Tailgate Latch Modification


Tools Required:
*Note: Handle Levers, and Latch Rod Arms are names I made up because I did not know what to call these parts. They are labeled in the photos so you can see what I'm talking about. I wouldn't go to the parts counter at the dealer and say "I need a new Handle Lever" the guy won't have a clue what you're talking about. :-)

The following information and procedure applies to '87 - '96 Dakotas, as mine is a '93 and I don't think the design of the tailgate latch changed until the '97 makeover. Even so you could probably apply the procedure to 2nd generation Daks without much difficulty. This is a very simple procedure and anyone can do it. Even if the latch is working fine, this procedure should give you the ultimate in smooth operation of the latch. I had noticed on mine that the latch was getting hard to open. When the handle was pulled out, there was a grinding feeling behind it. I wasn't sure if it was rusted or what so I popped the cover off the tailgate and had a look. I immediately saw what was causing the problem. The design has two metal-to-metal contact areas which grind against each other when the latch is used. On mine the Handle Levers had developed a sharp outer edge and were cutting into the Latch Rod Arms. This was producing the rough feel and was starting to create some small metal shavings. NOT GOOD. Here is what I did.


[Figure 1] Take the four Philips head screws out of the cover on the inside of the tailgate and remove the cover. If you look closely at the inner mechanism [fig.1] you will see two steel rods that lead off to each latch on the side of the gate. You can remove these by rotating the plastic clip and slipping the rod up (when you look at it you'll know what I'm talking about). Now work the latch a few times and see where the parts rub together. Pretty simple huh? These metal-to-metal areas are the ones you want to polish. Take a 7/16" socket and remove the two nuts holding the handle assembly in. This comes apart into two pieces: the tailgate handle and Handle Levers, and the internal mechanism, Latch Rod Arm assembly. The tailgate handle rotates forward and comes out of the gate and the mechanism you just lift it out.

--Grinding and polishing.--

[Figure 2] Now the fun part. The metal you will be polishing isn't very hard, so no Tim Allen stuff! First grind the square contact areas on the Latch Rod Arm assembly. Use the No. 425 Polishing Wheel and VERY lightly grind the metal just enough to smooth out the surface, remove any oxidation, and give it a little shine. Surfacing is what we're after, not metal removal. After this use a felt wheel and polishing compound to make it a mirror finish. Next grind the Handle Lever ends with the No. 425 wheel. Finish up with the felt wheel and polishing compound. At this point I recommend beveling the outside edge of the Handle Levers [fig. 2] to insure the sharp edges do not score your pretty finish on the Latch Rod Arms the first time you work the latch. A grinding stone may be needed for this step. Polish the newly beveled area to mirror finish also. Re- assemble and spread on some white lithium grease to the areas that you polished. With the cover off work the latch a few times and make sure everything is nice and smooth.


Just like disassembly, only in reverse. Imagine that!

Michael Clark                    mike@snakebite.com
        93 Mark III 4X2 reg. cab SWB
        V8 auto MP SBEC K&N FIPK 
        Smooth opening tailgate	

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Jon N. Steiger / jon@dakota-truck.net