Say Hello To Our New-To-Us Tow Vehicle

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Our New Rig - 2018 Dodge RAM 3500 | Tracy Marie Lewis |

This article will be a long one because I want to start at the beginning.

When we made the decision to sell everything and RV travel full time, the biggest decision of all was: what type and size of RV will we travel in?  At this point we had owned two motorhomes and one travel trailer. All three were very small with no slides. The motorhomes were setup to tow either a horse trailer or a vehicle. We traveled as far as Colorado with this setup and our usage averaged 40 nights per year because I hauled to horse shows a couple of weekends a month from April through October.

The small travel trailer replaced our second motorhome and it was the intent to use it until our retirement which was going to be when we turned 55.

But our health issues made us rethink our plans.  We determined a budget first, then considered a short class A or C motorhome with a tow car, or we could go big with the extra space a fifth wheel provides. Travel trailers never really came up as an option, they don't tow as well and have storage similar to a motorhome. Though I already owned a 3/4 ton truck, that particular truck would not be our tow vehicle because it was quite old, 2wd and got terrible gas mileage.

In the end we settled on a 34' fifth wheel, bought it, and then had to scramble to find a truck. My years of towing where I was at maximum weight going over passes made me want a one ton older truck for around 30k. 

Hub agreed as he also was tired of struggling up and down big passes. It was March 2016 when we drove from dealer to dealer, sitting in the three major one ton truck brands. I'd already owned two Dodge Ram trucks, a 1500 and 2500. I'd driven them as my daily driver for 15 years. I like Ram trucks and had very little mechanical issues with them.  Surprisingly after sitting in Ford, Chevy/GMC and Ram, hub agreed that the Ram was most comfortable for him. With that decided we started the hunt in earnest and there was little inventory to be found.

Hub and I did our own research and then we debated, finally deciding on going really big, with a dual wheel (DRW) one ton. In our travels to find a fifth wheel we visited the local RV dealer who we had many transactions with and they happened to have a 2004 Dodge Ram 3500 DRW for sale. Ironically it was priced right at our budget. Hub test drove a 2012 version which was over our budget, then we went to test drive the 2004. We chose the 2004 figuring we could use it a few years and still get a good chunk of money out of it should we decide either not to travel, or to go all in and get something much newer.

Fast forward to today, three years and five months later. We've put 50k miles on that truck. It has served us well, but it lacks key features we feel would make our travel time more pleasurable. It lacks an exhaust brake, much more powerful engine and a super beefy transmission. The transmission is a 4 speed where newer trucks are 6 speed (Note: this is a HUGE difference). We really want to get up to Alaska while we are here in the pacific northwest and hub insisted on a newer truck before he was willing to make that journey.

We both believe at this point that we will be travelling many more years and want a ten year truck. Hub spent hours researching Dodge Ram 3500 DRW years, options, etc. and he provided me with a list of must haves which were:

  • Aisin transmission (uncommon option, pricing is about 2k more than the 68RFE)
  • Black, Gray or Brown (we were on the fence with White)
  • Air ride suspension (very difficult to find)
  • Laramie or better (common, but then we upped our game to Longhorn or Limited only)
  • Cargo camera (if the fifth wheel tow prep then this was a given)
  • 4.10 rear end for max tow rating - surprisingly hard to find. One in four had this, other more common rear ends include 3.42 and 3.73
  • Fifth wheel tow prep (I'd say about half with the Aisin came with this)
  • no older than 2014 (the year the air ride suspension/fifth wheel package came out)

We drive 15k miles per year and realistically a diesel will last 300k+ miles no problem, however there is still the maintenance of those systems that we've already dealt with on our 2004. I determined to eliminate 2014, 2015 as most of them have 75k + miles and my ten year strategy called for low, low miles.

2016 to 2018 pricing wasnt that much higher than a low mile 2014-15. This resulted in even less inventory to choose from. 

The best search engines for what we wanted ended up being CarGurus and Carmax, I used a few tricks like keyword strings such as -mega (removes megacab shortbed) and +drw (dual wheel drive) be sure to use these and any other specific terms, minus removes it and plus adds it. Autotrader and Craigslist were not helpful, with limited sorting, very little inventory and weak search options.

Early on I found the perfect Brown 2018 with 19k miles through Carmax and sent the info to hub. He said he could not get past the cream leather seats.

2018 Dodge Ram 3500 - Cream Seats | Tracy Marie Lewis |

We then discovered that most of these trucks have the cream seats, yes, even the black ones. On CarGurus which had the best inventory, I found four total trucks that met our criteria, but they were in states like Texas, Colorado, Tennessee and two of them had the cream seats. We did not intend to travel east of Texas for a truck. My plan was to fly hub there and he would drive it home. 

