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2014 Challenger R/T: Proof that modern cars still cause headaches

Ross Ballot February 6, 2018 All Things Hoon, Featured 32 Comments

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- 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.

  • neight428

    That stinks.

    The dealership sales/service model needs to die.

    • The trick is to outwait them. Once there are no longer any dealers or service centers for a particular marque, it’s safe to proceed with one’s purchase.

      • neight428

        Plus, at that point, when buying/selling a vehicle and/or parts, you have the added trust of knowing you’re dealing with a coreligionist.

        • No, for my vehicles it seems like all the other owners are a bunch of unhinged lunatics with whom I clearly have nothing in common.

          • Rover 1

            Yeah, like neight428 said, a coreligionist.

          • Harry Callahan

            Subarus or Saabs?

            • I still see the occasional Subaru dealership so I’m holding off on getting a 360.

              • outback_ute

                Don’t worry it would never require visiting a Subaru dealership!

                • True, I’ve heard excellent things about the 360’s reliability.

  • Zentropy

    I love looking at the Challengers, but I’m way too much of a function-over-form guy to consider driving a coupe. I wish the Charger had more of the retro Challenger styling. However, in my opinion it is still an attractive car, and I’ve been very tempted to buy one these past few years.
    I will freely admit, though, that I have a bias against Chrysler products. I’ve just heard too many stories similar to yours, and I’m gun-shy.

    • Harry Callahan

      I would ONLY consider a Mustang for the reasons you mention, but they are too small for me inside. As such, I will never own a contemporary muscle car.

  • Harry Callahan

    I feel your pain brother. I had a similarly rotten experience with GM product and dealer. It was a lease, and the day that car went back was one of the happiest days of my life. I dropped that POS off at the GM dealer, and walked across the street to the Toyota dealer where I leased a new Tundra, which was, or course, without flaw from day one.

    –And no, I will NEVER, EVER lease or purchase another GM product again.

    • Ross Ballot

      It’s unfortunate, but experiences like these just leave you bitter towards the company in question. I’d love to have a Scat Pack or Hellcat (Charger or Challenger, that is) but the whole fiasco turned me off so badly that it’s probably never going to happen

  • jeff smith

    I bought a new 89 BMW 535i automatic. Amazing to look at and drive but a true POS. Two Trannies pistons,on and on and the dealer and BMW sucked. I was very happy when my lease was up.
    New cars have become way over engineered, 10 speed auto , computers everywhere and know one can fix them. When”s the knew autonomous braking etc going to fail and kill people.

  • Sjalabais

    The big question to me here is: What did you move on to? And did you get burned off FCA permanently?

    It’s sort of funny to read about modern cars that struggle to handle cold and/or wet conditions, given the extensive testing and quality procedures we all expect from not buying a knock down kit from Uzbekistan. I guess you’re right that Dodge just made an assumption that this would normally be a garaged or just seasonally driven car.

    • Ross Ballot

      Replaced the Challenger (and VehiCROSS) with a Subaru WRX. FCA as a whole pushed me away to the point that I wouldn’t consider buying one, not now at least.

      The hot/cold ordeal was truly frustrating.

  • Batshitbox

    You’re singing an old song in a large chorus, kid.

    For my entire life the majority opinion on Chrysler products has been that they have terrible build quality, and the sales & service system is indifferent and standoffish. Mopars that I’ve owned, Jeeps my family and friends have owned, the whole post-WW2 era has been one crapcan after another. (Attractive, exciting and even innovative, but ultimately crapcans.) Chrysler went frikkin’ bankrupt in the ’80s ’cause they sucked so bad.

    H.B. Halicki made a point to destroy Mopars with extreme prejudice in “Gone in 60 Seconds”, which is just another reason to enjoy that film.

    • neight428

      I can’t say it’s *not* confirmation bias, but the types of problems he described are exactly what I would expect. Every time I see a Mopar product that looks interesting, I can’t help shake the thought that it’s going to start failing very soon and the guy who sold it to me is too busy signing some sucker up for a 19% APR loan on a new but two model year old shitbox (no offense) he still had on the lot to care that the transmission on my vehicle fell out.

      The Challenger has been around for a while now, that they haven’t bothered to fix the window issue shows you how much they care about their products’ operability.

      • Sjalabais

        …and that is what really makes me go “huh?”. How can a company like that still be around? Technically, they went bankcrupt several times, I guess, but have they become such a juggernaut that they can’t be allowed to fail? Or is the case that last-second-creativity like the minivan or ultra-high-horsepower-cars save their existence every single time?

        • neight428

          I think the minivan might have kept them from going in to full garage sale mode in the 80’s. Fiat picked them up for a bag of donuts while the old creditors got the shaft this time around. The politics are definitely involved, but you have to think that no one will bother at some point. My theory is that Fiat will get a good bid for Jeep one of these days, and then the rest will just wither and die. They don’t seem to care about any of the rest of the product, excepting Ram trucks, kind of.

          • Rover 1

            Fiat could only afford to buy Chrysler because GM had found out how bad Fiat was and paid $2 BILLION dollars in 2005 to back out of a merger deal. They still had enough money left to buy Daewoo and stymie Ford. And half the reason they tried to get Fiat was to stymie Mercedes Benz, who then bought Chrysler.
            ‘Oh,what a tangled web we weave’

        • Batshitbox

          The Jeep CJ was definitely the bread & butter for any organization that owned it (Willy’s, AMC) and Chrysler survived by not messing that up. neight428 is right about the minivan, too. As long as they serviced that market, everything else could go pear shaped.

