Since Dodge introduced the Ram series of trucks in the 1980s, it has been one of the most popular options for consumers on the market. In 1994, Dodge brought out the first Ram 1500 variant. Since then, the 1500 has made a name for itself as a dependable and award winning truck. While most of them have been solid, a few of them have been less than desirable. So, what are the best and worst years for Dodge Ram 1500 trucks? Previously, we looked at the best and worst years of the Ford F-150, but now we’re talking about Dodges.
While the answer is debatable, we’re gonna lend our years of Ram 1500 experience to come to a conclusion. There have been some standout years from Dodge, and there have also been some problem filled and highly maligned years. We’re gonna break down the best and worst years for Dodge Ram 1500 trucks by looking at their associated problems, associated strengths, reviews, and most importantly, engine options.
Best and worst years for Dodge Ram 1500 trucks: History
Before we go any further, we’ll acknowledge that this is a very controversial subject. During our research, we constantly found contradicting opinions, with people swearing that the same year and trim level were alternatively the best and worst years for Dodge Ram 1500 trucks. So with that in mind, let’s start by looking at the entire history of the Dodge Rams.
The First and Second Generation Ram 1500
Dodge first debuted their line of Ram pickup trucks in 1981. They had the 150 (½ ton), 250 (¾ ton), and 350 (1 ton) models. They came in either standard, “club” (extended), or crew cab configurations. Dodge used large amounts of sheet metal in the early Rams, making them distinctive and better able to mitigate rust. They were basically updated and facelifted versions of the Dodge D-series trucks that had first come out in the early-’70s.
The second generation of the Dodge Ram came out in 1994 and lasted until 2001. It was during this generation that Dodge retired the 150 badge and upgraded it to the Ram 1500. It was immediately named the Motor Trend Truck of the Year, and was a huge hit in its first year. With the Ram 1500, you could have either the standard or extended club cabs, and either a short or long-bed.
The second generation Ram 1500 had three engine options: two V8s and a smaller V6. Power ranged from 175 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque with the Magnum V6, to a maximum of 245 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque with the 5.9 L Magnum V8. There was also a much larger V10 making 300 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, and a Cummins turbo-diesel that made as much as 505 lb-ft of torque. However, those were only available in the larger ¾ or 1 ton truck models.
The Third, Fourth, and Fifth Generation Ram 1500
In 2002, Dodge introduced the third generation of the Ram series, and it lasted until 2008. The third generation was once again a complete redesign of the Ram. New for 2002 was an independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering. There were four engine options for the third generation; a 3.7L Magnum V6, 4.7L Magnum V8, 5.9L Magnum V8, or a 5.7L HEMI V8. The most powerful was the HEMI, clocking in at 245 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque.
The fourth generation came out for the 2009 model year, and lasted until 2018. Starting in 2012, Ram became its own brand, separate from Dodge. The fifth generation debuted in 2019 and is the current generation. The fifth generation is available with three engines, the gasoline 3.6L Pentastar V6 and 5.7L HEMI V8, and for now the EcoDiesel 3.6L V6. Both the gasoline engines are supplemented with a 48 volt hybrid-system. All Ram 1500s have an optional air ride suspension system, which has adjustable ride height and boasts outstanding performance.
There have also been a few special editions of the Ram 1500, including the Ram 1500 PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) and 1500 TRX. The PHEV was a relatively short run starting in 2011, that had a 5.7L HEMI V8 supplemented with a 12.9 kWh 335V lithium-ion battery. The 1500 TRX makes 702 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque through a 6.2L supercharged HEMI V8. It is meant as a rugged off-road beast, and boy does it excel.
Best and Worst Years for Ram 1500 trucks
Now that we have covered some of the basics about the Dodge Ram 1500 over the years, let’s get into the best and worst years for Dodge Ram 1500 trucks.
When trying to determine the best years of the Ram 1500, we took a number of things into consideration. First and foremost is the engine. No matter what else a truck has, it absolutely needs to have a strong and reliable power plant guiding it. And we’re not just talking about peak horsepower numbers, but also towing capacity and most importantly the size of the torque-power band. If you want a good truck you need lots of good low-end torque, or you’ll struggle to get going.
After looking at the total engine and the towing capabilities, we focused on aesthetics, interior quality, suspension and transmission considerations, electronics and overall reliability. While it wasn’t necessary for older Rams to have nice displays and infotainment systems, as the market has matured so have the Ram’s competition, making it fair game now.
