Is the 2013 Ram HD 3500 Half a Semi?

Gooseneck 4 II

By H. Kent Sundling, 

The new 2013 Ram HD 3500 DRW with a towing capacity of 30,000 pounds makes me stop and think about stopping. The HD 3500 jumps towing capacity in the segment by 7,000 pounds or the weight of another pickup truck that you can, theoretically, now carry along.

If this kind of maximum trailer weight becomes the standard, we might need a new non-commercial driver’s license for big trailers. The commercial driver’s license test is certainly good experience, as is the driving test. We’ll assume the new Ram will be able to handle the new load rating the automaker is promoting, but what about the trailer? Semitrailers have been required to have antilock braking systems since 1991. They even have a light on the rear to show officers if the ABS is working.

Semitrailers have powerful air brakes, too. Most trailers towed with pickup trucks nowadays have electric drum brakes without any form of antilock brakes. You won’t find electric drum brakes on any vehicle that hauls passengers; electric brakes are not the best, but they are the least expensive.

Stopping a pickup truck with a 30,000-pound trailer is still the most important problem. Ram’s exhaust brake is good at slowing down a truck, but it’s not as powerful as an engine brake found on semitrailers. Engine brakes, commonly called Jake brakes, work off the rocker arms in the cylinder-block heads that hold the exhaust valve slightly open near the top of the compression stroke to “decompress” a diesel engine. This effectively turns the engine into a giant air compressor. Additionally, Class 8 semitrailers have powerful air brakes.

The next problem is suspension; yes, the new Ram has a beefed-up front and rear suspension setup, but the rear suspension is still a Hotchkiss leaf-spring configuration. Leaf springs squat under load. Imagine a 30,000-pound gooseneck trailer with a 25 percent tongue weight equaling 7,500 pounds.

From zero to 7,500 pounds and mostly on the rear axle, the new Ram’s rear could drop several inches. This affects the headlight angle and, more importantly, the rear differential pinion angle. If the drive train levels out too much, the rear axle can start hopping and the universal joints could pop. A couple of decades ago, semitrailers solved the problem of star-gazing headlights and pinion angle squat with self-leveling airbag suspensions that keep semi’s level when both empty and loaded. Airbags even helped braking, handling and improved the overall ride.

Gooseneck 2 II

The stats on the new 3500 Ram look good on paper:  50,000-PSI high-strength steel frame, improved transfer case, higher-load transmission and an upgraded 6.7-liter Cummins turbo diesel engine with 850 pounds-feet of torque. We like that Ram used the same automatic transmission found on its 4500 and 5500 trucks. With a gross combined weight rating of 37,600 pounds, this new Ram 3500 DRW with a loaded trailer is close to half the total gross weight of a Class 8 over-the-road big-rig tractor-trailer. Semitrailers on public interstates can legally gross 80,000 pounds. The 2013 Ram 3500 dually combined weight is just a hair under half that weight.

We should also note that the Ram HD’s automatic transmission design, which is geared down in the low gears to start under a load without lugging the diesel and axle, is similar to a Peterbilt with full-floating drive axles. It carries weight on the axle housing and not the axle shafts.

But is the new Ram 3500 half as strong as a Peterbilt or Freightliner? Semitrailers can have 24.5-inch steel wheels with air brakes, engine brakes and tandem twin-screw axles. Transmissions can be eight to 18 speeds. Axle ratios are similar, with mostly 3.55:1 and 4.10:1 gears; however, the 850 lb-ft of torque on the Cummins Ram HD versus the 1,200 lb-ft of torque generally found on semitrailers isn’t even close.

However, there may be a case to be made for the new Ram 3500. The brakes on the Ram HD 3500 are 14 inches; on a new Peterbilt, they are 16.6 inches on a front 12,000-pound axle, making the Ram HD brakes larger than half the size. Additionally, tires on the Ram HD 3500 are 10-ply and E-rated; Peterbilt’s are 14-ply and G-rated. And the wheels are more than half the size and strength of a semitrailer. Finally, frames made from 50,000-PSI steel have ratings that are similar, except when considering double-framed tractors.

By certain specs, the new Ram HDs look to be more than half the truck of a Class 8 semi tractor. Of course, we don’t have all the specs on the new Ram 3500 yet but added to my wish list would be a set of upgraded 12-ply (F-rated) tires like the Ram 4500/5500 and a rear airbag suspension, at least as an option.

