Limping to the Bay - 2013 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye Long-Term Road Test

2013 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye Long-Term Road Test

2013 Dodge Dart: Limping to the Bay

February 19, 2014

2013 Dodge Dart

After 20 minutes of indecision, I made up my mind. Our 2013 Dodge Dart would get me to San Francisco or I would abandon it on the roadside trying. After slipping, sputtering and smelling of burnt something, I pulled the Dart off the highway several miles from Kettleman City, an interstate outpost town in California's San Joaquin valley.

The problem started with what felt like a fuel interruption during a sixth-gear pass on a semi. Not much later, the check-engine light illuminated, and the Dart starting skipping a beat and losing power in its lower gears. After letting the powertrain cool, checking fluids, flipping through the manual, cycling the ignition, and repeating incantations to the guardians of road trips, I drove the Dart gingerly around the back of the strip mall where I'd parked. It struggled with acceleration through the first three gears, but seemed to hook up in fourth.

I made a furtive pass at the interstate on-ramp, but chickened out and U-turned back to the gas-and-snack complex. The car just didn't feel highway worthy. But after several more minutes of internal debate, more looking and sniffing around under the hood (something was smelling burnt, but I couldn't pinpoint the source or smell), and generally pretending my mechanical theories had validity, I had to do something. And that something was not waiting for a tow truck and a rental car to get me the rest of the way to San Francisco.

The Dart chugged up the on-ramp like an old Beetle and fortunately there was no semi closing in from behind. The car brightened up in fourth and fifth gears, feeling fairly normal and linear in its power delivery, but again bogged and sputtered in sixth. I resigned myself to fifth gear and the slow lane for the rest of the trip to the city, about 200 more miles.

This was a decent enough strategy for the remainder of Interstate 5's flat stretch. But the more winding elevation changes of Highway 152 required constant rowing of the manual-shift function and trying to stay in what remained of the powerband. Then there were the stoplights at the junction of the 152 and US 101 highways. Would the Dart die? Would it even accelerate from a dead stop?

It didn't die. Idle was anemic, but it didn't die. And pulling away from the stop was slow enough to frustrate the following car. But once on the 101 freeway, the Dart returned to long highway form. I worried about hitting stop-and-go traffic coming into town, but the final test would be the hills and stoplights of the city itself. By then, if the Dart died somewhere on 5th Street, I figured I could at least walk to my hotel.

The end was anti-climactic. Traffic coming into the city was light and soon enough I was off the freeway. Leaving from a few signals on inclines provided moments of soft prayer, but the Dart made it to the Sutter and Stockton parking garage seemingly no worse than when the problems began. I made it to my hotel with about an hour to spare before the event I'd come for. I actually had to pat the Dart on the dashboard. Even as wounded as it was, it got me there.

The cause I found out later was a misfire. There was a problem with a spark plug ceramic which would prevent the cylinder from firing. And the smell was unburnt fuel meeting an overheated catalyst, despite the fact that Chrysler does protect the catalyst by turning off the fuel to the misfiring cylinder if the temperatures get too high.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ 19,683 miles


  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    So why did a bad spark plug end the test early? Is there more to this story?

  • gslippy gslippy Posts:

    What is this? After SIX weeks, this is all we get? Is the Dart still in the fleet? How long did it take to repair? Are other Darts suffering from this? Was there collateral damage to the car by driving it in this condition for 200+ miles? No commentary on whether this problem is just a minor inconvenience, or a major strike against the Dart? If the Dart is gone, will it be replaced by another compact?

  • yellowbal yellowbal Posts:

    Probably need a new catalytic converter and new spark plugs.

  • mieden mieden Posts:

    Good post. You did the right thing. Those 200 miles probably took a few months off the end of the converters life, but thats a decade away.

  • miata52 miata52 Posts:

    Wow, bad spark plug. Something so's just bad luck, it could happen to any car. I would have driven it, too. Especially if it's not my car and I don't care if I break it anymore.

  • I don't buy this excuse for a second. Bad spark plug, really Edmunds? Sounds very much like a 'diagnosis' approved by Fiasler's legal team. Sing it loud, folks - THE DART IS [non-permissible content removed]!!!!

