Ask TFLtruck: Should I Fix-Up an Old Dodge Dakota or Buy a New Jeep Gladiator?

2020 Jeep Gladiator by Mopar

We received this question from a TFLtruck viewer who is conflicted about repairing an old Dodge Dakota or spending that money on a new 2020 Jeep Gladiator. While the answer may be cut-and-dry for some, others may be conflicted. Remember: the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator will be pricey, but it will come with lots of standard off-road-ready components.

Here’s the actual question:

My 2002 Dakota recently decided to take a break. Best truck, I’ve owned with a little over 263k miles. It’s having computer related malfunction. Never had a major problem, until now. Should fix the old truck or purchase the same “basic” vehicle for around $60K, with a whole lot more computers? What would you do?

We recently tested a Dodge Dakota V8. You can find the video review here.

There are two answers, but first, a disclaimer: while I fully admit to being a Jeep Wrangler fan, I absolutely adore the Dodge Dakota. I especially like the second generation “round-body” design and the fact that the platform was so flexible. On three separate occasions, I tried to get one only to have circumstance or “She-who-must-be-obeyed” stand in my way. I’ve met many owners who simply keep them as beaters and work them to death. Others make them like new, because they are definitely worth restoring.

Indeed, the upcoming 2020 Jeep Gladiator marks FCA’s (Dodge, Jeep, or Ram’s) return to the midsize truck segment. Will the new Jeep truck be worth the money?  This is a classic old vs new argument. We cover this topic in our Truck Nuts Book as well.

Answer #1. Build up your old Dodge Dakota: If you’re even thinking about getting a Jeep Gladiator, that means you are considering Dana 44s axles front and rear, excellent approach and departure angles and high ground clearance. Right out of the box, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator has these attributes. Will your Dodge Dakota satisfy if you get all of the bugs worked out of it? Do you want to modify your old truck?

If you are looking to modify it, you’re going to have to rip it apart. Starting with a strait-axle-swap and suspension upgrades. Oh yes, before that – you will have to first beef up the frame. Once you take care of the gearing to compensate for the larger, heavier wheel and tire combo, you’ll probably have to update the brakes.

Remember: adding weight means having to add other components to compensate. Your engine, transmission, steering and brakes have to be upgraded if you don’t want to sacrifice performance. You’ll probably have to alter the wheel-wells to allow for larger tires and greater articulation.

Finally, you’ll need to drive it (a lot) to make sure that every component added does as expected under various driving conditions.

Yep, that’s nearly all it takes.

Answer #2… or you could buy the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator.

The bottom line is, in order to resurrect your truck and make it comparable to the Jeep Gladiator (or the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 for that matter) it will take lots of time, money and skill.

Yes, the Gladiator is more reliant on computer power than older trucks, so are all the vehicles being built nowadays. Consider that the new truck also comes with better comfort and safety. It’s far from the “same basic truck” when compared to the Dakota. Driving a brand new truck is simply an easier and more enjoyable experience.

Granted, an older truck is simpler and easier to diagnose and fix. It all comes down to the budget and ability to purchase a brand-new vehicle. The starting price of the Gladiator will be far less than $60K. We do not know the starting prices yet, but it will be compatible to the Toyota Tacoma crew 4×4 or Chevy Colorado crew 4×4 trucks.

If you do intend on building up your Dakota, that’s awesome! Send us the photos of your truck and we’ll post them on this website!

Good luck!

Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.