2016 Ram 2500 Mega Cab 4×4 Project Truck January 2017 by John Russo
Like many of you I’m a truck guy. Some of my happiest memories are heading out to the woods hunting and fishing. To do that comfortably, you need a 4×4. To do the things I like to do you need a big truck. I enjoy taking my family or friends with me along with a ton of gear so it really helps having a large four door truck. My last truck was a 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD Crew Cab. It served me well and was a great truck but it was time for an upgrade. I knew I wanted a crew cab 3/4 ton 4×4 with a diesel engine but beyond that I was open to all models. Here is what I found.
So Many Choices
Since I was already a happy GM owner, I started off looking at the new Chevy and GMC 2500s. They are beautiful rigs but unfortunately GM opted to do away with the rear seat A/C vents. This was a deal breaker for me. I want my rear passengers to be comfortable and having your own air vents makes a huge difference, especially when you are stuck back there on an 18 hour road trip.
Next I checked out the new Titan XD. Nissan has created an all new class of truck in the XD which they are calling a 5/8 Ton. It is a little bigger than a 1/2 ton but not quite a 2500. The Titan XD is a beautiful truck with all the latest technology. Honestly, I was ready to buy this truck before I stepped onto the lot. Then I drove it and my opinion changed dramatically. The new 5.0 Cummins diesel is noisy and the truck’s ride is very rough on the highway. I hope they clean up these issues because I think this truck could be a winner.
Now it was on to Ford. I have owned several Fords in the past and always liked them but the jump between the F-150 and F-250 always seemed too large. I drove them both and loved the F-150 with the 3.5L Ecoboost engine. It is very comfortable and has plenty of power. The problem is the gas mileage is about 15 mpg and the back seat is a little small with a low ceiling for hauling around big guys. So then I tried out the F-250. The 2017 is an all new model year for the F-250. It is a really nice truck and a really big truck. The amenities are great and the interior is spacious and comfortable but this is a truck meant to haul big loads. So when driving it around town it has a bit of a rough ride and the engine noise with the diesel is a little loud. But I was seriously considering it.
Until I went to Dodge. The Ram 2500 Mega Cab 4×4 was the clear cut winner for me. My wife and kids went with me and test drove all the vehicles and we all liked the Ram the best. The diesel was the quietest we tested and the ride was hands down the smoothest and best of all of them. This is largely attributed to the rear coil suspension Ram uses on the 1/2 and 3/4 ton trucks. The kids and my hunting buddies are in love with the back seat. It is massive and the doors open to 90 degrees so getting in and out is easy. The Mega Cab adds an extra 6-8 inches of room behind the back seats which allows the seats to recline! No one is fighting to ride shotgun anymore.
I Want a Ram, Now What?
Now that I knew what make and model truck I wanted, I had to find the right truck and the right dealer. The dealer part was easy since I wanted to buy in the city I work in and the guys at Jack Powell Dodge in Escondido were ready to help. Gavin, Patrick, Doug and Keith all pitched in and went the extra mile to find me the truck I wanted. This wasn’t easy since it was October and I was trying to get a 2016 Laramie model which were becoming scarce. The full load of 2017s weren’t quite out yet and besides, the good deals were on the 2016s. The new models have few changes compared to the 2016s so I was hoping to find one of these gems.
After three weeks of searching we found the truck I wanted at another dealership. Doug made some calls and got it for me at a smoking price. We were in and out quickly and I had my new truck home before I knew it. Now came the real fun. You truck guys know what I’m talking about. We can’t just buy a truck and drive it like most people buy cars. We have to add stuff to it, upgrade it, and generally set it up for our hobbies. This is where we begin the real story.
Where to Start?
When selling my old GMC, I reviewed my records and made a list of upgrades I had done to the truck in the past 13 1/2 years. It was staggering. I had put over $12K into it not counting maintenance. Many of these things would need to be done to the new truck but where to start? Since I knew it would be getting dirty, I started with rubber floor mats. I went with the Husky brand and chose their X-act Contour Floor Liners. I really like Husky mats because they are molded and hold a lot of liquid and debris but they still have a flexible rubber feel rather than that hard plastic feel of some brands. The X-act Contour model is made of the same flexible material but custom designed for your truck. They fit perfectly and used the existing factory anchors. My litmus test for floor mats is do they shift when you brace your feet to push yourself back into your seat? These hold tight and do not move around but they are easy to remove and clean. The rear mat is a huge one piece design the covered the entire rear floor area.