I liked the concept of Carmax.  Their unique buying process includes a shipping option where the shipping rate varies depending on where it was coming from. To have it shipped to us would allow a more thorough purchasing decision without the stress of rushing to decide which would be totally up to hub if he flew to any other location. Reading the details of what Carmax offered made buying from them very desirable. Here's what they offer to buyers:

  • No haggle pricing (this is firm, you have to watch for a particular vehicle's price to go down before you buy, its the waiting game - which I am not good at)
  • Seven day return for ANY reason - 100% money back (less any shipping fees)
  • 90 day/4k miles bumper to bumper warranty
  • No manual? you buy and give them the receipt and they will reimburse you.
  • Free Autocheck history
  • Full inspection down to measuring tire tread.

The second very important tool I learned about while researching Ram shopping is that there is a web "servlet" that understands the VIN and spits out a PDF of every option that shipped with the vehicle. This is the URL - It has our truck's VIN, replace it with any other VIN and reload the page. I didn't even read a dealer's description, I looked up probably 100 VINs. I highly recommend it be used for any Ram truck shopping. -> VIN specsheet link

Finally, this tip is likely already used by most, but always, always thoroughly analyse the history report. If it isn't available with the details, pay for it. Most dealerships will provide it. We did look at one truck without the report and hub paid the $40 to see the CarFax history. He decided against that vehicle because of the report. 

We fell in love with one truck at Dave Smith Motors (they do not list on any other website, I searched their site every few days), it had a very busy CarFax history, with 14 records and many trips to various dealers across multiple states.  I called every single service center and asked for the report of what was done. Everyone was helpful, I just provided the vin and they either told me what was done and why, or they emailed the details to me. We passed on this particular truck because it was used commercially (though the history stated use was personal) and the driver overloaded the suspension which finally fried the compressor and burst an airbag. It was driven 26k miles in 4 months. So, no thank you. Who knows that damage was done to other systems by repeatedly towing over capacity. Keep in mind that this vehicle with the 4.10 rear end tows 30k!

Finally, after a month of serious shopping,  I saw that brown truck's price drop from 62k to 61k... I resent the details to hub and asked him to seriously consider the cream seats. We could always cover them with something fun like hawaiian theme covers.

He decided we should go for it. On 8/7 I paid for the transer from CA to WA. It was $440. The arrival date was 8/23 but on 8/20 I got the call that it was ready. It was a very hot day, we were playing a round of disc golf but could not focus after that call so we stopped, made an appointment and immediately drove down to Lynnwood. Our salesman was very laid back and had owned a newer 1500 so he was able to show us many of its cool features. Hub test drove it and gave it the green light.

I did ask about the tire tread measurements because two of the tires were new and four had varying amounts of wear with one almost bald. The salesman was stumped, I told him according to the Autocheck report it had been a fleet vehicle. I believe that someone swapped around the tired before selling it. This was the only miss on Carmax and they honored their promise by giving us four new tires, I was only questioning the bald one.

So here's the sweetest part of the deal. We had it shipped with a web price of $60998, but when we test drove it the window sticker said $59998 which of course dropped our final price out the door by 1k. KBB for this configuration is 63k. So for not being able to haggle we ended up with a sweet deal. I should also state that we have paid cash for all our vehicles over the last twenty years. Even if we planned to finance a vehicle (we've always used BECU) we pay cash and then finance the amount we want after the purchase. I think we've financed two cars and one RV in that time, and that was for a specific purpose. Having very little debt in those years, this helped our credit score and gave us low interest cash while we were purchasing rentals. For this purchase we stopped and got a cashier's check on the way to test drive it. We will not be financing it. We are currently debt free and plan to stay that way!

The purchase phase of the transaction was quick and easy. When I handed them the check for the full amount I asked how often people pay for a car with cash and the gal asked, "Pay for the whole vehicle?" of course I laughed and said,"Yes, the whole vehicle". Her response was, "almost never". 

Now I must confess something. When we bought our first trailer, we did NOT buy the extended warranty. Historically we've bought zero warranties. However after our trailer accident we had a bit of a change of heart. We travel all over the US, carry very little tools and though we are DIY capable, there are many RV systems beyond what we can take care of so Hub decided to buy an extended warranty for our current trailer. Carmax has a very reasonable extended warranty and I decided to buy a 5 year 100k warranty with a $50 deductible for $1850. Did we do the right thing? Will we regret in 5 years having spend almost 5k for these warranties? I am not sure, but I can tell you it reduces my stress level knowing I am covered anywhere in the US and Canada. Both the RV and new truck are like big robots with computers managing everything. We will not be fixing things like slides, auto levels, or any of the truck's systems. 

Once the transaction was complete, we had the pleasure of driving both vehicles home in peak traffic. We split the trek, hub driving the new truck from south Lynnwood to his parents. There we swapped vehicles and I drove the new truck the rest of the way home. It was a two hour trek which is amazingly unpleasant. How people can do that twice a day I will never understand.

We've had the new truck few days now and love it. It totally rides like a cadillac and does not sound at all like a diesel. I've made two unexpected discoveries. It is a remote start which I've never had and the wipers are rain sensitive so they come on as needed. The old truck which used to feel like a nice big truck (not luxury by any means) still feels like the big truck that it is. 

Thanks for stopping by, please feel free to leave comments or questions, I am here to help!


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