Truck Camper Magazine reveals its new truck, a 2014 Ram 3500 SLT. Here’s why we chose Ram, decided on a new engine, and selected a very specific configuration.
2014 Ram 3500 Experience Update published October 31, 2014
After 6,610 miles including flat highways, rolling hills, and Colorado mountain passes, Truck Camper Magazine gets a hand-calculated reality check on their 2014 Ram 3500 and 6.4L HEMI.
When we purchased our 2013 Chevy Silverado 3500 LT in the summer of 2012, I was absolutely sure we would have that truck for at least five years.
Well, things change. Six days after we arranged to get a 2015 Northern Lite Special Edition as our next sponsored truck camper, the Northern Lite factory burned to the ground. After the relief of learning that no one was hurt, it dawned on us that we were about to be behind the eight ball for getting a camper for 2014. As that fog lifted, and Northern Lite announced they would rebuild, I suggested to Angela that we go in a very different direction.
My vision would require a new truck; something with a long bed, and a lot more payload.
Above: TCM’s new truck, a 2014 Ram 3500 – click to enlarge
Feet Down and Trucks Lost
We had an excellent experience with our 2013 Chevy Silverado 3500. Angela was practically in tears when we sold the truck to Mark and Hope Turnbull. She kept saying, “It’s going to a good home”, as if we had just sold a cat or puppy.
Given our satisfaction with the Chevy, we started looking for a new Chevy Silverado 3500 long bed dually. On cars.com and cargurus.com we searched for many weeks looking for the perfect Chevy truck with exactly the features and options we wanted. In the meantime, I had put my foot down about not buying a new truck until we had sold the old truck. I know, I’m no fun.
Soon after, Angela also put her foot down. Her podiatry proclamation related to her distinct dislike for the new exterior aesthetic of Chevy’s 2015 trucks. Put bluntly, Angela didn’t like the 2015 Chevys, so they were out. We were now looking for a left-over 2014 Chevy or GMC.
Well, my foot down ended up costing us almost every GM truck option available. By the time our truck had sold, nearly every left over 2014 GM 3500 truck was also sold. With Angela’s foot ruling out a 2015, our feet were starting to get us into a heap of trouble.
The weekend after our truck sold, Angela and I searched the internet one more time. We looked at new and used. We looked at Chevy and GMC. Then I saw Angela looking at Fords.
“Too expensive,” she said. Having owned and loved three Ford automobiles, I always thought we would buy a Ford truck. Unfortunately, I had to agree with Angela about Ford’s prices; they seemed high compared to the Chevy and GMC trucks we were looking at.
Not to be outdone, I decided to take a look at Ram trucks. After inputting all of our criteria into cars.com, a matching 2014 Ram 3500 popped-up. As luck would have it, the truck was just up the street at Keller Brothers Dodge. I mentioned the truck as a curiosity to Angela and she said, “Let’s go check it out.” There was no way were were buying a Ram, but what the heck?
Twenty minutes later, I was crouching down between two tightly packed dually long bed Ram trucks and looking at a payload sticker. I was expecting a number somewhere in the 4,000 pound range, after which I was thinking we would get lunch at…
Wait a minute.
I looked at the sticker again. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The type on the sticker was quite small, and perhaps I wasn’t reading it right. A few feet away I could hear Angela repeating, “What does it say?” over and over. I read the number again, and again. How could this be?
“You’re not going to believe this.” I said, “6,314 pounds.”
“What?” exclaimed Angela.
“This Ram 3500 has 6,314 pounds of payload.” Honestly, I was dumbfounded.
For the past seven years I had written Ram completely off. Our previous 1998 Dodge Ram 3500 had just over 3,000 pounds of payload, an utterly pathetic number for a long bed dually. Almost every Ram based truck camper rig I had checked since was alarmingly over payload. I had advised many dozens of die-hard Ram fans to buy a Ford or GM for this very reason.
Furthermore, when we talked to Ram truck dealers, or looked up Ram trucks online, the facts did nothing but reinforce our anti-Ram position. Ram was simply not competitive with Ford or GM for payload capacity. They had a nice looking truck at a competitive price, but the payload capacity just did not measure up.
So how is it that I was looking at a well-optioned 2014 Ram 3500 long bed dually with four-wheel drive – and over 6,300 pounds of payload?