Gooseneck 3 II


Looks good on paper but just watch what real life has to offer on these fake tow ratings. The manufacturers should start having an independent agency classify these new trucks. The manufacturers will report anything to sell their trucks.

And this is just a cheesy one ton. What can we expect from an aftermarket 5500 Ram or F-550 pick-up? Likely, with a steel bed, they'll have a base crew cab/diesel weight of approx 9,000 lbs. That's still 10,500 payload and makes for, what, a max of 52,500 lbs of (5th wheel) towing? And a GCVR or 61,500 lbs? I hope my math is OFF...

Either way, this is getting out of hand. It still doesn't make sense to have 2 drivers running 2 extreme pick-ups vs. one simi. I mean if the volume is there.

@ ZachB - I agree that most will not tow 30K but some will. It is true that it will make towing a lighter load easier but that is a double edged sword. I've heard of guys tearing up their trailers with the current crop of 800 lb.ft. monsters. All you need to do is get the trailer into some soft ground. These diesel trucks have so much torque than one might not notice that the trailer is in trouble. I've seen and heard of the same thing happening with logging trucks. The trailer bogs down in the mud but the tractor is on firmer ground. The reach twists and/or breaks (beam that connects the tractor to the rear axles) and walks out from under the load.

@Hemi V8
I do agree that what 4 Wheeler did in their offroading is probably more severe than most people will put their own trucks through. Still, I do worry about the overheating problem. My brother works as a Forester and travels around 40,000 miles a year mostly on gravel roads. He has had 1/2 ton pickups that had the shock mounts break off from the frame. It has little to do with bottoming out since the jounce bumpers will usually stop the axle before the shock runs out of travel (Raptor bent frames for HemiV8). What can cause a ton of heat and metal fatigue is very rapid short up and down spikes into the suspension like one gets on a washboard gravel road. Even gravel surfaces smoother than a washboard will cause it. Grab a thin piece of metal and bending a little bit but back and forth as fast as you can. What happens? It gets very hot and then fails. Even gradual undulations in the gravel road will cause heat buildup.
I prefer longer wheelbase trucks on gravel roads because the length helps minimize porpoising. The length also helps reduce the risk of sliding out and loosing control. Example - Raptor tests of the SuperCrew had testers saying it was more stable than the Extended cab.
I do think that air ride is a good idea but I'd rather let someone else do the beta testing. Kudos to Ram for being the first to offer it. The technology exists for manufacturers to offer adjustable suspensions, transmission shift points, and engine performance maps. It should be offered as a choice.

@Mike - The Ram can tow at least 1/2 of what a transport truck can legally haul in the USA but that is the legal set limit not the tractor's set limit. The Canadian limits are higher than the USA road limits. I've seen offhighway loads significantly heavier than on highway loads. The trucks and trailers are the same. Usually, limits are based on the number of wheels/axles under the load.
Permits can be obtained to excede highway limits but excessively heavy loads warp the roads and are hard on bridge structures.
Next time you are at a traffic light on a very hot summer day and a loaded 18 wheeler is next to you, watch the road surface. It will ripple as the truck passes over it.

Very difficult to take the opinion seriously of someone who consistently refers to tractors as "semitrailers."

A semi-trailer is that big empty box, pressurized tube, or flatbed platform where the cargo is placed. It's called a semi-trailer because it only has axles at one end.

The tow-vehicle with the cab, powertrain, and drive axles is called a tractor (or just a truck).

Hope Sundling never tries to submit an article to a real trucking magazine like Road King... the editors there would laugh him into the next state.

@zviera - one of the reasons why I do not like this oneupmanship game is because people will get into trouble. The original F450 and its change to a glorified F350 is a great example. People complained, not about the tow numbers but the fact that it was a heavy truck and due to the tires, it was speed limited to 70 mph.
A truck for heavy towing doesn't need to be super light, actually heavier can be a benefit. Why would anyone in their right mind want to travel faster than 70 mph at max load?

@Lou - One ton pick-ups are doing what only medium duties used to, and with little regard to driver training, commercial licencing or public safety. I haven't noticed a visual ripple effect on the pavement, but sitting in my patio, I do feel a shock wave up to a 100' ahead of loaded simis as they approach on my street.

Cab-n-chassis derived F-450 pick-ups have about zero suspension compliance until nearing the payload limit and that's another thing the general public wasn't expecting. Drive down a perfectly smooth road while holding a half full mug of coffee and you'll be wearing it.

I don't think anyone really intends to use pickups to pulls heavy trailers or loads up to or over 70 mph, but people still want a truck to do up to 80 mph when unloaded and late to a jazz concerto.

