In the summer of 2012 Dodge reintroduced the Dart nameplate. As I’ve commented before I grew up in a Dodge family. One Polara wagon (I spent some time this week with my brother and he’s got me half convinced that it might have been a Coronet wagon) followed by a succession of Darts.
My wife’s reaction to the new Dart was that I wasn’t going to get to buy one. Therefore I was very surprised in July 2012 when we spotted one on a dealers lot in Bastrop, TX and she asked me if I wanted to stop and test drive it.
The Dart they had in Bastrop was a 2013 Dodge Dart SXT/Rallye with the normally aspirated 2.0 liter 4 cylinder and 6 speed manual transmission. That was not a good combination, the shift points were all wrong for the torque curve of that engine and the engine was underpowered.
In August I bought a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan (last weeks chapter). In September I had the minivan in for a minor issue and while I was waiting for it I started chatting with one of the salesman. They had a Charcoal Gray 2013 Dart Limited with the 1.4 Liter Turbo and the 6 speed manual. It was a slow day for him and he convinced me to go for a drive despite the fact that I wasn’t in the market for a car. The 1.4 liter turbo is the engine that transmission was meant to be mated to.
By the spring of 2013 my kids were riding their bicycles to school, we no longer had child care and I no longer felt the need to own two minivans. They still had that Dart Limited on the lot and I made a reasonable offer that they didn’t accept.
I put feelers out through a couple of different buying services and got contacted by a dealer on the morning of April 1st. They had three Darts with the 1.4 Liter and manual transmission. I made an appointment to stop by that evening after dinner.
The car I was interested in was white with a red racing stripe running up the drivers side of the hood and over the drivers head. Unfortunately the hood was misaligned and it looked like it might have been involved in a slight fender bender.
The next car they showed us was black with darkly tinted windows and blinged out with chrome. At the time we had an AuPair who would be using this car during her off hours and there was no way that this would have been an appropriate car for her to drive.
The last car was red. I was surprised that my wife even let me look at it. She does not like red cars. She made me sell the red Toyota pickup (my chapter 10) I had when we got engaged. (This was after it dropped a thrust washer at approximately 187,000 miles. I would have replaced the engine, but I already understood “happy wife, happy life” and the wedding was still six months in our future when the engine died.)
This car was a Dart SXT/Rallye with the Aero package. It lacked the sunroof (that my wife wanted) and power seats of the aforementioned Dart Limited but it checked off on all of our other wants.
The salesman made a very aggressive offer. If the dealer I’d bought the Grand Caravan from had been even remotely close he’d have sold me a new car. However, given that this car was red I wasn’t quite there. The salesman said let me introduce you to my manager anyway.
I greeted the manager and said something along the line that Alan had made an aggressive offer, but given my wife’s feelings about red cars I’m not quite there. His response was “as far as I’m concerned it’s March 32nd and I can do better”. By this point it was after 8pm and my kids were getting tired. I ran my wife and kids home and was back at the dealer a little before 9.
When I got back to the dealer there were no other customers. The manager came back with a price that including tax, title, tags, a five year extended warranty and the first year of servicing had me out the door for less then the dealer invoice. He even came back with financing that beat the rate from my credit union by a full point.
A few months later NPR ran a piece on This American Life where they spent a month at a Jeep dealership as the dealership tried to make their monthly sales goal. Even before I understood the full implication of monthly and quarterly sales targets I was an end of month car shopper. The bottom line was that Mar 31st that year was a Sunday and the dealership was getting to count Apr 1st towards the first quarter goal and apparently they were one car short…
After we reached a deal I gave the dealership a brief scare. My kids still had a bunch of stuff in the van that I didn’t want to put in the new car and the kids wanted to say goodbye to the minivan. I suggested that they deliver it on paper (ie complete all the paperwork). I pointed out the only risk (which was all mine) was that something happened to the minivan before I returned in the morning and I had to come up with the amount they were giving me for it. They’d pulled my credit and knew I could.
When I brought the car by for its first oil change I found the manager, told him that I’d heard the piece on NPR and asked how low he could have gone. He replied that it just needed it to be a valid sale. During the last couple of years of COVID induced shortages that strategy wouldn’t have worked. I’m not sure if it’ll work now (or ever will work again).
