What to Look Out for When Buying a Used Ram 1500


The Ram 1500 is one of the most popular full-size light-duty pickup trucks in the US, and that’s a big deal as pickup trucks outsell cars and even SUVs in America in most cases these days.

If you’re going to buy a used Ram 1500 there are a lot in the market to choose from, so here’s a guide covering some of what you need to look out for when buying a used Ram 1500.

In this article I’m going to cover:

  • First-generation Ram trucks
  • Second generation Ram 1500
  • Third generation Ram 1500
  • Fourth-generation Ram 1500
  • Fifth-generation Ram 1500
  • How much should you pay for a used Ram 1500?
  • Why is the Ram 1500 so popular?
  • Potential issues to watch out for
  • The competition
  • Should you buy a used Ram 1500?

A Ram truck brand has overtaken the Chevrolet Silverado as the second biggest-selling truck lineup behind the Ford F-Series, but unfortunately, Ram doesn’t separate its truck sales figures into individual models. We’re not sure then just how far the Ram 1500 is behind the Ford F-150 and how far in front of the Chevy Silverado 1500 in terms of sales, but we do know the Ram 1500 sells in huge numbers.

Just like Chevy, Ram calls its full-size, light-duty offering the Ram 1500 to differentiate from the heavy-duty Ram 2500 and 3500 models.

First Generation Ram trucks (1971-1993)

You won’t find a first-generation Ram 1500 because back then the light-duty Ram truck was called the 150 and the heavy-duty models were the 250 and 350. The first examples went on sale in October 1980 and stayed in production until the arrival of an all-new second-generation Ram 1500 in 1994.

First-gen Ram 150 models are pretty old trucks now, so if you’re thinking of buying one of these you will probably be a different sort of buyer to someone looking for a more recent model to use as a work truck.

Like the Chevy C/K trucks of the same period, first-gen Ram 150 models are now likely to be bought and restored as collector trucks or to be completely upgraded as restomods.

You can find these early models in all three body styles of standard (2-door), extended (2-door “Club”) and four-door crew cab, with 6.5-ft and 8-ft bed lengths, and standard, “Utiline” and “Sweptline” box styles.

If you don’t know the exact year of the truck you’re looking at you could easily mistake a first-gen Ram 150 for an earlier Dodge D-Series pickup as the first-gen 150 was effectively a facelifted version of the D-Series.

Club cabs were dropped from production after the 1982 model year, but the tooling was retained and this format was reintroduced to the lineup in 1991. You could also be confused by the reintroduction of the Ram 100 designation for the 1984 model year, but this wasn’t a different truck to the 150; it was actually a trim level replacement for the previous “Miser” designation.

The base slant-6 engine was replaced in 1988 by a more modern fuel-injected 3.9-liter V-6, and electronic fuel injection was also added to the available 5.2-liter V-8 in the same year. Anyone who wants a vintage Ram with a diesel engine will have to look at the 1989 model year for the first-ever examples. This was the first time a Cummings B Series engine was dropped into the Ram pickup, and this first one was a 5.9-liter inline-six.

You can find earlier Ram trucks with a diesel engine, but these were 1978 and 1979 D-Series models with a naturally-aspirated Mitsubishi engine that was rarely ordered by dealers or customers. If you find one of these in good order you really will have something of a rarity on your hands.

Second generation Ram 1500 (1994-2002)

The second-generation is where the Ram 1500 started to look like we expect a half-ton pickup truck to look like today. The design nearly didn’t happen at all though as the original design was actually a pretty mundane and bloated effort that had more than a hint of minivan about it. Thankfully, at the end of what turned out to be a seven-year process, the aggressive, brutish design that shaped the truck markets for decades to come was launched in 1994.

In its first year, the second-generation Ram 1500 was named “1994 Truck of the Year” by Motor Trend, and in its first year on sale, the new Ram more than doubled the annual sales of its predecessor.

From 1998 there was a facelift and several other changes, such as a new “Quad Cab” body style introduced which featured smaller suicide doors situated behind the main doors of the driver and front-seat passenger. 1998 was also the year where the Ram 1500 really started to flirt with sportier, less commercially focused versions aimed towards retail buyers.

If you are interested in a second-gen Ram 1500 I would probably suggest you give it a miss, unless you like working on trucks. Although there are no massive problems other than the transmissions that tended to suck big-time, there are a lot of niggly things that go wrong. The brakes are not the best unless they’ve been replaced, the air-con is unreliable, and don’t be surprised to find yourself having to replace the dash – unless you like a cracked dash of course.

There are also reports of some having issues with a spark igniting fires under the dash, but those with that problem will probably have ended up in wrecking yards long before now.

All-in-all, the second-gen Ram 1500 is a good-looking truck and a great platform for a build.

Third-generation Ram 1500 (2002-2009)

Unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show in 2001 for the 2002 model year, the third-generation Ram 1500 is probably a truck that those looking to buy a pickup on a low budget will be looking at. It’s a long way away from becoming a classic or a model worth of building a restomod from, so you will have to be careful to check that what you have in front of you isn’t going to give you a world of hurt.

