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The American market for Class 3, 4, and 5 trucks have long been the domain of GM and Ford, but the Class 3 Dodge 3500 chassis cab beat both market leaders in its first two months of full availability (written: October 2007) and was gaining steam when the new Dodge Ram 4500 and 5500 chassis cab trucks appeared. These new Class 4 and Class 5 models hit the industry leaders in their core mainstream market, with hard-to-match features including a smooth-topped frame that makes it easier to mount aftermarket beds (which is why these trucks are built).
For 2010, the chassis cabs carried over from 2009 for the most part; the 2011 Dodge Ram Chassis Cabs have many changes. For 2010, new options include a 22 gallon mid-mounted fuel tank, a khaki interior, new bucket seats, six-disc CD player, light group, new navigation system, and 108 inch cab-to-axle; the Laramie price class was changed and the electric-shift transmission case was changed.
For 2012, upfitters can get precise instructions for cutting away the back panels on Ram 3500, 4500, and 5500 regular-cab chassis-cab trucks. 80% of the rear panel can be cut away without hurting the structural integrity of the truck, a major gain for those building RVs, ambulances, box trucks, and other walk-through vehicles from Ram chassis.
The Ram 4500 and 5500 chassis cabs also now have a GCWR upgrade as part of their Max Tow package (for 22,300 lb towing capacity), in both regular and crew cab models, with and without 4×4. The Max Tow package includes a new transfer case gear-set, chain and sprocket upgrades, new transmission software, and an upgraded set of thermal management tools. These trucks come with the 305 horsepower, 610 lb-ft Cummins diesel. (Max Tow is only available with the optional Aisin six-speed automatic and 4.88 rear axle ratio.
Ram 3500 Chassis Cabs increased GCWR to 20,000 lb with higher gas mileage. All the chassis cabs come with an exhaust brake which is 49% stronger than the nearest competitor, and the largest brake rotors and pads in their class. The trailer brake controller also now has electric-over-hydraulic capability.
For all Ram Chassis Cabs:
Outside, the big medium-duty Rams look very similar to the standard Ram that ordinary people buy; inside, they are similar as well, complete with a standard Dodge vehicle information system that tells gas mileage, range, time or distance traveled, or temperature and compass heading; it even lets you set the headlight delay and internal power-off delay. The important differences are underneath, starting up front with a 7,000-pound-capacity axle — that’s 1,000 pounds more than the standard Ford axle — and running back to the extra power lines that wrap around the end of the frame.
The 2009 Ram Chassis Cab (4500/5500) diesel passed 50-state emissions and has an exterior label that bypasses idle limits in ARB states; an ambulance prep package was added and PTO pump rating increased 55%. The automatic-transmission 6.7 engine comes with remote start, and cruise control was made standard (with an optional delete). Dodge confirmed that front brakes last three times longer, and rear brakes last four times longer, than comparable Ford brakes; the Ram was certified for a 1,172 pound payload advantage over the Ford F-450 and F-550.
Allpar was able to speak with Chrysler communications specialist Randy Jones and engineer Jim Repp (“Engineering Supervisor, Vehicle Development, Body on Frame Product Team”) about these new trucks, and learned quite a bit more than we knew before. In fact, Allpar ended up completely rewriting this page after meeting the men and the machine. We also learned that this was a 100% Dodge project (which is not to say that DCX didn't transfer anyone over from Sterling, which sells the same vehicle as the Bullet), that all these commercial Rams are built on the same assembly line as the standard Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups, and that Dodge is very serious indeed about supporting people who buy or engineer aftermarket additions for these vehicles.
In August 2008, Dodge sold around three times as many Ram Chassis Cabs as Sterling sold Bullets; styling of the two trucks is similar, but some commercial buyers might feel more comfortable with Sterling’s dealers. As part of the discontinuation of the Sterling brand, however, the Bullet was dropped at the end of the 2008 model year.
In 2007, Dodge had a 21% total retail market share for Class 3-5 trucks, led by the 3500 model. The company did not release its numerical sales but Dodge sold 33,500 commercial vehicles including Sprinter. In the first half of 2008, Dodge sold 20,177 commercial vehicles. In 2009, Dodge sold 8,006 Ram Chassis Cabs, in a severely depressed market.
