This makes it easy to install the hitch in the truck without having to take the truck to a shop.
Mark was able to install it in our truck with a friend’s help in about an hour, using minimal tools, and that included opening the boxes and reading the instructions. A step-by-step guide for how to install the B&W Companion OEM hitch are at this link:
The other fabulous thing about the B&W Companion OEM hitch is that not only is it easy to install but it is easy to remove from the truck.
Anytime you want to use the bed of your truck to haul something big like lumber, fire wood or furniture, it is a very straight forward process to take the hitch out of the truck.
The best part is that there are no hitch rails in the bed of the truck, so once the hitch is removed, the bed of the truck is totally flat.
These features are not part of the design of conventional fifth wheel hitches, like the conventional rails-based B&W Companion hitch (not an “OEM” model), so it’s a worthwhile to consider buying a truck with the optional puck system on it if you are considering buying a late model diesel truck.
When buying a truck/trailer combination, not only are the quality of the truck and trailer important, but the hitch is really important too, and not just for its ability to tow a heavy load…
We were shocked when full-time RVers Mark and Doran Gipson sent us photos of their terrifying rollover accident with their fifth wheel. They were towing their home, a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America fifth wheel, with a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500, and they were hitched together with B&W Companion hitch.
While driving at 60 mph on I-10 outside in El Paso in February, two very inconsiderate drivers suddenly cut them off in a series of swerves right in front of them.
Here is Mark’s description of what happened:
“We were going 60 mph and were cut off by two vehicles who decided to not exit on loop 375. They dove back into our lane within 2 car lengths. With no time to brake, I swerved to the inside lane only to have the second vehicle also move into that lane as well. I lost the trailer when I swerved back to miss the concrete median.”
The result was that the trailer went over on the driver’s side at 60 mph, slid 150 feet and hit its roof on the concrete median.
The Hitchhiker fifth wheel hit the pavement at 60 mph and slid 150 feet. Most trailers would have splintered on impact.
Fortunately, as the trailer went over on its side, the B&W hitch — which comes in two pieces: a base on the bottom and a coupler on the top — separated in two. The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin as the trailer toppled over while the base stayed in the bed of the truck, allowing the truck to remain upright.
The upper half of the fifth wheel hitch — the coupler — remained attached to the trailer as it rolled over on the driver’s side.
So, while Mark and Doran came to a skidding stop in their truck, sitting upright in their seats, the trailer rolled over, detached and slid to a stop on its side.
As the trailer went over, the fifth wheel overhang crushed the driver’s side of the truck bed.
If the truck had rolled over too, Mark and Doran could have easily been very badly injured or even killed. However, because the truck stayed upright, they walked away unscathed. Thank heavens!!
With the truck badly damaged and the trailer on its side on I-10, Mark called for help and a wrecking crew arrived. As he wrote to me:
“The wrecker driver came with two trucks and a trailer because he had not gotten to a 5th wheel rollover without the truck also on its side and the trailer in pieces. He said that it would collapse when he tried to pick it up. But he put it on its wheels and towed it to his shop and still can’t believe how well built it was.
“Things were tumbled around inside but we virtually lost none of our possessions.”
The wrecking crew righted the trailer and were amazed that it stood up just fine on its own wheels. The damage to the trailer was cosmetic except for a roof rafter.
“We tested the slides and everything worked. The major damage was cosmetic on the side that slid and possibly a broken roof rafter where the AC unit came against the concrete barrier. Though everything was scrambled inside, nothing was broken. We lost almost nothing of our possessions including TV and computers.”
My husband Mark and I saw a trailer accident on the highway once, and the entire trailer was in splinters. That is what usually happens in trailer accidents and that’s why the wrecker driver arrived at the accident scene prepared to pick up a million pieces off the highway.
The wrecking crew expected the trailer to fall apart when it was righted, but it stood right up. They towed it away on its own wheels just fine.
It is quite a testament to the way the Hitchhiker Discover America trailers were built that one could fall over on its side at 60 mph and still be intact with the slide-out mechanisms still functioning and only cosmetic damage on the side that skidded on the asphalt.
Unfortunately, Hitchhiker (NuWa Industries) stopped building fifth wheel trailers in 2013, but used models of all ages can still be found. Our blog posts from our visits to NuWa in Chanute, Kansas, can be found at the following links:
For Mark and Doran, the key to their truck staying upright during their rollover accident was the way the pivot arm on the base of the B&W Companion hitch bent sideways and let the coupler break free as the trailer toppled over.
Looking forward towards the cab of the truck, the pivot arm on the driver’s side bent outwards allowing the coupler to break free (with some small broken parts inside) while the entire hitch base stayed planted in the bed of the truck. This kept the truck upright.
Bent pivot arm on the fifth wheel hitch base.
It is impressive that the B&W hitch allowed for the hitch coupler and hitch base to separate completely once one of the pivot arms on the hitch base began to bend as the trailer went over. As the wrecker driver noted, usually both the truck and the trailer roll over together because once the trailer starts to go over the hitch forces the truck over too.
The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin. In this photo it has been removed from the king pin and laid in the bed of the truck for inspection.
The coupler is flipped upside down here to reveal the broken pieces inside.
In the end, Mark and Doran decided to replace both their truck (a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500) and their trailer (a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America) as well as their slightly damaged B&W Companion hitch with a new set: a 2012 3500 Ram dually truck, 2012 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America and a new B&W Companion hitch!
RVing in a fifth wheel trailer is so much fun, especially in gorgeous places far from the open road. But accidents do happen and good equipment — from truck to trailer, hitch and brakes — can make a huge difference in the outcome when things go wrong.
Dodge Ram Truck Owners — Please note:
Late model Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks have been recalled (beginning 6/23/17) for side airbag problems in a rollover accident. See this article for details: Dodge Ram Side Airbag Recall
We carry our mountain bikes on the back of our 5th wheel with a Kuat NV Bike Rack
To keep the bike rack from dragging on the ground in crazy places like steep gas station ramps or deep gulleys on small roads, we had a “Z” shaped “hi-low” hitch riser made. This raises the rack up quite high, so now the first thing to hit the ground is the hitch receiver itself rather than the bike rack.
A “Z” shaped “hi-low” hitch riser raised the bike rack so it can’t drag on the ground in a gully or dip.
As is often the case with hitch receivers, the bike rack isn’t a perfectly tight fit in the hitch receiver riser, and the bottom of the riser isn’t a perfect fit in the trailer’s hitch receiver either. So, the whole bike rack tends to wiggle.
We’ve used various shims to make it all tight, but too often they would wiggle loose over time, and eventually the bikes would be jiggling all over the place on the rack again.
We wedged shims in to tighten things up, but it wasn’t an ideal solution
Last fall we stopped in at JM Custom Welding in Blanding, Utah, to talk with Jack, the man who had made our “Z” hitch riser (more info about it here). We wondered if he had any tricks up his sleeve for making our bike rack arrangement less wobbly.
Mark and Jack of JM Custom Welding in Blanding, Utah
It turns out that he had solved this very problem for other customers by making a hitch tightener. This is essentially a hitch clamp that fits over the end of the hitch receiver and snugs up whatever is inserted into the receiver with some lock washers and nuts.
Jack put this nifty hitch tightener on our hitch receiver.
So, we got two of them, one for the top and one for the bottom of our “Z” shaped hi-low hitch riser extension.
He put a second hitch tightener on the trailer’s receiver as well.
The difference in the amount of movement of the bikes was absolutely astonishing. They were rock solid now!
Looking down at both hitch tighteners on our hitch extension.
After installing the hitch tighteners, which was just a matter of tightening the nuts, Mark drove the rig around the JM Custom Welding dirt lot while I walked behind and watched the bikes, and they were steady as could be.
Hitch tighteners at the top and bottom of the hi-low hitch riser extension.
But unlike the shim solution we’d used before, these hitch tighteners have stayed tight without needing any adjusting or fuss for several months and several thousand miles of driving on all kinds of roads.
The whole system is completely rigid now and has not needed any adjustments in six months of use.
The hitch tighteners do make for some extra steps if we want to move the bike rack from the hitch receiver on the trailer to the hitch receiver on our truck. However, we’ve started hauling our bikes in our truck in a different way using a furniture blanket, so there’s no need to take the bike rack off the trailer any more.
An easy way to get the bikes from the trailer to the trail head!
Jack makes these hitch tighteners in batches, so if you are passing through Blanding, Utah, perhaps on your way to or from the beautiful Natural Bridges National Monument, just a mile or so south of Blanding you can stop by JM Custom Welding and pick one up! In 2016 the were $38 apiece.
We discovered later that hitch tighteners of various kinds are also commercially available. So, if Blanding, Utah, isn’t in your sights, you can choose from many different kinds of hitch clamps online.
However, a visit to Jack’s welding shop is very worthwhile, especially if you need any kind of custom metal fabrication done on your RV. He is very creative and does excellent work.
While we were in Jack’s office, we noticed a display of his for a folding storage solution for the beds of pickup trucks he’s created that fits right behind the truck cab. He calls it the “Jack Pack” and it is essentially a framed canvas storage bag the width of the truck bed that is easily opened to throw your bags of groceries into and then easily folded away when you need to haul lumber or fill the truck bed with something else.
If we didn’t have that part of our truck filled up with extra water jugs, we would have snagged one of those from him at the same time!
We got a flat on our dually’s inside rear tire (passenger side) while towing our trailer — Oof!!
Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually has been a fabulous truck for us since we bought it six months ago, and we’ve now got 9,100 miles on it now, 4,633 miles towing and 4,467 miles driving around without our fifth wheel trailer attached.
A few days ago, we stopped at the Libby Dam on the Kootenay River in Montana to get a photo. As I walked around the back of the truck, I heard a weird hissing noise. I stuck my head into the wheel well, and my heart sank when I saw a huge bolt head on the rear inside tire. I put my finger on it, and the hissing stopped. I lifted my finger and the hissing started again. Oh, no!
I almost didn’t have the heart to tell Mark, but after we’d gotten our photos of the dam, I told him the bad news.
We were in a pretty remote spot, completely out of cell phone and internet range. We hit the nifty “Assist” button on the rear view mirror of the truck to give Dodge a call and ask some questions about changing rear tires, but the call wasn’t able to go through.
Ram trucks have a cool “Assist” button that connects you straight to Dodge…if you’re not in the boonies!
The closest town was Libby, Montana. It boasts a population of 2,700 people, but it was 17 miles down the road.
So much for getting any kind of roadside assistance!
The timing for this little inconvenience wasn’t great. We’d been on the road, towing, for 100 miles, and Mark had just been telling me he was ready to call it quits and take a nap. Oh well. No napping just yet!
Luckily, unlike the last time we’d been stranded on the side of the road — when one of our trailer tires blew out four months ago, shortly after our trailer suspension repair — rather than being on the traffic side of an interstate with cars whizzing by at 75 mph, we were working curbside in a nice big pullout next to an extremely quiet country road where a car would leisurely pass by us every five minutes or so.
We unhitched the truck from the trailer to make it a little easier to get at the rear wheels. Mark got our bottle jack out from its storage spot under the driver’s side rear seat of the truck, and he began setting it up. I grabbed a stool from our fifth wheel basement and laid out some mats on the ground to create a work space for him.
From a lifetime of mechanical work, he learned long ago to protect his hands, so he pulled on a pair of leather work gloves that he keeps in the truck.
The first step for changing the tire was to remove the hubcap.
Start by removing the hubcap to reveal the lug nuts.
Then, using a breaker bar, he loosened all of the lug nuts. Doing this with the wheel still on the ground is easier than after it’s lifted, because the wheel can’t spin.
Use a breaker bar to loosen the lug nuts while the wheels are still on the ground.
We used to carry a 4-way lug wrench for swapping out flat tires, but one time one of the arms twisted like a strand of licorice as Mark tried to unscrew a stubborn lug nut that wouldn’t budge. It was probably a cheap 4-way lug wrench. Most likely, a better quality 4-way lug wrench wouldn’t have done that, but Mark swore off of those things right then and there, and we’ve been carrying a breaker bar ever since.
Our bottle jack is rated for 12 tons, enough to hold up the axles of either our trailer or truck easily. More important, it’s also tall enough for the axles on our trailer which we raised a few inches higher from the factory standard during our trailer suspension overhaul to help keep our rear end from dragging on steep ramps at gas stations and on uneven dirt roads.
He unscrewed the top of the bottle jack to raise it up.
Unscrew the top of the bottle jack by hand to raise it.
He placed it under a flat metal piece that was welded onto the axle.
Place the bottle jack under a solid flat spot on the axle.
The bottle jack comes with a two-part handle. After removing the two plastic end caps, one tube can be fitted into the other to make a long handle and give you some leverage while pumping up the jack.
Remove the plastic endcaps and fit the tubes together to form a long handle.
He pumped the handle up and down to raise the top of the bottle jack and lift the axle slightly so the wheels no longer touched the ground.
Raise the rear axle of the truck by pumping the bottle jack handle.
Collect the lug nuts in the hubcap so they don’t roll away.
Then he pulled off the outer wheel.
Pull the wheel off.
The outer wheel is off, now for the inner wheel…
The wheel studs on a dually are extra long to hold both wheels onto the truck. So, once the outer wheel was removed, he could pull off the inner wheel.
Slide the inner wheel off.
And there was the culprit — a big fat self-tapping bolt!
And there it is — a nasty self-tapping bolt. Arghh!!
Our 2016 Ram 3500 came with a toolkit for raising and lowering the spare tire. It is located behind a plastic trim piece under the passenger’s seat.
The toolkit for lowering the spare tire is under the passenger’s seat.
He pulled off the plastic trim piece to get the toolkit out.
Here is the toolkit for lowering and raising the spare tire from its spot under the truck chassis.
Then he pulled the toolkit out from under the passenger’s seat. It is held in place with two knobs, one of which is tightened with a wingnut. When he put the toolkit back in place later, he had to align it before sliding it in, and then tighten the wingnut.
The toolkit is held in place by these knobs (the left one is a wing nut).
The toolkit has several handle extensions and other goodies in it.
The toolkit has all kinds of goodies in it, including a lug wrench that Mark opted not to use since it is probably even more flimsy than a 4-way.
One of the goodies is an L-shaped handle, and there are several extensions that interconnect to lengthen the handle as well.
Two of these tubes fit together to form a long handle that attach to the L-shaped handle.
