Why Swap Engines?
The reasons to swap engines are numerous, but generally it's for more power, better fuel economy and better performance. Hitting all three of those goals can be accomplished, depending on the engine swap selected. Maybe you are looking for more performance without much focus on fuel mileage. Or maybe you tow or haul and need more power. Whatever reason, the goal of every engine swap should be to perform better than the factory options for your vehicle. More than once I have seen engine swaps done, only to have worst results than what was available from the factory. The number one cause is poor planning and failing to follow a set plan.
This wiki will focus mainly on NON-Mopar based swaps since swapping a Mopar engine into a Dakota is already dead simple.
Commonly Asked Questions
How hard is a Dakota engine swap?
The question I am asked most is how hard is to swap engines in a Dodge Dakota. The answer to that depends on many variables. The persons mechanical skills, availability of tools and parts as well as the engine being swapped in. Working in a shop with a hoist, welder and all the tools required will definitely make it easier than working on jack stands in your garage. That being said. You can still get the job accomplished with a medium level of mechanical skills and the proper tools.
What other Mopar engines can I swap into my Dakota?
The most common engine swap of all for a Dodge Dakota is replacing the 4 cylinder or V6 engine with a V8 engine from another Dakota. The Dakota was offered with both, the 5.2 (318), or the more powerful 5.9 (360) variants. Swapping a Dodge V8 into your Dakota is the easiest of all swaps.
How hard is it to swap a Non-Mopar engine in my Dakota?
This is another question that depends entirely on the person doing the swap. There are as many options as there are engines.
LS Engines - The most popular engine of choice is the General Motors LS family of engines. They can be found in anything from late 90's F Bodies and trucks, up to current production vehicles. Power ranges from 275hp up to 625hp or more depending on the engine. They are also relatively cheap to acquire, with 5.3 engines going for less than a $1,000 complete, and sometimes with transmissions included.
Smallblock Chevy Engines - Another engine choice is the Smallblock Chevrolet engine. This engine was available from 1955 up until 1998 in production vehicles and aftermarket models still being produced today. Available with everything from cast iron heads and carburetors to aluminum heads and multiport fuel injection. In stock form, the Smallblock Chevy honestly doesn't make the best swap candidate because many of the variants actually made less power than the stock Dodge 318 or 360. However, they can be built to easily surpass the performance of the stock Dodge V8 engines, including the R/T models. Aftermarket parts are also the most widely available of any engine ever built.
Non-Domestic Engines - This is a category that very few have managed to pull off successfully. But, there have been successful Nissan swaps, such as the 2GJZ.
Diesel Engines - For many, the goal of an engine swap is more power for towing or hauling. Swapping a diesel engine into a Dakota definitely covers that goal. There have been several completed diesel engine swapped Dakotas.
Where can I get engine swap mounts?
Currently there is only one person making engine swap mounts for non-Mopar engines (specifically the LS engine) into a Dakota. Due to the lack of availability of bolt in kits. Most swaps will require custom fabricated mounts. You can read more about the ones being produced here.
Below are examples of mounts some have fabricated. They are fairly straight forward and not very complicated.
Can I keep my transmission crossmember?
It depends on what transmission you use, but generally, yes, you can keep the stock transmission crossmember. If you go with a manual transmission you will have to modify the floor for the shifter as it generally falls behind the stock opening (4L60E shown below).
Transmission Shifter Linkage and Trans Tunnel Clearance
The stock column shift can be made to work with some slight linkage modifications (Depending on the transmission being used). The transmission tunnel offers plenty of clearance for most late model automatics. Though slight trimming of the pinch weld will help with bellhousing bolt access.
Hydraulic Clutch Slave Cylinder and Master
The quick connects on the 5 Speed trucks, is the same as the GM connects, so it's plug and play. The clutch master off of a Corvette C5 is also a direct bolt on swap as well.
What about oil pan clearance?
Most stock oil pans will clear with no issues, assuming you are putting the engine in the stock position.
What headers/exhaust can I use?