As of the 2008 model year, the Ram 4500 and Ram 5500 have 23% better gas mileage than the Chevy Kodiak/GMC Topkick, and 14% better than the Ford F-550 Chassis Cab, with 20.2 mpg overall, according to the independent Transportation Research Center. The 3.92:1 axle ratio is now standard on diesels for better gas mileage.
The 2008 Dodge chassis cabs are now certified as having up to 1,172 pounds more payload capacity than the Ford F-450 and F-550 chassis cabs. The power take off pump ratings for all Dodge Ram chassis cabs increased 55%, and a PTO prep package is available with the Laramie trim.
For 2009, a new ambulance prep package will be available for the Dodge 4500 and 5500. Other changes will include a remote start feature with the Cummins automatic.
GM’s TopKick 4500 uses a gas V8 (325 hp, 450 lb-ft), or a GM/Isuzu diesel with 300 hp and either 520 or 605 lb-ft of torque, coupled to an Allison five-speed automatic or six-speed manual. Ford is somewhat less competitive, and the recent disputes with Navistar has hurt the company’s reputation.
The Ram 4500 and 5500 were engineered with long-term reliability and uptime in mind, from longer than usual brake life to the Cummins engine. Cummins has been linked with Dodge since 1960; some say that people don’t buy Dodge trucks, they buy Cummins engines with Dodge trucks wrapped around them. The current 6.7 liter engine is built on the solid foundation of the legendary 5.9 liter Cummins variable-geometry turbodiesel, with numerous internal changes to meet 50-state 2007 emissions. That is the sole engine of these trucks, which is not surprising considering the popularity of the powerplant in the 3500 (where the Hemi is also available) and in the “heavy-duty light-duty” Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups. The Cummins is remarkably quiet, which we’re told attracted the interest of the makers of repossession trucks - unlike the Fords’ Navistar engines, the Dodge’s Cummins engine lets repo men take cars without waking up their owners.
The Cummins isn't just about durability (with 350,000 mile life-to-overhaul intervals) and quiet running; it also provides a best-in-class first-gear launch for good acceleration, and competitive power of 305 hp at 3,000 rpm, and 610 lb-ft of torque at 1,6000 rpm. The Cummins was designed specifically for 50-state 2007 emissions rules, and does not have “add-on” equipment sticking out; it is B5 certified and “delivers superior fuel economy,” with visits to the gas station also helped by the largest-in-class 52-gallons gas tank. Finally, all emissions equipment is under the cab - so upfitters don’t have to worry about it. Emissions is currently all automatic; urea systems are still in the future (probably coming in 2010).
The Ram 5500 we drove was surprisingly quiet; it did not sound any noisier at startup than the Mercedes V6 in the Grand Cherokee, or the Duramax diesels in the new Silverado 2500 pickups. It was actually a bit noisier inside the vehicle than outside, especially on acceleration, when it did make more of a racket than the Hemi-powered Rams (the 4500 and 5500 are available with just one engine, the Cummins turbodiesel). Under heavy acceleration the diesel rattle made itself known, but a new Ford diesel truck we used for comparison was considerably louder. The Cummins sounds like a diesel, but it doesn't sound like a garbage truck - or a nuisance.
A choice of two transmissions, both typically used in Class 6 trucks, is available: a six-speed Aisin automatic also used (with different packaging) in Kino-Toyota trucks, and a six-speed 656 manual (Chrysler shows this as being a Mercedes model, but we were told by an outsider that it is actually a standard Getrag unit). The Aisin transmission comes with a three year, 180,000 mile, zero-deductible warranty, showing the company’s confidence; it also has a tow-haul mode which works in both upshifting and downshifting, changing the shift schedule. We test drove a vehicle with the automatic, and it shifted quietly, smoothly, and appropriately - that is, quickly when accelerating slowly or cruising, and allowing the engine to reach its power peak when accelerating more rapidly. The powertrain does not have a muscle car feel, despite the massive torque, but moves swiftly and easily when needed, and owners talk of feeling as though they could tow twice as much as the rated capacity - the engine isn't the limiting factor, and with the Aisin automatic, neither is the transmission.
An optional power take off (PTO) package is available and can’t really be added later; it uses a mechanical pump with a cable, or an LPN package including the ability to raise the idle speed.
