Road Test Review: 2011 Ram 5500 Chassis Cab

Road Test: 2011 Ram 5500 Chassis Cab Rollback
By Mark Williams for PickupTrucks.com

Why don’t all pickup beds come with control levers? Not only would they turn your truck into a more versatile tool, they would be cool and fun, too. In our mind, the only thing better than having an empty heavy-duty full-size bed ready to work is an empty bed you can control with hydraulic levers, a remote-controlled winch, and all the chain tie-downs you could want.

That’s why we jumped at the chance to drive a special-order Ram HD 5500 SLT Chassis Cab upfitted with a 19-foot controllable flatbed loading deck from Jerr-Dan. The 204.5-inch-wheelbase two-door chassis cab was built for a commercial recovery company to haul passenger cars and smaller trucks. In our hands, it became the coolest truck we’ve driven recently.

Our Ram 5500 tester falls into Class 5 territory, with extra carrying capability over the Class 4 Ram 4500 CC. Rigs in the fourth and fifth brackets have gross vehicle weight ratings of 14,001 pounds to 16,000 pounds and 16,001 pounds to 19,500 pounds, respectively, and they usually don’t come with factory-mounted cargo boxes. Instead, they are sold as an incomplete vehicle and upfitters bolt on custom aftermarket packages such as dump truck boxes, service bodies, rollback wreckers and stake beds.

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All chassis cabs regardless of make have frame rails spaced exactly 34 inches apart. That’s a narrower gap than what you'll find on a typical pickup; the Ram 1500’s frame rails are spaced 38 inches apart. The distance from the back of the cab to the rear axle is uniform so that aftermarket packages can be easily bolted behind the cab and ported from one truck to the next without the need for custom fit or engineering.

For our road test, we needed something to carry on our back to get a good idea of how that might affect the ride and handling of something this big and capable. Our “payload” turned out to be a 2011 Jeep Patriot crossover weighing about 3,460 pounds — well within the Jerr-Dan’s factory-listed capacity spec of 5,775 pounds. The upfitted Ram 5500 is about 31 feet long, including the 19-foot aluminum rollback flatbed and rear tow bar.

The SLT 5500 regular cab’s MSRP with optional equipment totaled $47,955. Adding $30,000 for the rollback, hydraulic plumbing, storage, rear tow bar and all the straps and anchors brings the total package pricing a few ticks below $80,000.

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From behind the wheel, the 5500 regular cab’s interior looks and feels identical to a standard Ram SLT one-ton dually. All the center gauges are familiar, and they provide the full array of temperatures and fluid levels necessary to keep a close eye on the rig, including coolant temperature, transmission temp, diesel exhaust fluid levels and fuel economy.

For those who may not be aware, chassis cab configurations must meet federally mandated emissions standards that are similar to conventional HD pickups. These trucks use DEF selective catalytic reduction technology (aka urea) and the resulting DEF tank and injection systems. When our truck was dropped off, the DEF level was below 10 percent, so we bought a $14 box of fluid at a Pilot truck stop and brought levels up to 50 percent. The DEF filler was conveniently located behind the cab on the driver’s side.

It’s worth noting that a medium-duty Ram CC (4500/5500) like our tester offers a near-identical version of the 6.7-liter Cummins ISB engine found in Ram pickups, but the power ratings are different from the “lighter-duty” 2500 and 3500 HDs partly because most customers in this segment are quite sensitive to cost of ownership and vehicle longevity in severe-duty applications. (EPA emissions standards for medium-duty chassis cabs and how power output is measured also play a role.) As a result, the medium-duty Ram HD Cummins engine is tuned to offer a peak horsepower rating of 305 at 2,900 rpm and 610 pounds-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm. That’s well within the comfort zone of the engine’s capability, and yet it still offers plenty of low-end grunt for HD work.

