The Dodge Ram made its official debut in 1981 as a capable work truck. Initially the nameplate was Ram 150, and only in the second generation (1994) Dodge added the designation ‘1500’. Today, the 2022 Ram 1500 TRX is one of the most capable pickup trucks on the market and comes with a plethora of luxury features in the cab. However, the increasing price of the newer models makes them unavailable to most buyers.
The third-generation Dodge Ram (2002-2008) can be a reliable workhorse for shoppers on a tight budget, as long as you choose the configurations that suit your needs. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the most capable third-generation Dodge Ram 1500 equipment, the most affordable options, and which models offer the most bang for your buck. Today Dodge has transformed the Ram into its own sub-brand as: Ram Trucks who currently build not only the 1500, but also the 2500, 3500 and other commercial vehicles and trucks. However, for the purpose of this article, we will continue to use its former name as the Dodge Ram 1500.
Most Powerful: Opt for the 2008 Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie for Maximum Output
If you want the most power out of a third-generation Ram 1500, the 2008 Laramie trim is the way to go. Powered by a 5.7L V8 Hemi, the 2008 Ram 1500 Laramie has 345 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque, about 40 ponies more than its biggest rival, the 2008 Ford F-150. When configured correctly, the 2008 Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie can tow up to 9,100 pounds, which is enough for a small trailer or a couple of jet skis. According to the Zero60Times website can sprint the 2008 Laramie 4X4 Quad Cab from 0 to 60 in just 7.4 seconds.
Chrysler has paired this truck’s powertrain with a five-speed automatic transmission system that provides a smooth ride. Many praise the half-ton pickup for its sharp steering. But even if you go for the highest finish, the 2008 Ram 1500’s interior feels cheaper than what its rivals have to offer.
Like other American-made vehicles with a powerful V8, this half-ton pickup is hungry for fuel. Based on EPA estimates, the 2008 Ram Laramie with the Hemi engine puts 13 miles to the gallon in the city and 17 miles on the highway (15 MPG combined), comparable to the most powerful V8 in the 2008 Ford F-150.
Most cost-effective: Skip 2002 and 2003 models and go for a 2004 Ram 1500 base model
Although used 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 models are cheaper on the market, it is best to avoid them because of their widespread problems. According to the Car Complaints website, 2002 was the worst year of the Dodge Ram 1500 ever. More than a thousand owners have filed complaints about serious problems, including problems with the engine, suspension and transmission. The same story goes for the 2003 model year. So you can spend a few hundred dollars less on a 2002 or 2003 model, but the risk of expensive overhauls is significantly higher.
That said, your best bet for a budget-friendly Dodge Ram 1500 is the 2004 ST trim. The 3.7L V6 Magnum mounted under the hood of the truck delivers 2015 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque, which is enough for light duty everyday work. The 2004 Ram 1500 ST is equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission system that sends power to the rear wheels. However, 4WD is also available as an option, but is not standard.
Based on the RepairPal website, a 2004 Dodge Ram 1500 costs about $670 to maintain annually, about average for a pickup truck. You can find a used 2004 ST model on the market for well under $10,000. According to Kelley Blue Book, the truck has a typical retail price of $8,825.
Best Value: The 2007 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT is a durable, capable workhorse
2007 was a relatively trouble-free year for the Dodge Ram 1500. If you’re looking for a capable pickup truck for under $20,000, the 2007 Ram 1500 SLT is one of the best options on the used market. A 3.7L V6 comes standard, but the 345 hp V8 engine is also available for this model.
According to several reputable automotive sources, the 2007 Dodge Ram 1500 has no problem getting 250,000 miles on the odometer with the original engine and transmission. However, if you are the third or fourth owner of a car, it is safer to expect major powertrain overhauls around 150,000 miles.
According to JD Power, the 2007 Dodge Ram 1500 gets a reliability score of 79 out of 100, which is reasonable for a large truck but leaves it behind its biggest rivals, the Chevy Silverado and the Ford F-150.