He assembled two handle extensions to make a long rod and attached the L-shaped handle to the end. Then he inserted this handle into a hole above the license plate bracket. There is a square fitting inside the hole. The end of the handle slipped over the square fitting.
The L-shaped handle and extension tubes fit onto the square fitting in the hole next to the license plate bracket.
Then, he rotated the handle slowly.
Twist the handle to lower (or raise) the spare tire.
This gradually lowered the spare tire from its storage spot under the chassis of the truck onto the ground
The spare tire is held to the truck chassis by a brace that compresses a spring.
The spare tire is held tight to the underside of the truck with a spring fitting that can be snugged nice and tight.
Bracket and spring under the spare tire.
Then he mounted the spare tire on the truck to replace the flat tire.
The spare tire is mounted on the truck.
Next, he slid the outer wheel in place. Using his cordless impact driver, he replaced the lug nuts, tightening them in increments. Starting at the valve stem, he tightened the closest lug nut a bit and then tightened the one that was opposite, then tightened the next one, and then the one opposite that one, etc., working his way around the rim and tightening the wheel equally all the way around. Then he gave each lug nut a final tightening using the breaker bar.
Then he put the hubcap back on. It didn’t pop on really easily using his palm, so he used the top of a rubber mallet to tap it in place.
The hubcap didn’t snap in place using palms only, but the butt end of a soft rubber mallet did the trick.
Interestingly, we could now see exactly how much rubber we had worn off our rear tires in 9,100 miles, because the wheels didn’t hang down evenly.
The brand new spare and 9,000 mile used tire are different heights.
Using a pocket knife, he got a rough estimate of just how much rubber had been worn off — maybe 1/8″ or so.
About 1/8″ of rubber has come off of the tire in 9,000 miles of driving.
He raised the flat tire up into the storage spot under the truck chassis where the spare tire had been, and lowered the bottle jack under the axle so the truck was sitting on all four rear wheels again. We hitched the trailer back up and started to drive.
Our fancy new truck has a cool display (the DID, or Driver Information Display) that shows the air pressure in each of the six tires on the truck (this is the TPMS, or Tire Pressure Monitor System). We were both really alarmed when the spare tire reported that it had 17 lbs. of pressure while the other three rear tires all had 63 to 65 lbs. What the heck??
The tire pressure for the spare is 17 lbs. Yikes!! (huh????)
The dealership where we bought the truck had told us they’d aired up the spare when we bought the truck new six months earlier. Even though Mark usually uses a tire gauge to measure the air in the spare, he hadn’t this time because it was a brand new tire that seemed perfectly good, had the right sound when he thumped it, and bounced nicely on the ground.
But we grew ever more alarmed as the dashboard display showed 15 lbs., then 13 lbs., and then went to dashes. The road was super quiet, so while driving the 17 miles to get to the Les Schwab tire place in Libby, we pulled over several times to check that the tire wasn’t heating up… It wasn’t.
Now the tire pressure is dashes. What does THAT mean??
We made it to Les Schwab, and they put a terrific new kind of patch on the tire that mounts from the inside. It has a big round rubber flange that mounts inside the tire with a plug that fills the hole.
The spare turned out to have 65 lbs. of air pressure, just the way it should have. So, we all scratched our heads for a while about the weird air pressure numbers we’d seen on the dashboard.
Then our service guy suddenly brightened up. “I know what it was!” he said. “The spare tire doesn’t have a sensor in it to report its tire pressure to the truck, but the original tire did!”
So, as the original tire was being carried under the chassis of the truck, where the spare usually sits, it was transmitting its decreasing tire pressure to the console on the dashboard, and the dashboard was dutifully displaying the numbers as coming from the right inside rear tire even though the tire was no longer in that position. Eventually the tire pressure got so low it was below the minimum, so the display showed dashes.
It turns out that that option for the spare tire to have a sensor on the valve stem is only available on Premium models of Ram trucks. We never saw that option in any dealer option lists.
I just showed this post to Mark to see what he thought, and he looked at me in astonishment and said, “When did you take all these photos? This is great!”
“When you were changing the tire!” I explained. “I’m sneaky!” (And I’d MUCH rather write about changing a tire than do it myself!)
The July 2016 issue of Trailer Life Magazine is featuring our article about what it takes for a One Ton Truck to be a true heavy duty towing machine. We are incredibly proud to have been asked to write this article about diesel trucks for Trailer Life, and especially that it appears in this month’s very special edition: Trailer Life’s 75th Anniversary Issue.
Trailer Life Magazine – July 2016 Article by: Emily Fagan. Photos by Mark & Emily Fagan You can read the article here: One Ton Towing Machines
Trailer Life Magazine has been reviewing trucks and giving readers insights and pointers for towing trailers since 1941. As they note on the cover, Trailer Life is “North America’s oldest and most-read magazine for RV enthusiasts.”
Trucks and trailers have gone through a huge evolution in the past 75 years!
From the Bowlus Road Chief aluminum sided trailers that resembled an upside down boat and inspired the Airstream, to the Shasta trailers that my hubby Mark remembers from his boyhood camping days with his family, to the iconic Winnebago bread box motorhomes with the big “W” on the side that we still see people driving all over the country, this issue of Trailer Life takes us back in time.
A 1937 Bowlus Road Chief — precursor to the Airstream Trailer!
1954 Shasta Travel Trailer – Mark camped in one of these as a kid!
In this issue, they also talk about the resurgence of interest in retro trailers — we see so many retro trailers on the road as we travel! — and they also have a biographical article about the “Godfather” of Trailer Life Magazine, Art Rouse.
We spotted a 1950 Chevy and 1947 Tear Drop Trailer in Sun Valley Idaho
We met up with owners/restorers of a 1959 Streamline Trailer in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
It is really exciting for our contribution about 2016 diesel trucks to be published this month right alongside such a fun and detailed retrospective look at the RV industry’s history.
Americans — and the world — have taken to RV living in trailers and motorhomes with great gusto for many years. We first got a true feeling for this long history when we visited the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in the heart of the RV industry — Elkhart, Indiana — back when we traveled through that area in 2010.
Besides being able to go into the museum library and peruse yellowed copies of Trailer Life, Escapees Magazine and Motorhome Magazine, as well as many others, from decades ago (the advertisements are hilarious and say so much about American culture in each era!), we also took a walk back in time along their winding indoor “Road Back in Time” exhibit. This took us past and through small and classic RVs from every decade.
The “Road Back in Time” at the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart, Indiana
Some of the craziest and earliest trailers of nearly 100 years ago were just a canvas tent on wheels (some even had wooden wheels!). The museum also displays Mae West’s House Car and other exotics, as well as a few Shasta, Mallard and Coachmen trailers and Winnebago motorhomes from the 50’s to the 70’s.
a 19′ 1967 Winnebegao Motorhome on the “Road Back in Time”
But the cool thing is to see these oldies-but-goodies out on the road and still in use as we travel, and to meet people who have bought brand new retro style trailers too. You can get the old fashioned look but have all brand new appliances with the latest technology. How fun!
We had a chance to peek inside a brand new retro-style trailer in City of Rocks. NM – Wonderful!
This fantastic retro trailer was pulled by a Honda Element… perfect!
Trailer Life Magazine has been celebrating their 75th anniversary all year long with some really intriguing online articles about the RV industry’s history. Here a link to a few delightful ones:
For anyone contemplating the RV life or currently enjoying it, Trailer Life Magazine fills a special educational and inspirational niche. It is available both as a glossy print magazine and in digital form online.
After being subscribers ourselves for many years, we began publishing travel destination and technical features in their pages a few years ago (a sampling can be read here), and we still find something new and valuable in every issue. You can subscribe to Trailer Life’s print magazine or digital edition here:
As for buying a big ol’ truck to tow a modern monster fifth wheel trailer, there are some important things to take into account, as not all One Ton trucks are created equal, by a long shot. We talk about a few of those “must have” features in this blog post:
How do you put DEF fluid in a truck without spilling a drop? Here are a few tips for diesel truck owners out there as well as lots of helpful info about Diesel Exhaust Fluid, what it does and where we found it’s cheapest to buy.
Since 2010, diesel pickup truck engines have relied on Selective Catalytic Reduction technology (SCR), which uses Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), to meet the EPA emmissions standards. DEF is a mixture of 1/3 urea and 2/3 de-ionized water, and it is sprayed into the exhaust system of diesel trucks to reduce the nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions into harmless nitrogen and water.
Late model diesel trucks require refilling the DEF tank!
Each manufacturer designs their trucks with a tank to hold the DEF, and you have to replenish it every so often. Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 has a 5 gallon DEF tank. The filler hole is under the gas cap next to the diesel filler hole. On some brands of trucks the filler hole is in the engine compartment under the hood.
The Dodge Ram has the DEF filler hole next to the diesel filler hole under the gas cap
We use this handy magnetic gas cap.
As a side note, opening the gas cap on a Ram truck is interesting because there is no screw-on dust cap covering the diesel filler hole inside. There’s just a spring-loaded flap. We find we need to wipe down the whole area after we’ve taken the truck out on four wheel drive roads in dusty places like southeastern Utah.
We use a nifty aftermarket diesel gas cap that uses a magnet to keep it handy during fill-ups. Just stick it on the side of the truck. Very cool! A slightly less expensive one is also available here.
While it would seem trivial to refill the DEF tank, we struggled the first few times with the bulky jugs and awkward spouts, and it dripped here and there and was basically a pain in the neck.
However, the best deal we’ve found is the big blue 2.5 gallon jug of SuperTech DEF sold at Walmart (in-store) for $7.88. The jug is easy to use and it’s drip-free.
SuperTech Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF)
SuperTech DEF comes with a flexible pouring spout that is wrapped around the handle. Simply unscrew the jug’s cap and screw the spout on until it’s really tight.
The SuperTech DEF jug comes with a flexible pour spout wrapped around the handle
Screw the flexible pour spout on tightly
Ready to pour.
There is a small black vent hole on the spout, and this little guy is essential to making the whole process go smoothly and cleanly.
The black air vent on the pour spout is the key to doing this chore without dripping or spilling
After putting the flexible spout securely into the filler hole on the truck, give the jug a small squeeze to start the flow of fluid. This will make the vent hole on the jug such air in, which vents the jug and allows the fluid to flow easily.
Once the spout is inserted securely in the filler hole, squeeze the bottle slightly to start the flow.
Make sure all the fluid has been poured into the tank, and then you’re done!
Empty the contents into the DEF tank.
The first time we did this, we didn’t squeeze the jug first, and DEF dribbled out the air vent. But if you get the siphon going properly, by squeezing the jug as you start to pour, it’s a cinch.
Our Ram truck has a dashboard gauge that indicates the fill level of the DEF tank. When it gets down to half full, we put a 2.5 gallon jug of DEF into the tank to fill it back up again. We typically do this every 1,000 miles or so.
DEF has a minimum shelf life of a year. We keep just one 2.5 gallon jug on hand at all times. Since we refill our tank about every four to six weeks, we never remotely approach its shelf life.
Buying DEF in Bulk
Another option for DEF fluid is to get it in bulk at a gas station. This is not common yet, and most gas stations don’t have DEF in bulk. However, Flying J and Pilot truck stops carry it at some of their travel centers (see links at the end for locations).
In our travels, we don’t often fill up at Flying J or Pilot, simply because they tend to be on the interstates and we tend to be on back country roads. So, we haven’t yet seen or been able to take advantage of their bulk DEF at the pump.
However, for RVers that use these travel centers a lot, this is a super way to go. The current bulk Flying J / Pilot DEF price at many of their centers is a little less than the SuperTech bottled price (~$2.79/gallon vs. $3.16/gallon).
Pilot / Flying J offers a discount card for RV travelers that gives a few cents off on fuel and 50% off on RV dump station fees, and special discounts for Good Sam Club members.
Pilot and Flying J have DEF in bulk at the pump AND a discount card for RVers
What are the pros and cons with a truck that uses DEF fluid? An obvious disadvantage is that you’ve got to do this extra little chore every so often.
However, there are benefits too. The fuel mileage is slightly better on SCR equipped engines than on older trucks that used a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) to meet the EPA emissions standards (like our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500). Cummins, manufacturer of the engine in the Dodge Ram line of diesel trucks, says the improvement can be up to 5%.
This increase in fuel economy is because the improved conversion of NOx emissions allows the newer engines to be fully optimized. Also, the older engines go into a “Regen” frequently to burn off the particulates in the Diesel Particulate Filter. In a Regen, a higher quantity of fuel than normal is pumped into the engine to make it run hot so the particulates can be burnt off. This wastes fuel and ultimately lowers the truck’s overall fuel mileage.
The newer engines that use SCR technology (and DEF) don’t need to go into a Regen quite as often.
For more info on all of this, there are lots of links below that explain the history and mechanics behind Diesel Exhuast Fluid.
Escapees Magazine – March/April 2016 IssueArticle: Engine Tuners by Emily & Mark Fagan
The March/April issue of Escapees Magazine features our article about the Edge Evolution Diesel Tuner. We have also written extensively about our Edge Tuner on this website, and you can read our blog post about it here:
Engine tuners (or “programmers”) are electronic components that modify the input parameters for an engine’s on-board computer. An engine tuner makes it possible to operate the truck with settings that are optimized for specific driving conditions.
So, whereas the factory settings on a Dodge Cummins engine in a Ram 3500 truck make the engine run pretty well in all conditions (towing, not towing, highway driving, mountain driving, etc.), an engine tuner will operate the engine with settings that are optimized for just one of these situations at a time.
If you will be towing a heavy trailer in the Rockies, you can program the tuner specifically for that kind of driving. If the truck won’t be towing anything for a while, you can program the tuner to maximize fuel economy.
We have used just two of the modes on our Edge engine tuner, Level 1 (“Economy”) and Level 2 (“Towing”).
In both cases we have seen an improvement in miles per gallon. In the towing mode, we’ve also found the increased power is significant. On the freeway this means it is easier to get up the speed to pass a slower moving vehicle. In the mountains it means the truck can get up steep inclines more easily.
There is a mode on the Edge Tuner that puts the truck into “stock” mode, effectively changing all the engine’s input parameters back to their factory default settings. It is also easy to disconnect the tuner all together. So, installing an Edge engine tuner is a non-destructive upgrade. The tuner is there for you if you want to use it, but you can easily opt not to use it too.
