In the 1998 Dodge Dakota 5.2L V8 if you have only 2nd and 3rd gear with the auto transmission, the solenoid inside for shifting down to 1st gear is not functioning correctly.
A complete transmission rebuild is indicated in this situation, where all of the clutches and solenoids that are bad are replaced.
This involves tearing down the transmission after removing it from the vehicle, and; rebuilding it from the ground up.
Try to find a local transmission repair shop where they are certified to do this kind of work.
A basic description of the problem follows:
The servos are hydraulic pistons and cylinders. They resemble the hydraulic actuators used on many other machines, such as bulldozers. Hydraulic fluid enters the cylinder, under pressure, and forces the piston to move to engage the band or clutches.
The accumulators are used to cushion the engagement of the servos. The transmission fluid must pass through the accumulator on the way to the servo. The accumulator housing contains a thin piston, which is sprung away from the discharge passage of the accumulator. When fluid passes through the accumulator on the way to the servo, it must move the piston against spring pressure, and this action smoothes out the action of the servo.
Hydraulic Control System
The hydraulic pressure used to operate the servos comes from the main transmission oil pump. This fluid is channeled to the various servos through the shift valves. There is generally a manual shift valve, which is operated by the transmission selector lever, and a shift valve for each up shift the transmission provides.
Most automatic transmissions are electronically controlled; electrical solenoids are used to control the hydraulic fluid. The shift solenoids are regulated by an electronic control module. Shift timing is regulated through sensor feedback information provided to the electronic controller.
On older transmissions there are two pressures that control the shift valves. One is the governor pressure which is affected by vehicle speed. The other is the modulator pressure which is affected by intake manifold vacuum or throttle position. Governor pressure rises with an increase in vehicle speed, and modulator pressure rises as the throttle is opened wider. By responding to these two pressures, the shift valves cause the up shift points to be delayed with increased throttle opening to make the best use of the engine's power output.
Older transmissions also make use of an auxiliary circuit for downshifting. This circuit may be actuated by the throttle linkage, vacuum that actuates the modulator, or by a cable or solenoid. It applies pressure to the downshift surface on the shift valve or valves.
The transmission modulator also governs the line pressure, used to actuate the servos. In this way, the clutches and bands will be actuated with a force matching the torque output of the engine.