2005 Dodge Ram. Click image to enlarge
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Dodge Ram, 2002-2008
If looks could kill, the third-generation Dodge Ram should really have its own legal defense department. Where the second-gen Ram introduced the model’s “big-rig” looks, the subsequent generation redesign took its styling to a new level with an aggressive new front end dominated by a massive grille.
But the third-generation Ram brought a number of under-the-skin improvements as well. Rack-and-pinion steering replaced an antiquated recirculating ball setup; 4×4 models got a new independent front suspension; four-wheel disc brakes became standard along with rear-wheel ABS (four-wheel anti-lock was an option) and 17-inch wheels were made part of the basic package, with 20-inchers being available – all the better to fill those big fenders. Also, optional side curtain airbags were a first for a pickup truck.
In 2002, two body styles were available: a two-door regular cab and a four-door quad cab with front-hinged rear doors were on offer, the two-door extended cab arrangement having been dropped.
Engine choices were a 3.7-litre V6 (215 hp) to the less-efficient 3.9-litre engine; a 4.7-litre V8 (240 hp) replaced the old 5.2-litre V8, while the top engine was a 5.9-litre V8 (245 hp) carried over from the year before. A five-speed manual was standard in base model trucks, while the 5.9-litre got a standard four-speed automatic.
2003 Dodge Ram. Click image to enlarge
In 2005, the Ram’s transmissions were upgraded, bringing a six-speed manual as standard equipment. A four-speed automatic was the option in lower-end models, while the rest of the lineup got a five-speed auto. The five-speed auto was the only transmission option in top-line models.
The 2003 model year brought with it the now-famous HEMI 5.7-litre V8, which replaced the 5.9-litre engine. Despite its slightly smaller displacement, the HEMI blew the 5.9-litre out of the water, with 100 more horsepower (345 vs. 245) and its 375 lb-ft of torque was an improvement of 40 lb-ft.
In 2008, Dodge made significant improvements to its 4.7-litre V8, boosting power to 310 hp and 330 lb-ft (up from 235 hp and 295 lb-ft) and lowering fuel consumption.
Don’t forget the stump-pulling Cummins turbo-diesel straight-six engines offered in the Ram (5.9 litres in older models and 6.7 litres in later years) and the outrageous SRT-10 Rams, powered by a version of the V10 borrowed from the Viper sports car.
In 2006, the Ram got a mild facelift, and the lineup expanded – literally – with the addition of the Mega Cab model, a four-door truck that offered massive rear seat space. This was also the first year for the Multi-Displacement System version of the HEMI V8.
2002 Dodge Ram. Click image to enlarge
Fuel consumption, naturally, depends on engine choice. In early models, the 3.7-litre V6 isn’t significantly more efficient than the 4.7-litre V8 (16/11.3 L/100 km, city/highway, versus 16.5/11.4 for the V8, both with the four-speed automatic), though the big 5.9-litre engine is a real pig, easily topping the 20 L/100 km mark in city driving. Keep in mind these numbers are all for two-wheel drive trucks; adding four-wheel drive will increase fuel consumption, especially a 4.7-litre model with automatic transmission.
The 5.7-litre HEMI V8, added in 2003, was much more economical than the ancient 5.9-litre, posting consumption figures of 17.6/11.8 L/100 km (city/highway) with two-wheel drive and five-speed automatic transmission. The addition of MDS to later versions of this motor appears to have helped, too, dropping consumption figures by about a litre per 100 km in both city and highway driving.
Dodge claimed the redesigned 4.7-litre V8 was easier on gas as well as being significantly more powerful, but Natural Resources Canada’s numbers don’t show that, with ratings of 17/11.6 L/100 km (city/highway).
Where transmission issues were prevalent in the second-generation Ram (to 2001), Consumer Reports data suggests that Dodge has made some improvements, as transmission reliability ratings improve dramatically for the 2003 model year. A rather unscientific poll at DodgeTalk.com shows that about 46 per cent of posters to the third-generation Ram discussion section have had transmission issues of some kind. I wouldn’t read too much into this, however.
2005 Dodge Ram. Click image to enlarge
Another lengthy discussion thread looks at the durability of the limited slip rear differential that was available in the third-gen Ram. According to this, the 9.25 limited slip diff is prone to failure of the “clutch pack retaining clips.” This could be part of the reason for Consumer Reports’ “much worse than average” reliability rating for the Ram’s drive system.