We recently bumped into the Jeep Safari Week in Moab, Utah, and while we were wandering around the booths looking at all the cool gear for Jeeps, we suddenly saw the Edge Products trade show booth. We went over to chat with the team and tell them about our installation. We met Jared Venz, one of their marketing guys. How cool is that?!
Mark found a fellow diesel motorhead buddy in Jared Venz of Edge Products when we bumped into the Edge Products / Superchips team at the Moab Jeep Safari event!
When we got our first Edge tuner, we chose the simplest programmable model, because we weren’t sure if a tuner would be a worthwhile upgrade. This time around we got a more sophisticated model. With all the products laid out on their table in boxes in front of us, Jared helped us understand the overall product line. Here it is in a nutshell:
There are three types of Edge tuners:
Insight – The most basic model that simply displays the engine data that is coming from the engine computer’s outputs. It does not have the ability to change the engine’s parameters or program it in any way .
Evolution – This model can modify the input parameters to the engine’s computer and also displays key data like the Transmission Fluid Temperature and Engine Coolant Temperature. It also indicates when the truck has gone into a “Regen” to burn off the particulates that have built up in the engine’s particulate trap (part of the “Blue Tech” 2010 EPA requirements for diesel engines).
Knowing the truck is in a Regen is especially useful, because the coolant and fluid temperatures increase, and there is a slight loss of power, but there is no indicator on the truck dashboard to show when one is happening. We found it very helpful with our old Edge Tuner to know exactly when a Regen was going on.
The Edge Evolution tuner uses the truck engine’s input port to modify the engine’s input parameters. So, the installation is very easy. A single cable plugs into that input port (the OBD II port on Dodge Ram trucks). However, in order to change from one programming mode to another (for instance, from Level 1 (Economy) to Level 2 (Towing), the truck must be parked and you have to go through a series of steps that take a good 5 to 10 minutes.
Juice with Attitude – This top of the line model has an additional computer module (the “juice”) that makes it possible not only to adjust the input parameters on the truck’s on-board engine computer, but also allows you to change modes on the fly. So, rather than having to stop and reprogram the tuner to change from Level 1 to Level 2, you can hit a button and make the switch instantly. For instance, if you are towing and want to unhitch to go drive somewhere without the trailer, you can change modes simply by pressing a button.
However, the installation is more complex, because the “juice” computer that is part of the tuner must be wired into the truck engine’s on-board computer via two wiring harnesses.
There are also two display options for each Edge tuner model:
The smaller and more simplistic display has a monitor screen that is 2.4 inches wide. The Edge tuner models that use this smaller screen have “CS2” in the model name.
The larger, more sophisticated and detailed display has a monitor screen that is 4.3 inches wide. The Edge tuner models that use this bigger screen have “CTS2” in the model name.
The final two digits in the model number distinguish between the various truck makes, models and years.
The Juice with Attitude model is available only in the large monitor screen size.
The basic model breakdown is:
Insight (Data Display Only – no engine programming capability): Insight CTS2 (large screen) vs. Insight CS2 (small screen)
We’ve chosen the Edge Juice with Attitude engine tuner for our 2016 Ram 3500.
Our article, “What Puts You in the Driver’s Seat? Engine Tuners!” is the latest feature article of many that we have contributed to the Escapees RV Club member magazine since 2008. Escapees is a very varied RV and travel club that touches on all the possible concerns and interests that full-time and seasonal RVers have.
Back when the club was first started in 1978, there were no RV clubs that catered specifically to the needs of full-time and extended-travel RVers. Escapees began as a simple bi-monthly newsletter to bring full-time RVers together and to give them a place to share ideas and pass on information.
Today, the bi-monthly Escapees Magazine is one of the most informative and fun to read magazines in the RV industry.
Escapees Magazine covers on display in the mail sorting facility at Escapees HQ in Livingston, Texas
We became Escapees members a few months after we started full-time RVing, and we feel that anyone interested in using their RV for extended periods of time should consider becoming a member too. Besides receiving the wonderful magazine for free, members receive discounts of up to 50% at participating RV parks.
In addition, Escapees RV Club offers a wide range of overnight parking options at its own various RV parks, from overnight accommodations to seasonal stays to long term leases to ownership, and they offer a list of boondocking locations via the Days End Directory subscription.
Escapees also hosts a very informative online forum, RVnetwork.com. The participants in this forum are often very experienced RVers, and although non-members can read the forum, only Escapees members can join in the conversation or ask questions. For new RVers, Escapees hosts Boot Camp events where folks learn All Things RV, and each year Escapees puts on a huge rally called Escapade where members from every corner of the country come to share experiences, socialize and learn from each other. Younger Escapees also gather at Xscaper Convergences.
This coming summer, from July 24-29, there will be an Escapade Rally and Xscapers Convergence in Essex Junction, Vermont. Just before that, from July 21-23, there will be an Escapees Boot Camp for New RVers.
The B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch uses the new and very clever puck hitch mounting system that can be ordered with Ram and Ford trucks in their fifth wheel and gooseneck towing prep packages. This truck option has five “pucks” installed in the bed of the truck: four in the corners to mount a fifth wheel hitch and one in the center for a gooseneck.
The new style fifth wheel hitches that are designed for these puck systems stand on four legs that each have a quarter turn locking mechanism at the foot to secure them into the four pucks in the bed of the truck. This allows the hitch to be installed or removed from the bed of the truck easily. When the hitch is removed, the truck bed floor is totally flat and free of obstacles, because there are no hitch rails to get in the way. Ford, GM and Ram have different puck layouts in the beds of their trucks.
B&W hitches have long had a stellar reputation in the RV industry, and when our 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer was getting a slew of big repairs done at the NuWa factory service center in Chanute, Kansas, (thank goodness for our RV warranty), we discovered B&W Trailer Hitches was just a ways down the road. So we took a factory tour of the plant.
All of the hitches manufactured by B&W Trailer Hitches are on display at the manufacturing plant.
What struck us more than anything is that B&W Trailer Hitches is a company that cares. They not only turn out a superior product, but they take take care of their employees.
Mark checks out one of the hitches on display at B&W.
We got a taste of just how deeply these community values run when we saw the Biblesta celebration and parade during our visit to Humboldt, Kansas. In an age of political correctness when many people are afraid to express their beliefs publicly, this is a town that has been openly celebrating Christianity in an annual festival for the past 52 years. All the churches in the area — as well as B&W Hitches — have a float in this extraordinary parade. Read our blog post about it here: America’s Heartland – Is It In Humboldt Kansas?
B&W Trailer Hitches sponsored a float in the Biblesta parade in their hometown of Humboldt, Kansas
Founded in 1987 by Joe Walker and Roger Baker as B&W Custom Truck Beds, the company long ago became B&W Trailer Hitches. They still build custom truck beds, but the company has grown and now manufactures many other products.
In 1991, B&W invented the clever turnover ball for gooseneck hitches, and that put them in the forefront of the towing industry. For trucks that have a gooseneck socket in the bed of the truck, the turnover ball gets inserted this socket and a fifth wheel hitch can be installed that latches onto the ball and also onto rails that are installed under the bed of the truck. When the fifth wheel hitch is removed, the turnover ball can be turned over to make the bed of the truck completely flat since the rails for the hitch are under the bed.
This makes the entire bed of the truck available for hauling when the fifth wheel hitch isn’t installed, and it also allows the truck to be set up for either gooseneck or fifth wheel towing really easily. This is handy out in ranch country where one truck might tow a variety of trailers, and also be used to haul big loads.
B&W hitches on the assembly line in Humboldt, Kansas.
The new puck style hitch mount offered by the truck manufacturers is a similar concept. Rather than just one connection point between the 5th wheel hitch and the truck bed in the center, there are four points of contact in the four corners. The four puck system also allows for an even heavier duty weight rating on the biggest fifth wheel hitches, so larger fifth wheel trailers can be towed.
B&W Trailer Hitches is into quality, and one of the things that sets their hitches apart is that they are made from American steel. Since we have dealt with axle and leaf spring problems on our trailer several times over the last year, we have come to realize just what a huge difference there is between Chinese made steel and American steel. When it comes to something that puts your life on the line because it is carrying heavy loads, American made steel is the only way to go.
Stacks of B&W fifth wheel hitch bases (these are not the new puck style base)
Another hallmark of quality in B&W hitches is that the nuts holding the hitch base to the truck are castle nuts. This means you can lock them with a sheer pin so they don’t back out.
Also, just about everything at B&W Trailer Hitches is done in-house. That way, they can retool the assembly line easily, as needed, for instance, if they improve the design or the puck layout is changed by the truck manufacturers.
Stacks of fifth wheel hitch couplers (the top part of the hitch).
Lots of metal shavings are generated in the production of hitches on the B&W assembly lines. We were impressed that B&W recycles all the metal shavings at Missouri Metals. Very green!
B&W recycles all the metal shavings from their production lines
The whole installation of the B&W Companion OEM 5th wheel hitch could easily be done right in the bed of the truck, but we we got the hitch before we got our truck! So, we did it in two stages. First we assembled the hitch in a friend’s garage. This took 40 minutes. Then, once we got our new truck, we installed the hitch in the bed of the truck. This second stage took 20 minutes because we needed to fine tune the mating of the four pucks and the four legs. In the future, lifting the hitch in and out of the truck bed will take just a few minutes.
So, it’s about a one hour DIY job to install a B&W Companion 5th wheel hitch right out of the box. That’s a huge improvement over paying the fifth wheel dealership to do a two hour installation like we did when we installed our first fifth wheel hitch in our first truck!
There is a base and a head (or coupler) and assorted parts. We laid them all out to get a look at them.
We lay out all the parts and the instructions.
There is a one page installation instruction sheet that comes with the kit (also available online here). There’s also a sticker on the hitch base with instructions for mounting the hitch’s two parts into the truck bed.
The orange sticker on the hitch base has instructions for mounting the hitch in the truck bed. The sticker faces the truck cab.
The first step is to install the big triangular pivot arms that support the hitch coupler (the top part of the hitch). The orientation of these triangular pieces depends on the placement of the hitch over the axles, which varies by truck model. In the case of the Ram 3500 dually long bed, they are oriented so the shallower slope goes towards the cab of the truck.
The hitch has a big orange sticker on the side that faces the cab, so the shallow slope of the pivot arms faces that sticker.
The shallow sloping side of the pivot arm faces the truck cab in our installation. The pivot arm orientation varies with the type of truck bed.
There are four pairs of lock washer and bolts, two for each pivot arm. There are five possible holes, so you can set the height of the pivot arm higher or lower, which will change the gap spacing between the overhang of the fifth wheel trailer and the sides of the truck bed. We chose the middle setting for starters.
The pivot arms are attached using these parts.
The bolts and lock washers screw into the threaded block an the back side of the pivot arms.
Use a socket and ratchet to tighten the bolts.
The bolts screw into a threaded block plate on the back side.
Mark bolts the pivot arm to the threaded block plate
The next step is to install the wire torsion spring on the flange on the driver’s side pivot arm that is closest to the truck cab.
The wire torsion spring is next.
The mounting clip (below the spring in the photo above) is attached to the spring. Then the spring is installed so there is 1/2″ of clearance between the top of the spring and the bottom of the rubber bumper on the pivot arm. A few taps with a small hammer secured the clip onto the flange.
Tap the spring into place with a small hammer
The spring must be 1/2″ from the bottom of the rubber bumper on the pivot arm.
Now the pivot arms are fully installed on the hitch base.
The two pivot arms are in place (photo is prior to mounting the torsion spring).
The next step was to put the hitch head — the coupler — onto the hitch base and install its handle and three safety pins.
The coupler (top of the hitch), seen upside down here, is next.
As mentioned above, all of these assembly and installation steps could have been done in the truck bed, but we did not have our truck yet, and we were excited to get started and work on the hitch in the meantime.
The gooseneck / fifth wheel hitch tow prep package puck system in our Ram 3500 dually truck was ready for the hitch installation.
The gooseneck / fifth wheel tow prep package has five pucks in the bed of the truck. Fifth wheel hitches use the outer four pucks.
Mark and his buddy lifted the hitch base into the truck bed. Back in our article about our truck, a reader noted that he hoists his fifth wheel hitch in and out of his truck bed using a hydraulic lift table. If you are going to be moving the fifth wheel hitch in and out of your truck bed a lot, and you have the garage space, and you don’t have a strong, strapping friend at your beck and call to help you, this seems like a super idea.
Each foot of the base required a little adjustment to fit properly into the truck’s pucks. This was done by loosening and tightening the cap screws on the pilot assemblies on each foot.
Each puck requires some small adjustments the first time.
Then the tension in the latch handle was set by adjusting the height of the castle nut. We used needle nose pliers to remove the cotter pin and then reinstall it and bend the end once the castle nut height adjustment was set.
A sheer pin prevents the castle nut from backing out.
It took a little pushing and shoving to get everything in place, but these are one-time adjustments. The latch handles could now be opened and closed easily.
Hitch latch handle in the open position.
Hitch latch handle in the closed position.
The B&W Companion hitch base was now installed in the bed of the truck.
The base is installed and all four latch handles have been adjusted to open and close easily.
Next, the hitch head (the “coupler”) was set on the hitch base. The two saddle handles were pushed down and the saddle lock pin was put in place.
The B&W Companion OEM 5th wheel hitch is completely installed! This view (above photo) is looking towards the tailgate.
This view is looking towards the truck cab.
Great job, guys. Thanks!!
Hey, can I have a beer too?
Celebrations behind us, the next day we hitched the new truck up to our fifth wheel trailer and took our home on a joy ride up and down some nice long 7% grades nearby. What a combo!!!
Prior to hitching the truck to the trailer the first time, we cleaned the hitch plate on the trailer and lubed both that and the coupler plate on the B&W hitch with CRC silicone spray.
We ended up adjusting the pivot arms down one notch, and that seems right for our particular truck and trailer.
We adjusted the height of the pivot pins by one notch to get the distance between the sides of the truck and the fifth wheel overhang right.
After ten thousand miles of towing with the B&E Companion OEM hitch, we are happy to report that we have been very happy with this hitch. In early 2017 we heard of a case where this hitch performed extraordinarily well in a fifth wheel rollover accident. You can read about it here:
The following info is FYI for those whose truck does not have a Puck System in the bed.
