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Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 12:21 p.m.

My grandfather always had some cool cars when I was far, far younger but was still old enough to remember. The summer of my 7th birthday was spent back home (on the American side of the family) in Pensacola, as it usually was when we lived in Germany, and upon arriving at the grandparents house, I saw this big (to me, anyway) silver SUV, which I immediately thought it was the coolest thing ever. Dad had picked up rental as we usually did, but I insisted on taking the Durango everywhere we went, so the rental was returned and granddad happily let us take out his brand new truck.

We had sold our ZJ Grand Cherokee (miss that car, but it was a lemon) which at the time, and still is, one of my favorite SUVs from an aesthetic perspective.

Any way, over time, the Durango was basically the grocery getter, occasional road trip car, and supply hauler, accumulating very little mileage over the next fifteen years or so. It was my granddad's pride and joy, and I have the original window sticker for it that even specifies it was built for him. Many summer vacations were spent cruising in this truck, and the styling just never seemed to age. In fact, I still think it's a timeless look.

At the end of summer 2014, I quit my job to take a different one, and set out for Florida with my dad that same day to spend more time with the grand parents. It was after getting there and going to the dealership the next day to pick up the truck from the dealership, that I became frustrated with the expensive oil change ($230) and the replacement of the cruise control servo with a defective unit that they never resolved. Granddad at this point stopped fixing anything himself and just let the dealer handle it, being in his late 70s he had no energy for that kind of work anymore. Seeing me fired up about it sparked something in him, and later that evening at the dinner table, he tells me the Durango is mine. I was surprised and excited, as I had always dreamed of one day being able to own it, and that opportunity presented itself to me.

I graciously accepted and got to work on fixing a few small issues. It has the 5.9 Magnum V8 motor, which despite an overheat (I'll get into this later), has been a solid motor. The same can't be said for the 46RE on which I will elaborate later.

I have older physical photos of it somewhere, but here's a photo on the day I got it:

The truck itself actually stayed in FL for another year until circumstances in 2015 dictated I come get it. That's when I began some more work. The headlights and fogs were super cloudy, so I did my best to clean them up with whatever I had on hand at the house:

And of course, had to get in a little fun in the red dirt/mud that I miss so very much:

Hit this milestone on the trip back to TX:

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More to follow! I'm still trying to organize some photos.

 

 

ultraclyde (Forum Supporter)
ultraclyde (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
8/26/20 12:27 p.m.

38k? wow.  I had a '98 ZJ that I sold because I tired of working on it, but I always liked the way they look. I always figured the Durango was the same chassis.  

I replaced the headlight lenses on the ZJ, they were less than $50 for the pair. If you've got the scratch it's an easy job and will look and last better than a clean-up of the fogged ones. 

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 12:32 p.m.
ultraclyde (Forum Supporter) said:

38k? wow.  I had a '98 ZJ that I sold because I tired of working on it, but I always liked the way they look. I always figured the Durango was the same chassis.  

I replaced the headlight lenses on the ZJ, they were less than $50 for the pair. If you've got the scratch it's an easy job and will look and last better than a clean-up of the fogged ones. 

It actually just rolled over 100K last month. It's seen some more use now, and I'll explain in a bit!

For the headlights, I made my own custom projector setup using those anzo clear housings and Morimoto kit. What a massive improvement, and it doesn't look out of place!

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 12:42 p.m.

Upon returning in the summer of 2015, it was time to fix some bigger issues and get the truck ready for that trip back to TX. I first started with the vacuum servo for the cruise control. It was NOS unit that probably sat on the shelf since 1998, so the vacuum diaphragm in it must have been stuck. I pulled a strong vacuum on it to test for leaks, and found it held vacuum just fine. Took it for a test drive on the backroads, and I had working cruise control! Probably one of the easiest fixes of my life.

Up next was a common issue with these trucks, where condensate from the evaporator core would make its way back into the cabin and literally flood the floor. The foam seal around the drain disintegrated, and the surface tension of the water would allow it flow back into the cabin instead of dripping onto the ground:

It's now dry in this photo, but my hand was in about 1/2" of standing water!!

Fortunately, no long term damage was done, and there was no sign of rust. The carpet did a great job acting as a sponge...

Pulled the carpet to let it dry in the sun (took several days) and kill any mold spores that may have been present. And then fixed the issue with the condensate drain once and for all:

Speakers were actually shot, so I tossed in some Kenwood Excelons, and a new head unit which worked perfect with the factory amp, and then rolled home.