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The Ram Rollback was a comfortable cruiser when empty, weighing in at 12,860 pounds. That’s about two tons more than a one-ton dually pickup, but not a bad driving weight considering how much hydraulic and recovery equipment was bolted to its back. Combine that with the Ram Rollback’s 19,500-pound GVWR, and you have plenty of flexibility to carry just about any automobile on the road.

When empty, the rig didn’t have any problems blending into 70 mph freeway traffic, but it definitely felt more comfortable and stable at 65 mph. Over our 200-mile drive loop, we averaged just above 17 mpg (admittedly without many elevation changes).

As you might expect, when the 5500 is loaded with a 3,500-pound Jeep Patriot, roll stability changes significantly because the center of gravity is lifted several feet. Common sense and safe driving had us driving closer to 60 mph in most cases during the same highway drive loop, and that led to a respectable 12.8 mpg. Not bad for a total weight of around 16,320 pounds.

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Considering its overall length — and we’ve driven some Class A motorhomes smaller than 31 feet — the rollback Ram was always well-composed, and it handled surprisingly well. Its tight turning radius was impressive, allowing us to negotiate traffic and obstacles that made onlookers shake their heads. (We assume they were impressed.)

We appreciated two other features. First, we could fill 74 gallons of diesel into two tanks (52 and 22 gallons), giving us tremendous range. Second, the Cummins’ on-demand exhaust brake provided excellent engine braking power (wonderfully noticeable on longer downhill grades).

Ram tells us it has third-party verification that the brand has class-leading 4500/5500 exhaust brake performance against Ford Super Duty F-450/F-550 here, and that wouldn’t surprise us at all. We’d guess that would translate directly into brake pad wear, overall brake fade and in emergency panic-stop situations, not to mention cost savings over extended duty cycles.

Working the rollback was quite easy — and fun — and it took us about five minutes to figure out. All the levers have visual directions to let you know what does what. The only requirement is to have the engine running, the transmission in Park, e-brake engaged, and the power take-off button on.

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PTO charges the hydraulic system that powers the rollback and tow bar, while the winch is controlled either electronically with its own remote control or from a lever on either side of the truck. The remote allowed us to be inside the Patriot while letting out the winch cable to lower the vehicle down the ramp. (We should make one special note here: Whenever possible, use chains to tie down your vehicle. Ratcheting heavy-duty straps can work well unless there is any type of object they might rub against, creating friction, during transit. It doesn’t take much heat to burn through straps and compromise the security of your load.)

You can order the 2012 Ram 4500 and 5500 models with the all-new Max Tow package that the three-quarter-ton and one-ton vehicles have. Max Tow is available on Ram Chassis Cab trucks equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission and 4.88 rear-axle. Depending on the configuration, the package can raise towing capability to 22,300 pounds with a 30,000-pound GCWR. Also, in California, medium-duty Rams will get a separate “Certified Clean Idle” sticker indicating compliance with California Air Resources Board rules on commercial vehicle idling. Anything idling longer than five minutes (and not in use) will need to shut itself off or meet strict emissions standards. (For more, click here http://news.pickuptrucks.com/2011/06/california-clean-idle-sticker-certifies-you-can-do-exactly-that.html).

We get to drive a lot of cool stuff in this job, and there have been some wild things parked in my driveway. But when they came to pick up the Ram Rollback, this one hurt just a little more than usual. Everyone should have a chance to play with one of these. Maybe we’ll have to get it back again for a Dodge vs. Ford, 5500 vs. F-550 rollback head-to-head? We’ll let you know if we can make it happen.

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Comments

Cool article Mike.

What did you think of the unloaded ride Mike? I find that long wheel base barely tolerable and the shorter ones are just cruel to ride in.

Nice to see something different than your average pick-up...Keep all of these trucks coming...I see more and more Dodge RAM tow trucks,flat deck's around everyday.

It would be fun to drive one of these for a weekend and repo your buddies ride !!

bubububu it doesn't have enough ground clearance! What are its approach and departure angles?

