Draggin' Dakota
I read a lot about improving an engine's performance but very little about engine swapping. It's great to add stuff to your V-8 if you already have one, but what if your truck has a V-6? That's the situation I'm in with my '88 Dodge Dakota. It has the original 3.9L V-6 and five-speed manual transmission. I'd like to go faster-a lot faster.

I'd like to use my truck for drag racing and cruising. I have an '04 Dodge Ram that I drive every day, so I'm not really concerned about great driveability. I don't want it to be some rough race-only truck, but it doesn't have to be a luxury car, either. What I'd like some help with is installing either a 318 or 360 V-8 and an automatic transmission. Does anyone make a kit for this swap? How about exhaust headers? How much trouble will this swap be? Would I be better off with an A904 or an A727 transmission? Will my existing stock rearend hold up to a V-8? If you have any other suggestions, I'd appreciate hearing them.
Sage Crawford
Rapid City, South Dakota

Our first suggestion is to find a '91-or-later Dodge Dakota with the factory 318 V-8. The factory did all the hard work, so you could concentrate on increasing the engine's performance levels. When Dodge installed the 318 V-8, it had to extend the nose of the truck and modify the frame. A new K-member was required. This K-member isn't a direct swap for non-V-8 trucks. No one makes a kit for this swap-that we know of. You can install almost any engine in any truck, if you have sufficient welding skills and a big enough hammer. You can use a K-member from a fullsize Dodge V-8 truck. It will need some modifying. You'll most likely need to alter the firewall for clearance. An electric fan will save room at the front of the engine. A fullsize truck radiator or a custom-built radiator should be used to cool the new V-8. For headers, check companies that offer headers for production V-8 Dakotas. Hooker Headers has PN 5803 for Dakotas. Some minor adjustments may be necessary to fit in your '88 chassis. As for a transmission, we'd suggest the A500 heavy-duty four-speed Overdrive automatic that came with production V-8 Dakotas. This transmission is an A904 derivative. If you want a new A904, check with Mopar Performance for a crate transmission and related wiring harness. Mopar Performance also offers various shift-improvement kits and other heavy-duty transmission components. The A904 is about 5 inches shorter than your current five-speed manual, so the driveshaft will need to be lengthened. The amount you lengthen it will depend on how far back you mount the new engine. The transmission crossmember and mounting brackets will also need to be modified. Whether or not your existing rearend will tolerate the increased horsepower depends on which one you have. If you have the 8-1/4-inch ring gear (indicated by a round 10-bolt cover plate), you're in luck. This rearend should handle the added power as long as you don't get too carried away with modifications. If your existing rearend is the 7-1/4-inch ring gear version (indicated by a square 10-bolt cover), chances are it won't last long under hard use. You could swap in the 8-1/4-inch rearend. If you really want to get serious about the rearend, you could get a custom-built Ford 9-inch assembly from a specialist, such as Currie Enterprises. Besides the amount of work required for most engine swaps, the reason you don't hear much about them is that it is too easy to find engine/vehicle combinations that are pretty quick as is. It's much easier to upgrade an existing engine than to swap in a different one that still probably needs upgrading.

Hot Spots
I have two temperature-related questions concerning my '94 Dodge Ram pickup. After using the air conditioner for a normal length of time, the cold-air output lessens. The effect is very gradual, but over time it's noticeable. Besides not being as cold, the volume of air seems less, too. Do you think I need a new air conditioner or could something else be causing the problem? My second heat-related problem concerns the water temperature gauge. Over the years that I've owned the truck, the temp gauge stayed consistently in the same position. Recently, the Check Engine light has been coming on, but there haven't been any obvious signs of overheating. It was suggested that the gauge sensor was defective, so I replaced it. The temp gauge didn't move and the warning light didn't go off. Does that mean I have a more serious cooling problem?
Jeff Lopez
Oxnard, California

The answer to your air conditioning problem could be related to your truck's computer. Other '94-'95 Dodge trucks with similar symptoms have been found to have a problem with the computer not correctly sending a signal to the compressor clutch relay to cycle off. This condition can cause the A/C evaporator to gradually freeze up and leads to the less effective cooling that you've experienced. Consult an air conditioning specialist or your local Dodge service department. Ask them to check for the problem. Regarding your temp gauge problem, you probably didn't replace the right sensor. There should be a water temperature sensor for the dash gauge and another one for the engine computer. It sounds like you replaced the wrong sensor. Installing the correct sensor should turn off the Check Engine light.

