Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2002   by Jim Anderton

2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 3500 Cummins Turbo Diesel

There's no doubt about it: in trucks power is spelled "Diesel". Whether it's stump-pulling torque, longevity measured in decades, or just the mystique of Class 8 haulers like Kenworth or Peterbuilt, d...

There’s no doubt about it: in trucks power is spelled “Diesel”. Whether it’s stump-pulling torque, longevity measured in decades, or just the mystique of Class 8 haulers like Kenworth or Peterbuilt, diesel is hot in light trucks. Dodge has a lot to do with the spike in diesel popularity with the extremely popular Cummins turbo option that debuted in the waning years of the 1973-generation pickups. Two generations later, Dodge faces real competition in the segment, both from Ford’s Navastar-sourced PowerStroke engine, and GM’s in-house DuraMax powerplant.

Dodge is counterattacking in 2003 with an all-new Ram Heavy Duty, and the package is both strong and powerful. SSGM tested the Ram Heavy Duty in several configurations and learned much about engine and vehicle. Power is paramount in this class of vehicle, and the new Cummins engine delivers 555 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,400 rpm and 305 horsepower at 2,900 rpm, making the 5.9-liter High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel the most powerful diesel engine available in the heavy-duty pickup market.

The engine is new from the block up, featuring high-pressure common rail fuel injection with pilot injection-the injection of a small amount of fuel to start combustion-before the main, power-producing fuel charge is injected. Combined with a gear-driven fuel pump and remapped injection timing, the result is a much quieter, almost gasoline-like idle and better acceleration and throttle response. A side benefit is cold-start capability good to -40 F. Routine service intervals have been doubled, and a typical overhaul interval is estimated at 350,000 miles, so this one won’t spend much time in the shop. The standard Cummins engine is available, if your needs are limited to “only” 250 horsepower at 2,900 rpm (up from 235 horsepower at 2,700 rpm) and 460 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,400 rpm.

The engine is impressive, and the vehicle that houses it has been beefed up in response. A large, hydroformed frame and massive front suspension components support the body, which is quiet and spacious, especially in the four door Max Cab model, which uses conventional swing open rear doors and multiple seating/storage options under and behind the seats. Up front, lots of adjustability and a centre console that’s ideal for paperwork (with a power outlet for computers or cell phones) make the Ram Heavy Duty an excellent platform for a towing/recovery body or “stinger”. With a CGVWR of a whopping 23,000 pounds, dragging pretty much anything short of a Freightliner should be no sweat. It’s also quiet and comfortable enough to serve as a daily driver, and should handle a plow with ease.

At something like fifty grand for a loaded heavy-duty pickup from any of the Big Three manufacturers, a heavy-duty diesel pickup needs to “multi task” to justify the investment. The new Dodge Ram Heavy Duty can serve as a tow/plow/service/hauler that’s comfortable enough to commute to work, then go hunting or fishing on the weekend. And towing is a no-brainer. Do you need this much power, especially given Dodge’s extensive gasoline options such as the V-10 and standard Hemi V-8? Probably not, but hey, it feels great, looks good, and ought to be pretty much indestructible, a powerful combination.

Dodge Ram 3500 Heavy Duty/ High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel

Engine configuration: 5883 cu/cm (359 cu. in) six cylinder in-line turbo diesel Cast iron block and heads

Valves: OHV, 24 valves, solid lifters

Fuel injection: Electronic high-pressure common rail

Compression Ratio: 17.2:1

Power (SAE Net): 305 bhp @ 2900rpm

Torque(SAE Net): 555 lb.-ft. @ 1400rpm

Oil Capacity: 11.4 L with filter

Coolant Capacity: 30.9L

Emission Controls: Catalytic converter, internal engine features

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