by Jessica Eustice • photos by Michael Shatto
“Truckie” is the name Mike Shatto’s wife gave his ‘98 Dodge Dakota when it was new. He sold it, for more than the cost of repairing broken air-conditioning, at 623,000 miles. Capable of carrying up to 1300 lbs. cargo, the V-6 automatic averaged 18 MPG but got up to 23 MPG on long runs (like a trip to Los Angeles that included crossing “The Grapevine” at altitudes over 7000 ft.)
How did he keep the truck going and going? While the Dakota was powered by a V6 whose ancentry dates back to the reliable LA V8 engine family, by Mike Shatto’s report it was the Amsoil Series 2000 0W-30 oil run through an Amsoil remote bypass filter mounted under the bed. He changed the Spin-on filter at 20,000 miles, and used oil analysis every 40,000 miles, which allowed running up to 100,000 miles between changes. The automatic transmission fluid was also changed at three times the manufacturer’s recommended intervals.
Shatto said he became an Amsoil dealer so he could get a discount on the products.
Shatto replaced 2 alternators, countless spark plugs, distributor caps and rotors, brake pads, 4-5 water pumps, the radiator, and the heater core by himself. His mechanic, Dexter, had to get involved for serious jobs like replacing the cracked cylinder heads with burned-out valves at 350,000 miles. Dexter and Mike, looking inside the cylinders, were delighted to find the hatch marks put there during manufacturing - Shatto says - a testament to the power of synthetic motor oil to reduce wear to the absolute minimum.
Swirl lines (“hatch marks”) were visible after 350,000 miles
Mike wrote, “The valves and heads broke — having nothing to do with lubrication — and many mechanics think of this as replacement maintenance; not a major but a minor job.”
Since the engine was apart, Shatto used the opportunity to install Gibson headers to complement the long-serving Jacobs electronic ignition, and Flowmaster Muffler. The plan was to maximize gas mileage.
Valves after “about a bazillioin fires.” Note clean spark plug.
Another time, around 100,000 miles, Shatto experienced an engine surge when the vehicle was running on cruise control. Four dealers and two nationwide transmission shops told him he would need a new transmission, but an oil analysis found nothing wrong with the transmission. It turned out that it was only the throttle position sensor. While at one point the transmission solenoids were replaced, Mike wrote, “The transmission solenoids are electronics. Mechanically, there was never anything wrong.”
Nice and clean despite 350,000 miles (above, rockers and pushrods; below, valves and springs)
Shatto used the Dakota mainly for courier work, driving anywhere from 150 to 350 miles a day on freeway and city streets in the giant basin bounded by Sacramento, Modesto, San Francisco and Monterey. Occasionally he drove it to destinations as far from his home in the Bay Area, as Tempe, Phoenix and Boise, Idaho. A couple of times he took it with the family on vacations in Oregon.
Some examples of the unusual cargo transported by “Truckie” include aircraft brakes, envelopes, blood samples, soil samples, groceries, printers proofs, booze, food for a caterer, chain (rigging for pile-drivers), political pamphlets, Pharmacy deliveries to the home, blood and even a human liver for transplant.
Shatto tells a story of carrying a snowboard for a commercial being filmed at a ski resort near Lake Tahoe. The board had a picture of Barbie Benton on it, and tasteful though Shatto says the picture was, he was compelled, as a good driver and a gentleman, to keep his eyes straight ahead, focusing only on the road.
In addition to providing these photos and gas station receipts, Michael Shatto sent along various registration and vehicle inspection documents, as well as repair records, which provided a healthy proof that his Dakota does indeed have the mileage he claimed. Thank you for sending it all along, Michael!
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