I chose a Cummins powered Dodge Ram for two main reasons: 1) The legendary reliability of the Cummins engine, and 2) The awesome styling of the Dodge Ram. Really, the Cummins engine was at least 90% of my reason for choosing Dodge. The decision for me in 1998 was between Ford and Dodge, but the new Duramax Diesel GM would warrant consideration if I was making the decision today.
Here's how I evaluated the major attributes of my truck:
Gasoline vs. Diesel
This one was easy. For the weight I am carrying, and the remote locations I'll be traveling, diesel is the obvious choice. With Cummins offices located worldwide, good availability of diesel fuel in remote locations, low maintenance requirement, and high reliability, the Cummins diesel engine was a no brainer. Even Ford offers Cummins engines with their trucks, but you would have to buy a Ford F650 or larger to get a Cummins engine.
Automatic vs. Standard shift
This was also a relatively easy decision for me. An argument can be made that a manual transmission is simpler and more reliable, but I chose the automatic, mainly due to much easier drive-ability on four wheel drive trails. A skilled driver can do quite well with a manual transmission, but I find that I have enough on my mind when driving on four wheel drive trails without having to shift gears. In my opinion, it's much easier to start and drive slowly on four wheel drive trails with the automatic. As far as reliability, see the transmission section for modifications I made to improve transmission reliability.
Short vs. Long Bed
Quad Cab vs. Regular Cab
Bed size and cab type had to be decided together. The difference in length between the longest configuration (quad cab, long box) and shortest configuration (regular cab, short box) is around 6 feet. The longest configuration would be awesome for the ability to carry extra passengers and have a large living space in the camper, but the ability to travel in rough road conditions would be severely limited-not to mention the incredibly large turning radius! The shortest configuration would be great on four wheel drive trails, but would only allow for one passenger and a shorter camper.
I ended up going with the quad cab, short box, so I could carry extra passengers or camera equipment in the cab and still be reasonably capable on four wheel drive trails. The wheelbase is 138 inches, which gives me good approach, departure and break-over angles.
2500 vs. 3500
Dually wheels aren't good for backroad driving, so it was either go with a 2500 or convert the 3500 dual rear wheels to singles. The GVW for the dually is listed at an impressive 10,500 pounds, but the 2500s maximum GVW is 8,800 pounds. Examining the published literature, the 3500 and 2500 HD with the camper package share the same axles, frame, and suspension.
I believe that the load capacity of the factory tires and wheels is probably a large part of the 1,700 pound difference in maximum GVW between the 2500 and 3500 heavy duty Diesel Rams. I have replaced the factory tires and wheels with tires and wheels that have much larger load ratings, so I believe I have a good margin of safety with the GVW of my highly modified rig.
I have replaced the factory suspension with a heavy duty suspension system and modified my braking systems to accommodate heavier loads.
Buying my Truck
I checked all over Colorado looking for a good deal on a new truck, and the dealers simply wouldn't deal. They all wanted at least US$1,500 over invoice. I found Quality Dodge in Salt Lake City on the Internet. I gave them a call, traded a few faxes, and bought my truck sight unseen for US$500 over invoice. I had to fly to Salt Lake City to pick up the truck, and drive it back to Denver, but I would do it again in a minute. They actually gave me an interest rate when I arrived lower than they quoted me over the phone. Great service, great price and an overall good buying experience.
My Dodge Ram Experience
Overall, I've been very pleased with my truck, and have had few problems. The Cummins has proven to be reliable and requires little maintenance, and the performance is good. The ride is comfortable, and the capability on four wheel drive trails is very good for such a large truck.
My complaints center around three areas: 1) The brakes are inadequate, 2) trackbars quickly wear out (at 50,000 miles, I'm on my third track bar) and 3) many of my dealer service experiences have been bad.