Best Years for Dodge Ram 1500
The best years for the Dodge Ram 1500 are 1994–1999, 2013–2014, and 2017+. When talking about the Ram 1500, the general consensus is that the later the better. The early years of the Ram left a lot to be desired in the 1980s and early 1990s. It really wasn’t until the second generation Ram that Dodge started to create some decent trucks, and there were still some significant hurdles in the following years.
Starting with the 1994–1999 Dodge Rams, these are generally considered pretty reliable. The 1994 Ram won Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year award, and these were a big step up from the first generation. While they didn’t have the best power plant, with the 5.9 Magnum V8 having lots of problems, overall the Rams did quite well for themselves.
The third generation had a lot of issues in the early years, and it wasn’t until 2013–2014 that Dodge produced some reliable Rams again. Both the 2013 Ram 1500 and 2014 Ram 1500 won Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year award. Coming off the disastrous 2012 model year, the newer Rams looked very formidable. The 2014 Ram did get the EcoDiesel, which is notorious for problems, but the 5.7 HEMI is a fantastic engine.
Dodge started putting the 5.7 HEMI in the Ram 1500 in 2003, and it has been by far the best power plant for the truck. It produces fantastic performance and has great reliability, despite a few common 5.7 HEMI problems.
Since 2017, the Dodge Ram should be considered a very reliable truck. It boasts great reviews, an outstanding power train, and has won multiple awards. Motor Trend ranked the 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 as the Truck of the Year, and 2020’s award went to slightly larger Ram Heavy Duty.
Single Best Years For the Ram 1500
For most people, the single best years for the Ram 1500 are the 2017+ trucks. The main power plant is the outstanding 5.7L HEMI V8, which pumps out 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. There have not been many recalls on them, and reviews have really praised the towing and performance from the HEMI. The aesthetics around the newer Rams are also very nice, with a revised and aggressive grill and optional hood vents (depending on engine). Optional is an air ride suspension, which is by far the best suspension the Ram has ever even sniffed.
In addition, even the interiors and infotainment systems on the 2017 and Fifth Generation Ram 1500s are formidable. While earlier years may have skimped on things, the newer versions are much more complete. Depending on which version of the Uconnect system you get, the touch screen can get up to 8.4-inch with a high-resolution display. The 2018 Ram actually was featured on Ward’s 10 best interiors, showing how far it has come.
While no vehicle is perfect, and the fifth generation of the Ram has had some problems, overall they are very reliable trucks. These aren’t your 1980s D series or first generation Rams. The 2020 year has been singled out in particular as being ultra reliable so far.
Ram 1500 Years to Avoid
The years to avoid for the Ram 1500 are 1999–2003, 2010–2012, and 2015–2016. The biggest problems with the late-’90s and early-’00s Rams was the interiors and engines. The dashboards were prone to cracking and breaking, and there were also lots of issues with minor things like lights and windows. These were also the years of the 5.9L Magnum V8, before the 5.7L HEMI V8 was introduced in 2003.
Other issues with early Rams were related to the transmissions, spark plugs, and air conditioning. Transmissions would have trouble shifting and catching gears, and some would fail completely. The majority of the third generation was relatively unspectacular, though they weren’t prone to many problems.
From 2010–2012, the Ram once again received lots of poor reviews and had lots of complaints. The TIPM (totally integrated power module) system was constantly subject to issue and was the number one complaint. There were also issues with the lifters in the valve train wearing out, sometimes leading to serious camshaft problems. There were also lots of problems with electrical systems and lights – again, partly from the TIPM system. Another complaint with these models was the relatively poor gas mileage.
The 2015–2016 Ram 1500s are also prone to complaints. Much of this had to do with the introduction of the EcoDiesel V6, which is one of the more maligned Dodge engines. Both years had more than 10 recalls each, and the infotainment, electrical, and GPS systems were the biggest issues.
Best and Worst Years for Ram 1500 Summary
Since its debut, the Dodge Ram 1500 has been a very popular and (sometimes) reliable truck for the American market. We’d suggest going with the 1994–1999, 2013–2014, and 2017+, with the 2017+ being by far the most reliable. Granted, there hasn’t been a ton of time to find all of the kinks as they are still pretty new. But, so far they have shown to be top notch choices. The power train is phenomenal, as is the new optional air ride suspension, as well as the infotainment system.
As far as Dodge Ram 1500 duds, we’d recommend staying away from the 1999–2003, 2010–2012, and 2015–2016. From cracking dashboards to faulty transmissions, engines, and electrical systems, these years were constantly prone to issues. While some people have had minimal problems these years, they’re widely regarded as the worst of the worst.
Do you have a Dodge Ram 1500 on our best or worst years list? Let us know where you think your Ram 1500 fits on the list!