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Dodge Dakota Transmissions: Overview, Problems, Fluids

Dodge Dakota Transmissions: Overview, Problems, Fluids

The Dodge Dakota was equipped with the 42RE (A500), 46RE, 45FRE, or the 545RFE transmission. Late-model 2011+ Dakota’s are called the Ram Dakota and had the 42RLE transmission. Some models in the second generation also have 5-speed NV1500 manual, NV3500 manual, and AX-15 manual. The 6-speed Getrag 238 manual can be found in the third generation along with earlier transmissions.

The Dakota is uniquely nifty, bigger than compact pickups such as the Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, and Chevy Sonoma, yet smaller than the full-size models. Dodge calls the Dakota a compact, but there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s a little roomier than its smaller competition but not as cumbersome around town as a full-size pickup. You can find about Dakota transmissions, problems, fluids, and costs by reading the article further.

What Transmissions Has the Dodge Dakota Used?

First Generation

  • 3-speed automatic
  • 4-speed automatic
  • 5-speed manual

Second Generation

  • 4-speed 42RE automatic
  • 4-speed 44RE automatic
  • 4-speed 46RE automatic
  • 4-speed 45RFE automatic
  • 5-speed 545RFE automatic
  • 5-speed NV1500 manual
  • 5-speed NV3500 manual
  • 5-speed AX-15 manual

Third Generation

  • 4-speed 42RLE automatic
  • 5-speed 545RFE automatic
  • 6-speed Getrag 238 manual

How Long Does Dodge Dakota Transmission Last?

If you’re looking for life expectancy in a Dodge Dakota, your best option is a 2004 or newer option with a manual transmission. Dodge Dakotas can last up to 200,000 miles or more with regular and timely maintenance. Those vehicles with an automatic transmission are unpredictable, unreliable, and often more trouble than they are worth. Compared to other vehicles, the Dakota stands its ground in reliability, maintenance costs, and towing features.

How Much Does A Dodge Dakota Transmission Cost?

The transmission is a critical part of your car. It would be best if you had a functioning transmission because driving around with a faulty one can lead to serious damage to other parts of your car. Sometimes you can replace the transmission after your car has driven a certain mile. However, you might also have to replace the transmission for the sake of your safety. Prices vary according to your car type.

  • 42RE (A500) costs around US$1,395
  • 42RLE Transmission costs around US$1750 to US$2500
  • 46RE Transmission costs around $1895
  • 545RFE transmission costs around $2,095

How Reliable Is The Transmission On A Dodge Dakota?

Dodge Dakota’s older models (1987-2003) often experienced transmission issues like gear slipping and failure. The 2004-2011 models, with 4-speed and 5-speed automatics and 6-speed manuals, demonstrated better reliability, though shifting issues did occur. Regular maintenance is vital for transmission longevity. Later models generally outperform earlier ones in terms of transmission reliability.

That’s the quick answer but let’s dive a little deeper starting with older models, specifically those from 1987 to 2003, which used a mix of 3-speed, 4-speed, and 5-speed automatic and manual transmissions.

I’ve seen more than a few Dakotas from this era with transmission issues and it’s most commonly gear slipping (and sometimes total failure), often due to a flawed valve body design or transmission fluid overheating. That makes Dakotas from this era a bit less reliable compared to others.

The Dakota underwent a significant refresh in 2004, and models from this year until 2011 featured 4-speed and 5-speed automatic transmissions and 6-speed manuals. From my personal experience, these units fared much better. While there were occasional instances of shifting issues and overdrive problems with the 5-speed automatics, they were much more reliable than their predecessors.

Still, they’re not without issues and this video does a great job explaining some of the issues with the manual transmission models:

Common Dodge Dakota Transmission Problems

Following are some of the problems with the transmissions of Dodge Dakota. You should notice that unlike some other Dodge vehicles, like the Ram, there are no diesel options which means you’re not going to see any transmissions like the Allision 1000.

42RE (A500)

The simplified design makes it easy for a car owner to repair A500 himself. The only thing that may cause problems is a removal of a gearbox. In this case, it is necessary to use special lifts or fixing cables to simplify the removal. A feature of this transmission is the lack of service work. It’s not needed to do a regular change of oil or filter elements. Most of the time, after 100.000 kilometers, it’s required to change the gaskets and oil seal of a pump. There’s no more required service work. With careful use, A500 can overcome more than 500.000 kilometers. The only thing is that this gearbox doesn’t like fast driving and low temperatures.