Mike, it was great to read an article about a working truck. A future "Duel of the Tow Trucks" would be great.

17 mpg at 12,860 pounds? Tat means they can easily make a 1/2 ton pickup diesel that gets 30 mpg on the highway right?

It also means Dodge should put DEF on regular Rams, because it helps it get better fuel economy.

Thanks Mike

Love the real man work truck articles! The Ram 5500's have quite the standard options list compared to much anything in its class!

Lets go drive by Bob's house and repo his Impala. LOL

@ lou

thats funny ^^^^^^^^ lol lol

for about a half year i drove a cab over Bering tow rig with a 20ft bed and roll back (Jerr Dan). I gotta say it was a super cool truck. It was powered by an L10 Cummins and an Allison 6 speed manual. I agree everyone should get a chance to play with a tow truck, its sooooooo much fun.

When I was younger and frequented the various drinking establishments, we knew several guys with tow trucks. If we were too drunk to drive home we'd call them instead of a cab. They'd tow us home for the same fee.

Interesting road test Mike! And it comes as no surprise the Ram 5500 is giving the Ford F-550 such a rough time sales wise. Look at the monthly figures, Dodge has been beating Ford in class 4 and 5.

Just a question how popular are rollbacks becoming as regards traditional tow trucks for "towing" break downs accidents etc?

@Robert Ryan: The are very popular. Some late-model cars can only be towed on a rollback.

@Mike, thanks very similar situation here with late model automatic SUV's and Cars.

That is one purdy truck!

Its a shame GM gave up on there 4500 and 5500 series trucks , we wont be seeing a GM truck able to do that kind of work any time soon .

@ Mike Levine

Excellent article Mike. Here's another future shootout; pit a Ram 5500 vs F-550 vs International Terrastar class 5 in a tow truck/trailer shuttle/recovery truck gauntlet. It would be very, very interesting to see how Ford's new PS holds up to the International MaxxForce 7 (International's version of the 6.4L PS). For some very odd reason, International never had half the problems with their engines that Ford did. Makes you wonder, was Ford asking too much of them? The same is true with the 6.0 ps, Ford had more problems than a boy scout at the neverland ranch with that engine, but International used the crap out of it with less than a eighth the failure rate. But anyway just some food for thought.. What say you guys?

@shop cat: Great suggestion! We've considered doing such a comparison (with the TerraStar) but the toughest part is making it "apples to apples" with three identical upfits, like the rollaback platform. We'd need an upfitter to partner with us.

@ Mike Levine

Yes i understand how that could translate to a bit of a snag, but I think if you could get them in a standard length with flatbeds and fifth wheel/gooseneck hitches and then have a tow-a-thon between the three somewhere(hell even up the mountains in another Rumble in the Rockies type). I think they have similar powertrain setups, with similar final drive ratios, i know Dodge and Ford use the Dana 110 rear end, not sure on the IH though. Oh well, i guess if you hafta do it with just Dodge and Ford, it would still be a pretty darned interesting shoot out!

Its doesn't matter how hard you try to make things apples to apples anymore, someone will ALWAYS cry foul

@Mike Levine

I'm curious if there was any notible difference in this Cummins that uses DEF fluid and the one in the Shootout which didn't?

Also, why does Ram use DEF on the chassis cabs and not on the pickups or vice versa?

@ shop cat, we have an international and a f450 with the 6.4 and we actually like the ford a little better power and chassi. the international tore out the rear end with less than 20k and they didnt warranty it because the brakes were dirty. I know a few business in town that have both the dodge and ford and ive herd no complaints on either one.

