A comfortable, brutish display of nonstop problems: Looking back on what went wrong with my 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T 5.7/6MT 100th Anniversary Edition
In June of 2014 I purchased my dream car: a Dodge Challenger R/T 100th Anniversary Edition. With eight cylinders up front, power sent to the rear and a six-speed manual, it was everything I had fantasized over since the Challenger concept car announced the nameplate’s reincarnation. Eight years later I finally had my own, but reality hit me hard: modern cars, contrary to my expectations, can still be riddled with issues. I won’t venture so far as to say it was plagued, but my Challenger was certainly troublesome. In July of 2016, after passing my breaking point in fighting these problems and during circumstances exaggerated by and coinciding with life changes, I sold it.
Which is extremely unfortunate, seeing as it was a truly gorgeous car that did much of what was asked of it quite well. Nearly ten years after the Challenger’s reintroduction I barely need mention that the LX-platform car, at least in stock R/T guise, is incapable of dancing with its supposed Ford and Chevy competitors, but it shines in other disciplines. A comfortable, competent, road-trip-craving Grand Tourer, a supremely controllable drift machine that sang beautiful V8 songs, and, still in my eyes, a magnificent looking piece of machinery that sold itself on its macho character. But, as I found through my two years and fifty-five-thousand miles with the car, it was far from flawless. On the contrary, it was quite fucked.
What could go wrong with a 2014 model year Challenger? Was it enough to ruin my perception of the model and corresponding relationship with this specific car? How many headaches can one car– and one dealer– cause? Read on for the full story.
Numerous test-drives and diligent cross-shopping against the then-current S197 Mustang and 5th-gen Camaro yielded a decision that the Challenger was the most well-rounded of the three and, thus, the best-suited to my lifestyle. It was the right car at the right time: a V8-powered rear-wheel-drive muscle car with enough space to easily carry myself and three friends both on local adventures and on long-haul getaways.
A new High Octane Red-painted Challenger R/T 100th Anniversary Edition that had been sitting on a dealer lot caught my eye and eventually got the best of my checkbook. It was a great deal and everything I wanted; it was, in my mind, a tangible representation of freedom, maturity, life progression, and my first true step into the world of owning something with a flair for driving enjoyment. It was perfect. I mean, just look at it. Well, at least I thought it was perfect. The ensuing two years would very much contradict this.
Recently a friend (Hi, Adam!) asked me about my Challenger and requested details on what problems it had. After almost publishing an article of similar content last year, enough time has passed for the psychological wounds to have healed and for me to write with a much less angry tone. Prompt fresh in mind, the timing was right to put together a more coherent version that’s heavier on content and lighter on curses aimed at the dealership, Dodge, and FCA. For the sake of protecting reputations (and since I’d like to think those involved have improved for the better since all of this happened) I am not mentioning the name of the dealership.
What follows is a mostly complete list, told in abbreviated form, of the problems I had with my Challenger:
- Transmission: This was the biggie. Tremec’s TR6060 is supposedly bulletproof but– and I say this from my career experience in the manufacturing industry– there’s always an exception. Unfortunately the TR6060 in my Challenger was the example of said rule, a troublesome gearbox riddled with roughness from the start. In its quickest description, shifting into and out of second gear frequently felt like pulling the stick itself through a pile of rocks. And not just a few rocks, but a patch of sizable stones with pebbles filling the voids. This was apparent in a coarse, jagged sensation upon gearchanges and some reluctance to go into gear. After fighting the dealer from which I bought the car to fix it under warranty (the saga for which I’ll detail some of below), eventually I brought it to another dealer which told me that they would need to replace second gear and the synchros. Two weeks with a Chrysler 200S later, the car still didn’t feel right. Eventually I conceded it would never be as smooth as the TR6060s in the five-plus other Challengers I had driven and worked around it by skip-shifting from first into third on acceleration and avoiding the 3-2 downshift as much as possible. This bothered me until the day I sold it.
- HVAC: The car’s climate control seemingly had a mind of its own. Sometimes telling it to blow heat, it would do the opposite and blow cold air. And, conversely, sometimes when requesting air conditioning it would pump “maximum summer.” Both issues would happen without pattern and both required a full car restart to reset. The dealer was unable to fix it even after reflashing the computer. While not dangerous, it was downright uncomfortable when frigid A/C appeared in the throes of winter or when full-fledged heat showed its face mid-summer. The issue, though intermittent, persisted through the duration of my ownership.