          Fiat is a much better fit as owner, since Dodge now makes stylish, sporty, unreliable cars and no one in the service department wants to talk to you.

        • wunno sev

          for all it builds cars terribly, Chrysler has a long history of innovative, segment-defining cars that keep it interesting alongside all the boring, terrible trash they sell:
          – the K-cars
          – minivans
          – the ‘cab-forward’ cars of the ’90s
          – the LX platform (300, Charger, Challenger, etc)
          – the DSMs

          there’s not really any competition for the LX cars today, but that’s because there’s not really *that* much of a market for big, RWD, not-really-luxury sedans anymore. the 300 was popular when it came out, but other popular things at the time included the Hummer H2, Daddy Yankee, and the war in Iraq.

      • boxdin

        Take some Pam, the cooking spray, on a paper towel, move the wet area along the rubber and the glass at the line and they won’t stick together. That’s what the dealer would do if they knew better.

  • ptschett

    Comparing notes to my 2010 (an older iteration of the same generation) and my 2015 (1st year of the refresh):
    Transmission: my 2010’s manual was also grumpy about going into 2nd especially if it was cold soaked below about 40 degrees F overnight. The clutch engagement point was always random making it very hard to launch smoothly, and around 50,000 miles it sometimes, rarely, unpredictably wanted to be below the floor… I decided I was in the right car with the wrong transmission and really liked what they did for 2015, so I traded up and went with the ZF 8-speed which has been fine.
    HVAC: no issues in the 2010, but it was the same control system as my 2005 Dakota i.e. no automatic mode at all, just a 3-knob electronic fan / temperature / outlet setup (where I think the 2014’s above a certain trim level had an auto mode?) The 2015 has been OK, but it did have the driver’s side temperature-minus button get wedged in the depressed position once.
    Windows: I did have freeze-up issues in both cars. I found it manageable if I kept an expired credit card in my wallet, to use to gently pry open the bottom seal before trying to open the door. Also I kept a towel in the car in winter for drying the window seals out after going through a carwash and I silicone-sprayed the window seals each year after the 1st year. I haven’t had much issue with leaks other than sometimes getting windshield wash fluid dripped on me if I lower the driver side window too soon after using the washer.
    Parking brake: I don’t remember much issue with my 2010, but I was driving the Dakota if it was cold out. It doesn’t get used in the 2015 much.
    Trunk alignment: the 2010 had the retro taillight alignment option box checked as well. The 2015 seems better (whether through luck of the draw, or through the tolerance stack having been improved.)
    Sunroof: never had one (my parents’ ’98 Cadillac STS soured me on that option.)
    uConnect: my 2010 had the über-basic single-disc CD/AM/FM “RES” that I had upgraded but only to the 6-disc CD/AM/FM/Sirius “REQ”, so no experience with the older system (and the 2015 is the 8.4 system). I did have one amusing issue with the uConnect where the navigation freaked out and decided I was driving diagonally cross-country instead of following the roads, requiring a reboot – no *repeatable* issues though.

    • Ross Ballot

      Sounds like a few of the issues are similar.

      The thing about no “repeatable” issue…that sticks with me. The dealer told me the “cannot replicate issue” nonsense a bunch of times. Then when we walked out together and I would show it to them, they’d see/feel it. How convenient.

  • Harry Callahan

    I would only own a Chrysler product under warranty. Perhaps a depreciated lease return Charger RT from CarMax…paying extra for their MaxCare package…even then, with trepidation….

  • JayP

    I want a white RT to drive across the USA.
    But I have a fear of having these same issues after being burned by Audi twice.
    We the tremecs, the 2001 Bullitt I had was one of the first with the TR3650. 3rd syncro bit the dust after 50k miles and I spent the next 25k trying to get the dealer to fix it. It was so bad that when I was test driving a 2006 model in 2008 I was watching for the issue. Later Ford did come up with a bulletin but most Mustangs were out of warranty. yay.
    I don’t know if I’ll ever buy a new car with a warranty again.
    Dealing with advisors and techs who don’t want to work on warranty issues has left me a bit sour.

  • Nick D

    Dang. This is relevant to me as I’m about 45k into owning a 2015 Charger R/T R&T. The Hemi/8-speed combo works great, but dash rattles, U Connect issues, some low speed grumbles, etc. are making me consider getting out of it with some value left in it and into a Civic Si or Accord Sport 2.0T with a stick. Should’a never traded an Accord stick in on it, but experience is the best teacher. My overall sense of the car is it has some nice parts, just poorly connected and assembled.

    • Ross Ballot

      Best of luck, hopefully your tolerance for the quality quibbles is higher than mine. I got frustrated past the point of “willing to deal with the issues” and got out of it before the resale plummeted. Both cars you mentioned are good in their own right…but very different from the Challenger.

  • boxdin

    I rented a RT w AT for a week long business trip with zero issues and a ton of high speed fun across empty southwestern deserts. Great fuel economy for what it is, I controlled where I wanted to be in traffic at all times. Rental is one thing, owning is another. Like others here I had a PT cruiser as my uber car and watched it fall apart under me. Now a proud Hyundai Elantra owner. I would love to rent one again sometime.

    • Ross Ballot

      That’s the beauty of rentals…all the perks (for a limited time), none of the drawbacks

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