“In 2013, Ram debuted a new frame and improved the suspension,” answered Doug Vest of Keller Brothers Dodge Ram.
Upon further research, it turned out that there are several elements that that give Ram industry-leading GVWR and payload ratings; a new fully-boxed hydroformed 50 ksi steel frame (up from 35 ksi), eight cross members, and a three link coil front suspension. The truck we were looking at also featured a 4.10 rear axle and a new 410 horsepower, 429 lb-ft torque 6.4L Hemi engine.
Even better, the price of the truck with the features we wanted was less than the Chevys we were considering. Time for a complete rethink on Ram.
Choice 1: Truck Brand
As a magazine, we want to showcase and promote safe truck and camper matching. Our best calculations put our next truck camper (soon to be revealed) somewhere around 4,750 pounds loaded and wet. With a Ram, we could be 1,000 pounds under payload, or more.
The price was also important to us. Not only are we spending our own money, but how fantastic would it be to showcase a nicely equipped truck with 6,000 pounds of payload for less than $45,000 (with dealer discounts and/or factory rebates)? It’s tough to find a decent used truck with similar criteria for anything less than $35,000, and the new Ram would have a five-year, 100,000 mile warranty and zero miles.
A test drive only strengthened the case for Ram. We were particularly surprised that the unloaded truck didn’t bounce excessively like previous empty dual rear wheel trucks that we had experienced. Even empty, this truck was comfortable to drive.
We were also pleased that Ram corporate was responsive to our questions. Ram was interested in the truck camper marketplace and eager to work with us.
I could hardly believe it, but the decision to buy a 2014 Ram was becoming increasingly obvious. If we wanted a higher GVWR, more payload, the potential for better fuel economy (more on this below), and a lower price, Ram was the answer.
Choice 2: Gas Versus Diesel
For long time readers of Truck Camper Magazine, it’s no secret that I prefer gas trucks. While I greatly admire the fuel economy of diesel, the considerably higher cost of a diesel engine, along with the higher costs of diesel oil changes, diesel fuel, and the added cost of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), call into question the overall economy of diesel trucks.
I can almost hear my diesel loving friends saying, “That may be true, but what about diesel power and torque?” Well, our 360 horsepower, 380 lb-ft of torque 6.0L gas Chevy 3500 – loaded with a 4,000 pound truck camper – handled the mountain passes of Colorado, and scooted around roaming semis, with relative ease. Modern gas engines do not pull like modern diesels, but the real world differences are less than some folks might believe.
A credible argument can be made that a diesel engine will offer better longevity, and improved resale value compared to gas engines. Of course this difference would need to be quite significant to offset diesels higher upfront costs, maintenance costs, and fueling costs.
Objectively, a diesel truck will cost more to buy, maintain, and fuel – and offer hundreds of pounds less GVWR and payload – than an otherwise identical gas truck. In the future, gas and diesel technology will change and possibly tip the economic and/or payload decision back into the diesel camp. Or, a hybrid or all-electric truck could emerge disrupting the entire marketplace. Until then, for the reasons stated above, I’m truck camping with gas.
Choice 3: Engines
In 2013, Ram made the gas versus diesel debate even more interesting by introducing an optional 6.4L HEMI ($1,495) with 410 horsepower, 429 lb-ft torque, and cylinder deactivation technology for improved fuel economy.
Our 2013 Chevy Silverado 3500 short bed with the 6.0L gas barely reached 14 mpg empty and hovered at or under 10 mpg with a fully loaded truck camper. For 2014, and again for 2015, GM offered no power or fuel economy improvements to its 6.0L gas engine offering.
We were very concerned that the same 6.0L engine could produce fuel economy in the 7-8 mpg range in a long bed dually truck, and hauling a longer and heavier truck camper. This is exactly the kind of poor fuel economy that motivates folks to buy a diesel.
With the new 6.4L HEMI and cylinder deactivation technology, Ram was at least attempting to improve the fuel economy of its heavy duty trucks. The cylinder deactivation technology shuts off four of the eight cylinders when the truck is in, “steady-state operation”. Other fuel economy technologies employed on the 6.4L HEMI are cooled EGR (exhaust gas recirculation), an active intake, variable valve timing, and an active thermostat.
