Just over two months ago we took possession of our new 2018 Ram 3500 diesel pickup truck. During that time we have already racked up over 4000 miles on it. About 1/2 of that has been added while towing out 9400 lb Keystone Cougar fifth wheel trailer. We have traveled down the west coast from British Columbia to California and across the mountains and into the southwest desert region of Arizona.
The trip has been an excellent test for the new truck, and it’s passed with flying colors. The Ram 3500 has met all my expectations and more. I know many of my readers and viewers are keenly interested so I’m back with my initial review and early impressions of the new truck. Below you’ll find our likes and dislikes followed by a few frequently asked questions and some video footage.
2018 Ram 3500 Likes:
Amazing Power and Torque
I’m so pleased to be towing with the power to climb any hill I chose and maintain highway speed limits. Even better with our Ram 6.7L Cummins I can also pull out and pass slower traffic and big trucks with ease. With 385 horses and 930 ft/lbs of torque, this pickup is a towing beast!
The extra power makes it a pleasure drive, merging onto busy freeways is much less daunting. In my mind having a ton of reserve power is a prominent safety feature allowing us an option to remove ourselves from sticky situations that can sometimes happen on busy highways.
Turbo Exhaust Brake
Can’t say enough good things about this feature. The Cummins 6.7L diesel includes a built-in turbo exhaust brake helping to slow the truck and trailer on downhill grades. I give it two thumbs up. There are two modes to choose from Full and Auto. Auto will help maintain speed going down hills, and full will even slow the speed. I have the auto exhaust brake on whenever towing the fifth wheel and will switch to full exhaust brake on steep grades.
I’m happy I went for the AISIN transmission option over the stock Chrysler tranny. It upped the total torque output of the motor from 800 to 930 ft/lbs and also has different gearing ratios. The AISIN’s first two gears are higher versus the Chrysler. I believe it makes a perfect match for my 3.42 rear differential, helping the truck get the load moving efficiently. 4th is the main drive gear, and 5th and 6th are ratioed as nice overdrive gears.
Electronic Gear Selector
Love this feature. On the gear shifter is a + and – button allowing the driver to select to lock out higher gears. Since speeds, 5th and 6th are overdrive gears when towing it comes in handy to be able to lock one or both of them out making the trucks tranny into a 4 or 5 speed. I’ve found with my combo of 3.42 rear end, AISIN transmission, and 18-inch wheels it’s favorable to lock out 6th gear when towing. And, lockout 5th and 6th when climbing steeper grades.
By locking out these low ration overdrive gears, I can keep the motor RPM on the optimal torque and power bands. That leads to less hunting of gears by the transmission, lower temps, better performance and mileage.
Excerpt from the 2018 Ram 3500 diesel owners manual:
DRIVE (D) This range should be used for most city and highway driving. It provides the smoothest upshifts and downshifts, and the best fuel economy. The transmission automatically upshifts through underdrive first, second, and third gears, direct fourth gear and overdrive fifth and sixth gears. The DRIVE position provides optimum driving characteristics under all normal operating conditions. When frequent transmission shifting occurs (such as when operating the vehicle under heavy loading conditions, in hilly terrain, traveling into strong headwinds, or while towing a heavy trailer), use the Electronic Range Select (ERS) shift control (refer to “Electronic Range Select (ERS) Operation” in this section for further information) to select a lower gear range. Under these conditions, using a lower gear range will improve performance and extend transmission life by reducing excessive shifting and heat buildup.
Huge Payload Capacity
I was happy to see the payload rating sticker of 3995 lbs on the driver’s door jam. The truck handles our fifth wheel trailers 1700 lb in weight with ease. I have no concerns about overloading my tow vehicle no matter how much stuff I have in the bed and cab. It’s great peace of mind to have a truck with so much extra capacity. In case of a panic maneuver or stop, I feel confident the Ram can handle it.
Really Quiet for a Diesel
Modern diesel pickups have become quieter and quieter over the years and our new Ram is no exception. It’s night and day compared to our old 1994 7.3L Ford chatterbox. I’d start that thing up on a cold morning and everyone in the campground and would know as it roared to life. The new quiet-running diesel is much more pleasing. We no longer feel guilty heading out for an early start to the day.
Our old truck smelled like diesel and would on occasion blow think black soot out the tailpipe. The new truck is equipped with all the latest emission controls, gadgets and gizmos mandated for new diesel engines. A lot of people hate it as it robs performance and fuel economy plus introduces an increased level of complexity. However, on the flip side, they sure do run clean! Feels good to lessen our personal contribution to air pollution.
Factory Ram M20 Hitch
So far the factory hitch has performed well hooked to my aftermarket Trail Air pinbox. I get almost zero chucking; the towing is smooth. The truck and trailer feel like they are one piece, no clucking or rattling whatsoever. Hooking up is extremely easy but unhooking has proved to be a little finicky. (See dislike list below)
Backup Camera and Park Sense
It may be old hat to many newer vehicle owners, but we came from a 1994 vintage truck. Having the rear backup camera /obstacle warning sensors is fantastic. With such a long truck (21 feet) its been a helpful feature to have when parking. I find it easier to back into spots.