Dimples
I bought an '02 Toyota Tacoma pickup with approximately 50,000 miles on it. The truck supposedly had new tires installed less than 10,000 miles ago, although the seller couldn't find the paperwork to prove it. The tires have tons of tread, but the first time I was washing the truck I noticed low spots in the sidewalls of all the tires. The low spots or "dimples" are on the sidewalls above the tread on the flattest part of the tire. The low spots are about 1 to 1-1/2 inches long. They look like someone pressed a finger into the tire. My concern is that the tires are defective. I know that the truck was stored for a couple months before being sold. Could not moving the truck for several months cause the dimples? It has also been suggested to me that the low spots are from the tire molds or that they indicate where the inner belts overlap. Is this something I should be concerned about? Can anything be done to correct the problem? Thanks for your help.
Matt Chen
Bethesda, Maryland

These dimples or blemishes that you describe are common and nothing to worry about. They're not mold marks. They're also not where the belts overlap. A tire's inner belts don't extend that far up into the sidewall. The best explanation is that they're small voids where the sidewall rubber was spliced. This is just the outer covering. The inner casing is the part of the tire that provides strength and shape. When it comes to inspecting tires for flaws or potential problems, look more for protrusions than low spots. A bulge in the sidewall can indicate an internal flaw that's letting air go where it isn't supposed to be. This can lead to a weak spot and a potential blowout. Tires that have sat too long in harsh sunlight and excessive heat can get checked or cracked. This is a sign of sidewall deterioration. If you're in doubt about you're the condition of your tires, go to a reputable tire store. They'll check your tires for free.

Smoke Signals
I have an odd problem that's driving me nuts. I hope you can help. My '87 Chevy Silverado C10 pickup emits puffs of white smoke when I make hard left turns. The problem doesn't happen when turning right. The engine is a high-mileage 305 V-8. It used to do the traditional blue smoke on startup, but since I overhauled the engine that problem has disappeared. I thought there might be some connection between the different smoke problems. The white smoke is most evident on harder, faster turns. What could be causing this problem?
Loren Thompson
via e-mail

This is an odd one, but the source is most likely brake fluid. Smoke coming out of the tailpipe being caused by brake fluid seems like a difficult trick, because brake fluid problems are usually associated with leaks rather than smoke. The brake master cylinder is probably leaking fluid past the power brake booster's seal. This is an internal leak, so it isn't evident on the outside of the booster. This escaping fluid collects inside the booster. Engine vacuum usually isn't strong enough to suck the fluid into the engine, but the combination of hard left turns could be enough to move fluid up close to the vacuum feed. When the fluid sloshes up, the engine vacuum is sufficient to suck some fluid into the vacuum line. From there, it goes into the intake and on to the combustion chambers. The burned brake fluid exits the exhaust pipe as the white smoke you're seeing. An easy way to check if this is the smoke's source is to disconnect the power brake vacuum line. Plug the line. Drive the truck as you do when the smoke is most evident. If the smoke stops, you've located the problem. The master cylinder should be replaced. It would also be a good idea to check the power booster to make sure it's OK. Inspect it to see if draining and cleaning is sufficient or if it, too, needs to be replaced.

Blue Monday
Whenever I leave my '94 Chevy S-10 pickup parked for any length of time and then start it up, I see a big cloud of blue smoke coming out of the exhaust. The blue smoke doesn't last very long, but it's certainly noticeable. I've been told that the smoke is caused by oil seeping into the cylinders and then being burned when the truck is started. The engine in my truck is the 4.3L V-6. It has about 150,000 miles on it. As far as I know, the engine is the original one and it hasn't had any major repairs. I get regular oil changes at the local quick-change franchise. The engine doesn't seem to use any big amounts of oil between changes. Will the blue smoke lessen if I change to synthetic oil? I've heard that synthetic oil is better for engines, so would it be less prone to burning? Thanks for your input.
Kyle Richardson
via e-mail

Synthetic oil will make your problem worse. Synthetic oil has a lower viscosity than traditional oil. Since oil is seeping past the valve stem seals when the truck is parked, the thinner oil will be even more prone to seeping. It's this pooled oil that's causing the blue smoke. The good news about synthetic oil is that it has a lower ash content, so it could lessen the carbon buildup on the valves. The real solution to your problem is to replace the valve stem seals. This isn't a very complicated job, so it's a relatively inexpensive repair. Your situation also applies to GM small-block V-8 engines.