The front suspension is different from the Class 3 Ram 3500 Chassis Cab; it has been retuned and redesigned for the much higher loads of these chassis cabs (for example, the axle was lengthened by five inches for tighter cornering and better stability, and the axle itself is considerably heavier to achieve a standard 7,000 pound capacity — compared with Ford’s 6,000 pounds). The front and rear axles are both solid beam; the front uses a five-link coil-spring front suspension, the rear uses traditional two-stage leaf springs, and in both front and rear, a link-type sway bar and heavy-duty tubular shock absorbers are standard. Springs and frame rails are heavier duty than in the 3500. Repp said, “We tried to make it very robust and strong.”
All the Class 4 and Class 5 trucks have dual rear wheels, with either steering or traction tires, or steering tires up front with traction tires in back. A low-friction recirculating ball system helps to keep the wheel on-center, while increasing the packaging flexibility for Dodge engineers. Upgraded power steering has a more precise feel and better handling.
Four cab-axle lengths (60, 84, 108 and 120 inches) are available. Maximum Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) for 4500 models is 16,500. For 5500 models, the maximum GVWR is 19,500 lbs. The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) for both 4500 and 5500 models is 26,000 lbs. Payloads beat Ford’s 2007 models across the board.
To increase uptime, the Rams have the largest front brake rotors (390 mm) and caliper pistons (66 mm) in the industry, which, along with a standard exhaust brake and (with the Aisin) a tow/haul mode that downshifts earlier, can dramatically increase the lifespan of the brakes. Dodge has not finished its competitive comparisons, but it sounds like they’re expecting to at least double the interval between brake jobs, compared to one major rival. The big brakes also help drivers to control their stops better (and presumably to stop faster, though Dodge does not mention this); and four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock braking (ABS) are standard.
In practice, the steering does feel solid and precise, with a good feel: power assisted, but not overly so, like a sports car. The turning radius is quite good for a large truck, and is comparable to some cars, thanks to that extended axle. U-turns are not difficult, in either turning space or in manual steering effort; while highway travel is stable with a good on-center feel and easy control over the vehicle direction. The Ram chassis cab, loaded with Crysteel bed, was a pleasure to drive on the highway and on ordinary streets, responding instantly and predictably with a strong sense of stability. Braking was also easy, with a normal passenger-car brake feel and reaction; we did not test stopping distance but due to tire choices and weight, we’d expect the Ram 5500 to have longer stopping distances than cars. It did stop straight and predictably without either too much effort or a “touchy” feel.
James H. Repp, who worked on the truck’s chassis and electrical systems, was once publicly ridiculed by Bob Lutz for the hands-free telephone system he had designed. Repp came back with a prototype and user surveys, and Lutz admitted that Repp was right after all. Now, Jim Repp works on the Commercial Vehicles Team with other engineers and Dodge employees to address issues and answer technical questions for upfitters, dealers, and customers.
The new trucks were designed with upfitters in mind, because these are the people who really drive sales: the companies that create and build the rear of the trucks, the tow-truck and repo attachments, the dump beds that tilt up, cow-flippers, cargo boxes, and all those other attachments that convert pickups into dedicated commercial vehicles assigned a specific task. The frame is stronger yet lighter than some competitors, using 50,000-psi steel; Dodge claims it’s over 38% stronger than
the Ford F-450/F-550 frame. It has standard 34-inch spacing, with flat, clean frame rails for excellent interchangeability with their competitors; indeed, the Ram 4500 we saw had a Crysteel dump truck rear designed for a rival’s pickup. The Ram now appears to have the most upfit-friendly design, lowering body-builder and customer costs: all chassis components are below the frame surface.
Unlike some competitors, the industry-standard 34-inch frame rail stands above everything else: all chassis components are below the frame surface. The one-piece C-channel frame provides shear plate or u-bolt access along the length of the frame; shear plate mounting locations identified along the frame contribute to upfitter friendliness, and the people at Dodge are apparently happy to work with upfitters to make sure their modifications do not hurt the truck’s durability. Bolt-on and riveted-on exhaust hanger brackets provide increased upfitter flexibility, and riveted cross-members behind the cab allow for easier modification (e.g. the addition of frame extensions).
The gas tank has a special tap to allow diesel fuel in the tank to be used for on-board generators or similar uses; the fuel filler is routed through the frame. An optional mid-ship fuel tank (again, underneath the frame rails) frees up more space behind the rear axle if needed. Fuel and brake lines are routed together on the frame’s left side to make better use of space along the frame, which also has clearance for rear-exhaust routing.