Dash and Interior Controls
I guess they are quite similar to out old Ford so getting used to the new controls and buttons took no time at all. Everything is ergonomically laid out and easy to get to. The gauges and dials are simple and easy to read. I like the central information display panel.
Heating and air conditioning work well along with cruise control. We chose a basic option package and are actually quite surprised at the features included. I guess a lot has to do with upgrading from such an old truck. Base features nowadays were considered fancy 25 years ago — no regrets for not going for one of the higher end option packages.
Mirrors and Rear View
Love or hate the Ram’s unique looking flip up mirrors, I’m on the love camp. I find we have virtually no blind spots when a towing and can see nicely down both sides of the trailer. We opted for a plain one-piece back window. Along with the side crew cab door windows it makes for an extremely clear view of everything behind us.
2018 Ram 3500 Dislikes:
Mystery Dents and Ripples
Out of nowhere several small dents and ripples have appeared on the driver’s side of the truck box. They are confined to a small area near the front close to the bed rail. I highly doubt they are from a parking lot ding as they are high up and no sign of any damage to the paint. The only thing I can think of is leaning against the truck bed to access my toolbox but seems a little far-fetched that the damage could come from that. I’m guessing it may be a factory defect and will have it looked at for a possible warranty repair.
Steering not Great
Compared to my old truck the new trucks steering feels a little floaty. Our old Ford had a Twin Solid I-Beam front end compared to the new truck s solid axle 4×4 front end. I’m slowly getting used to the difference but have to admit I don’t like it as much as the old truck for narrow roads and curves.
Poor Vision When Turning Left
Both Anne and I have notice maintaining clear vision when turning corners is a little awkward. The new truck has a sloped windshield with large pillars on each side. Each post has built on grab handles making them thicker than usual. When turning a sharp corner, especially to the left, they obstruct our view. We end up having to duck our head back and forth to look around them. Not only annoying but a significant safety concern.
Hard to Unhitch
The new factory M20 Ram fifth wheel hitch is a snap to connect up but has proven to be a little finickity to unhitch. I find I have to find just the right sweet spot to get the jaws to release. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts at adjusting height and truck forward aft positioning. I think part of the problem may be my aftermarket Air Ride Trail Air pinbox. A regular OEM solid pinbox may work better.
Having never had a 1-ton 4×4 pickup before we are still getting used to the harsher ride. The new truck bounces you around in your seat pretty good on rough terrain. I noticed it was much worse when brand new and has slowly improved as the suspension has worked in a bit. Still, it’s a little jerky compared to the old 4×2 dually we had before.
Seats Uncomfortable for Anne
We elected to order the heavy-duty vinyl seats versus paying for a more expensive interior package with cloth or leather options. So far we are split in our opinion on them. I find them comfortable and like the heavy vinyl. It’s easy to keep clean and feels like it will hold up to a lot of wear and tear. Anne finds the seats uncomfortable. She has a bad back and requires more lumbar support than provided; she is forced to use an extra pillow behind her back. She also finds the vinyl material makes her sweat on occasion.
Noisey in Heavy Rain
I’m not entirely sure yet where it’s coming from yet, but when driving on roads with heavy rain and/or water ponding there is a loud noise in the front wheel well area. My first guess is the water is being blasted against the front of the step rails. I plan on installing a set of front mud flaps and see if that eliminates the problem.
FAQs About Our New Ram 3500
Over the last few months, since we bought the truck, there have been a few constantly asked questions. I thought I address them in this post.
Dually Versus SRW?
Many have asked if the new single rear wheel drive has been less stable than our previous dual wheel drive truck. The answer is no, in fact, I’ve found the new truck to be a little more stable to drive. The big reasons why are the new truck has modern features such as tow/haul mode, turbo exhaust brake and has 1000 lbs of greater payload capacity. Also, the massive amount of extra power can be helpful when towing into a headwind.
Now, this isn’t to say a dually isn’t better for a heavy load but for a relatively small sized fifth wheel like ours I personally don’t see a worthwhile advantage.
Many are curious about adding DEF. Is it a significant pain in the butt and how often do you need to add it? So far for me, it’s been a non-issue. I just refilled the DEF tank. The tank is 5.5 gallons, and it lasted for 4000 miles before it needed a refill. Approximately 2000 miles was towing the trailer. If you calculate the cost, it’s pretty trivial per mile.
The most asked question by far. What kind of mileage are you getting? Well, when unloaded we are seeing between 18-19 MPG and when towing around 11-12 MPG. Those figures are without trying to baby the throttle or anything. The engine and tranny are both brand new an still being broke in so I imagine I may even see a little better in the future. If not I’m plenty happy with the figures.
Video Review of our New Ram 3500
Pulling a Grade with New Ram
Crossing the Tehachapi Pass
Well as you can gather early impressions are most favorable with only a few minor quibbles with our new Ram. We will continue to enjoy this year’s snowbird season with the new pickup putting on more miles and exploring new terrain. Soon we will be testing out its 4×4 capabilities with some desert off-roading. I’ll continue to put it to the test and report back in the form of posts and videos. Cheers! Ray