 octane and then filled it up with 92 so I could install the performance tune from the Superchips programmer. The difference between stock and the 87 tune was larger than the difference between the 87 and 91 tunes, but and improvement was indeed made. The truck feels pretty great. Still not what I'd call fast, but it has definitely picked up a noticeable improvement in power with tune and the intake together. 

Before the weather turned to E36 M3, I followed through with a small project that I had threatened to do a while back. The AC condenser was all beat to hell and had some small spots with surface rust on it. I'm planning to remove the AC completely at some point, but for the time being, I wanted to clean up the way it looked behind the new grill I installed. 

The actual, visible difference is less subtle than it appears in this photo. It really cleaned up the look of the grill when you see the truck in person. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
12/1/23 2:37 a.m.

I also made some small tweaks under the hood. I removed the cruise control to free up space for a better intake setup and drop a little more weight. It was previously located in the lower left corner of this image, where there is now a big empty spot. I'm planning to install an aftermarket steering wheel at some point, so I was bound to lose cruise control anyway. I also installed a new, billet aluminum battery tie down and went to town with some zip ties to tidy up some of the wiring and vacuum lines. I still need to clean a little more under here so it's not as dirty. 

I finally replaced the 2007 Kenwood CD player that came in the truck. It didn't actually play CDs anymore and I hate the radio, so it was completely useless. I had been shopping around for a nice double-din, CarPlay, touchscreen stereo, but the one I wanted was about a thousand bucks. Installation required cutting the dash trim as well as the metal frame under it. Seeing as how this truck isn't driven that often, I decided that soaking that much money into a stereo was kind of wasteful. That's when I discovered the Pioneer SPH-10BT. 

This head unit is super simple, lightweight, and has a cell phone cradle built into the face that can collapse into and sit flush with the unit itself when not needed. The cradle is attached to it because the phone acts as the screen for the stereo. It connects via Bluetooth with a free Pioneer app that offers customizable dashboards to use with the stereo. The face of the stereo has buttons and a small screen that link with the phone and it all works together like a factory touchscreen system with CarPlay. It works really well and was a piece of cake to install, too. I like it a lot. 

Here is the old unit and the phone mount on the dash that I was able to remove. 

Here's the new head unit with the cradle pulled out for the phone. 

It's so much smoother without the giant mount on the dash. It looks great with my phone mounted on there too, but I can't take a photo of that because well... phone/camera. Thanks to Pioneer's RGB color function, I set it up to match my dash lights and it all looks so good in there at night. 

I have a new hood on order for the truck and I'm working on scheduling some paint and install work with a local body shop. Hopefully I can make that all happen before the new year. 

Shavarsh HalfDork
12/1/23 12:24 p.m.

This is a great project, thanks for sharing the progress!

Manual_Trans New Reader
12/2/23 12:03 a.m.


I'm currently waiting on a new grill shell. Once that's here, I'm going to take it to the body shop to have the grill, front bumper cover, and another piece painted. I'm going to have them install the bumper cover for me because I don't want to deal with that by myself. I'll install the new grill when my hood arrives, since those go on together. For the hood, I wanted a composite replacement for the sake of weight savings. After thoroughly combing the aftermarket for a decent quality hood with some sort of either mild scoop or heat extractors, I settled on one with neither, that also happened to cost more than all of the other options. 

I found an OEM style carbon fiber hood for the truck. I think it'll go perfectly with the faux import/tuner car theme that I was going for. It will also likely be the lightest option available and I don't need to have it painted. If the clear coat starts to chip or yellow, as so many aftermarket carbon panels tend to do, then I have the option of throwing some black paint on it. I've been told the factory hood weighs around 60 pounds. I doubt this carbon hood will weigh half that, so it will be a welcome weight reduction off the nose of the truck. I'm very excited to see it all come together. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
12/18/23 3:32 a.m.

This beauty finally showed up. 

It looks great, but I hope the fitment is decent. In my experience, it's always kind of a crapshoot with aftermarket body panels, regardless of cost or materials. The scale says it weighs 25 pounds. If the stock hood weighs what I've been told, this will be a 35 pound reduction off the nose of the truck. That'll bring my total weight loss to about 165 pounds since I bought it. Not too shabby. 

brokenMR2 New Reader
12/20/23 9:20 a.m.

Sweet truck, the only Dakota in my area that's still on the road is a clapped out landscapers truck. I always thought this generation of Dodge trucks were the best looking they've had.

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
12/20/23 9:23 a.m.

a cool truck with mild mods is on my list of wants.

Manual_Trans New Reader
12/21/23 2:55 a.m.

In reply to brokenMR2 :


I see a few in my area, but they definitely are dying off. The regular cabs are the least common and always seem to be base models on steelies. My grandpa bought an eighty-something Dakota new when I was young and then my dad bought a '93, then his brother got an '03, and my other grandpa had an '01 and an '05. We've had a lot of Dakotas in the family over the years (and three Durangos), so this was a pretty easy choice for me. I was originally on the lookout for an R/T, but all the ones I could find were club cabs. The extended cab just ruins the visual appeal for me. I'm actually glad I landed on this one because the manual wasn't available in the R/T and this thing is just too much fun because of it. 

Manual_Trans New Reader
3/8/24 2:35 a.m.

Just a quick update on the truck. I have had two (minor) surgeries in the past two months and I haven't been able to get the hood installed or the new parts painted like I intended. 

However, about a month ago, I was out getting some quotes at local body shops for having my new front bumper cover painted and installed. I came to a shop that was recommended to me by another body guy. The shop is newer, but the owner has been doing the work for a long time and he had some glowing reviews online. When I pulled up to the place, he came out and was super into my truck. He had a lot of really nice things to say about the work I had done to it so far. After chatting for a bit and gathering a pretty middle of the road quote for the paint work that I had been asking other shops to quote for me, I asked him if he was willing to paint the whole truck and what that would cost. 

He told me that he was tired of doing collision repair on vanilla cars and was hoping to start attracting more custom builds and nicer vehicles. He said that because he really liked my truck and that it was so unique, he would knock $2,000 off the price of a full paint job, including any bodywork, which brought the total down to a shockingly affordable range for me. Not cheap, and definitely more than Maaco, but way too good for me to pass up. I am officially dropping it off at his shop on Monday, the 11th. 

So... this little truck is about to get a serious makeover and I am beyond stoked. 


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