The 30,000lb refers to its 5th Wheel towing capacity. Nonetheless all the forums and message boards are saying that new RAM could be an accident waiting to happen. Some sort of graduated License for towing and fairly hefty Motorhomes could be in order.

@Zviera People who are clueless as drivers of RV's are not just a NA phenomenon. We have plenty on our roads,who display some alarming lack of judgement.

@Robert Ryan - Yeah, RVs are disasters waiting to happen, but what's worse is what happens when they hand the keys to 26,000 lbs rental moving (U-Haul, Penski etc) medium duty trucks to anyone with a pulse. And that's not counting the car or truck they're towing...

@zviera: Prove it. If so, then why does the ram always come in third when compared to GM and Ford? And if the have the best engineers as you claim, then why do they outsource the engine to CUMMINS?

For those who say who`s gonna use it shut up please if you don`t need 30,000 pounds tow by a half ton pick up. Stop moaning, it`s too big, some people need that capacity if you don`t buy a Toyorust Tacowimp.

if y judge the picture this truck is beef..the problem whit some reader they thing ford have a rig but serious puller no is not the case..

Are you writing with a cricket phone??

@Stevadore - Miath's ESL teacher is very proud of him.

@Robert Ryan
Maybe Ram is forcing the issue for regulations and standards. By doing what they are doing.

Speaking of that photo, what ever happened to the comparison of the Class 3 trucks with the Class 5 or 6 truck. I really wanted to see how they all compare.

One other thing that was talked about is mosr class 8 trucks have way more then 1,200 lb-ft of torque you can get them with stadard order engines up to 2,050 ft-lb's

I put a 2013 on order. Fully loaded with the fifthwheel package. I have a 19,000 fifth wheel and having the power and torque to get over grades are the key issue. Not everyone will be hooking up to a 30K trailer, but it's nice to know that I will not be overloaded like I am with my 2011 Ram 3500 Laramie. The Ford and Chevy fans will whine all they want. Even the Fore F450 will not out tow the new Ram 3500 and I paid less money for a new Ram 3500. Now I have to wait because it is a special order and it will not be ready for delivery for 8 weeks. Let the waiting game begiin.

Towing #'s are not a good indicator imo. I think payload #'s are more important.


I have been trying to get somewhat of a netural opinion, preferably FACTS on recently offered HD pick up trucks, but it appears to me that chosing the right vehicle more depends on almost religious-like brand support than objective discussion.

I love RAMs, but "guts and glory" is certainly not anything connected to reason and objectiveness. Same for Ford: "built tough"... That's nonsense marketing blabla...

I am well aware that emotion is one of the greatest sales argumentes, but none of these help me when all I want is a reliable vehicle.

Another issue, certainly, is the fact that obviousely many folks do things with their trucks that shouldn't be done with them.. wondering why they consequently refuse to function properely afterwards. (tug of war... do I need to say more?)

I found the article interesting, despite the fact that there might be points some of us don't agree with....

Ram forever blabla is nothing but... well... blabla...


"is similar to a Peterbilt with full-floating drive axles. It carries weight on the axle housing and not the axle shafts." Almost all 3/4 ton and up trucks since almost forever have used free floating axles.

"however, the 850 lb-ft of torque on the Cummins Ram HD versus the 1,200 lb-ft of torque generally found on semitrailers isn’t even close. "
Half of 1200 is 600, so how can 850 be not even close, when its way more than half of 850, which you were comparing the dodge to half a peterbuilt.

Rams have always been the best in my mind half a semi? Ford isn't near a third of a semi. Chevy is just complete rubbish, why do they make trucks? Old people I guess. Only problem with rams is if you're serious about towing... Your truck will cost you $55000 and that's not cool. But I'm a ride or die ram fan so whatever the cost is what I will pay.
Da da da da da da (Cummins Engine sound)

Can this truck tow 33k lb trailer :yes. But
How long it last : not more than 300-400k miles.
Is it 1/2 a semi : no way

Though semi limited to 80k lb or near 40s tons globally , they can carry much more ,with no modification.
Avrege trq of a semi is 1550, some go to 2050 with little tweek.
One tire of a semi can handle up to 9990 lb ,a humble lp- tire rated to 2800kg. Try to mutiply that with 6 if it is a single axle, or by 8 for tandem.
Most semi truck engine b50 expected to last over a million miles.

Let's now talk about the Ram..nice truck, i would't mind getting one.. Good truck a 1/4 of a semi :)

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