All new 2003 Dodge diesel
2003 Featherlite 3 horse slant bumper pull.
My test truck this month is a 2003 Dodge
2500 4x4 Quad Cab SLT High Output diesel 6-speed manual. Yes it's the 2001 Dodge 1500 body. It just looks
bigger. When this new look came out in the Dodge 1500 last year, I was less
than thrilled. Now that it's a year older I like it. Dodge was wise to
experiment on the 1/2 ton's and wait on the bread and butter diesel trucks
until this year. Dodge kept the bulging fenders, so the original 1994
extreme design that put Dodge trucks back into the race is still evident.
The 2003 Dodge Heavy Duty 2500/3500 truck
is totally new from the 2002 model with standard 17 inch wheels. The frame
is an all new 4-piece hydroformed boxed tube. The new frame is stiffer than
the c-channel rails we are use to. Chevy's Corvette was the first
hydroformed frame that I've heard of, and now it's in several GM SUV lines as
will as the front section of their trucks. Hydroform is a term for bending
and forming the metal with water pressure to make it lighter, stiffer and
stronger. The axles have changed from the famous Dana's to American axles used
by GM and in 4x4 the new transfer cases are stronger with a new electronic
The standard box is now 6'3" instead of
6'6" in the short bed with a 8' long bed option. The Cummins diesel is now
quieter partly due to pilot injection and high pressure common rail
electronic injection all similar to the GM Duramax diesel. An electric
solenoid activates the fuel injector. From my first test drive last fall to
the one I've just finished pulling a 3 horse Featherlite trailer up Poudre
Canyon west of Ft. Collins, I'm impressed with the power, improved ride and
dramatically quieter diesel. I squawked the tires in third gear with the
The only way you could get the new High
Output 5.9L when it first came out was with the 6-speed manual transmission.
Now for the first time you can get a High Output diesel with the improved
48RE 4-speed automatic The Cummins diesel is a $5225 option, tow
package $275 and the folding power towing mirrors are just $80. Also new
this year, the diesel comes with synthetic oil from the factory, doubling
the oil change interval. The radiator, fan, and intercooler are larger this
year helping cool the extra horsepower, but the air cleaner is smaller. The
truck is actually longer than last year, 2500/3500 but turns about the same.
For the first time in about a decade, Dodge is offering the 1-ton (3500) in
a single rear wheel version also. The new single rear wheel 3500 has
upgraded rear springs over the 2500 but not the same as the 3500 dually.
The H.O. diesel option produces 305 HP with 555 Torque.
The standard diesel
has 250 HP and 460 Torque. They
both sound like a
Dodge diesel, only quieter, which is a good. It's quiet enough to hear more
Both new diesels are high-pressure common rail injection. The receiver hitch
is now built into the rear bumper and bolts to the end of the new boxed
frame. The receiver hitch bolts go through welded tubes in the hydro formed
frame to apply pressure to both sides of the boxed frame inside and outside
bed is also from the 1500 with the rounding floor edges looking very much
like the Ford bed. This is the strongest Dodge bed yet. The truck I drove had the standard 3.73 rear axle,
up from the 3.54 of prior years with the 4.10 still an option. The 3.73 is a
ratio that Dodge has needed. It was just too far between 3.54 and 4.10, so
fewer folks will be able to choose the wrong axle for mountain pulling. The
3.73 axle ratio is a good choice for most people. The 4.10 makes sense for
the maximum weight trailer used a lot or in the mountains. Even the
steering has been improved, for a faster solid reacting feel. I think this
steering improvement will actually be a lasting difference, with the new
drag link in the front axle. Underneath the tracking bar looks different
with a bushing on each end like what you would see on the rear axle of a SUV
with coil springs. The old model
drag link tracking bar, which is an arm that controls side movement with a
coil spring axle, had an eyelet at one end and a ball joint at the other
end. The ball end would wear and let the truck wander. The new (drag link)
tracking bar has an eyelet on both ends. This should prove to stay solid
New Tracking bar (drag
link) mounts to the frame under the shock tower and the front axle, has
eyelets on each end.
The clutch was very smooth as was the
shifting. I only had to think about shifting from 6th to 5th. Not all
diesels are easy to shift and this is an improvement, I think because of the
wider power band of this models diesel. You have more room in RPM's to
hit the next gear without jerking. This has been my complaint with the
in-line 6-cylinder diesel is it's always had a narrower RPM band than the
V-8 diesels. So it always felt like you needed to shift again. Now the RPM
torque power band starts lower than Ford which has been the low torque
leader in diesels. Starting in second was smooth. The natural torque of an
inline six cylinder along with the new improved power band makes it a joy
pulling a trailer. The max. torque is at 1400 RPM's right off idle! The
horsepower max. is at 2900 RPM's. Cummins added those 400 rpm's at the
beginning of the torque band so instead of max torque starting at 1800 rpm
it's now 1400 rpm's.
The rubber lip on the front
bumper is good for standing on while inspecting the engine, just don't kick
the AC cooler too hard. The fuel filter looks about the same for changing.