@ bobsled80

Very interesting, thank you. I've always been a big fan of International, i run all IH tractors and have 3 IH trucks. In my experiances i havent broken anything on them, there quite tough. But of course they're also from '73, '78, and '81. I just wish International would build a kick ass new scout and throw a DT466 and an allison in it, that would be sweet

@ Shop cat - the state of tune did play a roll in reliability. I was just talking to a HD mechanic and he owns a 6.0 Ford. He was telling me that most of the problems he saw on the job were because of higher than normal injector pressures. The heads on the 6.0 should of had more mounting studs (in his opinion). He also ran into similar problems with some of the Cummins engines. The return lines on the 6.0's were too small at first and that lead to turbo problems. He also said that he saw similar problems as well on some of the Cummins engines.

@ Shop cat - The same HD mechanic mentioned the fact that you had to raise the cab to work on the PoerStroke. He felt it wasn't a big deal. Most of the work could be done with a 4x4 inserted between the mounts and the frame. That would give you the room to do virtually all the work you needed without pulling the cab.

@Mike L,Nice review,again something different,keep up the good work.

@Lou,most mechanics charge you for lifting the cab on a ford,very costly !! For that reason I drive a Dodge 4500 and love it !! Lower maint costs,better reliability,better ride,better looking !

@Not A Liberal !! - I'm not making excuses for Ford. Just posting the conversation I had with a HD mechanic. No-one works for free.
I have talked to several guys with Ram diesel pickups that have had many problems with front ends. That would be with a 2004, a 2006, and a 2010 3500 HD ram. The guy with the 2010 also had trannny issues. He got frustrated and traded it off on a 2011 Ram and so far no problems. The guy with the 2004 and 2008 bought a Tundra. He had it for 2 years trouble free. He puts a minimum of 80,000 miles in 2 years. He just traded the Tundra on a 3/4 ton Chevy because he needed a 3/4 ton. My brother has driven all brands. He gets a new company truck every time the clock hits 60,000 miles (1 1/2 to 3 years). The Rams have had their share of front end issues. The Chevy's have had reasonably good drivetrains, but the body and interior look like hell after 6 months. He has had fender mounts crack and break. The Fords have been decent. With no particular problem that was a consistent issue.

@Lou,

Never said you were making excuses for Ford.

For myself it cost me big money when my Ford needed work,and my Ford Diesel was a rolling disaster,I now know after owning a trouble free Ram.As for the bad front ends on Ram's it depends on how rough they drive the Ram,I never had front end issues on my Ram's.I had Ford's and Dodge's for years,Dodge's I found were more reliable. I surpassed 150,000 on my Ram 4500 with no problems,solid front end,good tranny ,still looks like new in/out,cold a/c ect..ect..

I talked to many people with Ram's they were all happy,my buddy had a Tundra and ball joints are shot twice in 40,000 miles.My brother owns a 03 Ram 1500 and never had a problem,just the rotors when it was newer,not a problem since the dealer replaced them years ago under warranty.

My personal 2004 F-150 had the famous head problems issue Ford has and piston slap when cold,all under 80k,too bad I decided to change the plugs,it ran great before and after the fix ,besides the annoying cold morning piston slapping,Ford said it was normal.I had a 98 f-150 it had the bad Ford truck auto transmissions of the 90's,replaced trans at 55k,then the trottle body is also a Ford weakness,stalled when cold and hard to start.Before that,I had a 1995 Dodge 2500 it also had a bad rear end around 70k ,the truck was totalled a year later but it had no other problems,I bought the 98 Ford as people said only Dodge had bad transmissions,they were wrong (as usual) The 2002 F-350 was not so good,front end lasted 120,000 miles then the tranny at 140,000 miles.For some reason the 2nd lasted until 550,000 ! And I had a new rear end,front end,heater core,drivers door hinges,wiper motor,starter x 2,drive shaft,front wheel beerings,passenger manual window mechanism failed ,transmission housing cracked at 550,000 then I sold it.I bought a Dodge after that and it needed nothing but Diesel fuel after 150,000 miles strong and trouble free !!