The Gooseneck Turnover Ball hitch is one option which allows you to have a totally flat truck bed when the hitch is removed. The other option is to go with the traditional rail mounted Patriot fifth wheel hitch.
B&W Gooseneck Turnover Ball Hitches:
Unlike the Puck System hitches, the Gooseneck Turnover Ball hitches require installing the Gooseneck Turnover Ball in the bed of the truck with rails mounted underneath. So, each truck bed in each model year has a different kit. The B&W Companion Hitch that mounts onto the Gooseneck Turnover Ball in the bed of the truck comes in two flavors: long bed and short bed (slider hitch).
Gooseneck Turnover Ball Companion Hitches (these are the “couplers” or actual hitches):
Choosing a truck to pull a trailer is a critical decision for RVers, because getting there, and particularly getting there safely, is the first and most important part of enjoying the RV lifestyle! Towing specs and towing guidelines always give the outer limits of what a truck can safely tow. Too often, in towing situations, the trailer is a little too big for the truck, or the truck is a little too small for the trailer, pushing the truck right to its outer safety limits or beyond.
The 2016 Ram 3500 Dually is an awesomely powerful truck for towing big and heavy trailers
The truck-trailer combo may be just a little out of spec on paper, so it may seem okay, like you can get away with it, but it is a really unwise decision. Not only is it absolutely no fun to drive a truck that is screaming its little heart out to tow the load its tied to, but if you have an accident and it is determined your truck was towing a load that is beyond its safety limits, you will be liable.
Heaven forbid that there is a fatality in the accident — either yours or someone else’s. There are lots of horror stories out there of people’s lives that were transformed because someone decided not to get a truck that could tow their trailer safely.
Of course, truck and trailer salesmen don’t help. We have heard time and again, “That truck is fine for this trailer,” or “This trailer will be no problem for that truck.” Don’t listen to them! Trust your instincts and your gut feelings. If you are studying the specs and are nervous that your truck *might* be too small because your trailer puts it on the hairy edge of its specs, then you need a bigger truck or a smaller trailer.
We have been amazed at the huge difference between our old 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel and this new 2016 Ram 3500 dually
This article covers all the specifications we studied and were concerned about when we placed the order for our 2016 Ram 3500 truck to tow our 14,100 lb. 5th wheel trailer. You can navigate to the various sections with these links:
When we bought our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel long bed diesel truck with the 6.7 liter Cummins engine, its purpose was to tow a 7,000 lb. (fully loaded) 2007 Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer. Our 2004 Toyota Tundra (4.7 liter engine) had been okay to tow that trailer on paper, but when we took it on its first mountain excursion up and over Tioga Pass on the eastern side of Yosemite in California, it could not go faster than 28 mph with the gas pedal all the way to the floor. What a scary, white knuckle drive that was. Who needs that?
Our ’04 Toyota Tundra half-ton pickup rests as it tries to tow our 27′ travel trailer over Tioga Pass… sigh.
We replaced the Toyota Tundra with a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 which was rated to tow much bigger trailers than the little Lynx travel trailer, so all was good with that small travel trailer. However, within a year, we upgraded our trailer from the lightweight Fleetwood Lynx to a full-time quality, four season, 36′ NuWa Hitchhiker LS II fifth wheel trailer that the scales told us was 14,100 lbs. fully loaded. Suddenly, our big beefy diesel truck was at its outer limits!
We drove our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 and 36′ fifth wheel combo for seven years without a mishap, but it was not an ideal situation. The truck would strain in the mountains and would wander in strong cross winds on the highway. We installed a K&N Cold Air Intake Filter and an Edge Evolution Diesel tuner which helped the engine breathe better and increased its power (see our Edge Evolution Tuner Review), and we installed a Timbren Suspension Enhancement System to keep the truck from sagging when hitched to the trailer. But the frame of the truck and the transmission were still stressed by the heavy load on steep inclines.
We wanted a truck that was well within its towing limits and that could tow our trailer effortlessly.
The weight ratings for trucks and trailers are an alphabet soup of confusion that takes a little imagination to grasp. Here’s a synopsis:
Unloaded Vehicle Weight
The weight of the vehicle without fuel, people and stuff
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
The heaviest weight the vehicle can safely be when it is loaded up with fuel, people and stuff
Gross Combined Weight Rating
The most a truck-and-trailer combo can safely weigh when hitched together and loaded up with people, fuel, food, etc
The GVWR less the UVW
The amount of weight the truck can safely carry. Compare to the trailer’s Pin Weight
The actual weight on the truck’s rear axle when a trailer is hitched up. Compare to the Payload
The Pin Weight is most easily visualized by first imagining yourself standing on a bathroom scale and making a note of your weight. Then your teenage kid walks up and puts his arms around your neck and hangs on your shoulder. The weight on the scale goes up a little bit, but not a huge amount, because your kid is still standing on the floor on his own two feet. The more he leans on you, the more weight the scale shows.
The difference between the weight the scale shows when your kid is hanging on your shoulder and the weight it shows when you’re by yourself is the “pin weight.” In the case of you and your kid, the “pin weight” might be 30 lbs.
The Pin Weight is the weight of the trailer at the hitch pin, a value that has to be calculated.
The following chart shows the factory safety weight ratings given by Chrysler and NuWa and the actual weights for our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 truck and ’07 36′ NuWa Hitchhiker 5th Wheel trailer. We had our rig weighed by the Escapees Smart Weigh program at their North Ranch RV Park in Wickenburg, Arizona. This is a detailed, wheel by wheel, RV specific method of weighing.
Our truck, when loaded, carries fuel, 24 gallons of water, a generator and BBQ, the fifth wheel hitch, several leveling boards, two huge bins of “stuff” and ourselves, as well as the pin weight of the trailer. So, even though the pin weight itself was within tolerance on our ’07 Dodge 3500, all that other stuff made the truck way overweight. Moving those things to the trailer would clog our fifth wheel basement and would just make the trailer way overweight instead.
2007 Dodge Ram 3500 SRW (Single Rear Wheel) Truck
* LOADED with passengers, fuel and cargo but not towing
Besides the pin weight, our truck carries spare water, a heavy hitch, leveling boards, and generator. And there’s more stuff plus ourselves in the cab!
We improved our trailer’s cargo carrying capacity by upgrading from E rated tires to G rated tires and by revamping the suspension completely (I have not yet written about that project). So, even though some elements of the trailer frame are still at the spec limit, we have some leeway with our trailer in those places where the rubber meets the road.
The truck, however, was over its limit for both GVWR and GCWR, and it was pushed nearly to its max when towing.
The 2007 Ram 3500 towing guide is here: 2007 Dodge Ram Trucks Towing Guide. Our truck is on p. 20, on the 2nd to last line. Search for this text: “D1 8H42 (SRW)” (you can copy and paste it from here).
There are three brands of big diesel pickup trucks on the market: Chevy/GMC, Ford and Dodge. People have lots of brand loyalty when it comes to diesel trucks, and the bottom line is it’s pointless to get into a religious war over truck manufacturers. That said, the following are our personal opinions and there is no offense intended to anyone who loves a particular brand.
GMC makes the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra which both have the Chevy Duramax 6.6 liter engine and the Allison transmission. The Allison transmission is widely used throughout the commercial trucking industry and is considered to be the best.
FORD makes the Super Duty series of trucks which have Ford built engines and transmissions. Ford has modified its Power Stroke engine several times since the early 2000’s. The current engine is a 6.7 liter engine and it has performed well. Earlier models, the 6.0 liter engine and 6.4 liter engine, both had significant problems and were less reliable.
CHRYSLER makes the Ram series of trucks which have the Cummins 6.7 liter engine and Aisin transmission. The Cummins engine is widely used throughout the commercial trucking industry and is considered to be the best.
With the late model Ram trucks there are two models of 6 speed automatic transmissions to choose from. The 68RFE transmission was the only one available for our ’07 Dodge, and we found it developed problems over time (before our installation of the K&N Cold Air Intake and Edge tuner). It stuttered on climbs and didn’t always shift smoothly. The new (in 2013) Aisin AS69RC transmission is much more rugged and reliable and is now available as an option in the Ram Trucks lineup.
All three big diesel truck brands are good. After much research and many test drives, we chose the Ram 3500.
PICKUP TRUCK SIZES
All trucks are categorized into eight weight classes, from Class 1 (lightest) to Class 8 (heaviest) according to their GVWR. Pickup trucks fall into the smallest (lowest) three classes:
0 – 6,000 lbs
6,001 – 10,000 lbs
10,001 – 14,000 lbs
All three classes of pickups are referred to as “light duty” trucks, as compared to dump trucks and semi tractor-trailers in the higher “medium duty” and “heavy duty” classes. Within the pickup truck market, however, they are referred to as “Pickups” (Class 1), “Full Size Pickups” (Class 2) and “Heavy Duty Pickups” (Class 3). So, even though a large diesel pickup is marketed as “heavy duty,” it is not technically a heavy duty truck. It’s just a heavy duty pickup. This may be obvious to many, but sure had me confused at first glance.
When we were first time truck buyers shopping for a truck to pull our popup tent trailer, the advertising made the ’04 Toyota Tundra look like it was a heavy duty towing monster that could pull a mountain right across a valley. But it is not so! Pickups come in all sizes.
Toyota Tundra and Ram 3500 — Which one is the towing monster?
Pickup truck sizes are referred to as “half-ton” “three-quarter ton” and “one ton,” and they are numbered accordingly:
Ford also mass markets 450, 550 and larger pickups. Some people make custom Chevy and Dodge trucks in those sizes too, but they don’t come from the factories that way.
Ensuring the tow ratings of the truck are well beyond the actual weight of the trailer is essential.
For reference, a ton is 2,000 lbs. The truck naming convention comes from the original payloads these trucks could carry when they were first introduced decades ago. Back in those days, a half-ton truck could carry 1,000 lbs. (half a ton) in the bed of the truck. A three-quarter ton could carry 1,500 lbs and a big one ton truck could carry 2,000 lbs.
In 1918 Chevy had a very cute half-ton pickup that was basically a car with sturdy rear springs. By the mid-1930’s pickups came with factory installed box style beds, and a 1937 Chevy half-ton truck went on a 10,245 mile drive around the US with a 1,060 lb. load in the bed. It got 20.74 miles to the gallon!
As the payload capacities increased, the manufacturers assigned model numbers that corresponded to the weights the trucks could carry. But technology advances never quit!
Our 2016 Ram 3500 dually can tow this trailer with one hand tied behind its back.
Since those early times, truck and engine designs have improved dramatically, and the payloads modern trucks can carry now is significantly higher. For instance, the payload of a 2016 Toyota Tundra, a half-ton truck, is 1,430 to 2,060 lbs., depending on the options, making it essentially a “one ton” truck. The payload of a 2016 Dodge Ram diesel can be as high as 6,170 lbs. (and even higher for the gas HEMI version), making the 3500 model more of a “three ton” truck than a one ton.
In the modern trucks, the major difference between a three quarter ton 250/2500 truck and a one ton 350/3500 truck is the beefiness in the rear end suspension for supporting a heavy payload, that is, the number of leaf springs on the rear axle. In our opinion, if you are going to spend the money to buy a three quarter ton truck for towing purposes, you might as well spend the tiny incremental extra few bucks to buy a one ton.
Pickups come with more than one bed size. A “short bed” truck has a box that is a little over 6′ long and a “long bed” truck has a box that is around 8′ long. When a fifth wheel hitch is installed in the bed of a pickup, it is placed so the king pin of the fifth wheel will be over the rear axle. In a short bed truck this leaves less distance between the hitch and the back of the pickup cab than in a long bed truck.
The advantage of a short bed truck is that the two axles are closer together, so the truck can make tighter turns. This is really handy in parking lots and when making u-turns. The truck also takes up less space when it’s parked, again, a big advantage in parking lots.
A long bed truck is less maneuverable when it’s not towing but is preferable for towing a fifth wheel trailer
However, when towing a fifth wheel trailer, there is a risk that the front of the fifth wheel cap will hit the back of the pickup cab when making a tight turn. For this reason, there are special sliding fifth wheel hitches, and some 5th wheel manufacturers make the fifth wheel cap very pointy and even concave on the sides so there’s room enough to ensure the pickup cab doesn’t touch the fifth wheel cap on tight turns.
The advantage of a long bed truck is that not only can it carry more and bigger things in the bed of the truck, but when it is hitched to a fifth wheel trailer, doing a tight turn will not risk the front of the fifth wheel hitting the back of the truck cab.
Also, you can open and close the tailgate when the fifth wheel trailer is hitched up. We can actually walk from one side of our trailer to the other through the gap that’s between the open tailgate and the front of the trailer, even when the truck is cocked in a tight turn.
With a long bed, the truck can be at a sharp angle to the trailer and still have the tailgate open.
For folks that use their pickup primarily in non-towing situations and take their fiver out for just a few weekends a year (and stay close to home), a short bed truck is fine. However, in our opinion, if you are going to tow a large fifth wheel frequently, and especially if you are a seasonal or full-time RVer traveling longer distances, a long bed truck is the way to go.
We bought a long bed as our first diesel truck for our little travel trailer, knowing we might eventually get a fifth wheel, even though it takes much more real estate to back a travel trailer into a parking spot with a long bed truck that it does with a short bed truck (because the pivot point on a travel trailer is behind the bumper rather than over the truck axle, forcing the front end to swing exceedingly wide to make a turn).
When we use our truck as a daily driver, even though we always have to park away from the crowd and walk a little further, and we sometimes struggle making u-turns and maneuvering in tight spaces (it takes nearly four lanes to do a U-turn in a long bed pickup without the trailer attached), we have never once regretted having a long bed truck.
SINGLE REAR WHEEL vs. DUAL REAR WHEEL (DUALLY)
In the one ton class of trucks (Ford 350, Chevy/Dodge 3500), there is an additional consideration: single wheels on the rear axle of the truck (“single rear wheel”) or two pairs (“dual rear wheel” or “dually”).
