1998 Dodge Ram 2500 - Dirt & Haul: Part 1Posted in Project Vehicles on December 19, 2014
Sometimes you find what you want when you didn’t even know you were looking for it. Such is the case when we stumbled upon this unmolested low-mileage former ranch truck ’98 Quad Cab longbed Dodge 2500 4x4 with a 5.9L 12-valve Cummins diesel while helping some family move. The truck had been parked for a few years and was, while mechanically sound, definitely in need of a little love. Without really knowing what was in front of us at the time we did what we often have done as off-road guys and asked what the story on the old truck was. It turned out that the current owner was a bit upside down in the truck, no longer had a use for it, and was looking to sell. Lucky us! With an NV4500 five-speed transmission, A/C, cloth interior, manual windows, and vinyl floor covering, it’s almost exactly as we would have ordered it if we would have had a chance to buy a truck like this in 1998. In fact, the only option the truck doesn’t have that we wish it did was cruise control. Oh well, it’s hard to complain about a 17-year-old truck that still runs pretty well and is set up as we want it. The best part of the tale is the truck had only 145,000 miles on the odometer, and because we had to wait for a slight title issue to be resolved, we got the truck for a screaming deal. In the end, the waiting was well worth the reward of owning what has been described, to us, as a unicorn of a truck.
What’s our plan? Well, we want a tow rig, but being life-long dirtheads, improving the off-road ride and capabilities of the truck are also paramount. Our hope is to have a dual-purpose tow rig that is also ready for a little mild off-road action including some car camping and overland expeditioning. In this, our first installment of the build, we are going address the suspension. To do this, we drove our new-to-us ’98 Dodge 2500 up to the experts at Diesel Power Products in Spokane Valley, Washington. While there, the crew set to work fine tuning the truck’s stance, ride, and off-road capability with a little help from Carli Suspension, Daystar, PacBrake, Synergy Manufacturing, and Toyo Tires. Next time in Dirt and Haul, Diesel Power Products will tear into our 12-valve Cummins in search of more towing power and efficiency.
With the truck on the Diesel Power Performance rack, the guys got started tearing off the worn-out stock suspension. With a four-link and a track bar up front and heavy-duty rear leaves, Dodges like ours ride pretty well when loaded. With the bed empty, the ride is a bit jarring. Flex is limited off-road, because the suspension is built to carry loads. With the know-how of the guys at Diesel Power Products, we can get a smoother ride and more flex for better performance on- and off-road.
Carli suspension is known for its line of suspension parts delivering high-speed off-road performance and plush on-road manners. Add in some Fox shocks valved to Carli’s specifications and our old farm truck ought to handle like the cowboy Cadillac it is. Here, you can see most of the parts we are going to use to improve the stance and ride of the truck as part of Carli’s Commuter 2.0 system. Carli’s front Multirate coil springs add a little lift to the front while their mild steel arms (our deadlines meant the arms were not powdercoated before they sent them to us) push the front axle forward 1⁄2-inch. Out back, progressive-rate Add-A-Packs keep costs down while improving the flex and ride of the truck.
Cody “Cody Bear” Patton (he’s been with the company since he was just a cub) started pulling the rear suspension of our truck apart to make space for the shiny new Carli parts. First to go were the tired, old original shocks, factory sway bar, and U-bolts. We will re-use the lift blocks, but the overload leaves will be removed and scrapped.
The five-leaf progressive spring Add-A-Pack goes in against the bottom of the three largest leaves of the factory pack. Big C-clamps hold the Add-A-Pack in place until the Grade 8 centerpins supplied with the kit are installed.
Once the Carli zinc-plated U-bolts are installed, Patton bolted on the new rear shocks. Again, these Fox 2.0s have been specially valved by Carli for our model of Dodge truck. This system adds only a nominal amount of suspension lift to the rear of the truck. Also, the Add-A-Packs retain the load capacity while increasing movement and improving the ride.