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 1:13 p.m.

2015 to 2018 were pretty uneventful for the truck, other than my dad driving it daily since he doesn't have a vehicle of his own. My dad does not car, in any way shape or form, so certain issues have arisen because of his lack of knowing any better.

Sometime between 2016 and 2017 the radiator began to leak, coolant ran low. It was caught in time, and all I needed to do what replace the radiator, but I opted to knock out the water pump too, all with Mopar parts. It ran fine for quite some time until last year when the overheating issue returned, and this time I didn't catch it in time... I was made aware of boiling noises over the course of two weeks... damage had been done. Never mind the fact that the cooling system on the '98-99 model years was the worst, and it was a hotter summer here in TX. The radiator cap failed (Mopar part). Coolant still looked like coolant, so I assumed I was actually still good and no warpage occurred, but I couldn't quite get the temps under control and had an actual boil over... Made room in the garage and pulled it in to begin the dismantling process. The heat actually warped the radiator!!! It further doesn't help that these are pencil thin units...

Swapped in a replacement, which leaked, so got yet another replacement. Did a compression test as well as a cooling system pressure test, and both returned positive results, so I remained puzzled. I took it for a spin after the new rad, yet another new cap, and hit 90K on the 4th of July last year:

It wasn't long until after this photo that the temp gauge rose on me... back into the garage as all doubt of it being the heads had been removed.

Yanked the heads, and eventually realized this process would have been easier (since they're iron heads) to pull the rad and the upper core support, instead of climbing around while trying to hold a 50-60lb head... I didn't wise up during the reinstallation phase either... my back was killing me.

Took the heads to a local shop we do business with and got my discount through our shop:

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They did the works; new valves, seals, springs, etc.

It was time to start throwing everything back together, but not before addressing some other common failure points, like the lower intake plate gasket which likes to blow out:

Back on they go:

Starting to look like a motor again, assembly lube used where needed:

Fresh plugs and wires and everything back together:

And fan clutch failure on the first test drive:

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I started doing some further research and saw that many folks with these trucks were moving to electric fans, so I opted for the Flexalite 180, instead of doing the Mark VIII fan.

I don't have any photos of the install, as it wasn't my cleanest work.

This pretty much kept the temps in check until this summer, where I noticed that the smaller fan just wasn't up to the task if ambient temps were over 95°F. Well, that and the other looming disaster...

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 1:17 p.m.

Before I get on the latest calamity, here's when the truck got some new eyes back in 2018. I also removed the headlight grille section from the bumper guard, as they were blocking light, making light output even more dismal.

One side done:

Both sides in, and trying my best to line them up to avoid blinding oncoming traffic:

Daytime shot:

This was one of the best upgrades I've done on this vehicle, and the projectors look damn near Factree in my eyes. They don't look ricer or cheap.

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 1:47 p.m.

As I mentioned previously, even after the e-fan swap, the truck still got uncomfortably toasty on hot days, so it was time to go big and go with the Mark VIII fan and a Dakota fan controller. I went to the yard and scored the only Mark VIII fan left, but to my disappointment, the motor had been replaced with a single speed (high speed only) unit. Not a deal breaker, but I DID want the two speed setup. This will work for now, however.

Mark VIII fan next to the FAL 180. I'd already chopped on the Mark VIII shroud a bit:

What I hadn't anticipated is how much more complex this would be, as the '98-99 model years have the radiator sitting BEHIND the upper core support, as opposed to underneath it on the 2000+ trucks, and all the threads I'd seen were done on the post-2000 trucks... Those guys have WAYYY more room. It's not straightforward to convert from the '98-99 to the '00+ either due to the AC condenser. It would all need to be replaced, and I wasn't willing to go through all that, so I adapted.

The first step was to get some more space by moving the radiator forward some. Easily accomplished by taking off some of the anti-vibration mount material:

Bought me about 2/3"; I'll take it.

First attempt to fit it in, no good. Fan motor hits up against the water pump pulley, so the core support has be pulled out so I can lean the rad forward. It was at this point I was hopeful I could fit the fan in place without having to remove the radiator, and draining the system. I didn't want to modify the depth of the shroud at all.

It was then I realized that the stupid trans cooler lines would be in the way of trying to secure the brackets to the radiator, so I ended up pulling the rad to make it easier.