My wife and I try to stagger our new car purchases five years apart. This time we didn’t. The Talon was living on borrowed time, the remaining 2001 minivan was showing its age and the deal on the Dart was too good to pass up. I prefer to buy a new car when I don’t need it. It’s usually harder to find a good deal when you need/want a car right now. We now had two new (or fairly new) vehicles in our driveway.
The aero package included active grill shutters. These failed and were replaced twice under warranty. When they failed again just after the warranty ended I was able to repair them in less than a half hour after I found a solution on the Dodge Dart Forum (insert link). The bottom of the engine compartment was closed off and the top of the engine also was enclosed. The lower enclosure was susceptible to damage from parking blocks. When the Talon died and the Dart became my daily driver I replaced that panel. The aerodynamics were much more important on my over 30 mile mostly highway commute then on my wife’s roughly 7 mile commute.
The only other significant issue the car had while still under warranty was an issue with the hydraulic clutch. I came back late one night, in September 2014, from an overseas trip, pushed in the clutch and turned the key to start. I was in a spot that sloped gently towards the parking block. I had moved the shift lever to neutral, but the car started to pull out of the spot when the starter engaged. The mechanic diagnosed it as a failed clutch master cylinder. Replacing that solved the problem (at least that’s what we thought). A year later (Aug 2015) the clutch was soft again. Posts on the forum suggested that there was an issue with moisture in the hydraulic fluid (which the clutch shared with the brake system). They flushed and refilled the system and the clutch was good again. By the time it got soft again (Aug 2016) there was a tech service bulletin on moisture permeating through the Teflon hose from the hydraulic fluid reservoir. The clutch master cylinder was also showing signs of degradation. They replaced both the reservoir hose and the clutch master cylinder. That didn’t really solve the issue. I may have mentioned in a previous post that I live in Houston. I’ve heard that you can’t spell Houston without humidity. After that I started having my mechanic (not at the dealership) check the fluid moisture content at every oil change and replace the hydraulic fluid when the moisture got too high.
One day in May 2015 I parked next to a classic Dart at work. If my memory is correct it was a 1965.
Memorial Day 2015
On Memorial Day in 2015 we had significant street flooding. When Harvey hit the water on our block was as deep as shown in the photo above before it started raining in our neighborhood. For Harvey the Dart was on the second floor of the parking structure at a friends office.
The summer of 2019 I took a road trip from Houston to the east coast. The first destination was the Boy Scouts Summit Bechtel Reserve in Beckley, WV to work on the Shooting Sports Staff for the World Jamboree. On my day off (near the midpoint of the Jamboree) I went into town to do laundry. On my way up the first hill the check engine light came on and it sounded like the engine wasn’t firing on all four cylinders. I pulled into an auto parts store and the scan code indicated a misfire on one cylinder (#2 IIRC). This car has independent ignition coils for each cylinder. While installing a new coil I bumped against the engine inlet coolant hose. This hose has a “tee” fitting and that disintegrated. The nearest Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealership was in Charleston, WV. The hose I needed was back ordered with no estimate for a delivery date. (When I sold the car nearly two years later the hose was still unavailable.) With the fittings and hoses available I created what I called “frankenhose”.
A few days after the end of the Jamboree the Military Vehicle Preservation Association was holding their annual convention in York, PA. Since I was already on the east coast I took the extra week of vacation. (The days for both the Jamboree and the Convention were included in the leave request I’d submitted the previous fall.) On my way to York the engine developed an oil leak. By the time I got back to Houston I was loosing a quart every 200 miles. My mechanic ended up replacing all of the top end seals.
When COVID hit I stopped driving into the office. Over the next 15 months I drove the car eight times. All of these were trips to Austin and back. Mostly with weeks between them. The car didn’t like sitting. It developed problems. One was a failure of frankenhose which I rebuilt in some small town. Most significantly it started throwing a “Turbo Underboost” code. I could reliably reproduce this code at will. If I was in sixth gear at low RPMs (below 2200 IIRC) and stomped on the throttle it would throw the code. I could have lived with that but it also threw the code randomly and after several trips to 3 different mechanics and hours of research on the internet in April 2021 I decided that I was done troubleshooting and sold it with almost 100,000 miles.