Next, Mike Kim of Diesel Power Products worked on a set of PacBrake air bags for ’89-’02 5.9L Dodge Cummins 12- or 24-valve trucks (PN PB-HP10019, $308.53). These air bags will help our truck retain its 3⁄4-ton payload capability. Also visible is one of our Daystar Air Bag Cradles (PN DAY-KU09140BK, $79.99). These cradles are key to the suspension functioning properly off-road.
The Daystar Air Bag Cradles cup the bottom of the airbags when the suspension is at ride height. As one side of the rear axle droops when flexing off-road, the air bag can unseat from the Cradle allowing more suspension flex from droop.
Once the airbags and cups were in place, Patton routed the air lines towards the back of the truck. Kim showed us this nifty trick to easily mount the Shrader valves that fill the airbags when we are towing or carrying a heavy load. By drilling out the mounting holes and our license plate, the valves are now our license plate bolts.
With the suspension installation underway, Cooper Rasmussen took us around town in his daily driver/trail rig to run a few errands. The first stop was at Discount Tire to have our old tires dismounted from the forged aluminum ’13 Dodge 2500 wheels our truck is running. It just so happens that these wheels, which are super light and super strong, have just the right backspacing when running larger tires on a second-gen Dodge like ours. Our next stop was the powdercoater where we dropped off the control arms and wheels. Rasmussen has a nice rig, huh? These guys really use their trucks, and that kind of destructive testing helps Diesel Power Products gain firsthand experience when building a customer’s truck.
Back at the Diesel Power Products install shop, our front suspension modification was underway. Once again, Patton begins by tearing the stock components off to make way for the Carli parts. First to come off was the stock sway bar, which we’ll reuse. Next, the old coils, shocks, and control arms came off.
We previously mentioned Carli Suspension’s arms. These arms help push the axle forward a touch, keeping larger-than-stock tires out of the fenders despite the low amount of suspension lift (2.75 inches up front). Besides the 1⁄2-inch axle push, the Carli arms also feature heavy-duty joints that use chromoly ball centers and high-durometer urethane bushings. This increases strength of the front suspension while absorbing harsh hits and allowing more flex.
Once the control arms were bolted in place, the Carli Suspension multi-rate coil springs were placed in their new homes. Also shown mounted here are the specially valved Fox 2.0 shocks and Carli Suspension shock spacers. All these parts add 2.75 inches of suspension lift up front to level the truck.
Also up Diesel Power Product’s sleeve was a Synergy Manufacturing Track Bar Conversion bracket (PN SS-SYN-8554, $175). This allows the use of a newer style (’03-current) track bar. The earlier track bar relies on a weak ball-joint-style frame end that is prone to failure. This setup is much stronger and more reliable.
Kim bolts the newer style track bar in place on the Synergy Manufacturing bracket. Above him you can see another trick part Diesel Power Products recommended for our trail ready tow rig. What you see is a Synergy Manufacturing Steering Box Brace (PN SYN-8557-04, $155) for ’94-’01 Dodge trucks. This part will add service life to our truck by supporting the sector shaft of our power steering box. After adding larger tires to a truck like this and turning the wheel while off-road in ruts and rocks, this part should help distribute the higher-than-stock loads that our truck’s steering will see.
After spending time at the powdercoater, Discount tire mounted up our new Toyo Open Country R/Ts in 35x12.50R17LT flavor. These tires fill the gap between a full-on Mud Terrain tire and a milder all-terrain tire. So far, they have served us flawlessly on-road and off. Look for a full report in the May ’15 issue of Four Wheeler. Our forged Dodge wheels, powdercoated with gold plastic, hearken back to the time of the Golden Eagle package CJ-7s. This probably means that our big ol’ Dodge is now the Golden Condor edition? Cacaw cacaw! Next time, we will spend some time with the guys from Diesel Power Products tuning our 12-valve Cummins.