My test truck this month is a 2003 Dodge 2500 4x4 Quad Cab SLT High Output diesel 6-speed manual. Yes it's the 2001 Dodge 1500 body. It just looks bigger. When this new look came out in the Dodge 1500 last year, I was less than thrilled. Now that it's a year older I like it.

Dodge was wise to experiment on the 1/2 ton's and wait on the bread and butter diesel trucks until this year. Dodge kept the bulging fenders, so the original 1994 extreme design that put Dodge trucks back into the race is still evident.

The 2003 Dodge Heavy Duty 2500/3500 truck is totally new from the 2002 model with standard 17 inch wheels. The frame is an all new 4-piece hydroformed boxed tube. The new frame is stiffer than the c-channel rails we are use to. Chevy's Corvette was the first hydroformed frame that I've heard of, and now it's in several GM SUV lines as will as the front section of their trucks. Hydroform is a term for bending and forming the metal with water pressure to make it lighter, stiffer and stronger. The axles have changed from the famous Dana's to American axles used by GM and in 4x4 the new transfer cases are stronger with a new electronic shift option.

The standard box is now 6'3" instead of 6'6" in the short bed with a 8' long bed option. The Cummins diesel is now quieter partly due to pilot injection and high pressure common rail electronic injection all similar to the GM Duramax diesel. An electric solenoid activates the fuel injector. From my first test drive last fall to the one I've just finished pulling a 3 horse Featherlite trailer up Poudre Canyon west of Ft. Collins, I'm impressed with the power, improved ride and dramatically quieter diesel. I squawked the tires in third gear with the 6-speed manual.

The only way you could get the new High Output 5.9L when it first came out was with the 6-speed manual transmission. Now for the first time you can get a High Output diesel with the improved  48RE 4-speed automatic  The Cummins diesel is a $5225 option, tow package $275 and the folding power towing mirrors are just $80. Also new this year, the diesel comes with synthetic oil from the factory, doubling the oil change interval. The radiator, fan, and intercooler are larger this year helping cool the extra horsepower, but the air cleaner is smaller. The truck is actually longer than last year, 2500/3500 but turns about the same. For the first time in about a decade, Dodge is offering the 1-ton (3500) in a single rear wheel version also. The new single rear wheel 3500 has upgraded rear springs over the 2500 but not the same as the 3500 dually.
The H.O. diesel option produces 305 HP with 555 Torque. The standard diesel has 250 HP and 460 Torque. They both sound like a Dodge diesel, only quieter, which is a good. It's quiet enough to hear more turbo whistle. Both new diesels are high-pressure common rail injection. The receiver hitch is now built into the rear bumper and bolts to the end of the new boxed frame. The receiver hitch bolts go through welded tubes in the hydro formed frame to apply pressure to both sides of the boxed frame inside and outside (picture below.)

The bed is also from the 1500 with the rounding floor edges looking very much like the Ford bed. This is the strongest Dodge bed yet. The truck I drove had the standard 3.73 rear axle, up from the 3.54 of prior years with the 4.10 still an option. The 3.73 is a ratio that Dodge has needed. It was just too far between 3.54 and 4.10, so fewer folks will be able to choose the wrong axle for mountain pulling. The 3.73 axle ratio is a good choice for most people. The 4.10 makes sense for the maximum weight trailer used a lot or in the mountains.  Even the steering has been improved, for a faster solid reacting feel. I think this steering improvement will actually be a lasting difference, with the new drag link in the front axle. Underneath the tracking bar looks different with a bushing on each end like what you would see on the rear axle of a SUV with coil springs.  The old model drag link tracking bar, which is an arm that controls side movement with a coil spring axle, had an eyelet at one end and a ball joint at the other end. The ball end would wear and let the truck wander. The new (drag link) tracking bar has an eyelet on both ends. This should prove to stay solid longer.

New Tracking bar (drag link) mounts to the frame under the shock tower and the front axle, has eyelets on each end.

The clutch was very smooth as was the shifting. I only had to think about shifting from 6th to 5th. Not all diesels are easy to shift and this is an improvement, I think because of the wider power band of this models diesel. You have more room in RPM's  to hit the next gear without jerking. This has been my complaint with the in-line 6-cylinder diesel is it's always had a narrower RPM band than the V-8 diesels. So it always felt like you needed to shift again. Now the RPM torque power band starts lower than Ford which has been the low torque leader in diesels. Starting in second was smooth. The natural torque of an inline six cylinder along with the new improved power band makes it a joy pulling a trailer. The max. torque is at 1400 RPM's right off idle! The horsepower max. is at 2900 RPM's.  Cummins added those 400 rpm's at the beginning of the torque band so instead of max torque starting at 1800 rpm it's now 1400 rpm's. 

The rubber lip on the front bumper is good for standing on while inspecting the engine, just don't kick the AC cooler too hard. The fuel filter looks about the same for changing.