The advantages of a single rear wheel truck are:
Only 4 tires to maintain instead of 6
Changing a flat will never involve accessing an inner tire under the truck
No wide rear fender to worry about at toll booths and drive-through bank windows and fast food windows
Easy to jump in and out of the bed of the truck from the side using the rear wheel as a foothold
Can handle rough two track roads better because the rear wheels fit neatly into the ruts
Gets traction on slick ice, snow and muddy roads better than a dually
The advantages of a dual rear wheel truck (“dually”) are:
Wider stance supporting the weight of the king pin (or bumper hitch)
Can carry a heavier payload — heavier trailer pin weight and/or bigger slide-in truck camper
Much safer if there’s a blowout on one of the rear wheels, and you can still drive (for a while)
A dually has a wider stance, providing more stability, and it can handle much more weight in the bed of the truck.
Why do you need to get in and out of the truck bed from the side? Climbing in on the tailgate is great, and there is a very handy foothold at the license plate mount on the 2016 model that is low enough for a short person to reach easily. However, when the truck is hitched to the fifth wheel, it’s not possible to climb in from the tailgate, and sometimes we need to get into the bed of the truck when the fiver is attached!
For instance, we keep 22 gallons of spare water in the bed of the truck in 5.5-gallon jerry jugs. I’m the one who holds the hose in the jugs while Mark goes to the other end of the hose and turns the water on or off at the spigot. We could switch roles, but I like that job!
When we’re hitched up, I have to get into the bed of the truck from the side to get to the water jugs. I plant one foot on the rear tire, and I hoist myself up and over the side. Getting over that fat fender is not so easy with the dually!
When hitching/unhitching, Mark also reaches over the side of the truck to loop the emergency break-away brake cable from the trailer onto the hitch in the truck bed. That way, if the trailer comes unhitched as we’re driving, the quick yank on the small cable (as the trailer breaks free) will engage the trailer’s own brakes as we wave it goodbye behind us.
Obviously, for both of these maneuvers, the width of the dually fender makes reaching into the bed of the truck a whole lot harder. Doing these things on a single rear wheel truck is trifling by comparison!
RESEARCHING SINGLE REAR WHEEL vs DUALLY TRUCKS
Our biggest debate was whether or not we should simply buy a new single rear wheel truck that had the latest engine and drive-train and chassis improvements or if we should take the plunge and get a dually. We do occasional research online, but our preferred method of learning about things in the RV world is to talk to experienced people in person, especially since we are out and about all day long and we enjoy meeting new people.
So, we interviewed every single dually truck owner that we ever saw. For two years! Whenever we saw a dually parked somewhere, we’d look around to see if the owner was anywhere nearby. If so, we’d walk up and ask him about his truck.
Did he like it? What did he tow with it? How long had he had it? Was it his first dually? Did he have trouble maneuvering in tight quarters? Had he towed that same trailer with a single rear wheel truck? How did they compare?
We asked lots of people how their dually performed compared to a one ton single rear wheel long bed truck towing the same heavy trailer.
To our astonishment, although we searched for two years for a person who had towed the same large fifth wheel trailer with both a dually and a single rear wheel truck, and we talked to dozens of dually truck owners who had towed all kinds of trailers, we found only one who had towed the same fifth wheel trailer with both styles of truck.
This guy was a rancher with several big cattle and horse trailers as well as a 40′ toy hauler fifth wheel. He’d been towing comparable trailers with single rear wheel long bed trucks for over twenty years. Three years ago he’d switched to a dually, and he said the difference for his toy hauler was night and day. He’d never go back.
Another fellow told us the ranch he worked on had both single rear wheel and dually trucks and that the duallies were used exclusively for the big trailers because they were better tow vehicles.
We LOVED the new, sleek styling on the Ram duallies.Our biggest questions: is the wide dually fender flare a pain? How does it do at toll booths and drive-through windows?
This was very convincing, but an interesting side tid-bit we learned is that many folks go either dually or single rear wheel when they buy their first diesel truck for a big trailer, and they stick with that type of truck when they replace it. Guys love their trucks, so we heard few complaints, but when folks raved about how their single rear wheel or dually was the ultimate towing machine and that they’d never switch, when pressed for details, we found they didn’t have first-hand experience using the two different types of trucks to tow the same large trailer.
For those looking to conduct their own research, in addition to talking with ranchers and horse owners, one of the best sources of information we found was the trailer transport drivers who drive their own personal trucks to tow both large RV and horse trailers from the manufacturers to the dealerships where they are sold..
Our questions would have all been answered in a heartbeat if we could have hitched our trailer onto a dually sitting in a truck dealership lot and towed it up a mountain and on a few back roads. However, that wasn’t possible.
Perhaps in the future, because of the fantastic new hitch puck systems that can be factory installed in pickups these days, dealerships will decide to keep one of the nifty B&W OEM fifth wheel hitches on hand for prospective customers to do just that (if they can sort out the liability and insurance issues).
Ultimately, we held out on the dually versus single rear wheel decision until the very end, but we knew inside that if we did buy a new truck it would probably be a dually. So every test drive we did was with a dually truck.
We took all three brands of pickups out on over 200 miles of test drives at 25 or so dealerships.
Going for test drives is lots of fun and is the best way to learn the product
Dealing with Slick Salesmen
A reader wrote me recently to say he was intimidated by the sales tactics at car dealerships, so he was reluctant to do many test drives or much dealership research. That is a real shame, because the only way to learn about trucks is to spend time with them, test drive them, sit in them, crawl underneath, study what’s under the hood, read the marketing literature, and hound the salesmen with questions.
After all, the salesmen are there to teach you what you need to know about the product, and if they don’t sell you a truck today, they are helping another salesman (or themselves) sell you a truck tomorrow. What goes around comes around, and any good salesman understands that. You can easily deflect the high pressure sales tactics by saying, “We are starting our search and just want to do a test drive today. We won’t be ready to buy for a few months.”
Where to Do a Test Drive? Where to Buy?
The best places to find knowledgeable diesel truck salesmen and buy big diesel trucks, especially duallies, is in cattle ranching country. As we scoured dealerships from San Diego to Maine and from Sarasota to the Tetons, we found urban areas generally have few big trucks on the lot and the salesmen know very little about diesel trucks. Cattle ranchers, horse owners and big commercial farmers know their trucks, and so do the salesmen they work with.
The most knowledgeable truck salesmen are in places where people need and use big trucks — a lot!
Our first test drives were focused on the turning radius and maneuverability of a dually truck as compared to the single rear wheel truck we knew so well. It was hard to tell, but the turning radius seemed to be the same or better (and we now feel the 2016 Ram dually definitely turns tighter) than our old 2007 single rear wheel Ram.
As for general maneuverability, Mark didn’t notice a whole lot of difference driving a dually versus our single wheel truck. Frankly, owning a long bed diesel truck period means you have to park in the back 40 and walk long distances anyway, so we soon realized that dealing with a dually in parking lots would be no different.
We did one round of comparative test drives on the uphill entrance ramp to an interstate in Baker City, Oregon. We visited each truck dealership in town, and when we did our test drives, we floored each dually truck on the incline to see how powerful it felt. The 2015 Chevy won by a long shot, against the Ford and Dodge 2015 models, but did not feel as powerful as our single rear wheel ’07 Dodge Ram (at that point our truck had the K&N Cold Air Intake and Timbrens but did not have the Edge Evolution Diesel tuner).
Our trailer snuggles up to its new companion, a 2016 Ram 3500 dually
Deciding Factor – The Cummins Engine
In the end, the deciding factor for us for choosing a brand was the Cummins engine. This was true when we were researching our ’07 single rear wheel truck and again when researching the 2013-2016 duallies. Lots of people wish they could buy a pickup with both the Cummins engine and an Allison transmission in one brand of truck, a combo that is on many commercial trucks. But that’s not possible.
For us, the simplicity of the inline 6 cylinder Cummins engine (as compared to the more complex V8 engines in the Chevy and Ford) along with the longer stroke (inherently higher torque) makes a lot of sense. Inline engines are used commercially in big rigs and tractors, and the 6.7 liter Cummins engine has a long and solid track record, not just in Ram trucks but in many commercial applications as well. The Cummins quality control and manufacturing seem to be top notch.
Here is a fantastic video showing a Cummins engine being built:
Amazingly, with each passing year, the payload and towing capacity of each brand of truck jumps higher. From the time we started test driving duallies in 2013 until we placed our order for our new 2016 Ram 3500, the horsepower and torque across all three brands increased, and the towing and payload capacities climbed too.
Built with the right options, the 2016 Ram 3500 diesel truck has an eye-popping, 385 horsepower and 900 ft-lbs. of torque with a GCWR of 39,100 lbs. It can tow a trailer weighing 31,210 lbs. and has a max payload of 6,720 lbs.
This is absolutely astonishing, and neither the Chevy nor the Ford trucks match that torque right now.
Accurate comparisons between brands are challenging within the same model classes, however, because there are different standards for making measurements. Ram Trucks uses the SAE J2807 standards, while other manufacturers don’t. Also, we were able to locate Ford’s towing and payload capacity charts online (see the links at the bottom of the page), but did not locate a similar chart for GM.
Some of the head-to-head tests between the brands that are posted online are also a little misleading, because, for instance, a Ram 3500 is pitted against a Ford F450. Even though both of those models are Class 3 trucks (10,001 to 14,000 lbs GVWR), one would expect the Ram 3500 to compete head to head with the Ford F350, not the Ford F450.
Best in Show
Here are the towing and payload capacities of the many models of Dodge Ram trucks:
As mentioned above, the Ram trucks are sold with two options for the transmission. After our troubles with the old 68RFE transmission in our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500, we wanted the new and better one, the AISIN AS69RC. In the Ram Trucks marketing literature, the 6.7 liter Cummins engine is paired with the AISIN AS69RC transmission to make their “High Output Engine” because it delivers max torque at the low end for heavy towing situations. This combo became available in 2013.
“High Output” engines on Ram Trucks pair the Cummins 6.7 liter engine with the Aisin AS69RC transmission
The rear axle gearing on a pickup determines the GCWR for the truck (the maximum safe weight of truck and trailer hitched together and fully loaded) and the maximum weight trailer that the truck can tow safely. It also makes a huge difference in how the truck drives, both while towing and not towing.
Rear axle gear ratios are given as a ratio, for example “4.10” which means 4.10:1 or “3.73” which means 3.73:1. The ratio refers to the number of teeth on the axle ring gear as compared to the number of teeth on the driveshaft’s pinion gear. With a 4.10 rear end, the driveshaft has to turn 4.1 times in order to rotate the rear wheels one revolution. With a 3.73 rear end, the driveshaft must turn 3.73 times to rotate the rear wheels one revolution. So, with a 4.10 rear axle ratio the driveshaft’s pinion gear is spinning more quickly at a given speed than with a 3.73 rear axle ratio.
“Easier” Gears vs. “Harder” Gears
If you think of riding a bike, when you have the bike in a “hard” gear, it takes a lot of leg strength to turn the wheels, but one pedal stroke will cover a lot of distance. For example, going uphill in a “hard” gear would be especially hard. Your legs are turning really slowly and straining and you’re wishing you could put it in an “easier” gear! But when you descend in that same gear, you can hit high speeds easily. Back to trucks, this is like having the driveshaft turn a little to make the wheels turn a lot as it does with the 3.42 or 3.73 rear axle gear ratios found on Dodge Rams.
However, when the bike is in an “easy” gear, just a small amount of leg strength will turn the wheels, but one pedal stroke doesn’t get you very far. For example, going uphill isn’t so bad — you can inch up slowly — but once you began descending you’re spun out because your legs can’t pedal fast enough to hit super fast top speeds. In the truck world, this is like having the driveshaft turn a lot to make the wheels turn a little as it does with the 4.10 rear axle gear ratio.
Wide Load!! The highest tow ratings are achieved with a high rear axle gear ratio (like 4.10)
Towing Heavy Loads vs. Driving Fast on the Highway
So, on a truck, the higher ratio (4.10) is ideal for towing heavy loads. It takes more turns of the driveshaft to rotate the rear wheels of the truck, so the engine revs higher, putting it in the power band for RPMs, and the heavy load gets moved. But the top end speed and fuel economy get sacrificed a bit.
With a lower gear ratio (3.73 or 3.42) it takes fewer turns of the driveshaft to rotate the rear wheels of the truck. When the truck is zipping along at highway speeds, the gears are turning a little more slowly (lower RPMs) than they would with a 4.10 rear end, which saves on fuel efficiency and makes the fastest attainable speed a little higher.
The highest tow ratings are achieved with a 4.10 rear end, so the heaviest trailers will be best if towed by a truck with a 4.10 rear axle gear ratio. However, if most of your towing is with lighter weight trailers, and your driving will be primarily on interstates, and your personal preference is to drive fast, a 3.73 or 3.42 rear axle gear ratio may make more sense.
Our ’07 Dodge had a 3.73 rear end. The problem was that at the speeds we tended to drive — 55-65 — the engine would lug. Mark manually changed gears a lot to try to keep the RPMs up, but he found it fatiguing to have to monitor the gears so closely and to change gears all the time.
We also don’t drive on interstates very often, and when we do, we’re the grannies of the road, moseying along in the right lane.
We take life, and the open road, fairly slowly, so a 3.73 rear end, which is awesome a 75 mph, was not the right choice for us.
4.10 vs. 3.73 – RPMs at Different Speeds
We wanted a 4.10 rear end on our new truck, but we wanted to be 100% sure this would truly make the kind of difference we expected. So, on one Ram dually test drive we drove a stretch of highway in our ’07 Dodge at various speeds between 45 and 65 mph, noting the RPMs in a notebook, and then we took a 2015 Ram 3500 dually with a 4.10 rear end out on the same road at the same speeds. The salesman raised an eyebrow in surprise when we marched into the dealership and announced we wanted to do a test drive at various speeds to note the engine RPMs, but he went along with the idea!
On that test drive we found the 4.10 rear end shifts out of lower gears sooner than the 3.73 rear end, and generally keeps the engine RPMs about 100-200 RPMs higher at each speed. Our new truck bears out those findings.
So, how can you tell if a truck on the dealer lot has a 4.10 rear end without peering at the window sticker? Check underneath the back end of the truck. The differential is the big round casing that hangs between the rear wheels. On trucks with a 4.10 rear end, the differential has a series of vertical cooling fins on it. These help keep it cool since the gears spin faster and it is designed for heavier towing loads, both of which make it heat up.
Looking under the rear end of the truck, the differential has cooling fins if the rear axle ratio is a 4.10
BEEFED UP FRAME
Besides the more powerful engine tuning and transmission, Ram has improved the truck frame on the dually considerable. Every aspect of the frame is more sturdy than it used to be, making the truck not only powerful enough to pull heavier loads but strong enough to withstand the multitude of forces as it hauls the load up a mountain.
