There’s a Dart that’s right for just about anyone.
When the new Dodge Dart launched in 2012 for model year 2013, it aimed to shake things up in the market with athletic styling, great feature-content bang for the buck, and tremendous selection for shoppers. All units were compact four-door sedans, four-cylinder-powered, and front-wheel-drive. With its standout looks and features, the Dart intended to give the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, and other competitors in this segment a run for their money. After a short sales life of just a few years, the resurrected Dart has been cancelled as Dodge focuses on more popular products.
During its life, Dart was one of the only models in the segment to offer several factory-customized model variants, which gave shoppers the ability to express their unique tastes and preferences. For instance, the Rallye Package, available on the high-value Dart SXT, includes a black crosshair grille, unique leather-wrapped steering wheel, a touring-optimized suspension, signature LED “racetrack” taillamps and exclusive wheels. The Blacktop Package adds numerous darkened cosmetic accents, tasteful use of black gloss trim, and a unique sport suspension system for increased agility. Unique wheels and subtle interior upgrades complete the package. Aero, GT, and Limited models were also available, allowing drivers to tailor their individual Dart to their desired blend of sportiness, luxury, and feature content.
Available were large, full-colour display screens, the latest in smartphone integration and navigation technology, premium audio systems, automatic lights and climate control, and a full range of hazard-detecting safety systems.
Translation? In the used market, there’s a Dart that’s right for just about anyone.
Power came from one of three four-cylinder engines. A naturally aspirated four-cylinder of 2.0 or 2.4 litres’ displacement was available, and each featured Fiat-derived Multi-Air technology for on-demand engine breathing control. Also available was a Multi-Air-equipped 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. A range of six-speed transmissions was on offer, including manual, automatic, or dual-clutch gearboxes, depending on the model and engine in question. Note that the dual-clutch gearbox is a form of automatic transmission and, despite the name, has no clutch pedal for the driver to operate.
What Owners Like
Owners tend to rate the Dart’s ride quality, smooth and refined drivelines, strong performance from the higher-output engines, and modern, upscale interior styling the most highly. The 2.4-litre four-cylinder is said to be a strong and flexible performer, and both the up-level stereo system and touchscreen infotainment system are highly rated, too. Good handling and a sturdy, capable feel help round out the package.
What Owners Dislike
Common gripes include some cheap interior plastics, some awkward layout decisions regarding certain controls and stalks, and the lack of a trunk-mounted grab handle for easier closing. Some owners have reported uncomfortable seats, and a rough ride – though the latter complaint is more typical of sportier models with the up-sized wheels and tires.
The Test Drive
As is typical of a fairly high-volume used car, the “problems” sections in several Dodge Dart owner forums highlight numerous owner-reported problems and issues that shoppers should be aware of.
Two notes, before starting.
First, note that many facets of vehicle reliability are determined by how the vehicle was driven and maintained by past owners, not the badge on the hood. Second, before buying any used Dodge Dart, a full pre-purchase inspection (PPI) carried out by a professional technician at a Chrysler dealer is your best defence against buying a unit that’s concealing any serious issues. A PPI should be considered mandatory before buying any used vehicle.
Here’s an interesting story. In this thread, numerous owners discuss their Dodge Dart stalling at random, often in traffic, which is a safety concern. Initially, the cause is debated as being battery-related, the result of wonky electronics, or a bad transmission control module. Then, the actual cause is revealed to be a protective measure, in which the engine turns itself off when it’s run low on oil.
Owners who don’t regularly check their engine oil don’t notice the engine oil level decreasing over time, which can cause the engine to turn off. As a used shopper, the takeaway here is that weekly oil level checks are important, and that sometimes, a failure to understand how the car works, or how to maintain it, is responsible for other issues.
On the topic of oil consumption and low oil levels, note that, as many modern cars do, the Dart may consume oil between oil changes. Extended oil change intervals and other factors seem to make the issue of oil consumption more prevalent of late. As a shopper, be sure to check the oil level of the Dart you’re considering before a test drive, while the engine is cold. As an owner, be sure to check your Dart’s oil level every week (it only takes about 30 seconds) and to top up accordingly. If the model you’re considering seems to be losing oil rapidly between checks, and if there’s any powertrain warranty remaining, be sure to have a dealer investigate, and to document your concerns, which may speed the warranty repair process, if required.