That said, I was extremely skeptical that the 6.4L HEMI’s cylinder deactivation technology would ever engage when the truck was actually loaded with a camper. Even if it never engaged, it certainly couldn’t do worse than the 6.0L GM engine, and online consumer feedback indicated the 6.4L HEMI could be significantly better.
In the end, there was only one way to find out. We chose the optional 6.4L HEMI.
Choice 4: 3.73 or 4.10 Rear Axle Ratio
When we purchased our 2013 Chevy Silverado, GM’s engineers recommended a 3.73 gear ratio for all-around fuel economy and power. There was no mention that this decision affected the GVWR or payload capacity of the truck.
When we were researching the Ram, we were surprised to discover a difference in GVWR depending on which rear gear ratio we selected. The 3.10 ratio offers a 13,300 pound GVWR. The 4.10 ratio offers a 14,000 pound GVWR. That’s right, there’s a 700 pound GVWR advantage if you select the 4.10 gear ratio.
If we were towing, camped primarily in the mountains, or needed the additional 700 pounds of payload, the decision for the 4.10 would have been a no brainer. The 4.10 offers more payload capacity, towing capability, and improved power and acceleration. The unfortunate tradeoff of the 4.10 is a reduction in fuel economy.
Since we do not need the additional payload for our intended camper, do not tow, and only camp in the mountains now and then, we opted for the improved fuel economy of the 3.73. Had any of those factors been different, we would have opted for the 4.10. Only time, and our long term fuel economy, will determine if we made the right choice.
Choice 5: Long Bed or Short Bed
The decision to get a long bed was determined by the fact that our next truck camper is a long bed, simple as that.
Choice 6: Regular Cab, Extended Cab, or Crew Cab
The choice between regular cab, extended cab, and crew cab was also made easy. We were not considering a regular cab truck camper rig as they often have obscured street light visibility from the truck camper cabover. More importantly, our cat, Harley, requires a back seat for napping, sleeping, lounging, and obsessive paw licking.
Above: Harley’s area, the crew cab’s 60/40 split folding rear seats – click to enlarge
Our preference would have been for an extended cab configuration. An extended cab (sometimes called a double door or half door) offers an overall reduction in rig length and decreased truck weight. Less length and weight results in increased payload, and improved center of gravity. Unfortunately, Ram does not offer an extended cab option for its long bed one-ton trucks. In fact, Ram only offers 2500 and 3500 series trucks in regular, crew cab, and Mega Cab.
The Mega Cab is an interesting cab type that’s currently unique to Ram. To create the Mega Cab, Ram took a long bed truck frame, put a short bed box on the back, and then extended the back seat area twenty inches to fill the space created by the short bed substitution. For truck camper applications, the Mega Cab configuration is likely to put the center of gravity behind the rear axle. This is never a good idea as it puts a disproportionate amount of weight on the rear axle, suspension, wheels, and tires.
Since we need a long bed and a back seat, the only viable choice Ram offered is a crew cab. This was starting to feel like a bad joke after Chevy didn’t offer the extended cab for their 2013 short bed one-ton trucks. Evidently the powers that be do not want us to own an extended cab truck.
All of this was good news for Harley who will enjoy the larger crew cab rear seat all to himself, again. We will also enjoy the additional storage capacity the crew cab offers.
Choice 7: Four-Wheel Drive or Two-Wheel Drive
We wouldn’t create a Question of the Week just to help us with our own personal truck and camper questions, would we? Of course we would!
In early June we asked, “Have you ever needed four-wheel drive while truck camping?” As part of the question, we confessed to only using four-wheel drive once over the past ten years of truck camping, including four multi-month cross-country trips and many long-distance trips to New England, Florida, Michigan, and Texas.
Given this reality, we were seriously considering not opting for four-wheel drive on our new truck. Four-wheel drive adds considerable weight to a truck. Put another way, a rear-wheel drive (two-wheel drive) truck would offer more payload. For a feature we almost never used, the decision seemed obvious.
The responses to the question were numerous, and overwhelmingly positive for four-wheel drive. As many readers stated, four-wheel drive is one of those features you don’t need, until you do. We agreed with the reader consensus and opted for four-wheel drive. I still have my doubts that we will ever need four-wheel drive, but I’m glad to have the option after reading the reports.
Choice 8: Single Rear Wheel or Dual Rear Wheel
According to our current calculations, our next truck camper should weigh around 4,750 pounds when loaded and wet. For this reason, we needed the payload capacity of a dual rear wheel truck.