Peering under the front end of the truck, the frame has been strengthened for heavy towing
We learned with our ’04 Toyota Tundra truck towing our 7,000 lb. 27′ travel trailer that four wheel drive is a necessity for us in our RV lifestyle. In our first weeks of full-timing, a small, wet grassy incline prohibited us from camping in a campground in Texas, because our truck kept slipping and couldn’t tow the trailer up over the short rise! From that moment on, we’ve felt that a four wheel drive is mandatory if you are going to tow a big trailer.
Also, while descending a really gnarly, skinny, twisty, single lane road on a mountain in Utah, with grades of 10% or more in places, we discovered that the safest way to drive DOWN a very steep descent is to put the truck in four wheel drive LOW gear, and creep down the mountain at 5-10 mph using the exhaust brake. This tactic was a lifesaver for us on that mountain with our ’07 Dodge truck and fifth wheel trailer. Without it, we would still be living at the summit of that mountain!
The new Dodge Ram and Ford Super Duty trucks have a really fantastic option for a factory installed puck system in the bed of the truck where you can mount either a fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch. During our truck search, GM did not have that option on their trucks. However, GM trucks now have the puck system as well.
This option has five holes in the bed of the pickup, one in the center for a gooseneck hitch and four outer ones to hold a fifth wheel hitch. The idea behind this mounting system is that rather than drilling holes in your brand new truck bed to install hitch rails to support a fifth wheel hitch — the method that was always used until this new system was devised — you can buy a hitch designed for these puck mounts and simply drop it in.
Looking towards the tailgate, there’s a gooseneck puck in the middle and four pucks in a square to mount a fifth wheel hitch. The bed is totally flat without the hitch in it.
If you want to use the bed of your truck for hauling, and you won’t be towing your fifth wheel, you can easily remove the fifth wheel hitch temporarily and have the entire bed of the truck available to you. Not only is it a snap to remove the hitch, but the bed of the truck will be flat and obstacle free because there won’t be any hitch rails installed in it.
The B&W Companion Fifth Wheel Hitch is easily installed and removed (facing the front of the truck)
Another huge benefit is that installing the hitch is an easy do-it-yourself job. We have a detailed pictorial step-by-step guide showing how to install a B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch here (it took just one hour from start to finish!):
Our 2007 Dodge Ram came with an exhaust brake built into the turbo. Mark LOVED this brake and used it all the time, both towing and not towing. The only thing that bugged him about it was that coming down mountains with our trailer hitched on, he often had to shift gears manually and feather the gas pedal to keep the truck going the speed he wanted.
The 2016 Ram trucks have an improved exhaust brake that has two modes: max braking power and constant speed braking. We definitely wanted that option!
Dodge Ram trucks have two backup cameras, one that aims at the bed of the truck (for hitching and unhitching) and one that aims behind the truck (for backing up). Beginning in 2016, both of these cameras could be set to display their image on the main touch screen display (in the 2015 model, one camera would display in the rear view mirror while the other would display on the touch screen display).
It’s nice to have a backup camera when backing the truck in next to the trailer!
An option on the 2016 Ram trucks is to have four leaf springs with computer controlled air bags to provide for auto-leveling of the rear suspension. This is instead of the standard six leaf springs without air bags that have a fixed height suspension.
Without the air bags — the standard configuration — the “rake” of the truck’s rear end is four inches, meaning that the rear end of the truck is raised four inches higher than the front to compensate for the weight of the trailer which will push it down when it’s hitched up. For a shorter person, this is quite high, and I was astonished how much higher the tailgate of a 2016 Ram truck sits than our old ’07 truck did.
With the air bags, the rear end is raked only one inch, making the whole back end of the truck much easier to access for those of us who aren’t that tall. In addition, there is an “Alt Ride Height” button that can be used to lower the back of the truck one more inch. Hurray for short people!
When the trailer is hitched onto the truck, pushing the truck down, the on-board compressor kicks on and pumps air into the air bags, raising the back end of the truck until it achieves its normal one inch rake. If you prefer to drive with the truck level, the “Alt Ride Height” button can be pressed to lower the back end one inch.
When we did our test drives, we found that the duallies with the auto-level suspension had a slightly smoother ride when not towing than the ordinary leaf spring only models did. This has proven true with our new truck too.
VENTED and HEATED LEATHER SEATS and STEERING WHEEL plus OTHER GOODIES
As we test drove different trim levels of trucks, we decided that if we were going to buy a new truck, we’d go all out and get the many little conveniences and options that are a “splurge” but that make using the truck a pleasure.
Let’s go for a ride!
Heated and vented leather seats with power seat adjustments and lumbar support, a side step to make it easier to get in and out of the truck, independent climate control for driver and passenger, a CD player, OWL on/off-rad tires, the fancy electronics console with the big touch screen display and GPS nav system and power adjustable pedals were all on our list.
Most of these options are bundled into the Laramie model of the Ram 3500 trucks.
The Laramie comes with a beautiful interior that includes all the fancy stuff.
Top level Nav/GPS Display with voice activation and climate control
Tan colored Heated/Vented Leather Seats and Steering Wheel
The Tow and Payload Ratings for the 2016 Ram 3500 dually with the above options as compared to our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel are the following:
Max Trailer Weight
Even though the make and model of these two trucks is the same, separated by just nine years, these numbers show that they are two radically different trucks!
After doing so many test drives, studying all the material and thinking about this truck for two years, there was no way we would give up any of the options we wanted, especially the ones that made the tow ratings and payload rating so high. But we never found a dealership that ordered this exact truck for their lot. Time and again, Mark would find a truck that was close, but there would be some things missing and other things we didn’t want.
So we decided to order the exact truck we wanted and wait 8 weeks for it to be built.
We had a ball ordering this truck through Airpark Dodge in Scottsdale, Arizona, where a marketing connection with Alice Cooper made one of Mark’s lifelong dreams come true. See our really fun blog post:
A significant difference between our 2007 Dodge Ram truck and our new 2016 Ram dually is that the new truck requires occasional refilling of the DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluide) tank. Here are some tips we’ve discovered about DEF since we purchased our new truck:
Dodge Ram Truck Owners — Please note:
Late model Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks have been recalled (beginning 6/23/17) for side airbag problems in a rollover accident. See this article for details: Dodge Ram Side Airbag Recall
More info about Pickup Trucks, Ram Trucks, Tow Ratings, etc.:
There are several types of braking systems available on bumper pull travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers today. Two of the most common are electric drum brakes, a less expensive system, and electric over hydraulic disc brakes which are a bit more costly. We recently converted our 36′ fifth wheel trailer’s braking system from factory installed electric drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. What an incredible improvement this upgrade has made in our stopping power and personal safety. The difference is like night and day!!
This page outlines our reasons behind doing this upgrade and the components we chose for our brake conversion. It also gives a pictorial overview of the installation process.
The disc (or rotor) and caliper with red brake pads peeks out from inside our trailer wheel.
This is a long post. You can skip down to the different sections using the following links:
Electric drum trailer brakes and electric over hydraulic disc brakes function very differently.
To engage electric drum brakes in a trailer, when the driver depresses the brake pedal in the tow vehicle, an electrical signal is sent to the trailer’s brakes via a brake control unit in the truck. The brake control may be factory installed or it may be an external unit that is installed by the owner. The electrical signal engages an electromagnet on the trailer’s wheels that expands the brake shoes as the current gets stronger, creating friction on the wheel and slowing it down.
Brake Pedal -> Electrical Signal via Brake Control -> Trailer Brakes
To engage electric over hydraulic disc brakes on a trailer, when the driver depresses the brake pedal in the tow vehicle, an electrical signal is sent to a brake actuator unit in the trailer via the brake control unit in the truck. The brake actuator in the trailer then pumps hydraulic disc fluid through a line to the disc brake calipers on the trailer’s wheels. The build-up of fluid pressure actuates the brake calipers which, in turn, squeeze the brake pads against the disc, slowing the trailer down.
Brake Pedal -> Electrical Signal via Brake Control -> Brake Hydraulic Fluid Pumped by Brake Actuator -> Trailer Brakes
Drum brakes are an older technology. However, RV trailer manufacturers continue to install electric drum brakes to this day because it is far less expensive than installing electric over hydraulic disc brakes. The highest end full-time fifth wheel trailers are frequently offered with an option for electric over hydraulic disc brakes, but they are rarely provided as standard equipment.
Besides greatly increasing overall braking power, one of the biggest advantages of hydraulic brakes is that it is much easier to modulate the brakes for smoother stopping. In contrast, electric drum brakes on trailers can be very jerky, as the brakes are either ON or OFF. We often used to feel the trailer bump into the back of our truck as we stopped, hitting us with a jolt.
TRAILER ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKES versus CAR HYDRAULIC BRAKES
Cars are manufactured with hydraulic brakes, sometimes with disc brakes in the front and hydraulic drum brakes in the back. Many high end bicycles are even built with hydraulic disc brakes! Electric over hydraulic trailer disc brakes are slightly more complex than car hydraulic brakes, but they provide trailers with the same smooth stopping power that we enjoy in our cars.
The difference between the way hydraulic disc brakes on cars and electric over hydraulic disc brakes on trailers function is that there is no electrical signal involved in a car’s braking system. This is because the car is a single vehicle. No signal needs to be passed from one vehicle to another, as it does with a truck and trailer combo. The tricky part about a truck/trailer is that the brake pedal is in the front of the truck by the driver’s foot while the trailer’s brakes are way behind the driver at the back end of the trailer. Also, in a car, the hydraulic fluid is located under the hood in a master cylinder which performs the same function as the brake actuator that is located in the trailer.
Again, in a car, when the brake pedal is depressed, hydraulic fluid flows directly to the brakes to engage them. In a truck and trailer combo, an electrical signal has to be passed from the truck to the trailer to activate the hydraulic disc brakes in the trailer via the brake actuator.
ON THE ROAD COMPARISON OF TRAILER BRAKING SYSTEMS: Electric Drum versus Electric Over Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Our fifth wheel trailer, a 36′ 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker II, came with factory installed electric drum brakes. We towed it, with that braking system, behind our 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 truck for the first six years we owned it, for a total of about 40,000 miles. When we upgraded to electric over hydraulic disk brakes, we were stunned by what a massive improvement in braking power and safety that simple upgrade provided!
We have now towed our trailer over 1,200 miles since the brake system upgrade, traveling on interstate freeways, maneuvering around tight gas stations and campgrounds, and driving in gnarly stop-and-go-traffic in slick, rainy weather. All we can say is:
“We should have done this a long time ago — probably on Day 1!”
The differences we experienced between the electric drum brakes and the electric over hydraulic disc brakes can be summed up as follows:
DRIVING AND STOPPING COMPARISON
Electric Drum Brakes
Electric over Hydraulic Disc Brakes
The truck felt like it was stopping the trailer
The truck and trailer stop together evenly without one stopping the other
Braking was either ON or OFF, resulting in a jerky motion
Braking is proportional to your speed and is very smooth
Had to mess with the brake control every time we changed between highway and gas station speeds
Haven’t touched the brake control since the upgrade was installed
As brakes age, braking power decreases
As brakes age, braking power does not change
Electric Drum Brakes
Electric over Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Have to remove wheel and brake hub to inspect brake pads
Easy to inspect disc pads without removing the wheels to see if they are worn (use a mirror if they are hard to see)
Periodically have to adjust the drums
Never have to adjust the discs
Have to have drums turned OR replace the drums and backing plate with magnet, shoes, springs and cables
Easy to replace brake pads with standard GM brake pads from an auto parts store if rotors are okay
Mark removes the trailer wheels to grease the wheel bearings.
We decided to do this brake system upgrade after Mark inspected the condition of the electric drum brakes that had been factory installed on our fifth wheel when we bought it new seven years ago. He was greasing the trailer’s wheel bearings, and while he had one of the wheels disassembled, he inspected the brake assemby inside.
Mark used a Zerk gun to grease the trailer’s wheel bearings.
He was dismayed to find that both the magnet and the braking surface were basically shot. He completed the wheel bearing lube job, but after he got the wheels mounted back on the trailer, we weighed our options for the brakes.
The inside of the trailer wheel and electromagnet at the bottom.
Lots of wear on the electromagnet that controls the electric drum braking mechanism.
As mentioned above, besides providing inferior braking power all together, one of the disadvantages of electric drum brakes is that, as the brakes age, the braking power gets progressively worse. Not only does the braking surface wear down but the electromagnet gets worn as well.
In recent months, Mark had been noticing that the trailer brakes were not working as well as when the trailer was new, although he was shocked to see just what poor shape they were in when he disassembled the wheels!
It is possible to have trailer brake drums turned. “Turning” involves putting the brake drums on a lathe and grinding the surface down to get rid of ridges and make it smooth. However, while a car’s drum brakes can be turned at an auto parts store, trailer brakes need to be taken to a machine shop. This is because they have to be turned not only on the braking surface that the brake pads ride on, but on the electromagnet surface as well. One of the disadvantages of turning the drums, however, is that it makes the braking surfaces thinner and weaker.
When we began investigating the cost of having the drums turned, we found that it would not be that much less than the cost of replacing the brakes all together which would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $500.
An alternative to turning the drums or replacing the brake assemblies would be to upgrade the trailer’s entire braking system to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. This is an expensive endeavor, on the order of $3,200, but the more we thought about our personal safety on the road, the more it seemed like it was a wise choice to do the brake conversion.
THE COMPONENT PARTS OF AN ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKE SYSTEM
There are three components involved in the installation of electric over hydraulic disc brakes:
Brake Control in the truck
Brake Actuator in the trailer
Hydraulic Disc Brakes on the trailer wheels
In between these components there is both wiring and high pressure line:
The Brake Control must be wired into the truck (late model trucks have factory-installed brake controls).
The Brake Actuator must be wired into the 7-pin connector on the trailer that the truck plugs into.
High pressure lines must be installed between the Brake Actuator and the Disc Brake assembly on each wheel
Our first job was to determine which components to install. Reading many reviews and talking at length with each manufacturer and visiting several booths at the Quartzsite Arizona RV Show, we chose:
The heart of the electric over hydraulic disc brake system is the disc brake assembly itself, and Kodiak makes superior quality brakes.
