Photography by Evan Sears, Cars.com
Any time we try to put together a road-trip comparison test with a couple (or more) pickup trucks, it doesn't matter how much planning we do, there are always logistical and situational issues we never see coming. Thankfully, we had a small crew of people who were flexible and extremely capable of troubleshooting and accommodating every curve ball with a thoughtful patience befitting a saint. Which was good, because I was doing enough stressing and worrying for the entire team.
Our recent King of Beasts Challenge took about 10 days if you include the time it took to get the 2013 Ford F-450 Super Duty to Denver (from Los Angeles) and back. We had the 2013 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty delivered to Denver, but we had to get the big Ford to the Ram before we could hitch up our two brand-new Load Trail trailers.
Thankfully, two of our three drivers had commercial driver licenses and the third had the paperwork to prove he was in the middle of getting his certification. Not that that would carry much weight if he had been pulled over by a state trooper, but it made us feel better. Of course, that meant we had to keep records and logs of our towing and how much time we spent behind the wheel during each of our test days.
The first thing we noticed when hooking up the gooseneck trailers was that, in order to accommodate the improved towing capability of the 2013 one-ton trucks, Ram included larger bed hooks with its new factory-optioned in-bed gooseneck trailer ball. Unfortunately, those new mounting loops would not accommodate the standard-sized chain hooks that came with our trailer. The receiver loops in the bed were too thick (though much stronger) to allow the normal chain hooks to fit. Oddly, it would have taken a smaller chain hook (and we presume it would have to be stronger as well) to fit the thicker bed loops. As a result, we had to create our own fix using some extra-heavy-duty chain and trailer clamps. Not ideal, but necessary.
It wasn't too long after we got both trailers hitched up and on the road that we saw a little smoke coming out of one of the trailer's side storage doors. We stopped to let the smoke clear and discovered that one of the battery cables had worked itself loose, creating some arcing across and through several wire looms and battery connectors. After several on-the-spot wiring repairs and a quick check with our circuit tester, we realized the battery wasn't holding a charge. Next stop: Wal-Mart for a new battery and, while we were there, we purchased a few 2.5-gallon boxes of diesel exhaust fluid.
We were able to keep a close watch on the DEF levels on the Ram because it had a dedicated DEF gauge, but the Ford had a hard-to-find screen that didn't give levels, just "low" or "level OK" readouts. On a related note, when pulling heavy loads, use the big truck stops because they're likely to have DEF pumps right next to the diesel pumps. Unfortunately, due to the small pump nozzle and DEF tank inlets, you can expect the process to be frustratingly slow with many shut-offs. We learned that you can ask the cashier for a magnet ring to slip over the pump nozzle, which makes the process go much faster. Better yet, you might want to get your own.
Once on the road with all the integrated trailer brakes properly set, we were off to load our trailers. Frisco Fireplace & Stone in Frisco, Colo., was able to calculate exact pallet weights for us and load our trailers for proper long-haul distribution.
Both trailers worked fine as we left the Rocky Mountains and headed to Las Vegas and then onto Davis Dam, which straddles the Arizona/Nevada border, for acceleration and brake-touch testing. And it wasn't until the day after Davis Dam testing, when we were headed to back to the Rockies for high-altitude steep-grade testing, that we discovered more problems with our bed plug connection on the Ram 3500 that interfered with our trailer brake functions.
At different points in our tests we needed a few special wiring fixes to bypass what we thought was another faulty wiring line; we also needed to rig up some cable holders to keep the wires from binding or from being pulled out during tight cornering. Without Kent Sundling from MrTruck.com, our King of Beast test would have died several times over. We even had a small hydraulic brake line fitting pop on us — we're guessing from all the vibrations the air suspension had to deal with over some miserable roads through Arizona and Utah. One Friday night in Holbrook, Ariz., was devoted to having the local auto repair store find us a brake-line fitting that was close to what we needed.
The funny thing about photographers is that it doesn't matter how serious or minor a repair is, they're always looking for ways to get new shots and crazy angles of our test subjects. As a consequence, video producer/cameraman Matt Avery and photographer/director Evan Sears could be found scrambling up hillsides and balancing precariously on trailer cross-members to get interesting views of both pickups and trailers. Sometimes watching them was funny, and at other times it was unnerving.
We knew many of our fixes would only be temporary as we limped into Grand Junction, Colo., headed to our Eisenhower Pass grade testing. We arrived with one completely wounded trailer sporting wiring and brake-line issues we couldn't repair completely. Thankfully the experts at Jayhawk Trailers were able to help us that evening, replacing some wiring, a few clamps and topping off our brake fluid. It was all done by 4:30 a.m. That made for a rough day on the road, but by the end of that evening we had most of our head-to-head testing complete.
The following day our Ford F-450 was headed back to Los Angeles. In all, we put more than 4,000 miles on that Platinum trim F-450, getting it to and from Denver from L.A. (and that doesn't include the 1,600 test miles) — but we warned Ford this wasn't going to be an average truck loan. In terms of fuel economy, we got 16 mpg from the big Ford cruising at all posted limits during our empty long haul to and from Denver.
Since we had a little more time with the Ram, Sundling was able to head back to our friends at Frisco Fireplace & Stone, where they loaded the Ram with another 4,000 pounds of payload to do some max-limit testing on the Eisenhower grade. And nothing surprising happened, other than the Ram 3500 HD handled the 28,000-plus-pound load better than some other HD trucks we've tested on that same grade. Yes, Ram's max towing numbers are real.
In the end, this test was a tough one, becoming a bigger battle than we expected. But if that's what it takes to get the head-to-head data to you (and you can bet both manufacturers have looked at our KOB story closely as well), then it was all worth it. We want to continue testing new trucks to their limits to see if what the manufacturers are bragging about holds true in the real world.
This test showed us that the 2013 Ram 3500 HD changes are huge and that it is more than capable of withstanding PUTC truck-testing punishment. But don't expect Ford to sit back and do nothing; we think the Blue Oval will respond with big changes soon. Those who read our 2013 State Fair of Texas coverage know Ford is already working on a new F-450 and a much stronger and more powerful Power Stroke. And we can't wait to test it.