We also would prefer to have payload capacity to spare should we decide to add equipment to the camper, or borrow other campers for testing and reviews.
Choice 9: Color
Ram offers an incredible assortment of truck colors including Bright Green, Detonator Yellow, Omaha Orange, and Robin Egg Blue. The most exciting colors (including those mentioned above) are $450 options while the somewhat less exciting whites, blacks, blues, and silvers are standard.
To see the available colors in daylight, we visited several Ram dealerships on a Sunday. I was leaning towards the Deep Ruby Red, and Angela was leaning towards the Maximum Steel Metallic; a dark grey metallic with a hint of blue. Guess which color we got.
Choice 10: Trim and Options
Above: Some of the features in the Ram 3500 SLT; 110 volt plug, cruise control, and an adjustable steering wheel – click to enlarge
When we finally decided on everything we wanted in the truck, it was obvious that we would need to custom order our truck. Anything else would have been a compromise, or wasted weight and cost.
We started with a 2014 Ram 3500 SLT, crew cab, four-wheel drive, long box. The SLT trim gave us cloth seats, a folding rear bench, carpet floors, upgraded front air bags, tilt steering wheel, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, power sliding rear window, heated fold-in tow mirrors, and an exterior chrome package.
Above: The dashboard and Uconnect 8.4A stereo system in the 2014 Ram 3500 SLT – click to enlarge
To that we upgraded to premium cloth bucket seats with power driver’s seat ($1,150) and the Uconnect 8.4A stereo system with a full-color touch-screen display, iPod integration, Bluetooth connectivity, and SiriusXM satellite radio ($505). We like to be comfortable, and rock out.
Above: 10-way power seats are on the driver’s side in the Ram 3500 – click to enlarge
We custom ordered our truck on evening of June 24th. It arrived at the dealership on the morning of August 7th, six weeks later. It was right on schedule.
Above: Our new 2014 Ram 3500 the day we picked it up at Keller Brothers Dodge in Lititz, Pennsylvania with David Dickel III, General Manager, Angela White of TCM, and Doug Vest, Sales Consultant
Before dealer discounts and factory rebates, the truck MSRP came to $48,010. From our experience, I would expect to pay in the low $40,000’s for this truck configuration; after dealer discounts and factory rebates, and before taxes and tags.
Above: Other features of our Ram are SiriusXM satellite radio, a back slider window, and tow mirrors – click to enlarge
Very Important: No Snow Plow Prep
There is one option that you need to be careful not to order; Snow Plow Prep.
If you own a Ram truck, chances are there’s a paper in your glove box that shows a truck and camper, and how to find the proper center of gravity. This paper is titled, “Consumer Information Truck-Camper Loading” also may feature a warning that reads, in all caps, “THIS VEHICLE IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR USE WITH A SLIDE-IN CAMPER”.
Above: A photo copy of the paperwork we found in every Ram 3500 with Snow Plow Prep
When we showed this paper to our Ram dealership, they had no idea why it was there, or what reason it had been placed in every truck we checked on their lot. When we asked our contact at Ram corporate, he also initially did not know why that paperwork and warning was there. Fortunately, he soon contacted us back with the answer; Snow Plow Prep.
Any Ram truck that comes equipped with Snow Plow Prep also comes with the paperwork warning that the truck is “…NOT RECOMMENDED FOR USE WITH A SLIDE-IN CAMPER”. He explained that the reason for this warning is that the truck is not intended to use for snow plowing and truck camping at the same time. Evidently someone went snow plowing and truck camping simultaneously and got themselves in trouble resulting in this warning being posted in trucks, causing untold confusion, for decades.
Above: The paper work from our 2014 Ram 3500 without Snow Plow Prep
We ordered our truck without Snow Plow Prep. When we opened our glovebox, we still found the center of gravity sticker, but no warning.
The Payload Sticker
When we went to pickup our new truck, there was only one part of the truck I really wanted to see, the payload sticker. I was hoping for 6,000 pounds.
Well, not quite. The exact payload of our truck is 5,851 pounds. That’s still over 1,000 pounds of payload more than what we need for our next truck camper.