Some owners experience rapid oil loss, and some experience none. Here’s some more information. Note that as an owner, best practice suggested by the owners community (and several mechanics) is to confirm your Dart is only filled with factory-specified oil, and that oil changes occur well ahead of the request made by the vehicle’s oil-life monitor system.
Here’s another interesting story. In this thread, numerous owners incorrectly guess as to why one Dart driver’s car is bucking and hesitating at low revs while driving. Possible causes suggested included water in the fuel lines, a clogged fuel filter, and electronics problems. The actual cause, as revealed by a quick diagnostic scan, was a cylinder misfire, caused by a bad spark plug and wire. The takeaway? Guessing why a modern car might be acting up is ill-advised, as is throwing money and time at repairs that you aren’t certain will fix the issue. This is one of a multitude of situations where a simple diagnostic scan can quickly pinpoint an annoying problem.
Translation? If the Dart you’re considering for purchase performs poorly, sporadically, or with random hesitation, have an expert take a look, and consider a diagnostic scan, even if there’s no Check Engine light illuminated.
Which drivetrain? The owner’s community tends to favour the 2.4-litre four-cylinder with six-speed automatic transmission, as it’s punchy, efficient, and less complicated than the turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder with DCT, which offers similar performance.
Next up, be aware of this recall, which saw Dodge replace the transmission control module, and an associated mounting bracket, on certain models, to prevent an issue where the vehicle might suddenly shift into Neutral, causing a loss of power. As a recall, this work doesn’t cost any money, but you’ll need to bring the vehicle’s VIN number to a dealer service desk to see if the Dart you’re considering is affected.
If the Dart you’re considering has automatic lights, confirm that they turn themselves on as it gets dark outside, by themselves, with the switch set into the Auto position. If that’s not the case, a dead or dying light sensor may be to blame. Here’s some more information.
Give all on-board electronics a full run through their paces, and ensure you give the central touchscreen interface a good workout – engaging the navigation system, multimedia menus, and other vehicle functions. Triple-check that you’re able to make a Bluetooth connection with your smartphone, and both place and receive calls, with no call quality issues. Though reports are somewhat rare and inconclusive, some owners have reported issues with non-responsive, laggy or buggy touchscreen interfaces. Sometimes, a hard reset or software update is the fix. Other times, the screen needs to be replaced.
Shoppers are also advised to confirm proper operation of the cruise control system, several times on their test drive, and to run the climate control system fully through its paces, confirming operation in all modes and temperature ranges. If the climate control system fails to work as expected, and especially if the air conditioning feels weak, have a dealer technician scan and diagnose the system.
Also, confirm that the vehicle’s key doesn’t get stuck or trapped in the ignition cylinder, as some owners have reported this problem. Here’s some more reading.
Check all interior trim, seating, carpeting and panelling for signs of excessive wear or damage. Some owners have been disappointed with the durability of some of the Dart’s interior components, particularly the factory floor mats and door panels. Check the Dart’s exterior rocker panels for signs of damage, too. Some owners say that, due to their shape, they’re easily damaged by improper lifting of the vehicle on a hoist.
Note that by several accounts, the first model year of this generation Dart is the least reliable. If possible, opt for a 2014 or newer model. Many owners and enthusiasts report fewer issues with newer copies of this machine.
Finally, have the Dart’s suspension and brakes inspected professionally, particularly if you note any pulsating or a squealing sound under light to moderate braking, or any banging, popping, or slamming sounds from beneath the vehicle as you drive down a rough road.
Depreciation has made used copies of the Dodge Dart very affordable in the used marketplace, and the styling and feature content bang-for-the-buck add even more appeal. For maximum peace of mind, shoppers are advised to opt for a 2014 or newer unit, with the 2.4-litre engine, and to have it treated to a full inspection by a Chrysler-trailed technician before purchase.
Crash Test Ratings
IIHS: Top Safety Pick+ (2013)
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (2014)
Here’s a list of recalls.