Don't Be Sheepish: Upgrading a Late-Model Ram for Tow and Go
It's no secret that most modifications we make to our vehicles involve compromises. Whether you want your drift car to have 60 degrees of steering or your Wrangler to blast over whoops at 60 mph, there are going to be some trade-offs in regards to how your vehicle handles normal driving duties. We own plenty of vehicles that fall into these categories and have no regrets over the modifications we've made to our purpose-built vehicles. Everyone needs at least one vehicle in the stable, though, that you can reliably drive across the country or use to take your mom to brunch without getting grease on her dress.
For us, that vehicle is this 2014 Ram 3500 Laramie. The truck has leather, heated seats and enough torque to pull all of our toys to King of The Hammers or Formula Drift. As great as the truck is, there was still room for improvement, particularly when the trailer isn’t hooked up to the back. We wanted a better ride, increased traction and more aggressive looks, but we didn’t want the Ram to head down the path of our purpose-built vehicles.
In other words, we didn’t want to make any compromises. And unlike most Ram owners, we weren’t looking to add any additional lift to the truck. The truck is already tall enough from the factory to fit 35-inch tires, and our dear ma has a tough enough time getting into the truck to go to brunch as it is.
We would love to tell you how to accomplish all of this on the cheap, but budget is one place that we were willing to compromise to get what we wanted. After being underwhelmed with cheap products that were too good to be true and having to redo too many projects, we live by the words “buy once, cry once.” This mantra and a considerable amount of research led us to select premium components from Fox, Thuren and Nitto. The Thuren coil springs we chose are only half an inch taller than our factory springs, but the spring rate is 27 percent lower, resulting in a smoother ride.
Lowering the spring rate can create as many problems as it solves, however, particularly with a heavy Cummins engine. We offset the lower spring rate with increased shock damping from 2.5-inch Factory Series Fox shocks to keep our Ram from slamming into the bump stops. Big shocks are one of the components that we like to add to every vehicle we own. They aren’t cheap, but they are something that you don’t have to go off-road to appreciate; you can feel the difference in every mile you drive regardless of the road surface.
The final touch was a set of 295/70R18 Nitto Ridge Grappler tires. This size is approximately one inch taller than the factory tires, filling the large wheelwells of our Ram. The tires aren’t such a departure from the factory size, though, that we needed to purchase new rims or re-gear our differentials. And the Ridge Grapplers are Load Range E, rated to carry 4,080 pounds each at the maximum inflation pressure of 80 psi, so there was no loss in load or towing capacity.
If we're being honest, looks were a factor in our tire decision as well. The Ridge Grapplers look far more aggressive than stock, but even our mother commented on how quiet they are on the way to brunch. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement, we don’t know what is.
The Fox Factory Series front shocks are considerably larger than the factory shocks. The larger size allows for increased fluid to keep the shocks cool, and a physically larger shock piston that can do a better job of controlling the weight of our heavy Cummins-powered Ram.
The Fox shocks are labeled right and left for the front of the truck and are valved specifically for the weight on each side of the truck. They still use pin tops for an easy bolt-on mounting procedure that can be done at home in the driveway.
We found it easiest to place jack stands under the frame and then put the jack under the axle to raise and lower it in order to remove and install the suspension components. Disconnecting the sway bar allowed the axle to swing out of the way.
Thuren Fabrication offers their linear rate coils springs in a variety of heights, including a half-inch lift height for the front of our Ram 3500. While the lift is minimal, the spring rate is 26 percent softer than stock for an improved ride.
We had to drill holes into the upper coil mount to position the reservoirs for the front shocks. Fox includes detailed instructions and photos for this process, which made it much easier. We mocked up the reservoirs and then marked them before drilling.
Once the holes were drilled, the reservoir mounts are secured with self-tapping screws and then hose clamps are used to hold the reservoirs to the mounts. While not as fancy as billet reservoir clamps, these mounts are simple and cost effective.
The 90-degree fittings on the reservoir hose really only allow the reservoir to be installed one way, easing installation. Even with the larger Ridge Grappler tires on factory rims, we did not experience any interference between the tires and the reservoir hoses.
The rear Fox Factory Series shocks use a piggyback reservoir that is attached to the shock body rather than a remote reservoir and a hose. This is just a packaging difference; otherwise, they function the same as the front shocks.
The Fox shock bodies come clearcoated, but so does the paint on your truck. We like to wax both (the shocks and the paint) to keep them looking new.
Fancy foam bump stops are popular with the Ram truck crowd, but they aren’t cheap. We found these foam bumpstops at Summit Racing (PN CWA-52004297) for $25 each. They are made by Crown Automotive for a Jeep, but they work on the back of our Ram truck.
The mounting pattern was different between the bumpstops, but there was enough material that we were able to simply transfer over the bolt pattern from the old bumpstops and drill holes in the new bumps.
There is no comparison in tread depth or traction between the factory tires and the new Nitto Ridge Grapplers. What may surprise you is that despite the aggressive appearance, the Ridge Grapplers are no louder than the original tires and are rated to carry just as much weight.
We choose a 295/70R18 Nitto Ridge Grappler that is approximately one inch wider and one inch taller than the factory tires we replaced. This still allows for fitment on the factory rims with no rubbing, but fills out the wheelwells and gives the truck a more aggressive appearance.
We had Matt Hannink at 4Wheel Parts mount and balance our new Ridge Grapplers. We purchased a matching fifth tire for a spare, and the larger diameter tire barely fit under the truck in the factory location. We don’t think you could get a larger tire under the truck without removing the heat shield for the exhaust.
The Nitto Ridge Grappler provides a lot of biting edges to maximize traction and uses variable lug sizes to minimize noise. The Ridge Grapplers are available in 30 different sizes, and they all benefit from siped lugs that conform to the terrain and provide excellent wet weather traction.
Typically, as tires become larger in diameter and heavier, they require more weight to balance. Our Ridge Grapplers took incredibly little weight, which is a testament to Nitto’s quality control procedures.
After installing all of the new suspension components and mounting the tires, we had 4Wheel Parts perform an alignment with their state-of-the-art Hunter alignment rack. This was a small price to pay to allow our truck to go down the road straight and keep us from burning up our new tires with the incorrect toe measurement.
We successfully accomplished our goal of making our Ram 3500 ride better on the pavement and the dirt with zero drawbacks.