Product Evaluation: 2006 Dodge Ram 3500 Box-Off

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The ’06 Dodge Ram 3500 Box-Off is intended for a variety of applications, including utility/service, flatbed, stake, landscaping, dry box, aerial, ranching and catering.

Until recently, fleet operators looking for a medium-duty truck to hang a vocational body on had to go somewhere other than Dodge. That’s changed, with the introduction of the Dodge Ram 3500 Box-Off, which provides a platform for a variety of applications, including utility/service, flatbed, stake, landscaping, dry box, aerial, ranching and catering.

For now, the Box-Off is available only in a 4×2 configuration, but regular and quad cab models are offered. GVWR is 11,000 lb., with a payload of 5,550 lb., a GCWR of 23,000 lb. and a towing capacity of up to 16,250 lb. That matches well, our evaluation team said, to Dodge’s standard 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which puts out 345 hp @ 4800 rpm and 375 lb-ft of torque @ 4200 rpm; or the available 5.9-liter Cummins turbo diesel, which serves up 325 hp @ 2900 rpm and a stump-pulling 610 lb-ft of torque at just 1600 rpm.

Transmission choices include a synchronized, 6-speed manual with an extra-low 1st; and a 4-speed automatic, with a converter clutch that can lock-up in 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears. Both gearboxes are Dodge’s own. The whole package rides on 17-inch wheels and tires – duals at the rear – with antilock disc brakes all around.

Because this Ram starts life as a would-be pickup, the frame droops below the cab, explains Mark Wanner, fleet manager for Clear Lake Dodge in Webster, Texas. So it’s not really a chassis-cab in the true sense of the word. But upfitting bodies really isn’t that big of a deal, according to Darryl Jolly, general sales manager for Texas Truck & Body in Alvin, Texas. “We just add some tubing and metal to make pedestals to support the front of the body.”

Apart from its bedless behind, the Box-Off is standard Ram, and evaluators were pleased that Dodge kept what they liked about earlier models – and made some improvements for ’06. “They’ve really cleaned up the engine compartment,” said one. “The turbo (on our test vehicle’s Cummins powerplant) isn’t buried anymore. And the alternator’s easier to reach.” Evaluators also liked the easy-to-reach, inner-fender-mounted, chassis fuse panel; and they also approved of the engine-mounted fan shroud, which, since it moves with the engine, allows for tight fan-tip-to-shroud clearance for better airflow, without the risk of blade impact.

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Evaluators agreed that the newly designed front end – especially with its projector-looking headlights – is a stylish step forward, and they were no less impressed with the interior. “I like the white-faced gauges and clean dash layout,” said one, “and the seats are rich-looking, comfy and supportive – just right.” They also appreciated the abundant storage space, including a handy bin behind the seats in our standard-cab model, suitable for stowing tools, boots and the like. “When you’ve got a work truck, you can never have too much space for tools,” added another. “This is really a plus.”

On the road, the Box-Off continued to impress evaluators, who gave high marks for its supple ride and, especially, its quietness, which Dodge attributes to generous use of sound-deadening materials and improved sealing around the doors and windshield. The team agreed that, from inside the cab, it was almost impossible to tell there was a diesel under the hood. But they could tell there was plenty of power – and response and acceleration, aided by the “really easy to shift” 6-speed, received an A-plus.

So would evaluators change anything about the Box-Off? They agreed that a longer wheelbase would be helpful. Also, “I wish there were a little more front-end ground clearance,” said one. “But these things are really built. We run Dodges – some with hundreds of thousands of miles on them. We tend to overload ’em, but have basically no trouble. They give us the service we need.”

The fleet operator’s opinion
CCJ Product Evaluations are not performed by CCJ editors. They are done by a team of fleet equipment managers, chosen for their experience with the type of product being evaluated. Editors report evaluators’ opinions, not their own. Comments are not attributed directly to specific evaluators to avoid the appearance of individual endorsement or criticism of products.

An evaluation is based on a driving test and design assessment (which sometimes involves some disassembly of the vehicle), followed by a discussion among the evaluators and manufacturer’s representative(s). Manufacturers are given ample opportunity to respond to any criticisms.

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

The Dodge Ram Box-Off team:
Doug Hester, president, Houston Sawing & Drilling, Deer Park, Texas Charlie Orr, president, Gulf Coast Electrical, Houston

Dodge Ram Box-Off specifications
Wheelbase: 160.5 in.
GVWR: 11,000 lb.
GCWR: 23,000 lb.
Payload: 5,550 lb.
Towing cap.: up to 16,250 lb.
Engines: Dodge 5.7-liter Hemi V8, 345 hp @ 4800 rpm, 375 lb-ft torque @ 4200 rpm; Cummins 5.9-liter turbo diesel, 325 hp @ 2900 rpm, 610 lb-ft torque @ 1600 rpm
Transmissions: Dodge 6-speed manual; 4-speed auto
Brakes: Hydraulic 4-wheel disc, ABS
Wheels/tires: 17.5 in.
Fuel tank: 35 gal.