Kodiak has been making disc brake assemblies for over twenty years and is very highly regarded. Kodiak originated as a parts manufacturer for boat trailers, and their brakes are extremely popular in the boat trailer market.
Kodiak disc brake assembly Rotor and caliper installed on the axle.
Since many boaters launch their boats in the ocean, Kodiak hydraulic disc brake assemblies are offered with dacromet coating and stainless steel options so they can withstand the continuous and highly corrosive drenching they get when boaters launch their boats on and off their trailers in salt water.
Kodiak disc brakes are also very popular in the horse trailer industry, especially on the largest, heaviest horse trailers that carry multiple horses and have living quarters as well.
To see the parts included in a Kodiak disc brake assembly, click here.
The brake actuator is the key middleman in the trailer braking system, and the Hydrastar Electric over Hydraulic Disc Brake Actuator from Cargo Towing Solutions has an excellent reputation as being extremely durable and rugged, even when mounted on the tongue of a travel trailer.
The role this unit plays is vital, as it is the part of the system that receives the electrical signal coming from the brake control in the truck and, in turn, pumps the hydraulic fluid out to the disc brakes on the trailer’s wheels.
Hydrastar electric over hydraulic disc brake actuator.
Like Kodiak, the the Hydrastar electric over hydraulic brake actuator is engineered for the salt water boat trailer market where water and corrosion are everyday challenges. The Hydrastar brake actuator is sealed extraordinarily well so it can be mounted on the tongue of a travel trailer. The whole circuit board is covered in epoxy and can function perfectly well when submerged under water. One of their most popular trade show demonstrations is to show the Hydrastar brake actuator working while suspended inside an aquarium full of water.
We have had an older generation Prodigy brake control in our truck since we purchased our first 27′ 2007 Fleetwood Lynx Travel Trailer, however, it does not work with electric over hydraulic disc brakes. We were delighted to find that there is a much better Prodigy brake control on the market now.
Tekonsha Prodigy P3 Brake Control
The Prodigy P3 is portable and has been designed for people who use many different tow vehicles to tow many different trailers. Not only can it be moved from truck to truck easily, it can memorize its programmed settings for different trailers. It can even be programmed for one trailer that has different characteristics at different times, for instance, a 7-horse trailer that may be loaded with 7 horses or may be empty.
Best of all, we could swap out the old Prodigy for the new P3 easily because the new unit used the same wiring harness as the old one.
INSTALLING ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKES ON A TRAILER
Mark was confident he could do the upgrade himself. However, he was not sure he wanted to tackle running the high pressure hydraulic lines. He did that kind of work when we installed the engine-driven ocean water desalination system on our sailboat, and it was challenging getting the lines cut and getting the fittings installed on the cut line. He decided he would prefer to have professionals install this system, and we did a search to find a company that has done hundreds of trailer brake system upgrades.
Our buggy gets set up in a repair bay at Zanetti Trailer.
Zanetti Trailer Repair is located just west of Fort Worth, Texas, in the town of Weatherford, and they do this kind of brake conversion frequently. Considered a horse trailer guru, Pete Zanetti started the company in 1980, and it is still a family operated business.
Texas doesn’t have the best winter weather, and when we arrived after driving through the remnants of a horrific ice storm, our trailer was covered with a thick layer of road grime, but our gleaming new parts were ready and waiting.
The disc brakes, brake actuator and brake control are ready to be installed on our trailer.
A team of three mechanics jumped on the job. To our amazement, within three hours they had completed the entire installation!
Below is a summary of the steps they took to do the brake system upgrade.
First, after jacking up the trailer, the wheels were removed.
Our buggy’s wheels are removed once again.
Right down to the axles and spindles.
Then the backing plates for the disc brakes were installed on the axles.
The disc brake backing plate is mounted on the axle.
On a table to the side, the four sets of brake assemblies and bearings were laid out, ready to be greased and put together.
The four rotors and calipers will be put together in assembly-line fashion.
Here’s a closeup of the brake calipers with the red brake pads inside. The red brake pads will need to be replaced when the indented brake surface material wears away.
The Kodiak disc brake caliper.
The brake pads are red, and when worn down to the indent, they will need replacing.
The wheel bearings and seals were laid out, ready to be inserted in the brake rotor.
New wheel bearings ready to be lubed up and installed.
Mark had just finished greasing the old wheel bearings on our trailer using a zerk gun. What a surprise it was to see a huge trash barrel filled with wheel bearing grease!
A Barrel O’ Grease — wow! They used an extremely sticky grease.
The rotors were greased and then the new bearings were pressed in.
Greasing the inside of the rotor.
Pressing grease into a wheel bearing.
Then the brake rotors were installed on the axles, and the brake calipers were installed on the rotors.
The brake rotors are installed on the axles. A brake caliper waits its turn on the ground.
Kodiak disc brake assembly with rotor and caliper mounted on the trailer’s axle.
Outside (in the rain!) the old brake hubs had been discarded.
We won’t need these any more!
Meanwhile, the installers got busy installing the Hydrastar brake actuator in the trailer and wiring it to the fifth wheel pin box. To test the installation, they used a special electronic unit to simulate a person pressing on the brake pedal in the truck.
Wiring the Hydrastar brake actuator into thefifth wheel pin box.
Then they unrolled and straightened the stainless steel brake line tubing…
Unrolling and straightening the stainless steel brake line tubing.
… and ran the electrical wires from the pin box into the fifth wheel basement
Feeding the electrical wire through to the fifth wheel basement.
The Hydrastar brake actuator unit found a home just inside one of the basement side access doors.
Hydrastar disc brake actuator installed in the fifth wheel basement.
The Hydrastar disc brake actuator is close to a side hatch for easy access.
On the underside of the trailer and along the trailer axles, they did a superior job of dressing the hydraulic brake line and connections.
Looking up at the bottom of the trailer, the hydraulic lines run underneath the trailer, neatly dressed.
And then they bled the brake lines.
Bleeding the hydraulic brakes. A special box simulated a person depressing the brake pedal in the truck.
Then it was time to put the Prodigy P3 Brake Control into the truck. This is a portable unit that comes with a carrying pouch. We have only one truck, so we won’t be carrying the brake control from one truck to another. Mark later found the little pouch was perfect for his pocket camera!
The Prodigy P3 Brake Control is a nifty portable unit that can be moved from one tow vehicle to another.
The brake control is on the lower right side of the dashboard under the steering wheel.
We were astonished that all this had taken just under three hours, and the installers were almost finished. Wrapping up the job, the wheels were mounted back on the trailer and the trailer was taken off the jacks.
The wheels get mounted back on the trailer axles.
The new disc brakes looked very spiffy peeking through our dirty wheels!
Oh gosh — sure wish we’d cleaned those wheels before this installation! But the brand new disc and caliper look great in there…
It was time to hitch up the trailer and hit the road with our new brakes. I loved the little painted stone outside the office door.
Zanetti Trailer’s motto is “We’ll Fix Your Wagon” !!
Mark was blown away when we got the trailer out on the highway. On the Prodigy P3 Brake Control, he experimented with a few settings and settled on a boost of “B2” and 8.5 volts. As we eased onto the highway, he commented, “It feels like I’m driving a car!”
During the next three weeks we made our way from central Texas to the Florida coast, driving in all kinds of conditions, from remote back roads, to many miles on the I-10 Interstate freeway. We sat for hours in massive stop-and-go traffic jams around big cities, and Mark coped with tricky driving situations on small downtown city roads with lots of stop lights.
In the past, if a traffic light turned yellow at the wrong moment as we approached, we just had to keep going and cross our fingers that it wouldn’t turn red while we were crossing the intersection, because we just couldn’t stop the trailer in such a short distance. No more!! On many occasions, as we came to an intersection, the light turned yellow on our approach, and Mark was able to stop the truck and trailer in time in a nicely controlled manner.
In Fort Worth, TX, and again around Baton Rouge, LA, we found ourselves in amazingly congested traffic. Mark was able to relax in the heat of the battle, completely confident that he could stop the trailer in a very short distance if need be.
Sometimes the best improvements are not something you can see on the surface!
When we got into Sarasota, Florida, we came across some astonishingly aggressive drivers. One driver cut us off with just an inch to spare, instantly coming to a complete stop directly in front of us. It was a heart stopping moment that all RVers dread. Mark slammed on the brakes with a force I have never seen him use, either in a car or in our truck pulling our home.
All the tires of the truck and trailer squealed as we came to a shockingly abrupt stop, leaving lots of rubber on the road behind us. We were both stunned that the trailer stopped in such a short distance. There is no doubt that if we had had our old electric drum brakes, we would have rear-ended the car in front of us and had a really bad — and possibly life threatening — accident.
Believe me, the irony that we had just replaced our brakes, and had jokingly said we needed to test just how good they were, was not lost on us. But we never would have lurched our house like that just to see if the brakes worked!!
This brake conversion is an upgrade that Mark dreamed of doing for ages, ever since our RVing mentors Bob and Donna Lea had told us about how differently their electric over hydraulic disc brakes performed on their 33′ fifth wheel compared to the electric drum brakes they’d had on other trailers.
In the end, it was totally painless and very easy to do, and looking back, we realize we should have just bitten the bullet the first year we owned our trailer and gotten it done right away.
The engines in most cars and trucks are computer driven these days, but the installation of an engine tuner puts the driver in the driver’s seat instead. An engine tuner, or programmer, gives the driver the ability to fine tune the engine’s efficiency and performance by manipulating the computer’s input parameters to suit the driving task at hand.
Since 2007, we have lived year-round in a 14,100 lb, 36′ 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer. For eight years, the truck we used to tow this big trailer was a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel Long Bed truck. Half of our miles driven, we towed the trailer. The other half, we drove it around town with nothing in tow and a few hundred pounds of cargo the bed of the truck. Once in a while we threw in an off-road adventure just for fun.
Our 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 single rear wheel truck
When the truck had 85,000 miles on it, we installed an Edge Diesel Evolution CS tuner, and what a world of difference that made to our driving experience, not only when we were towing but also when we were driving the truck around without the trailer attached.
In a nutshell, it has:
Increased our truck’s power
Improved our gas mileage
Given us a readout for the transmission temperature.
And it was an easy installation to boot.
We also installed an optional companion product, the Edge EAS Exhaust Gas Temp sensor which gives us another piece of crucial temperature data when we are towing under heavy load. This is not a mandatory installation.
We first became interested in the idea of installing the Edge Evolution CS tuner when Mark saw an article in the October 2014 issue of Diesel Power Magazine (“Tested, Proven, Validated — Edge’s DPF-On Tuner Walks the Walk”). This article discusses the improvements the tuner had made on our exact model truck (well, a 2009 rather than a 2007, but with everything else virtually the same, including the mileage!).
The Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner works on Ford, GM/Chevy and Dodge RAM.
The Edge Tuner is mounted on the windshield, low enough not to restrict visibility but still easy to see.
Why install a tuner? It lets the driver fine tune the engine performance and boost power when needed
The beauty of the Edge programmer is that it doesn’t change anything in the engine permanently. It simply gives the driver the ability to fine tune the engine for its specific job at the moment, whether that is towing a big trailer, carrying a heavy load in the bed, racing off-road, or driving around town.
Light duty diesel trucks (i.e., Ford 250/350, Chevy 2500/3500 and Dodge RAM 2500/3500) are built for many uses, from towing heavy horse and RV trailers, to off-road racing, to driving across town and across country carrying big loads.
The on-board computer of every model truck is programmed at the factory to be able to do each of these things pretty well. However, it is impossible to program the computer to operate the engine at peak performance in all conditions. To make things worse, the truck manufacturers don’t provide the driver with a way to optimize the engine’s performance or to monitor some of the data the computer has already gathered.
Much of the truck computer’s capabilities and data remain inaccessible to the driver.
This is where the Edge tuner comes in, because it allows the driver to fine tune the engine for the immediate job at hand.
The idea behind the Edge tuner is to put the programming power into the hands of the driver, and to provide gauges for monitoring much of the data that the engine’s sensors detect. The Edge tuner can program the truck’s computer to maximize towing power or maximize non-towing fuel efficiency, depending on the kind of driving you are doing that day. It can also set the truck’s computer back to the stock factory settings, which is important if the truck is going into the shop for repair.
Because nothing mechanical is modified or tampered with, this means that nothing whatsoever is lost by installing the Edge tuner, but a whole lot is gained.
Why install a tuner? It gives the driver more detailed engine & transmission temperature data
We were intrigued by the Edge tuner because the installation appeared to be very easy, and the results were absolutely terrific. We tow our big fifth wheel trailer over huge, nasty mountain passes in the western states on a regular basis in the summertime, often tackling 10% and 15% grades on secondary roads. A little more towing power would be awesome!
What’s more, the tuner displays temperature data that the truck’s computer already has but that the truck manufacturer doesn’t display on the dashboard gauges. All this data is readily available via the OBD-II port (“On Board Diagnostic”) under the dashboard, you just have to plug into it. This is what the Edge programmer does — it is totally “plug-and-play.”
In this image, the tuner is set up to display three different types of temperature data: Engine Coolant Temp (left), Exhaust Gas Temp (middle bar), Transmission Fluid Temp (right). From the factory, most trucks display ONLY the Engine Coolant Temperature.
So, the Edge tuner would allow us to monitor the transmission temperature as we drove over mountain passes. This is vital data that is not accessible with our standard engine temp gauges.
Installing a companion product, the Edge Products EAS Exhaust Gas Temp sensor would let us monitor the exhaust gas temperature as well. Data from this optional sensor is shown in the middle gauge in the above image.
Having this extra information would allow us take action if something other than the engine coolant temperature overheated. It would also keep us better in touch with what was going on in the engine, in the event that the engine coolant temp was within an acceptable range but some other part of the truck’s propulsion were overheating. That scenario doesn’t seem possible, but read on…
You see, the factory installed engine coolant temp gauge in the truck cab tells only part of the story!
Why install a tuner? It improves the truck’s Fuel Efficiency (MPG)
We’ve always wished for a little better fuel mileage, both towing and when we are driving around town without our house attached. The tuner’s Level 2 programming mode promised improved fuel efficiency in non-towing conditions.
As it turned out, the tuner has increased our truck’s fuel efficiency in all situations.
What about the truck’s warranty?