- Windows: A novelty to promote the pillar-less coupe, the frameless windows became problematic immediately upon cold setting in the first winter I had the car. Designed to drop an inch or so when the door is opened or closed, it reliably does so pending the window can actually move– but when the glass is stuck to the weatherstripping it seals against, that’s not happening. If any moisture was present prior to temperatures dropping below freezing, the top of the windows would be frozen shut. Any precipitation combined with sub-freezing temps meant inevitably fighting my way into the car in a desperate attempt not to shatter glass. I realize that many people who own these cars simply garage them all winter or live somewhere warm and never deal with this, but it definitely was an issue for me. Similarly, washing the car sometimes resulted in water entering the cabin through the sides of said frameless windows. Though it happened less frequently than the freezing-stuck issue it became semi-regular post-wash to find water on the doors and front seats upon climbing in. Easy to remedy, being that there was always a hand towel nearby and that it was never enough to really soak anything, but still somewhat frustrating in knowing that a still-new car was not watertight.
- Parking brake: Also related to sub-freezing temperatures, the parking brake would stick after sitting overnight, causing difficulties in initial movement. A loud bang would announce its detachment and then the car would act perfectly normal until the next time it was parked after being driven through rain/snow.
- Trunk misalignment: The Challenger’s taillights wrap past the end of the trunk opening and onto the corner bodywork, making it quite noticeable when trunk and body are misaligned. From day one my Challenger’s trunk never sat perfectly even. While this is only problematic to people with OCD or similar “can’t unsee once I’ve seen it” minds like my own, the trunk issue is apparent in many Challengers (and Grand Cherokees, etc.) and is reflective of FCA’s relatively lax mindset towards build quality, in this era at least.
- Sunroof: Whether open or closed the sunroof would shake and rattle when hitting potholes or uneven surfaces, especially in the cold. Once it actually got stuck fully open with the “Close” button offering zero functionality whatsoever, but after restarting the car twice it returned to normal.
- UConnect: Not the current great UConnect but rather the nearly decade-old version, the antiquated infotainment system would occasionally crash, freeze, and drop calls. Incoming text messages would regularly knock Bluetooth out, requiring a re-connection to resume functionality which, while not so problematic in a parking lot, is a definite hazard at highway speeds should you want or need to resume streaming audio or calls.
It seemed that while the Challenger was trying hard to kill itself, the dealer’s service department was trying to bring an early demise upon it as well. One such time was when I first brought it in for the transmission issue. The service manager understandably wanted to make his own assessment, and in our walk from building to car he boasted about track days spent at Lime Rock in a collection of Vipers (read: manual-only) and also of his past personal stick-shift cars. But, and much to my dismay, he exhibited one of the harshest, jumpiest starts I’ve ever experienced by somebody who claims to be proficient in third-pedal operation. This only made his bragging that much worse, and would have been laughably bad had I not been mortified. Of course, he agreed there was something wrong, and the whole ordeal only caused more frustration in hearing they were not going to even attempt to fix it.
But it didn’t stop there. As part of a regular maintenance visit I requested a tire rotation and upon picking up the car noticed gouges around all four wheels’ lug nut holes. After voicing my discontent (and anger) they reluctantly brought in a local repair service to remedy the mistakes, at my expense of being stuck in a loaner car for two full days. Other difficulties and frustrations included but are not limited to: being given false information about the status of repairs (It once sat on their lot for a full week during which they told me they were fixing the transmission, while they were actually mistakenly telling me about somebody else’s Wrangler. They hadn’t touched it.); being told conflicting information about what attempted repairs were being done; being told a loaner would be prepped and ready for me (multiple times it wasn’t); being hung up on when requesting to speak to managers. First-world problems, all of these, but when you’ve purchased a car from the dealer at which it’s being serviced, decent and honest treatment is the least you expect. That simply was not the case.
Needless to say, much of my experience with Dodge was sub-par; while the car itself might not have been “cursed,” the ownership experience itself certainly was. And yet, I somehow still look back on my Challenger mostly for it as a phenomenal adventure companion, a glorious noise-maker, and, to my eyes at least– and due in part to the then-exclusive-to-the-100th-Anniversary-Edition wheels and paint– a desperately pretty, life-changing experience in owning one of the last true muscle cars. It truly was perfect for me and for that time of my life, but once things started to go south my long-term plans of owning it “forever” and turning it into a do-it-all autocross/track-prepped daily-driver were thrown out the proverbial window. I miss the Challenger’s laid-back feel, ability to devour highway miles, rumbling exhaust, tail-happy sliding inclinations, and, of course, staring at it every chance I got. My experience with a Challenger and with Dodge/FCA was certainly a learning process, and it was invaluable opportunity in owning of my dream cars. I just wish it had ended differently.