  • yellowbal yellowbal Posts:

    Shouldn't the check engine light flash on misfires?

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    "...And that something was not waiting for a tow truck and a rental car to get me the rest of the way to San Francisco." Why when reading that section did I get a sudden flash of Red Foreman saying, "You Dumbass!" I mean really? On I-5 you could have become a slowing roadblock/road pizza had that thing decided to crap out. Press-on-itis they call it in the flying world, and it gets people dead.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Why were you stupid enough to drive the car like this for 200 miles? First, it's just dumb - you don't know what's going to happen out there on the open road, and you could be causing permanent damage. Second, no actual car owner would do this, because he's making monthly payments on the car. So it doesn't meet the stated objective of a long-term test - to show what the ownership experience is like. And like gslippy said...I bet this has something to do with the sudden exit the Dart made from your long-term fleet.

  • Bull$&@?. I agree with yellowbal. A misfire (in this case a cylinder not firing at all) is read by the PCM as a serious malfunction and the light will flash. Cover up for more free Chrysler vehicles.

  • hacefrio hacefrio Posts:

    Ha, fordson, agentorange: you guys must also measure out your milk before pouring it on your cereal. I would've pressed on if I'd owned the car. That's what powertrain warranties are for. The check engine light illuminated, folks. Read the previous entry. The Dart left the building because the Dart had about 13 months and nearly 20,000 with us already. This was just a dramatic end to the relationship. We're replacing the Dart with a black helicopter. Three or four of them, actually.

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    Powertrain warranties work well. Life warranties when you've been pummeled into the asphalt by an 18-wheeler are harder to come by.

  • noburgers noburgers Posts:

    Why the senseless cliffhanger posts? Just tell us the whole story. And why has Edmunds become so lax in running wrap up posts on cars over the past year?

  • gslippy gslippy Posts:

    noburgers is right: the wrap-up posts are getting pretty sparse, and this car's MIA status for the last 6 weeks has been pretty mysteriously guarded by Edmunds. We get blow-by-blow exit reports on a 25-year-old Buick GN that no longer holds relevance, but Dodge's Great Red Hope goes missing (pun intended) for a month and a half and the details of its exit are parsimoniously meted out. As the problems with this car mounted, I was wondering what its resale value would be. Now I'm thinking it will just fade away with no further comment. If you want your readers ("clicks") to stay with you, you'll avoid further obscurity and tell the truth in real time about these cars, just as a neighbor would talking with a friend. Instead, this episode gives the appearance of shenanigans between you and Dodge. Please say it isn't so, and clear the air.

  • Wow, just wow. WTF am I reading these for anymore?

  • hybris hybris Posts:

    Dear god Edmunds this is getting out of hand. Six long weeks for this story? I realize that there is a level of delay in these posts but we are/have crossed the line between reasonable delays and just plain underhanded delays.----------------------------------------------------------------------- If stuff happens give us complete stories unless you are/were honestly waiting for word back from whatever the case may be.---------------------------------------------------------------------------- I have been on the LT blogs since 2008 and a lot has changed most of it I could adapt to but these kind of posts with weeks between them make it real hard for me to justify coming here anymore.---------------------------------------------------------------------- As for the allegations of questionable dealings with Dodge gslippy is right you guys need to clear the air or at least try to. I realize that Dodge sends you free cars for reviews and without cars its a lot harder to be a car review source but you guys are compromising any sense of honest journalism that you have thus also making it hard to justify coming to your site looking for honest reviews.------------------------------------------------------------ In closing FIX THE WALL OF TEXT OR AT LEAST GIVE US A EDIT BUTTON! WE HAVE BEEN ASKING FOR EITHER ONE OF THESE FEATURES SINCE BEFORE 2008!

  • miata52 miata52 Posts:

    Ehh, what hybris said.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I left this site for almost a year after the last "upgrade". Came back for a little while now after I saw you had at least gone back to the normal blog-style format. Your suspect journalism is making me rethink coming back.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    "Ha, fordson, agentorange: you guys must also measure out your milk before pouring it on your cereal. I would've pressed on if I'd owned the car. That's what powertrain warranties are for." I guess you're right - for Edmunds to authentically duplicate the LT ownership experience, they have to have at least one staffer who will play the part of the idiot owner who keeps trying to drive long after the sane ones would park it. That would be you.