Dodge since last year in the Heavy Duties has the largest (13.9") 4-wheel disc brakes in the class. With more power, pulling bigger trailers, better brakes makes sense doesn't it? The rear leaf springs are 3 inches longer on this model. I could tell the difference in the ride. It's  the smoothest so far for a 3/4 ton Dodge. What you will need to watch here is with longer springs comes longer spring travel. So with the heavy overhead campers you may need to ad air bags to the rear axle to lessen the Elvis hip action in side winds. This happed also in the 99 Model Ford Super Duties when they stretched the rear springs for a better ride.

Check with the folks you use to install the bed hitch (ball or fifth-wheel) and your Dodge dealer on what and how to attach your hitch. The frames on the new Dodges are hydroformed all the way. GM trucks are hydroformed in the front section of their 3-peice frame. The 2004 Ford F150 Ford will have a hydroformed frame also. These special frames are not to be drilled or welded on. Not all hide-a-ball hitches will work with the new Dodge frame. Some hitches use large u-bolt brackets. When you buy a new 3/4 ton truck you’ll want to be able to pull with it. Sometimes with a new model it takes the aftermarket manufactures some time to catch up with products. From what I've heard from Dodge is the B&W is the only hitch they authorize so far. Check with your dealer to see which hitch Dodge has authorized lately.

With a short bed you'll want to be especially careful on were you can mount the ball hitch on the hydroformed frame to work with the weight of your trailer and turn and back in tight angled places. The 3 inch shorter short bed for 2003 will take some measuring. This started in the 1500 last year. In a 1/2 ton, a shorter truck is becoming more popular. In the 2500, a short short bed can be a problem pulling a gooseneck with a wide nose. You'll want to measure your trailer from the hitch to the outside and your truck from the back of the cab to were you plan on putting the ball or mini-fifth wheel to know your clearance when backing into tight places.  All this has to considered when installing the hitch on the new frame.

You might need the lift handles to get into the tall Dodge trucks. Or at least you'll need them if you ride with me on test drives up Poudre Canyon!
It's Dodge's turn to increase the power, improve the ride and quiet the engine. If there are no large recalls the first year, we will have a true horse race! The decade of Ford diesels out selling GM and Dodge diesels combined could be nearing an end. Duramax took a bite from both Ford and Dodge. I love choices, and with Dodges reputation for long engine life, choices we have. A lot of the changes remind me of the Duramax, like high pressure common rail, dual stage injection and finally a 3.73 rear axle. Makes you want to get rid of the car and have all trucks! You can never have enough trucks. The dual stage pilot injection did quite down the Cummins dramatically even with the factory standard 4" exhaust!

 The truck was full of gadgets like these adjustable cup holders.
As usual this new Dodge starts fast. Having an electric coil in the intake manifold heating the air at startup eliminates glow plugs. Such a simple idea.
This short bed Quad Cab turns tight and maneuvers the big city parking lots well. I am glad to see the acc. position still on the ignition switch. I got used to that 30 years ago and like to recognize some features when I get into a new truck. Dodge has the largest fuel tanks in a short bed. It's 34 gallon with 35 gallon on a 8 ft. bed.

The cruise control buttons are in the steering wheel similar to Ford which I like, but I wish they lit up at night. I enjoyed the power adjustable pedals (clutch, brake, throttle.)  Dodge is the only one I know of that has them with manual transmissions and automatics. Add those to power seat and tilt wheel and anyone should fit these trucks. And it makes a long drive more comfortable being able to adjust your position a few times. The A-pillar (cab support on each side of the windshield) has more down angle than the previous model, so wearing your dancing sombrero may not fit the new truck, time to get a new shorter brimmed Stetson anyway.

Every truck should have this big arm rest. foldable gates on the inside with a 12v outlet and a large working space on top, good for writing notes. This model had comfortable cloth wide seats for wide test drivers.

Back in the early nineties, the 12 valve Dodge diesels were the kings of truck fuel economy. 18 to 20 mph seemed a common event. Then the more powerful  noisy 24 valves from Dodge were introduced in the late nineties and fuel consumption went up. I was glad to see the dramatic improvement this year in quieting down the Dodges new 24 valve common rail diesels and fuel economy is back. With the truck empty cruising down the highway I got 19 mpg. Pulling an empty 3 horse trailer up the mountains it ranged from 11.7 to 14.5 mpg. It's not my truck so you know I didn't baby it to improve mileage. With 2808 miles, the Dodge was ready to haul a trailer the way I drive. This truck shows it's torque every time you step on the pedal. Though I was only pulling a 1/4 of the trucks capacity, it was evident that the truck wanted more work.

Most of the time cruising down the highway I was running at 2000 rpm's. Which is slower than what the GM Duramax or the new Ford 6.0L Power Stroke cruise at. And even with the engine running 500 rpm's slower than the competition, this Dodge diesel still has the vibration in the steering wheel telling you it's a diesel. The hydroformed frame stiffened the chassis which did help lessen the flexing and vibration from the body giving the truck more structural integrity, a big improvement over previous Dodge trucks.