If the tachometer in your HEMI-equipped Ram shows frequent engine speed fluctuations on the highway when using cruise control, there’s likely no need to worry. Experienced posters at DodgeForum.com say this is the fuel-saving Multi Displacement System (MDS) at work and is normal (if a little annoying, say some forum members).
Going by the individual category ratings on Consumer Reports, the third-gen Ram appears to be more reliable than the second-gen model, but the publication only gives the newer truck an average overall used vehicle rating. Thing is, the Ram appears to be no worse off in the reliability department than its domestic rivals.
In crash tests, the Ram 1500 earned a “good” rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) frontal offset crash test.
The 2002 Ram 1500 Quad Cab earned four stars for driver protection and five stars for front passenger protection in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) full frontal crash test. By 2004, the driver protection rating had improved to a full five stars, which carried through to the facelifted 2006-2008 models.
Neither organization conducted side impact tests.
According to Canadian Red Book, resale values for a used Ram 1500 Regular Cab range from $4,950 for a 2002 model, to $20,100. Both a Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado come out pricier in the older model year range, but while the Chevy winds up being more expensive in the nearly-new market, the F-150 comes in a couple thousand dollars less expensive. Given the wide range of options and powertrain and body configurations that can be applied to full-size trucks, comparison shopping will require lots of research on the buyer’s part.
Judging a truck’s real-world reliability can be tough, given that they’re typically worked a lot harder (through towing, hauling heavy stuff and slogging through dirt) than the average car. In my experience in writing these columns, the Ford F-150 has historically been the leader in full-size truck durability, but I’d suggest keeping the Ram in mind – particularly a newer model with either the 5.7-litre engine or a 2008 with the redesigned 4.7-litre – and looking for one that’s been well cared for and has a bit of the factory warranty left.
Red Book Pricing (avg. retail) xxx:
The third-gen section at DodgeTalk.com looks like the most useful Ram discussion spot out there, with the same section at DodgeForum.com is a close second. Both are home to many knowledgeable and helpful members. You might have some luck in the Dodge Ram section at TruckForums.com, but this one isn’t generation-specific. , which might be a better bet. For diesel discussions, check out DieselTruckResource.com, a site that caters to Dodge (Cummins) diesel trucks.
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Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003058; Units affected: 13,309
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003059; Units affected: 20,070
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002110; Units affected: 5,953
2002: On certain Ram 1500 4×4 pickup trucks the rear axle flange weld to the axle tube could fatigue and allow the brake caliper assembly to rotate. During rotation, the brake line could separate from the caliper resulting in a brake fluid loss in the rear brake hydraulic system potentially resulting in a crash. Correction: Dealers will install rear brake caliper reinforcement collars on the rear axle tube assemblies.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007389; Units affected: 38,779
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003033; Units affected: 2,922
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005307; Units affected: 30,357
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003148; Units affected: 263
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004277; Units affected: 12
2004: On certain vehicles, the alternator wiring harness may interfere with a valve cover stud and short circuit, which could result in an underhood fire. Correction: Dealers will inspect the alternator wiring insulation for damage and repair as necessary, and add a tie-strap clip to the valve cover stud to positively retain the wiring.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004150; Units affected: 735
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003321; Units affected: 175
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007032; Units affected: 6,261
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006216; Units affected: 10,969
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006215; Units affected: 13,544
2006: On certain vehicles, the right front passenger seat belt assembly may not allow the owner to properly secure some child restraints. This could result in increased injury risk to the child in certain crash conditions. Correction: Dealers will replace the right front passenger seat belt assembly.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006038; Units affected: 5,130
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005300; Units affected: 6
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006218; Units affected: 345
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007302; Units affected: 3
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007184; Units affected: 2,153
2007: Certain Ram 1500 pickup trucks equipped with a 34 gallon fuel tank fail to comply with requirements of CMVSS 301 – Fuel System Integrity. The fuel tank may become damaged during certain crash conditions, which could allow fuel leakage to occur if the vehicle rolls over. Fuel leakage, in the presence of an ignition source, could result in a fire. Correction: Dealers will install a fuel tank shield onto the front frame cross member.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007061; Units affected: 194
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.