Ram: A New Era of Trucks
The Dodge name has been around as long as any technician can remember. The Chrysler Corp., as you know, was bailed out by the U.S. government and then a buyer was sought. When Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat, made the best offer in 2008, Fiat was given the keys to Chrysler. The automaker was in the throes of a financial meltdown and Marchionne had already rescued the Italian automaker and turned it into one of the fastest-growing companies in the industry, so FIAT looked like it could save Chrysler.
Some Ram History
The Dodge name was dropped and Ram is its own brand. The name Ram was first used in 1981 on the redesigned Ram and Power Ram, following the retirement and rebadging of the Dodge D Series pickup trucks as well as B-series vans. The truck is named for the Ram hood ornament that first appeared on Dodge vehicles in 1933. The Ram truck is in its fourth generation as of the 2009 model year. To meet the new required higher gas mileage standards coming for full-sized trucks, the new Ram has been reworked in many ways.
Is the new Ram easier or more difficult to service?
The 2013 Ram
The Ram was heavily upgraded for 2013 with a new V6 engine, an available eight-speed transmission, fuel economy enhancing technology, and an upgraded interior. I went to the 2012 New York auto show and saw for myself. Here is what was evident to me as I looked at the new truck.
From the outside, the 2013 did not look all that different from the 2012. Back then, the “Dodge” name was still on it as Chrysler had not yet created the Ram truck brand, and its biggest technological advancement was a coil-spring rear suspension instead of the more common leaf-spring setup.
Although the majority of the 2013 1500’s changes lie beneath its sheet metal, Ram tweaked the truck’s styling for some freshness. The grille is taller and the front bumper is new. Plus, previously optional quad halogen headlights are now standard across the 1500 line, as are LED taillights. Also new is a headlight option that includes LED indicators and side markers. Inside the truck, you can now use a central-locking function from the doors to include the tailgate and Rambox bed compartments. Who said trucks are for tough guys? Trucks get easier to operate every model year.
The big news for the 2013 Ram surrounds fuel economy and includes some major powertrain revisions. At the low end, Chrysler’s Pentastar V6 now handles base-engine duties for the 1500 SLT. (The ancient, 310-hp 4.7-liter SOHC V8 is the base engine for the entry-level 1500 Tradesman; the V6 is available as an option.) Compared with last year’s V-6, the new engine makes 90 more hp and 34 additional lb.-ft. of torque for new totals of 305 and 269. The Pentastar comes mated exclusively to an equally new, ZF-designed eight-speed automatic transmission Ram has dubbed the “TorqueFlite 8.” The 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 carries over for 2013, but nets an additional five hp for a new total of 395. Both V8s hook up to a standard six-speed automatic, but the Hemi will receive a version of the eight-speed as an option sometime later this year.
By using Aisin and ZF – both well-known transmission companies based in Japan and Germany – to supply the automatic transmissions (A/T) for the Ram lineup, the bad reputation that Dodge has with their older A/T systems may go away.
Ram is also rolling out several fuel-saving technologies. First up is an active grille shutter that automatically opens and closes, depending on the engine’s cooling needs and vehicle speed. A stop-start system that shuts down the engine when the truck comes to a stop will also be available, and Ram claims it improves fuel economy by up to one mpg in city driving.
For about $1,600, you could order air suspension. It has five ride-height settings: Normal, Aero, Off-Road 1, Off-Road 2 and Park. The Aero setting kicks in automatically at speed, lowering the truck 1.1 inches from Normal. Off-Road 1 raises the truck 1.2 inches, and Off-Road 2 brings a full 2-inch rise over the baseline Normal position. Park mode lowers the ride height 2 inches below Normal, giving occupants a lower step-in height and also providing easier access to the bed. Any of the five ride-height settings can be manually selected via dash-mounted buttons or the key fob from outside the vehicle. The air suspension also performs load leveling. Now the headlights won’t become searchlights when the truck is loaded up with cargo or a trailer.
Other fuel-saving technologies that Ram will be making standard include electric power steering, a variable-speed engine-cooling fan, and lighter-weight chassis and body components. The 2013 Ram 1500 gets a revised frame that’s stronger and 30 pounds lighter, thanks to more-extensive use of high-strength steel. A new aluminum hood shaves 26 pounds, new cross-members in the box floor of the bed save seven pounds, and four pounds were removed from the front bumper. The front suspension uses lighter aluminum upper and lower control arms. The eight-speed automatic will come with a thermal-management system that heats up the transmission fluid after engine start-up, reducing parasitic losses from less-viscous cold transmission fluid. And this is only the beginning.
The 2008 Dodge Ram
The 2008 truck received a host of structural, design and interior upgrades from the 2006 truck. There were many options, but each successive level brought more luxury and took the Ram from work-site truck to a luxury hauler. Three engines were offered in the Ram 1500, and were available no matter the trim level. Base trucks were powered by a V6, a 4.7-liter V8 and the top engine was the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with fuel- saving cylinder deactivation, known as Multi-Displacement System (MDS). The five-speed automatic was mandatory with the Hemi.
2008 Dodge Ram summary
In 2008 The Dodge Ram had eight safety recalls, but none had to do with any original parts. The procurement of OEM replacement parts sold by Dodge dealerships was the problem. At that time, labor relations and parts suppliers to Dodge were at an all-time low. The brand suffered because of it. Identifix lists 68 Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs), many for re-flashing and electronics. Some electronic key fob issues were problematic, as were A/T issues. Misfires, no-starts, MIL illuminated and other aliments were trouble enough to make special training required for those technicians who wanted to be up on the latest issues.
2013 Ram summary
Of course, it is way too early to know how this model year will fare. One interesting note for 2013 from Chrysler Corp. LLC: “Engine coolant for the 2013 model year vehicles and beyond, for all engine applications EXCEPT the 2013 MK equipped with the 2.2L diesel engine and the JC vehicle equipped with the 2.0L diesel engine. This new coolant is an organic additive technology (OAT). OAT coolants have a service interval of 10 years or 150,000 miles. For heavy-duty truck and extreme duty cycle applications, refer to the Service Information or Owner’s Manual for proper maintenance schedules. CAUTION: Vehicle Damage may occur if dissimilar coolants are mixed!” Remember, you do not know what you do not know.
Overall, the two years, 2008 vs. 2013, were not very different from a technician standpoint. The people I spoke to at Ram were very pleased with what they have seen since FIAT got involved. The technicians liked the truck a lot and had few bad things to say. It is good to know that servicing a light-duty truck, with the right equipment, is not a bad way to spend one’s day at work.
For help with this article I was pleased to meet Brett Starbard, the general manager of Harr Ram, less than one mile from my office. We sat down in his office on a snowy cold day in Worcester, Mass., and he had a wealth of knowledge and was a huge fan of what he sold. I also interviewed George Sotiropoulos, the owner and lead technician at Bravo Auto Service, also in Worcester. His repair shop is well known for truck service as well as the local hybrid shop.
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