Sticking with the Husky brand, I bought a set of their Husky Liners Mud Guards which are custom designed for your vehicle. They took me all of about 20 minutes to install and make a big difference in protecting your step bars and rocker panels. Next I did something for the kids. I contacted Glen at QTX Mobile and had a set of Advent headrest DVD players installed. The kids love these as they each have their own DVD player and the system even has built in video games! My son used to beg me to ride in front, now he just jumps in back and puts his headphones on.
Time for a Topper
My wife loves the look of the Ram truck but she hates camper shells. She often says I should have just bought a Suburban if I was going to put a shell on the truck. But the reality is the shell serves a purpose. When you have four guys in the truck and are driving for 20 hours heading on an elk hunt it gives you peace of mind to know your gear is staying clean and dry regardless of the weather. It is also nice knowing you can stop for gas and food and know your stuff is locked up securely rather than at the mercy of any passerby willing to grab something out of the open bed. The other huge benefit is the shell doubles the storage capacity of the truck bed. So yeah, I’m a shell guy.
Before you put a shell on a truck you want to make sure it has a bedliner. Mine didn’t come with one from the factory so I had the guys at Line-X install their spray in liner. I have had several trucks with Line-X and it is my favorite. It is extremely hard and will actually sand away other liners when put to a head to head test. After the spray was done I added a Dee Zee Heavy Weight Truck Bed Mat. It may sound redundant to have both but the bed mat deadens the sound and keeps your gear from sliding around. It is also easier on the knees when crawling around in the back. While I was back there I also put on a Dee Zee Tailgate Assist. This is a simple hydraulic that bolts onto the driver’s side of the tailgate and allows it to lower slowly. This is really handy if you have small kids around or are trying to open the gate with your hands full. Once all of this was done, I was ready for the new shell. The problem is shells aren’t cheap but neither is a new truck and neither are the hobbies we have so it was time to suck it up and do what needed to be done. I stopped in to see my friend Kurt at Valley Camper Sales and let him tell me what I needed.
This may sound strange to say I was willing to let a salesperson tell me what I need. Don’t I know what I need? Well Kurt is the owner and has been selling shells for many decades. He has sold me my last three shells for my trucks going back to 2001 and he knows how I use my truck. Because of this he recommended I go with the Snugtop Rebel. This isn’t the most expensive or least expensive but it has some key features that fit the outdoor enthusiast. The most notable are the standard framed windows in the sides. Unlike some of the cooler looking larger, frameless windows, these allow for more fiberglass in the corners. This translates into a stronger shell. Snugtop also offers something they call their Sportsman’s Package. Essentially you pay an extra $100 and they add an extra 1/2 inch of fiberglass to the roof and corners. When you take your truck off road and the truck twists and flexes, over time this can cause the corners of the shell to crack. I have seen this in other truck shells so of course I jumped on this option. A couple of other options I chose were the interior LED lighting, triple 12V power strip and 300 pound roof rack. The roof rack added an extra few hundred dollars to the price tag but gives you piece of mind when you need to carry something long such as lumber or a kayak.
No sooner did I have the shell installed than we began to get some much needed rain in Southern California. It was great timing as I took my daughter, Tayler, mule deer hunting and she shot her first buck. We had him skinned then securely locked in the back of the truck while we enjoyed a hot lunch in a cafe.
As I mentioned before, the Ram was the best riding truck I tested but there is always room for improvement. I am a big fan of Bilstein shocks so I had a set put on the Ram. This is a big heavy beast and the factory shocks are a little too soft. The Bilsteins make the ride even better and the truck is more responsive and sways less. Another huge bonus is the shocks allow the truck to absorb hard impacts off road.
Next up for the Ram will be a grill guard, winch, step bars and skid plates. Westin has offered to help out with most of this so we will see what they have to offer. In the meantime I’ll be driving it to Las Vegas for the SHOT Show trying to break in the diesel engine. Stay tuned!