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2003-2009 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty Pickups: 2500, 3500

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2003-2009 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty Pickups: 2500, 3500

When the 1994 Dodge Ram burst onto the scene, there was nothing like it. From the user-friendly interiors to the Magnum engines, the Ram 1500, 2500, and 3500 revolutionized the American pickup truck scene, sending Ford and Chevrolet scrambling to catch up. Dodge built up its production capacity more each year, and found no shortage of buyers.

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2010-12 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty

The second generation came in 2003, one year after the revised Ram 1500. The styling was usually seen as a let-down from the highly acclaimed 1994-2002 pickups, but a tough new frame with hydroformed and boxed sections sat underneath the sheet metal.

The new frame design's greater stiffness contributed to the best steering and handling in a 2003 heavy-duty pickup - and still let Dodge use fewer welds in the chassis while increasing torsional rigidity. It also allowed the new heavy duty pickups to claim a segment-leading Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 12,000 pounds.

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Engine details are on a separate page, but in essence, buyers had:

  • The new 345 horsepower Hemi V8 (375 pound-feet), best in class; by 2009, it was up to 355 hp and 395 pound-feet. On the Ram 3500, it was rated at 330 hp in 2002-05.
  • For 2002 only, the 8-liter V10 Magnum with 450 pound-feet of torque
  • Two Cummins diesels (2002-04), one with 250 hp and 460 pound-feet, and one with 305 hp and 555 pound-feet.
    • 2005 Rams saw the Cummins diesel rise to 600 pound-feet of torque (325 hp)
    • The 2007 pickups gained a new 6.7 liter Cummins diesel that met 2010 emissions standards, with 350 hp and 610 or 650 pound-feet of torque (the automatic had a higher torque rating).

Rear drive Ram pickups an independent front suspension and a rack-and-pinion steering; new front suspension geometry had caster, camber and toe patterns that remained consistent throughout the full range of travel.

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The four wheel drive Ram trucks used beam-type front and rear axles, with recirculating ball steering. The new recirculating-ball system had lower internal friction, improving on-center steering feel, and a faster (13.4:1) ratio for more responsiveness. The company boasted it stayed on center better than competitors, making driving easier.

Ball joints seemed to be a weakness in this design, along with the Dana axles.

Since most Dodge Ram Heavy Duty pickups had four wheel drive, off-road performance was enhanced with new transfer cases and new beam axles. The front suspension on the 4x4s was based on the prior generation, with a five-link coil-spring setup; the beam axle was new. The axle had a 5,200 pound gross weight rating.

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The rear suspension was similar on the rear-drive and 4x4. The longitudinal leaf springs at the rear were three inches longer than in 2002, to improve ride quality. Standard two-stage springs (Ram 2500 only) had three leaves to carry normal loads, and an additional leaf to support heavy loads. The rear box section was widened to create a wider lateral rear spring span, improving the ride, reducing cornering lean, and ending the need for a rear stabilizer bar.

The Dodge Ram 3500 series pickups had reduced spring rates for better ride quality with light loads, and an auxiliary leaf spring for heavy loads - only used when the truck was heavily laden.

  • 11.5" ring gears: Ram 2500 diesel/manual and Ram 3500
  • 10.5" ring gears: Other Ram 2500s

The 2003 Ram 3500 was rated at a best-in-class 12,000 pound gross vehicle weight (with the diesel, 4.10 ratio, and 4x4). The standard rear axle ratio was a 3.73 with a 4.10 ratio available as an option; the 4.0 added 2,000 pounds of towing capability. Dodge Ram 3500 rear axles had a GAWR of 9,350 pounds.

A new, optional limited slip differential used a helical gear design for torque biasing, ending the "chatter" found in friction plate designs and requiring no lubricating additives.

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Dodge Ram Heavy Duty pickups had standard four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes with the largest rotors in the segment - 13.9 inches (353 mm) front and rear, with swept area of over 40% more than the 2002. That required a move to 17-inch wheels, but increased braking power and brake lining life.

The trucks used two transfer cases, a conventional manual shift and new electric shift; the manual-shift was standard on ST and SLT 4x4s, while an electric shift was standard on Laramie.

  • GVWR: up to 23,000 pounds
  • Towing capacity: up to 16,000 pounds

Both the Quad Cab and Standard Cab had larger-than-the-competition interiors.

Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 quality

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The Dodge Ram was, when the 2003 heavy duty pickups were launched, the longest lasting pickups sold in America, based on a Polk registration study (trucks registered from July 1987 to July 2000, and still registered as of July 2002).

Dodge created a new duty cycle for the 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty, aimed at commercial customers; it included conditions from -40°F to 130°F, running the equivalent of 150,000 miles, on and off-road, and at maximum payload.


The 1994 Dodge Rams were the first pickups with driver's airbags; the 2003 were the first heavy duty pickups with side curtain airbags, power adjustable pedals (on
both automatic and manual transmission equipped trucks), and pre-tensioning,
constant-force seat belt retractors.