This truck could have had 700 pounds of additional payload just by opting for the 4.10 rear axle ratio. Theoretically, the 4.10 would give this truck a staggering 6,551 pounds of payload, more than enough for just about any loaded and wet multi-slide truck camper on the market. That’s an impressive fact for a brand new truck that costs well under $45,000 out the door.
Oil Drum Roll Please…
We have some initial fuel economy data to report. On August 14th, we drove the Ram unloaded from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to New Hampshire to pick up our new camper.
Above: On the way up, we achieved an average of 18.2 mpg. At one point the truck reached 18.3 mpg, but only for a few miles.
Angela was driving and discovered that the 6.4L HEMI would go into cylinder deactivation at 1,500 RPM if we were on flat highway, or at a slight decline. When the engine went into cylinder deactivation, it sounded a bit like a diesel, or a manual automobile down shifting from fifth to fourth. Either way, it made a distinctive sound that we learned to listen for.
The other way she could tell the engine was in cylinder deactivation was the fuel efficiency graph next to the speedometer. When the truck was in cylinder deactivation, the fuel-economy would jump to 20 mpg, and better. When not in cylinder deactivation mode, the fuel-economy would range between 8-9 mpg on gradual hills, and 15-18 mpg the rest of the time.
Above: We achieved an average of 12.8 mpg loaded with a truck camper
On Sunday, August 17th, we loaded up our new camper and drove back to Pennsylvania, making one overnight stop to visit friends in Allentown. Loaded with the camper, the rig achieved an average of 12.8 mpg. On the way the rig touched 13 mpg for a few miles, and fluctuated between 12.8 and 12.9 right up to our front door. Ultimately, we arrived home at 12.8 mpg.
UPDATE ON MPG OF THE RAM, OCTOBER 2014
We went on a long 4,000 mile trip from Pennsylvania to Colorado and back in October 2014 and the hand calculated average was 10.8 mpg. We found that the dash screen on our Ram 3500 was off by about 11%. To see the full October 2014 update, including more information on the Ram 3500 mpg and performance, read 2014 Ram 3500 Experience Update.
Here’s the kicker; the 6.4L HEMI still went into cylinder deactivation loaded with a camper, just not as often. Once again, we could hear the engine cadence change and watch the fuel-economy graph spike. With the loaded camper, the cylinder deactivation mode still produced between 15 and 20 mpg.
Needless to say, we are absolutely thrilled with these fuel economy numbers. After our 2013 Chevy Silverado 3500 short bed with the 6.0L gas engine only achieved 14 mpg empty, and 10 mpg loaded, to get 18.2 mpg empty, and 12.8 mpg loaded with the long bed dually Ram is nothing less than astounding. The 6.4L HEMI engine is our new hero, and is quite possibly a game changer for the truck camper marketplace.
I’ll just say this once as it could be one step too far. At 18.2 mpg empty, and 12.8 mpg loaded, the 2014 Ram 3500 with the 6.4L HEMI is approaching diesel-level fuel economy. If that’s the case, another argument for diesel just evaporated.
And one more thing. Ram has given the 6.4L HEMI the same five year, 100,000 mile warranty that they offer to their Cummins diesel engines. Evidently Ram thinks their new 6.4L HEMI is good for the long haul.
Above: The center console in the Ram 3500 SLT – click to enlarge
Breaking News: 2015 Ram 3500 Updates
Hours before this article went to press, Ram announced the 2015 updates for its 2500 and 3500 series trucks.
The 6.7L Cummins diesel now has an additional 15 lb-ft of torque for a total of 865 lb-ft of torque. That’s five pounds more than the 2015 Ford Power Stroke diesel, and 100 additional pounds over the 2015 GM Duramax diesel.
The maximum payload for the 6.4L HEMI equipped 3500 series trucks has improved by 100 pounds to 7,390 pounds (regular cab, 4×2, long bed). The exterior and interior of the 2015 Ram 2500 and 3500 line appear to be identical to the 2014 Ram trucks.
Our New 2014 Ram 3500 SLT
We could not be happier with our new truck. Our biggest concern, fuel-economy, has turned out to be something to celebrate. Reviewing all the decisions we made, I wouldn’t change anything about the Ram.
In a few weeks we will reveal our next truck camper. It’s going to be a shocker, and a very exciting challenge for us. I can tell you now that it rides on our new Ram like a dream. We’ll have the truck and camper ready for its public debut at the Gettysburg Jamboree in September. Hope to see you there.