  • I think it's safe to say that few of us believe Frio's fractured Fiat fairy tale. A "bad spark plug" isn't reason enough for a car to get unceremoniously expunged from the fleet. C'mon, Danny Boy, spill the beans. How much is Fiasler paying you to cover the REAL story up?

  • This is a good reminder of why I try to remember to throw my code reader in on long trips. Also would be nice if someday the screen in the car could show something like "error code ####, misfire on cylinder 2" rather than just a check engine light.

  • " I would've pressed on if I'd owned the car. That's what powertrain warranties are for." --- Powertrain warranties are nice, but that only works if you are a car owner that always replaces the car before the warranty is up. I'm not sure how many owners would be able to be certain they'd unload the car before it expired. Once you are outside of that 5 years it is all on you (or the poor second owner) And a pre-cat isn't part of the powertrain warranty worse yet they can easily run north of $1,000 to have replaced.

  • mieden mieden Posts:

    Wow, you guys are kind of extra. He pulled over when it began misfiring, checked all the usual things, didnt see or smell anything noticeably incorrect and proceeded with caution from that point on. Its just a car, not a space ship. Sure, he took a little bit of life off of the catalytic converter...not as much as the third or fourth owner will when they drive it around on marginal plugs, a clogged fuel filter and bad 02 sensors for years. I am a little intrigued as to why the MIL wasnt flashing if there was a significant enough misfire to cause this post. Maybe he didnt notice it flashing?

  • cjasis cjasis Posts:

    Everything else aside, I think it was really silly and irresponsible to continue on rather than get a tow. I'm betting gambling on the car making it and potentially putting yourself and others at needless risk isn't a decision that 99% of actual owners would make.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    @mieden: "After slipping, sputtering and smelling of burnt something, I pulled the Dart off the highway several miles from Kettleman City, an interstate outpost town in California's San Joaquin valley." "something was smelling burnt, but

  • gslippy gslippy Posts:

    You know, a broken spark plug could have destroyed the piston, cylinder block, head, valves, and really the whole engine. You don't throw a piece of hard ceramic onto a piston moving at 5000 rpm without consequences. Maybe we'll hear that the Dart's engine was replaced? Reminds me of the Ford 5.4L Triton engines which used to eat spark plugs - a friend's truck had to have a cylinder head replaced. And you can't blame the spark plug - there is likely a design flaw in the engine controls or geometry (resonance) that caused this. Spark plugs have been running dependably for over a century.

  • eclogite eclogite Posts:

    If only a mis-fire, why did it perform fine in gears 4 & 5, but suck wind in the other four?

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    @yellowbal and allthingshonda: The CEL did kick on, he documented that.

  • oldparnell oldparnell Posts:

    Dodge - Hi Edmunds, we have that brand new Challenger ready to go for you, first we need to talk regarding that Dart you're having problems with....

  • socal_eric socal_eric Posts:

    So to recap, you abuse a car that you're soon to dump on another buyer when you know there's a significant powertrain issue, can smell the catalyst screaming for mercy, then try to justify it and add that the car will cut fuel to the cylinder not firing? You really positive about that or just trying to justify the previous indifference for the car and poor judgment in order to make a quick blog entry? Let me guess, the check engine light was also flashing showing potential for serious catalyst damage at one point? And are you going to tell the service advisor you drove like that for hundreds of miles or milk a free catalyst under "manufacturer's defect" and warranty fraud? ---- I'll echo comments about the site going downhill with not much for updates, new articles and then posts like this. It's bad enough that you're cycling in normal "reviews" on the IL, err, "What's Hot" page and still have the auto-playing video but lack of fresh and even worse, poor content has started keeping me away. I wonder if I'm not alone and page hits are down...

  • hybris hybris Posts:

    A week has passed and not a word. The people are growing restless and very impatient. Even nukedetroit is just about ready to gnaw on his own leg waiting for another post.

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