Mockup of the final position, which positions the fan motor just below the water pump pulley. It's a tight fit, and I mean TIGHT as you'll see in a bit:

Got some flat aluminum and made my own brackets to affix the fan shroud of the Mark VIII fan to the original mounting locations of the stock clutch fan shroud. Even reused the original fan shroud bolts, minus one that somehow went missing 5 minutes prior to this photo:

Everything reinstalled and wired up:

This lack of clearance makes me borderline queasy, but it works, and works well:

The end result is a super strong fan, that will cool down the truck, keep it where it needs to be operating temp wise, and actually SHUT OFF at the appropriate time! The Flexalite fan never cooled the truck well enough to shut off, even during the cold months!

I installed pillar gauges a while back, because I suspected the dash gauge was either off, and I also wanted to watch the trans (which I was also suspicious of):

I was able to wire the fan controller to take the temp signal from the IssPro gauge, by using the VDO gauge preset, as the custom calibration just didn't work correctly for me. Since it gets its reading from the hose going to the heater core, that's the hottest temp I can take, which is perfect. Fan comes on at about 208°F and shuts off at 203° which is about 199° and 195° according to the PCM/dash gauge. Right where it needs to be.

ETA: The Flexalite controller used a temp probe for the radiator, and those kinds of probes are hot garbage. Trust and use them at your own risk!! The Flexalite fan will see service in a smaller car, but I will get another Dakota controller. No cheap temperature probes for me.

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 2:21 p.m.

This all leads me to where I am at this moment. Despite missing the warning signs of overheating because my dad didn't really realize it, I've at least tried to keep that 46RE happy with regular fluid/filter changes, and band adjustments as per the service manual.

But, it seems that the old saying about Dodge transmissions is true... no matter how well you take care of them, they just wanna die around 100,000 miles. It blew the rear seal about a year ago, and I replaced it, and it seems to be leaking again. I've always suspected that a lot of my running hot was actually due to the transmission itself. I know the torque converters on these like to do some funky stuff that leads to the box running hotter, and then the motor runs hotter due to the heat exchange that occurs in the radiator, and these earlier Durangos didn't have a separate trans coolers, just the cooling lines that go to the radiator.

Up until I did a filter change last month, I never noticed anything concerning with the fluid, it always looked a healthy red. This last change, it was burnt and closer to brown than red. Since I've been driving the truck myself post-Mark VIII fan swap, the motor stays cool, until the transmission temp begins to creep up, then the motor starts warming up, but this usually subsides once I get moving, and this was when the outside ambient temps were over 100°F. The Mark VIII fan is definitely doing a great job keeping temps reasonable, wheras the FAL 180 just couldn't cope.

On Monday, the wife and I went to have lunch with her mother, and everything was fine until I got close to the house. I noticed a sudden loss of torque when starting from a stop. I had to stop at a gas station, and noticed when pulling into a spot (on flat level ground) where the truck would normally be able to push itself forward without any input from me, I had to give it some throttle to move a few inches. Grab what I need, come back out, throw it into Reverse, and the same deal... normally it could inch its way without too much hassle, but it was requiring input this time. As I'm making my way home, I'm watching the trans gauge now go up to 220°F, which really isn't super alarming, but I feel a drag when I let off the throttle, and I begin to smell what smells like burnt clutches. Just a pungent burnt mechanical smell. Pull over at the neighborhood park and check the trans fluid levels and it's showing up low. Keep in mind I've just done the fluid and filter change, filling up the box with the same amount of ATF as I always have in the past. There's a leak again underneath, but not aggressive enough to have leaked out several quarts of ATF, so I'm a little perplexed. There's never a puddle under the truck itself, and the skid plates aren't just catching it all. Upon getting home, as soon as I got out, the smell just overwhelmed me.

I let it sit and cool overnight, and took it for a quick spin yesterday morning, where I noticed a return of the crawling torque, but as soon as I applied the throttle, it hung up and then slipped into moving forward with a decent lurch. Let it sit more, and then took it for another spin last night, this time a longer drive. I added some ATF, and everything seemed normal. All gears engage immediately, and I have all forward gears, and the TC locks and unlocks as expected. It wasn't until the end of the drive when the temps started creeping up where I noticed the same dragging sensation, loss of crawling torque, and that lovely, lovely smell. This is all with gentle driving, too.

