Goodbye Dodge Hello Toyota

Well, I just bought a new 2002 Toyota 4Runner and traded in the Dodge Ram pickup that I bought new in 1994.

Why did I trade it in? Wow, what can I say? When I first saw the new Dodge Ram truck in 1993 in all the ads that Chrysler was running, I had to have it. All of the ads saying that this was the most completely tested, engineered and reliable truck ever were all I needed. I promptly went down to my dealership and ordered a loaded one from the factory. It took a while, and when it arrived I was so happy……until I took delivery. First things first. The drivers door fit was terrible and had to be refit as it would not open easily. At 7000 miles it needed a new front end alignment and refastening of the tailgate which was coming loose. At 11000 miles the steering began to feel very loose. The steering dampener is replaced as it was leaking and thought to be the problem. 12000 miles: door needs realignment, and stereo stops working. The very loose and clunky steering again is looked at by the dealership and deemed normal. This problem will haunt me later and eventually I find out that it is a known issue with these vehicles. 14000 miles: First recall for steering wheel plugs and stereo is replaced when part arrives. 19773 miles: Headlights need replacement and steering is finally judged to be faulty. Parts are ordered. Second recall for seat belts at this time. 20238 miles: Entire upper and lower steering column replaced. Also replaced the emergency brake mechanism which failed. 28232 miles: The clutch slave cylinder fails and needs replacement. Also maddening rattles in the dash. 30042 miles: Third recall for steering wheel back cover. When work was done, steering wheel was replaced by dealership at literally 90 degrees off center. It takes my almost raising my voice at the service manager to get them to put the steering back on center. At this time the lumbar support in the seat fails. I am told that it will cost $400 to repair. I live with it. But I have to replace the heating control knobs that broke off. 39758 miles: Brake rotors shot and need replacing. I believe the brakes on this truck are underengineered as emergency braking situations (only had one) are terrifying events with massive brake fade. 42537 Miles: Front brakes wearing VERY fast. Brakes adjusted. Also, other interior parts breaking off. $60 for parts and I make repairs myself. 53845 Miles: Fourth recall for the steering column and now a recall for the window wipers. 54588 Miles: Axle seal fails. Seal replaced. Fog lights fail approximately every three months even though I hardly ever use them.

At this point I think that the problems are worked out and I can enjoy the truck. Ha! From here on out the repair costs and time spent taking this thing in to be repaired start to go ballistic.

69845 Miles: Another rear axle seal fails. 71858 Miles: Fifth recall now for the fuel tank roll over valve. Also rattle in catalytic converter is noted. Pay attention to this because I am told this is normal by dealership. Also more plastic parts for sunvisors break requiring replacement. 80000 Miles: Steering going really loose and clunky again. 84466 Miles: Replace the front track bar assembly which failed catastrophically, to the tune of $450 This is another known problem with these vehicles. The steering still feels scary. The dealership says this is normal for these vehicles, but they will not provide me with any documentation saying they feel this vehicle is safe to drive. I have another shop replace the steering column again, costing $350. 88709 Miles: Rear differential fails. I am told that the parts that failed cannot be ordered from Chrysler anymore as Chrysler has deemed the original design faulty. I am forced to purchase a completely new rear differential assembly for parts and labor of almost $1700. This is also a known issue with Chrysler. 700 miles later, the brand new bearings in the differential fail. The non dealership shop repairs this at no cost, replacing all the bearings with new products from Chrysler. 1000 miles later, the bearing fail again. After a consult with a Chrysler factory representative, the new $1700 differential housing was deemed to be a faulty part from Chrysler and will have to be completely replaced and the truck is in the shop again. 2000 miles after this, my wife and I are driving down the highway to St. George, Utah on a rainy Sunday evening. I am thinking that there is a profound headwind, but as I look out the window, there is no evidence of wind and then the car completely lost power and we had to make an emergency stop by the side of the road. No cell phone service was available, but we were able to limp into the next town, Beaver Utah where there was no mechanic available with a set of tools that could fix the problem. An inspection revealed that the catalytic converter had plugged up. Remember the rattling noise? Because the mechanic could do nothing, I had to cut the exhaust off in front of the catalytic converter to get to St. George where we can get things fixed. Great. I drove the vehicle for another 6000 miles and now the rear differential is making noise again and I have rust spots showing in the doors, so……I’ve had it. Lemon laws are not protecting me because it is not a single problem, but a whole host of problems and Chrysler refuses to acknowledge this has been a lemon. I should note that this vehicle sees very light service with mostly highway miles. I have towed with it twice. It always gets regular service every 3500 miles. The brakes get replaced when needed as do the tires and belts hoses etc. I did not include the regular service as part of my history above as these things should be done, but this vehicle is a street queen that receives meticulous service.

The other issue with this vehicle is that the dealership was supposed to be a five star dealer, the highest rating a Chrysler dealer can get. I find this an amazing prospect, because there is no way that it should take a dealer half a day to change the oil in your vehicle. They insisted that I had to drop the truck off and come back in the afternoon for an oil change! That and the service there was absolutely mediocre. On all the recalls, there was no offer of a loaner car, indeed some of the recalls were botched or how about the time I drove down for a scheduled appointment for one of the recalls and left the car. I call later that afternoon to see when I can pick it up and they tell me I had to leave it overnight. The next day they tell me that they did not have the part and I would have to come down and pick the truck up and then reschedule!

So, the poor dealer service combined with the bad attitude from the service people and the abysmal reliability of a vehicle that is supposed to be Ram Tough have tainted my experience and convinced me to go with a Toyota. We will see what that experience is like, but I suspect that it could not be any worse than the Dodge. It’s really too bad because I do have some fond memories of this truck and Chrysler does have some of the best automotive design folks in the world. They just apparently cannot build them reliably.

5 Replies to “Goodbye Dodge Hello Toyota”

  1. Hey Bryan,

    So its been a few years and I was curious about your afterthoughts after switching to Toyota from Dodge? I’ve noticed you’ve had lots of problems with the old car (some do naturally happen with time) and was wondering if after a few years of wear and tear, how the Toyota is holding up? Do you think it was flaws in the design or in the parts that ultimately made you switch? FYI, I’m considering both…


  2. I cannot tell you how happy we have been with the Toyota 4Runner. It’s been a great vehicle for over 8 years now. Very reliable and it has saved me huge amounts of time vs the Dodge because I was always bringing the Dodge into the dealership for service.

    The frustrating thing with the Dodge was that all of the. Parts should have been heavy duty and should not have worn out as fast as they did, oar broke as often as they did.

    My hopes are that the American automobile manufacturers will get their act together and that I’ll be comfortable weith buying an American car in the future…

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