I also recently purchased a 2011 Ram 1500 hemi and its perfect as it should be,my wife had a Durango since 1999 and it still runs perfect today 150,000 miles no front end or tranny issues,only minor general maint repairs,she is either getting a new Durango or Grand Cherokee.We also have a 05 Mustang conv 55,000 miles and it is more reliable than the Ford trucks I have owned,and my diesel Ram still purring like a kitten ! if they made a Challenger rag top we would buy one.She had a 99 Miata and it spewed coolant all over the interior when the heater core failed at 3000 miles,wasnt cool at all.

@ Lou and Not a Liberal. My brother in-law is a tech at a GM dealership and says that they are starting to pull the cabs off thier trucks to for the more serious diesel work (of which there is lots). To much hardware under the hoods of the Fords and GMs. He used to work at a Ford dealer so pulling the cab is second nature to him. He also told me that when guys first started doing it, Ford would black list the trucks warrenty if they found out the cab had been lifted off. Techs had to do this in order to make time on the crappy flat rate warrenty jobs. But when the techs sill kept doing it they made it part of the procedure and cut the rates back even more. The 6.7 Ram isn't as nice as the 5.9s were but they are a piece of cake compared to the others. You'd have to pay me double to work on a Ford or GM diesel.

@ Jordan L - have you encountered any trucks coming in for those "mysterious" highway speed shakes and wobbles?
I was talking with a person who's father had a Ram HD 4x4 diesel and had that problem. The local dealership replaced almost everything on the front end but still had problems. He ended up trading it off on a 2011 Ram and so far no problems. It reminded me of the post a while back of a Ram guy with the same problems.
I'd be inclined to buy a Ram if I needed a diesel truck.

@ Lou We have not come across a steering wobble concern that we couldn't repair. In nearly all cases its the steering shock but tire condition/inflation, front alignment, or worn components can cause issues as well.

@ Jordan L - thanks.

With all the effort Chrysler put into rebranding RAM, i wonder why they still have a prominent, red DODGE badge on the engine cover.

Nice work, Mike! Did that thing even FIT in your driveway?

great truck hope your rear window doent explode while driving down the highway unloaded dodge will not cover it under warrenty the state that it is incoclusive why it broke my truck only has 3k on good luck i had non Aaron Davis Shanahans towing sacramento ca

great truck hope your back window doesnt explode while driving down the highway un loaded you will get no help from dodge the will say it is inconclusive great customer service lol

2008 5500 rollback. We have had trouble with the vehicle shaking on the interstate. After checking it out finally we found the new tires just installed was the problem. They were not seated right. Never had the problem before. The tire company checked it out but could not find problem. We thought it was the new tires. But we had another tire installer re-seat all the tires and it fixed it.

2012 dodge 5500 rollback. Having trouble with the alternator not charging and the vehicle cutting off. Been to the dealer under warranty twice. Has not fixed it. Last time dealer said they cannot find anything wrong under warranty. Vehicle charges when it wants too. Any suggestions from anyone. We did re charge the batteries.

Hey every one I need your opinions please the sooner the better . I Am looking to buy a 2011 RAM 5500 ST/SLT
CONVENTIONAL CAB
6.7L I6 F OHV 24V
DIESEL
REAR WHEEL DRIVE

Which a guy who bought it brand new is selling down by me due to family emergency I own a buissnes ( Usef Car Dealer ) I live in New Jersey so Obviously the weather isn’t the best here during the winter I am looking to use this truck all year around .unfortantly at the moment I don’t know much about them so I am in need of ur help , The Truck he is selling has 80k and to be honest looks as if it’s Brand New I have not seen a scratch even which is very weird because it’s a work truck . Now this is my question is rear wheel drive safe ? And is manual better then Auto when it comes down to the

Sorry I am continuing my post , so as I was saying the manual Vs the Automatic? What is better for the 2011 RAM 5500 ST/SLT Fladbed. Please and the fair value I should pay for this truck any one with answers that can guide me and help me I will be very appreciative. Thank you so much



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