What does this mean from here? Well, I hate automatics, and the 46RE was known to be a bit of POS. I've ordered a flywheel and clutch kit for a Ram 2500 that came with a 5.9 V8 and the NV3500. The manual swap must be done, and it's something I've been wanting to do for years anyway. I just didn't think circumstances would force my hand. All of this will cost around the same as getting a rebuilt 46RE, and while I could just order a rebuild kit and do it myself, it's just not what I want.

I've already got the clutch/brake pedal assembly from a Dakota, and since the Dakotas are the same body from the front of the cab forward, everything is a bolt on affair. Driveshaft will be lengthened exactly 7", and being a '98, I've no PCM issues to worry about. My current transfer case will bolt right up, and I just use a front driveshaft from a donor Dakota that's ~7" shorter.

The only thing still missing from this is the NV3500 itself, and I've found a reman'd unit from XP for $1195 including the core charge, but I've never heard of that company before. Summit carries Zumbrota units for about $600 more with core charge. I'm okay with spending a little more, which is why I'm opting for a remanufactured unit over say one from a junkyard, and I don't know of any trustworthy used NV3500s local to me, even worth rebuilding. I know the AX-15 will work too, I have that in my Wrangler, but I know it struggled behind the 5.2, so I can't imagine using it in the 5.9.

JeremyJ
JeremyJ Reader
8/26/20 2:29 p.m.

I had a 200,000 mile 2000 Durango that I drove around for a while. It was silver and had a 5.9 as well. Unlike yours, it was really cold blooded and never seemed to heat up. I think the thermostat was stuck open. I ended up trading it in earlier this year for a newer vehicle. Overall, it was a pretty good vehicle. It was unstoppable in the snow. 

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 2:48 p.m.

Definitely sounds like a stuck thermostat to me! This truck has only seen snow a handful of times. Once in NW Florida, and three times here. But it's never seen anything like what we had in Colorado or Germany, or even North Carolina and northern Alabama.

I see so many of these at the yard without any body damage, and it's kinda sad. Eventually I want to transition from the tan interior to a charcoal one. I saw a driftwood silver one just like mine, with the charcoal interior, and it was nice. If most of it weren't missing, I'd have grabbed all of it.

JeremyJ
JeremyJ Reader
8/26/20 2:55 p.m.

Mine had the charcoal interior. It was nice. The transmission crapped out at about 150K and we had it rebuilt. It was great after that. Your manual swap sounds like a super fun idea. I hope you can get it sorted and working properly. 

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 2:59 p.m.

Ahh, that sounds nice! I've got the leather, but I like the cloth charcoal seats I saw in the one at the yard. Cloth is nicer in the hot weather, and the cold.

The biggest benefit will be to the cooling system, which will no longer have to do double duty in cooling both the motor and handling the exchanged heat from the automatic.

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa Dork
8/26/20 7:44 p.m.
Azryael said:

Before I get on the latest calamity, here's when the truck got some new eyes back in 2018. I also removed the headlight grille section from the bumper guard, as they were blocking light, making light output even more dismal.

One side done:

Both sides in, and trying my best to line them up to avoid blinding oncoming traffic:

Daytime shot:

This was one of the best upgrades I've done on this vehicle, and the projectors look damn near Factree in my eyes. They don't look ricer or cheap.

More info on the projectors and what you did?  I'd love to do something similar with my truck.

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 8:47 p.m.

In reply to Mr_Asa :

Sure thing!!

I ordered the Anzo clear lights, but opted to stay with the two-piece design instead of moving to the single piece, which do look really cheap in my opinion.

These were the ones, but I think I ordered them elsewhere: Anzo Light Housing

I ordered these projectors, but discovered they came with the wrong headlight relays, so I had to order that separately: Morimoto Minis

This was the correct relay: 9004/9007 Headlight Relay

The most challenging part really was getting those headlight lenses apart and back together without breaking them and making sure the seal was perfect. Watching the oven patiently and prying and clamping as I was doing one or the other was key here. I ordered some extra butyl sealant to make a fresh seal that would cure properly in the oven.

The back of the housings required some material removal for the projectors, and the projector coveres themselves needed some slight material removal as they were a tight fit into the housing. The projectors are secured to the back of the housing with a nut, but you need to make sure you do your best to align the projector cutoff as straight as you can before really tightening it down. You can still adjust them from behind after the fact, but it'll be hot if they're on, and hard to reach behind them (at least on this car).