Next to motor mounts, this may be the most commonly asked question I get. Several have used shorty headers or built their own. The drivers side F body long tube header will work. The passengers side will need to be modified. The other option is to use the stock exhaust manifolds. If stock manifolds are used, it may be necessary to remove the EGR tube boss to clear the control arm mount. The Dakota Frame is narrower and therefore the exhaust collectors sit very close or hit the frame.
Smallblock Chevy swaps can use late model (1998 or so) Silverado 4wd shorty headers. The passenger side header clears the upper control arm mount. In the photo it clears just barely due to the engine being mounted lower than stock. They just clear the steering shaft in this swap due to the lowered engine position. With the engine installed in the stock position, it would clear with no issue.
The stock V8 radiator is more than enough to cool a LS, Custom radiator hoses are required due to the LS hose locations. Smallblock Chevy swaps can use stock hoses with slight trimming of the upper hose to allow keeping the radiator cap. A straight 45* water neck will be required. A tee in the upper radiator hose is required for the steam hose from the heads. The radiator cap neck can be cut out of the stock hose and fit into the new upper hose.
Fuel Pump and Sending Unit
The stock Dakota pump will supply enough for the engine to run, but not properly. The best and easiest upgrade is the Warlboro 255. It supplies the needed 58psi and is more than enough for a stock or lightly modified LS or Multiport Smallblock Chevy and fits in the stock sending unit with some minor work.
Depending on the year Dakota, there is more than ample room for accessories. The only exception is the Corvette style accessories which can interfere with the battery location. The truck setup is the most common.
Smallblock Chevy swaps can get away with V Belt accessories. The only exception is low mount accessories which will hit the front frame crossmember.
Power Steering Pump
The stock Dakota power steering pump is a Delco pump, meaning it will bolt directly up to the GM brackets if you are going with a Smallblock Chevy. The Stock hoses can even be used. If a LS swap, custom hoses can be made relatively cheaply.
Coil Pack Clearance
The #7 coil pack clears the brake booster just fine with the engine in the stock location. Even with the larger truck coils.
Distributor Clearance (NON-LS Engines)
Smallblock Chevy swaps will need to run small cap HEI distributors, or low profile distributors in second gen and third gen swaps due to wiper cowl overhang. First gen swaps don't have this issue.
Alternator, Battery and Starter
The layout of the Dakota engine compartment works perfect with the LS setup. The alternator sits nicely right near the battery and main power distribution box. Neither the battery nor power distribution box need moved. The starter also fits just fine and the cable layout is dead simple. Smallblock Chevy swaps also work quite well, the alternator wire will need to be extended. Old style large starters also clear the frame, even with headers.
The Stock LS PCM can be made to sit nicely right with the battery and power distribution box.
Can I keep my stock gauges without the Mopar engine?
You can absolutely keep most of the stock gauges, it requires keeping the JTEC ECM, stock sending units and sensors. Adapters are commonly available for the coolant temp sensor, the Equus part # is 9843 The Oil Pressure sending unit/switch uses a common standard thread as well which can be easily adapted. See notes (A),(B) and (C).
A.) Stock Tachometer will not function with non-Mopar swapped engine as it operates via CANbus via the ECM. At this time no one has been able to successfully make it work.
B.) Depending on whether the truck was originally a 5 speed manual or an automatic will dictate how the speedometer will work. 5 Speed trucks get their speedometer signal from the rear ABS sensor in the differential. Automatic transmission trucks get it via the VSS sensor in the transmission. The stock speedometer can still be made to work, however a pulse converter such as this will be required to convert the non-Mopar signal to a signal that the ECM can recognize.
C.) If you are swapping a fuel injected engine, it will be required that you keep both sets of sensors, one set for the stock JTEC for the gauges, and the other for the new EFI setup. Most engines have multiple locations for sensor placement, this normally isn't an issue.
Other wiring questions
You can find some Dakota wiring diagrams here. The Air Bag system operates totally independent of the CCD PCM system as well, so it's possible to remove the PCM and keep air bag function. Retaining the PCM is required for ABS function on OBD2 trucks.