The electrical system is similar to the regular Dodge Ram, with some major exceptions. An overlay over the standard Dodge truck provides three fused 30 to 225 amp wires that run all the way through the truck, starting under the hood, looping through the dashboard to allow for switches, and going all the way along the frame to the rear. A high-current 50-amp ground stud is on the rear of the frame; upfitter wire circuits and electrical schematics are identified in the body builder guide (extensive information is also on Dodge’s commercial web site). The wiring in back includes the CHMSL feed (for the third brake light), with three other feeds and a blank wire, plus the standard trailer tow wiring (no tow connector is provided because builders and buyers tend to have their own connectors, standard for them but not for others; likewise, a hitch mount is provided, without a hitch).
Rollback Carrier package, Snow-Plow Prep package, Limited Slip Axles, and PTO Prep Packages are available. The snow-plow package includes a one-up spring to compensate for permanent mounting of the weight up front.
To support the upfitters and, for that matter, end customers, a new commercial vehicle group was formed at Chrysler, along with a new web site that includes detailed specifications and diagrams. The group includes engineers from different disciplines to ensure that upfitters have the information they need to make durable products, at lower costs. Ideally, the upfitters will recommend the Dodge trucks to their customers, or even focus exclusively on them. According to the Dodge people, when they held a session to discuss the new trucks, a 600-seat room was filled to standing room only; that’s a good sign for the future.
Ambulance fitters are reportedly interested in the new trucks; while most ambulances are built from vans, the Cummins’ acceleration and quiet running, coupled with the expected long life of the full vehicle, is hard to ignore, and the trucks are not reportedly speed-limited to 70 mph if the right tires are ordered, as competitive trucks are.
Dodge claims 1.5 million test miles on these vehicles; more importantly, Jim Repp talked about their efforts to find and fix problems. He said “we did some pretty crazy stuff” to the vehicles internally; and Dodge lent 30 trucks to customers, looking for the worst possible customers who would use and abuse the vehicles more than most. This included a utility that had trucks in use 24 hours a day laying cable, and a New York City wrecker.
It’s worth mentioning that at the end of the Ram 3500’s trial, the participants were allowed to buy the truck from Dodge; and the only ones who didn’t were some of those with the gas engine, who wanted to switch to the diesel. The Ram 4500/5500 trucks had, at the time of writing, only been out for around three months, but Repp said there had been no problems in that time, despite the harsh duty cycles.
Testing included over a million heavy duty “customer equivalent” miles, in accelerated durability tests, in a variety of locations; the main target of testing was the frame, axles, and suspension, since the drivetrain has already been thoroughly tested. This included Baker Grade testing, Death Valley, Los Angeles traffic, and cold-weather tests, to make sure that the vehicle heating and cooling systems (including air conditioning) worked well and that there were no unforeseen problems.
Keith K. wrote that the circuit board in the door of the Ram — the passenger door module, which handles power locks/mirrors/windows, is bolted right behind the door panel. On the 2010-2011 chassis cabs, a few driver’s door modules have issues with water leaking in and directly onto the connectors of the door module, and killing the interior (CAN.-IHS) bus. The repair is a new door harness and module, then sealing the connectors so they don’t corrode again. “I think it affects chassis cabs mainly cause the windows are left rolled down a lot while the driver is out of the truck (truck idling) in the rain.”
The 2008 Dodge Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs stand out in the Class 4-5 chassis cab segments; they retain the most recognizable design signature of any mid-size truck on the market, though underneath they are very different from even the Ram 2500/3500.
The dynamic front appearance is anchored by twin, large 7- x 10-inch standard trailer tow mirrors which can fold back in (see our video); visibility is further enhanced by low door sills, bright headlights, and useful sun visors that slide out on extensions when needed to cover the full windshield.
The Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs are available with regular and Quad Cabs in three trim lines: ST, SLT and Laramie, with rear and four wheel drive models, all with dual rear wheels.
The optional leather seats are now available with vinyl floor mats for those who want a luxury appearance with easy care (carpet is also available). The leather seats were attractive and large, but too firm and stiff, making it fortunate that the truck had a surprisingly smooth ride, stiffer than a Ram 1500 but on par with, or smoother than, a Ram 2500. Driving was pleasant in terms of ride and noise; we've driven passenger cars that didn't feel as good. The stereo was a standard corporate unit with surprisingly good sound and stereo separation, though perhaps with somewhat boomy bass; in our test Ram 5500, treble, bass, and midrange could all be adjusted (as far as we can tell, we had the base stereo, which includes a CD player). Our test vehicle had a moderately full gauge set, lacking only a transmission temperature gauge; we had cruise control, a manual 4x4 control (an electronic 4x4 control is optional), and manual locks and window cranks. The glove compartment was fairly small but there was a decently sized storage bin stretching across the entire cab behind the seats, a plastic/rubber tray with roughly four inch edges to keep things in place.