The Anzo lights actually come attached to an adjustable housing, but I opted to pull that and attach them to the factory housings instead for a better fit. In my hand is the aftermarket housing. Replacing this is entirely optional:

I did a more detailed write-up somewhere, but I can't find it.

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa Dork
8/26/20 8:52 p.m.

I appreciate that, man.  I'm going to have to look into what vehicles have something that fits.  I was actually thinking of putting the lights in the bumper so they don't blind anyone.  Otherwise I'm stuck with these monstrosities

https://www.lmperformance.com/837190/111183-anzo-usa-ford-f-150-f-250-f-350-projector-headlights-w-halo-chrome-w-side-markers-parking-lights.html

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 9:01 p.m.

In reply to Mr_Asa :

Go on the OBS Revolution Facebook and get in touch with Tony Rojo... He makes the best projector headlights, and can LED tails that look good for the 9th gen F-series.

The only reason I haven't gone to him for a set on my '96, is because I plan to swap over to the front clip from the '80-86 trucks. I scored a 6.9 core support at the yard the other day.

Here's a vid on them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6BgKgSNXSU

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa Dork
8/26/20 10:13 p.m.
Azryael said:

In reply to Mr_Asa :

Go on the OBS Revolution Facebook and get in touch with Tony Rojo... He makes the best projector headlights, and can LED tails that look good for the 9th gen F-series.

The only reason I haven't gone to him for a set on my '96, is because I plan to swap over to the front clip from the '80-86 trucks. I scored a 6.9 core support at the yard the other day.

Here's a vid on them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6BgKgSNXSU

I've just about 100% divested myself of facebook.  I'll get on there if I have to, but is there any other way to contact him?

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/26/20 10:46 p.m.

In reply to Mr_Asa :

Should be. I'll see what I can find. I don't blame you. I need it for work/business.

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa Dork
8/26/20 11:30 p.m.

I appreciate it.

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/27/20 1:01 a.m.

In reply to Mr_Asa :

Apparently this is his profile over on Fullsizebronco: Tony Rojo

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/29/20 10:17 p.m.

Everything is here except the transmission. Still doing research on all the vendor options I have while still hoping I can find a good unit for cheaper locally.

Georges1991
Georges1991 Reader
8/30/20 1:34 a.m.

A manual Durango. I'm in love.

 

Had a 2nd gen Ram for years, and it was one of the best vehicles I've owned. Never had a trans issue (Thank God) up to 180k when I sold it. The 518 unit in my '91 is still performing well at over 200k as well. Just luck I guess.

 

I remember doing the plenum plate in my 98 too. Love those Magnum 5.9s. One of my all time favorite engines. This is awesome!

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/30/20 12:33 p.m.

Yup! Wasn't planning on doing this swap for at least another few years, but it seems to me like it's time!

I always wanted to get a 2nd gen Ram, but was missing the option for a crew cab, tho I've seen some custom ones that do look good. I'm not sure how true this is, but I've heard the pre-name change 518s are better than later versions re-designated as the 46RE. My understanding is that they are the exact same inside and out, so I'm not sure about the validity of that claim.

Just wish I could understand what the deal was! The Durango has always been fitted with stock 31x10.5 replacement tires, so it was never in a position where it was pushing some larger meats.

I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought about doing something crazier and throwing a Magnum into a sedan instead of an LS or Ford motor... Getting a stick to work that wasn't a truck gearbox would prove a little challenging, and the Magnums are built for low-end pulling torque, not off-the line performance. I do know there's an intake manifold that replaces the keg, but it shifts the power and torque curves to the higher RPMs, and effectively hurts its overall performance for what it was designed to do. May still be a good manifold for a street sedan application devil

Azryael
Azryael Reader
8/31/20 12:07 a.m.

Zumbrota NV3500 ordered from RockAuto. Should get here in a week or so, I guess.

Ideally, I think the 5.9 would do better with the NV4500 that came on the 2500 with the 5.9, but the added height of the box, and the fact that shift tower sits a little further forward may introduce some engineering challenges that I don't want to deal with at the moment.

Since the 5.9 is stock, and I trust that Zumbrota is using improved internals in their rebuilds (I've been told they address factory flaws, such as the loss of 5th gear in the NV4500), it should hold up to the ~345ft.lbs of torque that the 360 makes. It won't be doing any towing or heavy wheeling; that's what the 7.3 PSD is for.

Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter)
Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
8/31/20 8:46 a.m.

I love these things, makes me so happy your keeping it on the road. 

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