With a new frame, new sheet metal, new interiors, a new suspension setup and new engines, this really was a major redesign of the Ram 1500. The old live axles of the four-wheel-drive model were ditched in favor of independent front suspension, although the 2500 and 3500 stayed with the old setup to ensure durability and longevity.

If you want the most up-to-date looking version of the third-generation Ram 1500 you’ll need to be looking for a 2006-2009 model year as the Ram got a notable facelift in 2006. The 2006 model year also saw the introduction of a “Mega Cab” with 22 inches of additional interior space for six people and a 6.25-foot cargo box.

To be honest, the third-gen Ram 1500 doesn’t have the best of reputations. There can be problems with the Multi Displacement System, the limited-slip differential, leaking rack and pinions and ball joints, bouncing or vibrating steering when braking, doors susceptible to wind noise, leaking rear windows, and the 4.7-liter engine is prone to overheating.

Buyers have six different engines to choose between with third-gen models, which are detailed in the table below.

Model YearsEngineHorsepowerMax-Torque
2002-20083.7-liter Magnum V6215 horsepower235 lb.-ft torque
2002-20074.7-liter Magnum V8235 horsepower295 lb.-ft torque
2008-20134.7-liter Magnum V8310 horsepower330 lb.-ft torque
2002-20035.9-liter Magnum V8245 horsepower335 lb.-ft torque
2003-20085.7-liter Hemi V8345 horsepower375 lb.-ft torque

This generation also saw something of an explosion of special edition models, which is a direction Ram continues with to this day.

Special edition third-gen models include:

  • Hemi Sport – 2004 to 2006
  • Dodge Ram SRT 10 – 2004 to 2006
  • Rumble Bee – 2004 to 2005
  • Hemi GTX – 2005 to 2005
  • Daytona – 2005
  • NightRunner – 2006 (limited run of just 400)

Fourth-generation Ram 1500 (2009-2019)

If you’re shopping for a used Ram 1500 and you’re not on the most limited of budgets, and not looking for an old truck to renovate, the fourth-generation is where most of you will be looking. These are great-looking trucks as long as you’re not in the market for something soft and feminine, of course. These are big, brutish and unashamedly macho trucks that really started to push their Chevy and Ford rivals in a serious way.

Unfortunately, they’re not without their own issues to look out for, and one of the most common problem areas is the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM).

Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM)

This isn’t one of those items that are isolated and easily identified as the problem though. A whole host of symptoms can arise due to the failure of the TIPM, but in isolation, most of these symptoms can be due to something else.

If your TIPM is on the way out, the signs can include:

  • Airbags randomly deploying or not deploying at all in a crash
  • Horn going off of its own accord
  • Electric windows not working or operating autonomously
  • Fuel pump continuing to run after the vehicle is shut off
  • The starter can crank but without starting the truck
  • Doors locking and unlocking themselves
  • Coolant fans not working
  • Problems with the ABS braking system
  • Failure of the air conditioning
  • Radio going on and off while driving

Although only the airbag and ABS issues are particularly worrying for vehicle safety, the other problems can make owning and driving the truck less than pleasurable, to say the least. And of course, many of the issues can be individual electrical problems and nothing to do with the TIPM. On the plus side, replacing the TIPM is straightforward and it’s not hugely expensive as it will cost between $300 and $500 for the majority of Ram 1500 models.

Cam and lifter failure

Cam and lifter failure is a much more expensive problem to fix than the TIPM, and it’s also one of the most common issues with the fourth-gen Ram trucks from 2011 onwards. Although all cams wear out eventually and pickup trucks will get more abuse than a car or SUV, but this happens to some Ram trucks well before they’ve done 75,000 miles.

The number 3 or number 2 cylinder misfiring along with the lifters seizing up is the most common set of symptoms of cam and lifter failure. Most of the time, the cam will show signs of premature wear and tear and one or more of the lobes could also be damaged or severely grooved.

Unless your truck is a relatively recent model, this problem could turn out to be prohibitively expensive to fix if you are not covered by some sort of warranty. It’s not out of the ordinary for a bill of $3,500 to fix this issue, and that’s if your shop can even get the necessary parts. The problem has been so widespread that the required parts are sometimes on backorder from FCA.

Bodywork issues

Although a fourth-gen Ram 1500 is a great-looking truck in good condition, they are prone to several body structure issues that really can spoil the aesthetic. Even models from 2017 onwards can suffer from faulty tailgates that fall open, bumper holes that have been made too big, defective paint with bubbling underneath and rust. That’s right; you thought rust was a thing of the past didn’t you?

Various bolts and the bumpers are still prone to premature rusting, and the outer wheelhouse and upper wheel arch area of the bed are also problem areas to look out for. Rust is something you can expect to have to deal with on a first-second or even third-generation Ram 1500, but if you see signs of rust on a fourth-gen model as recent as 2017, that’s really not great.