Quad Cab models have six passenger seating, with four standard doors and 60/40 folding rear seats. Seat cushions fold up to create a tall storage area from floor to ceiling. An optional floor section under the back seat folds open to form a flat-load floor with additional storage in each of the foot wells. Regular cab models provide generous storage behind the rear seat.
The Dodge Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs (Class 4 and Class 5) are built at Chrysler’s Saltillo Assembly Plant in Coahuila, Mexico. One of the company’s most flexible plants, the Saltillo Plant also produces every other Dodge Ram model aside from the 1500 (including the Mega Cab and Power Wagon), all on the same lines - without an appreciable delay to change models. This lets the company build low-volume vehicles to fill market niches without massive production investments, to shift production volumes quickly, and, more to the point for customers, to build and deliver vehicles far more quickly. Adding the new trucks to the plant cost about $48 million, following a $210 million investment in 2005 to produce the Mega Cab; adding 120,000 square feet to the plant allowed for new frames and the building of commercial vehicles. One of five Chrysler plants in Mexico, Saltillo has 2,100 employees working on two shifts.
Around 55% of the Class 4 and 5 chassis cabs were the Dodge Ram 5500. Roughly 80% of buyers opted for an automatic transmission; around 70% for the lower ST price class. The regular cab accounted for around 65% of sales. Sales were split nearly in half on 4x4 vs 4x2.
The Ram 4500 starts at around $34,000 and the 5500 starts at around $36,000. Dodge is shooting for rapid fulfillment of orders, especially since the Ram is built on the same line as conventional light-duty pickups, and cannot be shipped via rail (it’s too big for standard rail cars). The Class 4 and 5 markets (140,000 vehicles sold in the US in 2006) are dominated by General Motors, with a 53% share, and Ford, with a 40% share; these classes are expected to grow more rapidly than most commercial truck classes.
Dodge Class 4 and Class 5 trucks can only be purchased through selected BusinessLink dealers. Dodge BusinessLink is a network of dealers who agreed to provide dedicated commercial account managers and sales teams, dealer inventories representing a higher mix of work-truck and other commercial vehicles, next-day service, extended hours to minimize downtime, free loaner vehicles, and other benefits. BusinessLink also includes the “On The Job” program which offers discounts on upfits and direct cash incentives and savings on almost all Dodge commercial vehicles; and a body builder’s guide is on-line at Dodge. The site has body builders’ guides for the chassis cabs, and wiring diagrams for the chassis cabs, Rams, Dakotas and Durangos, Sprinters, and Caravan C/V.
Cummins also provides extensive assistance as needed, to the extent of sending out engineers to dealerships to troubleshoot and, if needed, to figure out production changes to prevent future problems.
Most people will not see a major marketing campaign, though; the customers are a relatively small group of people, but they do talk to each other, and good experiences are likely to result in more sales. Dodge will be sending the trucks to hundreds of events, fairs, and trade meetings, trying for a grassroots effort; and the company is building relationships with the 40-50 major upfitters.
Jim Repp said that “the market is ready for a new truck” and the excitement around the Dodge indicates that’s true.
Our test truck was a 2008 Dodge Ram 5500 ST chassis cab with a Crysteel bed, 13,500-pound capacity 4.88:1 rear axle, and four wheel drive. Options included the heavy duty vinyl 40/20/40 split bench seat, overhead console with trip computer and EVIC (pictured), bright front bumper, air conditioning, automatic, airbag shutoff, snow-plow prep group, mini floor console, PTO preparation, cruise, auxiliary oil cooler, and engine block heater. It had a 160 amp alternator, and the speedometer went up to an unreasonable 120 mph. The interior was a pleasant tan color, and the bright bezel around the center stack was a good dress-up touch.
Following is a list of safety and security features found in the 2008 Dodge Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs:
All dimensions are in inches (millimeters) unless otherwise noted.
All dimensions measured at curb weight with standard tires and wheels.
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