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The truck product team vice president, Frank Klegon, wrote that the use of "the stiffest frames
ever on a heavy-duty Ram and the extensive use of hydroforming has allowed us to
design controlled crush zones into the frame rails and create much better levels
of energy dissipation in a severe crash. This new frame also allows us to
achieve handling and braking levels never seen before in a heavy-duty

Oversized brakes and superior cornering also contributed to safety, via crash avoidance. The Ram Heavy Duty had standard driver and front passenger airbags; the latter could be turned off to use child seats.

Power Wagon

The famed Power Wagon name returned, on a fully modern truck that could handle severe off-road conditions. Full 2005-2009 Power Wagon story.

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The 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 MegaCab decisively ended "interior space wars" with the largest interior of any pickup, boasting 145.2 cubic feet - larger than any Chrysler car, and competing with stretched limousines for leg space. The cab was a foot longer than the Ford F-250 Crew Cab, and still had a six foot bed.

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The standard engine was the Hemi V8, powering three tons of pickup; the diesel was optional, but there was no Ram 3500 version (light-duty buyers could get a Ram 1500 Mega Cab, and we reviewed one back in '06).

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Mining Dodge - ("the Spelunker")

The 2007 Dodge Ram pickup with the 5.9L Cummins diesel engine was the only OEM pickup that could be used for underground mining applications. The Ram came with a derated 175 horsepower in-line six-cylinder engine that was approved by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for underground mine uses. With this engine, emissions were much lower, lowering ventilation costs. Some aftermarket modifications were required for specific vehicle uses, but these Dodge Rams all had the Cummins 5-year/100,000 mile factory engine warranty. (Thanks, Stratuscaster.)

Changes: 2004 to 2009 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty

2004 Ram 3500 and 2500

  • Heavy duty 48RFE automatic transmission added for the High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel
  • New Off-Road package and a factory-built "box-off" option for fleet builders added

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  • Magnum V-10 did not return - a 2003 only option for this generation
  • Laramie added new all-chrome grille surround and center; chrome moldings; and silver trim on the inside.
  • Deep Molten Red paint added
  • The Sport had body-color side moldings
  • Hands-free cellular phone system and a new integrated radio/navigation system became optional
  • Quad Cabs gained standard rear-seat head restraints.

  • New diesel in-tank fuel-lift pump; new transmission mounts for manual transmissions to cut NVH
  • Push-to-talk button added to rear-view mirror on UConnect hands-free phone system
  • Sun roof added to Quad Cab (optional)
  • Ram's-head logo replaces the Dodge nameplate on the rear, and Heavy Duty badge made larger

  • Fuel system revised to meet new requirements
  • Noise cut through thicker door glass and new seals, as well as a polymer constraint layer on the dash panel
  • Redesigned, brighter headlamps; updated grille, front fascia, fender; new colors
  • Optional power sliding backlight and full-screen nav system; optional rear seat DVD (Quad Cab); optional front bucket seats with full center console (except SLT, Sport, Laramie)

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  • Redesigned instrument panel with wider center stack, lower glare, new HVAC controls, with four appearances based on trim level (one color on ST, woodgrain on SLT, wood and metal on Laramie, metal on Sport). Interior finishes upgraded; interior colors now khaki and gray.
  • Rear head restraints (Quad Cab) changed to ladder-style; new seats had better leather and French-stitched sewing lines

  • New 6.7 liter Cummins diesel, 50-state-legal for 2010 standards, replaces the 5.9 with 350 hp, 650 lb-ft of torque; new six speed automatic for the Cummins
  • Optional remote start

  • New SXT trim with common options made standard; Laramie gets dark maple burl woodgrain accents
  • Electric shift now standard on 4x4 SLT, Laramie
  • GVWR raised on 3500 4x4 with diesel and automatic, from 23,000 to 24,000 pounds
  • Tire pressure monitoring standard on vehicles under 10,000 pounds GVWR
2009 Dodge Ram 2500 and Ram 3500 changes

The Hemi V8 was boosted, through variable valve timing, to 355 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque, and now came only with an automatic and only on the 2500. The 3500 now had a standard 6.7 liter Cummins turbodiesel and limited slip rear axle.

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Larger front and rear brake rotors had twin-piston calipers. Remote start became optional on 6.7-liter Cummins engines. The Power Wagon continued, but only in Quad Cab form. The Ram 2500 Box-Off continued, despite the new Dodge Ram 3500 Chassis Cab.

The maximum payload on the Ram 3500 was up to 5,130 lb, with 16,850 lb of towing capacity

2010 and newer Ram 2500/3500

The 2010 Ram 2500 and 3500 continued the 2003-09 chassis and frame, but the Quad Cab was replaced by a crew cab; the suspension was retuned, with new parts; capacity went up; new mounts increased damping, improving handling and ride; and new TRX and TRX4 crew cabs were adapted to mild off-road use, not replacing the Power Wagon. The truck would continue to be refined through 2012; the 2013 Ram 2500 and 3500 had new frames and suspensions, a clean break from the 2003 designs.

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