42RLE Transmission

Poor Shifting Quality

If you experience poor shifting quality with your 42RLE transmission, you may need to check the fluid levels. If low levels are not the problem, you may have a solenoid or valve stuck in the valve body, a computer malfunction, or a pump that is starting to fail.

The Transmission is Stuck in Second Gear

Typically, if you have noticed the transmission is stuck in second gear, it is likely that it has gone into limp home mode. This mode is a safety measure that Chrysler built into the transmission to continue driving your vehicle to a service station without destroying the transmission. If you experience this problem, it can likely be traced back to a defective sensor.

Random Downshifts without Engaging Properly

This is a common problem that can be traced back to a defective lower or upper-speed sensor.

The Transmission Starts to Experience Harsh 1-2 Shifts

Many times, a filter and fluid change will correct this issue. It would be best if you always used the correct fluid in your 42RLE transmission to prevent further damage to it. It is recommended that you have a power flush performed to ensure all old debris and fluid is removed from the transmission.

The Transmission is Overheating

This is a common problem in most automatic transmissions, but the 42RLE does seem to experience it more often. It is recommended that you install an aftermarket transmission cooler to combat the problem.

Shifting problems and solenoid/pressure switch

Drivers may experience 42RLE transmission problems that include slipping and harsh shifts.

46RE Transmission

Buzz, whining, or moaning sound

An intermittent buzz, whining, or moaning sound may be noticed when the vehicle is shifted into reverse.

Reverse buzz

A buzz or moaning sound may be heard when shifting into reverse. This transmission problem may be more noticeable on cold vehicles – have been parked for several hours or overnight.

Slips in reverse at mid throttle

Drivers may notice that the transmission slips in reverse when they have applied mid/half throttle.

545RFE Transmission

This is the same transmission found in other Dodge vehicles like the Durango so you’ll see some of the same issues across both vehicles.

Delayed gear engagement

Drivers may notice an initial delayed gear engagement with the shift into Drive or reverse after the vehicle has been parked overnight/is cold. This may occur after having the transmission serviced and having the transmission cooler return filter replaced.

Delayed and/or harsh 3-4 or 4-5 shifts

Owners may experience an unusually delayed or harsh 3-4 or 4-5 gear change, where the transmission doesn’t seem to want to go into that particular gear.

Solenoid Pack

The electronically controlled 545RFE relies on a solenoid switch pack to direct fluid to the correct clutch pack for gear engagement with no transmission bands. If the solenoid pack goes bad, you’ll experience no gear engagement, engine stalling, ‘limp mode,’ or failure to engage overdrive.

Slipping and Delayed Gear Engagement

 The transmission pump has a little valve mechanism inside it, which controls the fluid pressure being transferred from the torque converter. If it goes bad, you’ll have delayed gear engagement, transmission/torque converter overheating, stalling, slipping, and reduced fuel economy.


 This happens when the moving parts inside the transmission create more friction heat than the ATF can remove. The most common cause of this condition is towing heavy loads, driving in stop/go traffic, or on mountain roads where the transmission has to shift a lot.

Differences between Transmissions

While the names are confusingly similar, there is a big difference between the 42RE and the 42RLE. The 42RE is based on the A904. The 42RLE is a rear-wheel-drive application of the 42LE/A606 Ultradrive first introduced in the LH cars (Intrepid, Concorde, LHS, Vision/300M).

The 545RFE has an extraordinary selection of gear ratios but is a very durable unit. The difference between 42RE and 46Re is the internal strength of parts.

Transmission Fluids and Dodge Dakota

The transmission manipulates the engine output to make sure that power is always available to you. It is also responsible for taking power created by the engine and routing it to the wheels. If you understand how important these factors are to your car, you will also know the importance of regular transmission maintenance. It is recommended that transmission fluid be replaced in a Dodge Dakota at 24,000 miles, then every 30,000 miles after that.

Dodge Dakota is compatible with ATF +3 or ATF +4

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