The power trailer mirrors pleasantly surprised me. My experience with a single arm mirror in the past is shaky. But when you fold this mirror out the rear vision is great, I had no problem seeing around the 7 ft. Featherlite and the mirror was very stable even over 75 mph. These mirrors both have spotter mirrors which you need in multi-lane traffic and were I drove in the Colorado Rockies. Driving up Poudre Canyon on Highway 14 west of Ft. Collins. did get the mirrors close to the rocks as that road is straight up on the mountain side and straight down on the river side. These are real hairpin curves, that the Dodge handles well with little lean, demonstrating it's improvements from the ground up.

The rear seat folds up with some storage underneath and an optional steel shelf folds out from underneath the seat.

The rear doors open straight out 85 degrees, makes the Chinese fire drill a snap.
This is the receiver hitch bolted through the rear of the frame to apply pressure to both sides of the square tubing hydroformed frame. This is one of the pipes welded inside the hydroformed frame where the bolts go through for the receiver hitch. Everything is welded on the new hydro formed frame. Including axles. You can void the warranty if you weld or drill holes in the frame. The earlier owners manuals left that out. So see your dealer for the latest info from Dodge. Another picture of how the rear bumper and receiver are attached to the hydroformed frame. With this new frame, you are going to need a factory receiver hitch to be attached  properly.
This is the new way the receiver hitch is attached to the frame and next door is the old way. This is the way we are used to attaching the receiver hitch to a truck frame. Yes it's a Dodge, compare the two receivers. The pre-launch version of the all new common rail Cummins diesel had more clutter under the oil filter. This production model was very accessible to the oil filter. A few decades of changing oil might cause deterioration on the ac compressor and wiring harness. Is there enough wires hooked to the battery? I'd use a Optima battery so you don't have corrosion with all those wires on one terminal.
Rubber on the front bumper makes climbing up to check the oil easier, just don't kick the radiator fins too often.
You can reach the fuel filter, you need to drain the water with the valve on the side anyway. 4" exhaust from the factory.
Here is the engine control brain, all those wires, some for the solenoids that fire the injectors.
Here's a cutout of the internal oil cooler. This shows the high pressure common rail coming into the injector from the side with the electronic solenoid on top the injector. Here is what the wastegate looks like inside the turbo, to dump extra exhaust the turbo can't use. The engine timing gears, wish gas engines had them.

I remember Featherlite trailers, the aluminum pioneers back in 1973, they amazed me in high school as I looked at the ads in Successful Farming magazine and once in a while would see one in Colorado. They were ahead of their time, and now are the most copied trailer with aluminum a popular choice in horse trailers. This 2003 model 9408 Featherlite 3 horse slant with dressing room is a well balanced bumper pull (tag-along). A new beige color this year. 7 ft. wide, 7 ft. high inside, and the box is 17 ft long. 42' stall width with a vent above each stall and screened windows on each side per stall. I liked the front diamond deck plate protecting the aerodynamic nose. No mater how good your mud flaps are, some rocks will get threw to the trailer nose. The roof had a new riveting system to prevent leaks on the edges. The floor was aluminum with a thick rubber pad. The walls also had the protective rubber pad attached to them.
On this Featherlite model below, the center post, comes out quickly as the rear tack wall folds to the side so you can haul your 4-wheeler, hay and your brother in-laws furniture when the horses are home.
New patented slam latches have key locks, saddles aren't cheap and padlocks are a pain.
Screen door on dressing room, with two windows inside with screens. This trailer has 10 windows on it. Their should be no problem getting circulation.
This is a well thought out trailer backed by one of the pioneers in horse trailers. From what I've seen you can get parts and help from Featherlite on 30 year old trailers. Not many companies can say that. That kind of support tells you something about future resell value! It should out last a few trucks.
Sharp looking trailer for decades!
Well made corners. The dressing room has 2 windows with screens like the door. Heavy duty aluminum floor with a thick rubber mat on floor and walls. Even screened windows in the rear doors. Ten windows will be a breeze on those hot summer days.
Look at the diamond deck plate protecting the trailer, it's sharp and shiny.
I've seen spy pictures of the new in the future Dodge 4500 cab and chassis with the Mercedes 7.3 inline 6 cylinder diesel. The Cummins contract with Dodge goes to 2007, what do you think's going to happen?

Soon I'll have the Dodge Hemi test drive and Hummer 2. Can it pull a trailer?
Come visit me at, a special thanks to Robert Lilly with Business Link Fleet Services, DaimlerChrysler for the use of the truck and Max-Air Trailers  in Ft. Collins for the Featherlite trailer.

Till next time, Good Truck'n.
Kent Sundling (MrTruck)

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