A tuner (or “programmer”) does not permanently modify the truck’s computer or engine. There are “chips” on the market that make a permanent modification, but tuners and programmers don’t fall into that category.
We have called a few Dodge dealerships, and they have all assured us that if we had a truck that was in warranty (ours is not), they would service the truck even if it had an Edge tuner installed in it. Their recommendation to us was to reset the Edge tuner to “Stock” and then unplug it from the OBD-II port under the dashboard before bringing it in for service so they could properly analyze the engine (they use OBD-II port for their diagnostics).
The dealerships did say that if they found service was needed because of the presence of the Edge tuner (for instance, the tuner failed and shorted something out), they wouldn’t warranty that work, but they said the Edge tuner itself would not void any warranties.
2. Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner – Tested and Validated!
It’s easy enough for manufacturers to offer a bunch of sales hype and fake claims about a product like this, but the aspect of the magazine article that really got our attention was that the folks at Diesel Power did a controlled experiment to measure both the horsepower and torque that this tuner generates. First, they put a stock 2009 Dodge RAM 3500 on a dynamometer and took horsepower and torque measurements. Then they installed the Edge tuner on the same truck, put it back on the dynomometer, and did the measurements a second time.
With the Edge tuner set to its lowest setting (Evolution Level 1), the results were:
Stock (no tuner)
With Edge Tuner
321 @ 2,900 rpm
362 @ 2,900 rpm
605 ft-lb @ 2,350 rpm
711 ft-lb @ 2,300 rpm
Peak Exhaust Gas Temp:
So, they saw a jump of 41 hp, 106 ft-lb torque and a drop in peak exhaust gas temperatures. Wow!!
The Edge Tuner suddenly became a “must have” for us.
The installation took a total of 90 minutes, from opening the box, to sitting down and reading the manual, to getting the unit installed in the truck. Very easy. In fact, it was so darned quick that Mark had completely finished the installation before I got my camera out to get pics of the unit going in.
Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner Package Contents
The package contents include:
The user manual
The display unit
A windshield mounting bracket
Two wire/plug assemblies
You just mount the display unit on the windshield with the suction cup mounting bracket, plug the unit to the OBD-II port, use the tie wraps to dress it all up, and you’re done. So I guess I didn’t miss much!
When we installed the Edge tuner on our truck, we just happened to be staying at the base of one of the biggest mountain passes we have ever traversed with our truck and trailer, the Million Dollar Highway that runs through the Colorado Rocky Mountains between Ouray, Silverton and Durango, on US Route 550.
This hair-raising, 70 mile stretch of road winds through dozens of 10 mph, 15 mph and 20 mph hairpin turns, going up and down grades that the Colorado Department of Transportation rates at “7% or more,” with some folks claiming a few are in the 9% range.
To add a little excitement to the drive, this is a fairly narrow two lane road with steep, unprotected drop-offs.
The views are divine, but it can be a white knuckle ride. The drive begins in Ouray at an altitude of 7,800′ and then climbs and descends over three major passes:
After finishing the Edge tuner installation, we took the truck up and down the first part of this road between Ouray and Red Mountain Pass about a dozen times. Mark set the tuner to Evolution Level 1, and he felt the difference in performance immediately.
He hit the gas pedal on a steep incline and his eyebrows shot up as he said to me, “This feels like a race truck!”
Once he was comfortably familiar with the road and the mountain passes, and once we were ready to leave Ouray, we hitched the trailer to the truck and drove the entire Million Dollar Highway — Route 550 — over those three mountain passes from Ouray through Silverton to Durango.
20 mph switchback ahead.
Mark was impressed that the truck had plenty of power at all times and made it up and over the passes without straining. He kept the engine torque in its power band of 2,200 to 2,600 rpm, and he never had to depress the gas pedal all the way to the floor to maintain a safe speed.
You can set up the Edge tuner display to show whatever data interests you most.
On the CS model (which we installed), there are two large analog displays with accompanying digital readouts and a smaller digital display in between them.
The CTS model (which is slightly more expensive) has three analog displays with accompanying digital readouts.
Mark had set up our tuner to show the Engine Coolant Temp (ECT) and the Transmission Fluid Temp (TFT) on the two large semi-circular analog gauges to the left and right.
The ECT is a measure of the antifreeze temperature in the radiator, and is the “engine temperature” reading that is given in an analog gauge on the truck’s dashboard. It is also the temperature that most manufacturer’s use to indicate that the engine has overheated, usually displaying a big red light on the dash.
Despite the hairpin turns and sheer drop-offs, semi-tractor trailers and RVs traverse this highway all the time.
The TFT is a measure of the transmission fluid temp, and it is not a value that is tied into any of the dashboard instrumentation on most trucks.
In general, both the ECT and TFT temps should be kept below 225 degrees, although newer trucks can run slightly hotter than older trucks.
The digital readouts on the Edge tuner display unit are big numbers that are easy for both the driver (and passenger) to read.
Getting into the Red Zone
What a shock it was to begin our first big ascent on Red Mountain Pass and to see that while the Engine Coolant Temp was in the normal range, according to both the factory-installed in-dash gauge and the Edge tuner (which showed 215 degrees), the Transmission Fluid Temp went into the red zone, climbing past the safe zone of 225 degrees up to 237 degrees.
The ascent was almost over when we hit this max, and both temps quickly dropped back down as we descended towards Silverton. The ECT cooled down to 198 degrees and the TFT cooled way down to 163 degrees.
On the next ascent, Molas Pass, (10,970′), the Engine Coolant Temp climbed back up to 215 degrees (still in the safe zone) while the Transmission Fluid Temp topped out at 244 degrees.
The truck’s temp gauge (and Edge ECT data) said we were not overheating, but that’s just the antifreeze. The transmission fluid temp (right) was 19 degrees too high.
In the next valley, the temps dropped back down again, and on the last ascent, Coal Bank Pass (10,640′), the temps climbed again, but this time the Transmission Fluid Temp stayed below 235 degrees.
We were both amazed that the truck never overheated, according to the dashboard Engine Temp gauge, but in fact, the transmission had exceeded its limits by as much as 19 degrees, or 8%. We never would have known that without the Edge tuner, and it made us wonder just how hot the transmission fluid would be in the event that the engine coolant temp actually went into red alert.
If the transmission stays over 225 degrees for too many minutes, the transmission fluid breaks down permanently, and the transmission can be irreparably damaged.
Steep grade ahead — prepare for a 10 mph turn
You can set up alerts in the Edge tuner display so that buzzers sound and/or the display flashes when any of the data being monitored exceeds its maximum. However, by default, the alert system is turned off. This makes sense, as it could be annoying to have a buzzer going when you are already nervously looking for a way to safely pull over to let the engine cool.
For anyone installing the Edge tuner, just keep the magic number 225 in mind, and you will easily see when you have exceeded that value on the tuner’s display, as the numbers are nice and large. There is also a “red zone” on the analog display, but we found it was so faint that we did not notice it until we studied our photos of the gauge afterwards!
When we tow, we set the Edge tuner to Level 1. When we are not towing, we set the Edge tuner to Level 2.
Increased MPG – Towing – Improves by 2 MPG!
Before we installed the Edge tuner, we typically got somewhere between 9.7 and 10.5 mpg while towing for long distances, according to the electronic gauge in the truck. This gauge has its limitations, because it is somehow averaging the most recent miles driven, but I have not been able to find exactly how the average is calculated or how many miles back it goes — is it the most recent 100 miles? 500? 1,000?
Measuring the MPG from one full tank of diesel to the next is a more accurate method, but it is still fallible because one tank may be filled slightly more than another, and if the tank of gas includes both towing and non-towing miles, then the numbers are thrown off.
So, I can’t offer scientifically collected numbers here, but I can say that after we installed the Edge tuner, the gauge in our truck now typically shows numbers between 11.7 and 12.5 when we are towing consistently for distances of 250 miles or more.
In essence, the truck is saving 2 miles per gallon while producing more power. Very impressive!
Increased MPG – Not Towing – Improves by 3 MPG!
Our truck always used to get somewhere in the 16-18 MPG range when we weren’t towing, better on highways and less in town.
Now, if we travel 100 miles or more without the trailer, we see an MPG in the 19-21 range. That is an improvement of 3 MPG!
What a shock it was the first time we drove 130 highway miles at 65 mph and saw 21.6 MPG on our truck’s mileage gauge!!
Return on Investment
If this fuel savings alone were used to justify the cost of a new Edge Evolution tuner, how many miles would we have to drive for the unit to pay for itself?
If we assume the tuner costs ~$450 and diesel costs ~$3/gallon (both rough but reasonable estimates given prices in the last year), and we assume a conservative savings of 2 MPG, whether towing or not, and we tow for half the total miles driven, we will have saved approximately $450 in fuel once we have driven about 15,500 miles.
Of course, the tuner does a lot more than save a little fuel…
7. Additional Exhaust Gas Temperature Sensor Installation
A month after installing the Edge Evolution CS tuner, Mark installed a companion product, the Expandable Accessory System (EAS – product #98603) Exhaust Gas Temperature sensor. This product measures the temperature of the exhaust gases in the exhaust manifold, giving the driver yet more insight — beyond just the antifreeze temp and the transmission fluid temp — into how hot the engine is running.
This was an optional installation, but after seeing the value of knowing the transmission fluid temperature, we wanted to be able to monitor our exhaust gas temperature readings as well.
This installation was quite a bit more complicated than the Edge programmer, as the probe had to be inserted into the exhaust manifold. This required drilling a hole in the exhaust manifold, tapping the hole, screwing the probe into the newly tapped hole, and running the wires through the engine firewall back to the Edge Evolution tuner where they plugged into the back of the display unit.
The hardest part of this installation was drilling and tapping the hole, in part because the exhaust manifold is not super easy access to with a large drill, and in part because the metal of the exhuast manifold is very thick and hard.
The most important thing is that the tap handle be big and solid to give you lots of leverage, because the solid cast iron on the exhaust manifold is very thick and very hard. This will make the difference between an easy installation and a miserably hard one.
As always, Mark got the project underway before I got my camera going, so I don’t have a “before” photo. However, the “after” photo below shows what you’re gunning for and what stands in the way between you and the exhaust manifold.
Completed installation with only the braided stainless cable for the probe showing.
First, unscrew the bolt holding the two black tubes in place so they can be pushed aside.
Remove the bolt to free up the tubes that are blocking the exhaust manifold
The probe will be inserted here.
Location for the Edge Products EAS Exhaust gas temp probe in the exhaust manifold
Space is tight, so a 90 degree right angle drill is necessary. Drill a pilot hole first. Then drill the real hole for the probe.
In order to avoid getting metal filings in the wrong places, grease the drill bit first. Drill a little, then wipe the drill bit down, re-grease it, and drill a little further. Do this for both the pilot hole and the real hole.
Use a 90 degree right angle drill
Hole drilled in exhaust manifold
Now the hole is ready to be tapped. Grease or oil the tapping tool well, and work it in and out a quarter turn at a time. As before, after a few turns, back it all the way out and wipe off the metal filings, and re-grease it.
As mentioned above, a small tap handle will not give you enough leverage for the thick, hard cast iron of the exhaust manifold.
An undersized tap handle will make the job very difficult. Get a big, sturdy one!
Once the hole is drilled and tapped, the probe can be screwed in. Grease the probe’s threads with <strong>Permatex Anti-Seize Lubricant first. Then, a cable connecting the probe to the Edge tuner is run from the exhaust manifold back through the engine firewall between the engine and the cab, and on up to the tuner.
Edge Products EAS exhaust temperature probe screws into the exhaust manifold
Wires run through the engine firewall between the engine compartment and the truck cab
Mark opted to put the display for the exhaust gas temperatures in the middle display area between the Engine Coolant Temp and the Transmission Fluid Temp. Of course, you can choose to display any data in any of the three display areas, and Mark experimented a little before settling on ECT on the left, EGT in the middle and TFT on the right.
Engine Coolant (left), Exhaust Gas (middle bar), Transmission Fluid (right)
We installed the Exhaust Gas Temperature probe after we had done all of our mountain driving for the season, so we have yet to test it in the mountains. The “overtemp” magic number for the EGT is 1350. Typical temps we have seen driving around town are in the mid-900’s, and climbing a long 5% grade while towing our fifth wheel, we’ve seen the mid-1100’s. However, these have just been the long, gradual grades of Arizona and not the steep switchbacks typical of Rocky Mountain passes.
We will report our findings about the exhaust gas temperature readings once we have taken our RV over a big mountain pass!
The Edge tuner has a ton of other things it can do, because it essentially opens up the truck’s computer so the driver can access the data and temporarily modify the input parameters for the current driving conditions. (Obviosuly, you must be parked to mess with the menus on the tuner.)
Our only interest in the tuner has been the improved power while towing, improved fuel economy while not towing and the additional temperature data that is made available when towing over big mountain passes.
Maintenance and Diagnostic Trouble Codes
There is a Maintenance Manager mode where you can establish a reminder system for standard maintenance items like changing the transmission fluid, checking the trans case fluid level, inspecting the brake pads, lubing the tie rod ends and rotating the tires. Simply get it started with your current odometer reading, and the reminders will alert you at your chosen intervals.
If you are really concerned about fuel economy, there is a Mileage Coach that can show you how to vary your foot’s pressure on the gas pedal to maximize fuel economy as you drive. You can also find out the fuel cost per mile of a particular trip if you enter the price of the fuel you buy!
In addition, the Edge tuner can reveal the Diagnostic Trouble Codes that are present when the truck’s Check Engine light goes on. Most codes can be looked up on the internet, so this might save some head scratching before heading off to a mechanic to get the problem looked at.
We have used only Levels 1 and 2 (for towing and around town driving), however there are two more levels beyond that for increased power performance, if you find your truck on the starting line of a racecourse. These modes adjust the fuel injection and timing to be more aggressive. In addition, the CTS model can be interfaced to a backup camera and it can also monitor the pitch, roll and G-forces!! For those with racing in mind who find themselves at a drag strip, there are also 0 to 60 mph performance tests and quarter mile tests, and the record highest values of these tests are maintained.
Studying the Data
You can also connect the Edge tuner to a computer using the USB port. You can retrieve all the data from the Edge programmer into an Excel-readable .csv file. using the downloadable Windows software called MyStyle (instructions given in the manual).
For us, however, we are content with just the basics!