Dodge since last year in the Heavy Duties has the largest (13.9") 4-wheel
disc brakes in the
class. With more power, pulling bigger trailers, better brakes makes sense
doesn't it? The rear leaf springs are 3 inches longer on this model. I could
tell the difference in the ride. It's the smoothest so far for a 3/4 ton
Dodge. What you will need to watch here is with longer springs comes longer
spring travel. So with the heavy overhead campers you may need to ad air
bags to the rear axle to lessen the Elvis hip action in side winds. This
happed also in the 99 Model Ford Super Duties when they stretched the rear
springs for a better ride.
with the folks you use to install the bed hitch (ball or fifth-wheel) and
your Dodge dealer on what and how to attach your hitch. The
frames on the new Dodges are hydroformed all the way. GM trucks are hydroformed in
the front section of their 3-peice frame. The 2004 Ford F150 Ford will have a hydroformed frame
also. These special frames are not to be drilled or welded on. Not all
hide-a-ball hitches will work with the new Dodge frame. Some hitches use large
u-bolt brackets. When you buy a new 3/4 ton truck you’ll want to be able to
pull with it. Sometimes with a new model it takes the aftermarket
manufactures some time to catch up with products. From what I've heard from
Dodge is the B&W is the only hitch they authorize so far. Check with your
dealer to see which hitch Dodge has authorized lately.
With a short
bed you'll want to be especially careful on were you can mount the ball
hitch on the hydroformed frame to work with the weight of your trailer and
turn and back in tight angled places. The 3 inch shorter short bed for 2003
will take some measuring. This started in the 1500 last year. In a 1/2 ton,
a shorter truck is becoming more popular. In the 2500, a short short bed can
be a problem pulling a gooseneck with a wide nose. You'll want to measure
your trailer from the hitch to the outside and your truck from the back of
the cab to were you plan on putting the ball or mini-fifth wheel to know
your clearance when backing into tight places. All this has to
considered when installing the hitch on the new frame.
You might need the lift
handles to get into the tall Dodge trucks. Or at least you'll need them
if you ride with me on test drives up Poudre Canyon!
It's Dodge's turn to increase
the power, improve the ride and quiet the engine. If there are no large recalls the first year, we will have a true
horse race! The decade of Ford diesels out selling GM and Dodge diesels
combined could be nearing an end. Duramax took a bite from both Ford and
Dodge. I love choices, and with Dodges reputation for long engine life,
choices we have. A lot of the changes remind me of the Duramax, like high
pressure common rail, dual stage injection and finally a 3.73 rear axle.
Makes you want to get rid of the car and have all trucks! You can never have
enough trucks. The dual stage pilot injection did quite down the Cummins
dramatically even with the factory standard 4" exhaust!
truck was full of gadgets like these adjustable cup holders. The jack is
under the passenger side seat. The seat's were wide and comfortable, but
as you see here, no room for the middle passengers feet without the
electronic 4x4 transfercase option.
As usual this new Dodge starts
fast. Having an electric coil in the intake manifold heating the air at
startup eliminates glow plugs. Such a simple idea.
This short bed Quad Cab turns
tight and maneuvers the big city parking lots well. I am glad to see the
acc. position still on the ignition switch. I got used to that 30 years ago
and like to recognize some features when I get into a new truck. Dodge has
the largest fuel tanks in a short bed. It's 34 gallon with 35 gallon on a 8
The cruise control buttons are
in the steering wheel similar to Ford which I like, but I wish they lit up
at night. I enjoyed the power adjustable pedals (clutch, brake, throttle.)
Dodge is the only one I know of that has them with manual transmissions and
automatics. Add those to power seat and tilt wheel and anyone should fit
these trucks. And it makes a long drive more comfortable being able to
adjust your position a few times. The A-pillar (cab support on each side of
the windshield) has more down angle than the previous model, so wearing your
dancing sombrero may not fit the new truck, time to get a new shorter
brimmed Stetson anyway.
Every truck should have
this big arm rest. foldable gates on the inside with a 12v outlet and a
large working space on top, good for writing notes. This model had
comfortable cloth wide seats for wide test drivers.
Back in the early nineties, the 12 valve
Dodge diesels were the kings of truck fuel economy. 18 to 20 mpg seemed a
common event. Then the more powerful noisy 24 valves from Dodge were
introduced in the late nineties and fuel consumption went up. I was glad to
see the dramatic improvement this year in quieting down the Dodges new 24
valve common rail diesels and fuel economy is back. With the truck empty
cruising down the highway I got 19 mpg. Pulling an empty 3 horse trailer up
the mountains it ranged from 11.7 to 14.5 mpg. It's not my truck so you know
I didn't baby it to improve mileage. With 2808 miles, the Dodge was ready to
haul a trailer the way I drive. This truck shows it's torque every time you
step on the pedal. Though I was only pulling a 1/4 of the trucks capacity,
it was evident that the truck wanted more work.