Both 2012 and 2014 models are prone to transmission problems, and coolant leaks are common problems with 2009 to 2014 model years. If you can avoid some of the issues I’ve just covered, or if the seller can show these problems have rectified, the fourth-gen Ram 1500 is still a seriously good pickup truck.

Fifth-generation Ram 1500 (2019-)

For the 2019 model year, Ram gave us an entirely new fifth-generation of the 1500 that saw the introduction of a mild-hybrid system called eTorque, as well as a new look that hasn’t been to everyone’s taste. It’s now become even more luxurious and better equipped than previous models, but the styling is a lot more anonymous and not as in-your-face macho as previous incarnations.

Buyers now have six Ram 1500 trim levels as well as a special edition or two to choose from such as the Night Edition and Rebel Black. The entry-level model is the utilitarian Tradesman, and then you have the Big Horn, Laramie, Rebel, Laramie Longhorn and the range-topping Limited.

The base engine is a 3.6-liter V-6 with the eTorque mild hybrid system as part of its standard features, and this one now develops 305 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque. Then you have a 5.7-liter V-8 that’s available with or without eTorque, and this one gets you 395 horsepower and 410 lb.-ft. of torque to play with.

Although not available from the launch of the fifth-generation, 2020 models onwards are now available with the much-anticipated 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel that produces 260 horsepower and an impressive 480 lb.-ft. of torque.

All the engine options utilize a standard eight-speed automatic transmission to send the power to the rear wheels, although all engines are also available with the option of four-wheel-drive. When properly configured, the 2020 Ram 1500 is capable of towing up to 12,750 pounds.

Don’t be confused by there being two different versions of the fifth-generation Ram 1500, because there aren’t two different versions. What you do have is the new fifth-gen Ram 1500, and the continuation of production of the fourth-gen 1500 which is now called the Ram 1500 Classic.

How much should you pay for a used Ram 1500?

You can buy a brand new Ram 1500 for just a touch over $32,000, but you can also pay well over $54,000 for a high-spec model before extras. That’s pretty competitive compared to its major rivals, especially if you’re looking for a particularly luxurious and well-equipped model.

Used prices start from an average of just over $4,000 for a decent 1995 model, and you shouldn’t be paying much above $10,000 for a 2008 Ram 1500. You’ll notice quite an uplift in price when you go to the fourth-generation models, with the average price for a 2009 model being around $13,000.

If you are looking for something newer, the 2015 Ram 1500 fetches used prices between $14,117 and $25,588 depending on trim level and mileage, according to USNews.com.

Why is the Ram 1500 so popular?

The Ram 1500 is popular because it does much of what its main rivals do, but it has a distinct style that makes it stand out in a crowd. It also represents pretty good value for money both new and as a used vehicle, although there are those reliability and quality issues to look out for.

If you like your truck to look rough, tough, macho, rugged and uncompromising the Ram 1500 is a great choice, especially the fourth-generation models. Despite the toned-down styling and mild-hybrid technology, the fifth-gen Ram 1500 has been a big hit with both buyers and critics alike, and it’s helped cement Ram’s second place in the sales charts ahead of the Chevy Silverado but still behind the all-conquering Ford F-Series.

Potential issues to watch out for

If you are looking at the first three generations of the Ram 1500 you don’t have much to worry about than you’d have to watch for with any vehicles of a similar age, especially pickup trucks. However, if you are shopping for a fourth-gen model then you really need to look out for all the issues mentioned above.

The best way to avoid getting caught out is to get a model with a full main dealer service history so any issues should have been dealt with by previous owners. Above all, watch out for that cam and lifter problem as it can be financially terminal with some older fourth-gen models, but electrical issues could also signal a need to replace the TIPM module.

The competition

The main alternatives to the Ram 1500 are the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, the GMC Sierra 1500, the Ford F-150, Nissan Titan and the Toyota Tundra. The others are all good trucks, but perhaps only the GMC has a look that sets it apart from current full-size pickup truck styling conventions.

The F-150 is, without doubt, the main rival to consider, but they are ludicrously common as the F-150 is the biggest-selling vehicle of all in America at the moment. The Ford does offer an incredible lineup of engines to choose from and stellar capability, but every other vehicle on the road appears to be an F-150.

Should you buy a used Ram 1500?

Despite their impressive new sales, especially in recent years, the Ram 1500 isn’t perhaps as sought-after a used truck as the Silverado or the F-150. As long as you get a good one though, a Ram 1500 will do all the usual full-size, light-duty truck duties very capably and with no little style into the bargain.

Reliability and durability have been concerns with the fourth-generation, but earlier models could be candidates for restoration and good restomod platforms in years to come if looked after.

You’ll buy a used Ram 1500 if you like the way they look better than you like the styling of the Silverado and F-150, but if you’re buying a truck to do a job you might be tempted to look closer at the Ram’s main rivals. And if durability and staggering resale values are what you’re looking for, you won’t do better than the Toyota Tundra.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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