Most of the time cruising down the highway
I was running at 2000 rpm's. Which is slower than what the GM Duramax or the
new Ford 6.0L Power Stroke cruise at. And even with the engine running 500
rpm's slower than the competition, this Dodge diesel still has the vibration
in the steering wheel telling you it's a diesel. The hydroformed frame
stiffened the chassis which did help lessen the flexing and vibration from
the body giving the truck more structural integrity, a big improvement over
previous Dodge trucks.
The power trailer mirrors pleasantly surprised me. My
experience with a single arm mirror in the past is shaky. But when you fold
this mirror out the rear vision is great, I had no problem seeing around the
7 ft. Featherlite and the mirror was very stable even over 75 mph. These
mirrors both have spotter mirrors which you need in multi-lane traffic and
were I drove in the Colorado Rockies. Driving up Poudre Canyon on Highway 14
west of Ft. Collins. did get the mirrors close to the rocks as that road is
straight up on the mountain side and straight down on the river side. These
are real hairpin curves, that the Dodge handles well with little lean,
demonstrating it's improvements from the ground up.
The rear seat folds up
with some storage underneath and an optional steel shelf folds out from
underneath the seat.
The rear doors open
straight out 85 degrees, makes the Chinese fire drill a snap.
This is the receiver hitch
bolted through the rear of the frame to apply pressure to both sides of
the square tubing hydroformed frame.
|This is one of the pipes
welded inside the hydroformed frame where the bolts go through for the
||Everything is welded on
the new hydro formed frame. Including axles. You can void the warranty
if you weld or drill holes in the frame. The earlier owners manuals left
that out. So see your dealer for the latest info from Dodge.
||Another picture of how the
rear bumper and receiver are attached to the hydroformed frame. With
this new frame, you are going to need a factory receiver hitch to be
|This is the new way the
receiver hitch is attached to the frame and next door is the old way.
||This is the way we are
used to attaching the receiver hitch to a truck frame. Yes it's a Dodge,
compare the two receivers.
||The pre-launch version of
the all new common rail Cummins diesel had more clutter under the oil
filter. This production model was very accessible to the oil filter. A
few decades of changing oil might cause deterioration on the ac
compressor and wiring harness.
||Is there enough wires
hooked to the battery? I'd use a Optima battery so you don't have
corrosion with all those wires on one terminal.
Rubber on the front
bumper makes climbing up to check the oil easier, just don't kick the
radiator fins too often.
|You can reach the fuel
filter, you need to drain the water with the valve on the side anyway.
4" exhaust from the
|Here is the engine control
brain, all those wires, some for the solenoids that fire the injectors.
Here's a cutout of the
internal oil cooler.
|This shows the high
pressure common rail coming into the injector from the side with the
electronic solenoid on top the injector.
||Here is what the wastegate
looks like inside the turbo, to dump extra exhaust the turbo can't use.
||The engine timing gears,
wish gas engines had them.
I remember Featherlite trailers, the
aluminum pioneers back in 1973, they amazed me in high school as I looked at the
ads in Successful Farming magazine and once in a while would see one in
Colorado. They were ahead of their time, and now are the most copied trailer
with aluminum a popular choice in horse trailers. This 2003 model 9408
Featherlite 3 horse slant with dressing room is a well balanced bumper pull
(tag-along). A new beige color this year. 7 ft. wide, 7 ft. high inside, and the
box is 17 ft long. 42' stall width with a vent above each stall and screened
windows on each side per stall. I liked the front diamond deck plate protecting the
aerodynamic nose. No mater how good your mud flaps are, some rocks will get
threw to the trailer nose. The roof had a new riveting system to prevent
leaks on the edges. The floor was aluminum with a thick rubber pad. The
walls also had the protective rubber pad attached to them.
On this Featherlite
model below, the center post, comes out quickly as the rear tack wall
folds to the side so you can haul your 4-wheeler, hay and your brother
in-laws furniture when the horses are home.
New patented slam
latches have key locks, saddles aren't cheap and padlocks are a pain.
Screen door on dressing
room, with two windows inside with screens. This trailer has 10 windows
on it. Their should be no problem getting circulation.
This is a well thought out
trailer backed by one of the pioneers in horse trailers. From what I've
seen you can get parts and help from Featherlite on 30 year old
trailers. Not many companies can say that. That kind of support tells
you something about future resell value! It should out last a few
Sharp looking trailer
Well made corners.
The dressing room has 2
windows with screens like the door.
Heavy duty aluminum floor
with a thick rubber mat on floor and walls.
Even screened windows in
the rear doors. Ten windows will be a breeze on those hot summer days.
Look at the diamond deck
plate protecting the trailer, it's sharp and shiny.
I've seen spy pictures of the new in the
future Dodge 4500 cab and chassis with the Mercedes 7.3 inline 6 cylinder
diesel. The Cummins contract with Dodge goes to 2007, what do you think's
going to happen?
Soon I'll have the Dodge Hemi test drive
and Hummer 2. Can it pull a trailer?
Come visit me at
www.MrTruck.com, a special thanks to
Robert Lilly with Business Link Fleet Services, DaimlerChrysler for the use of the truck and Max-Air
Trailers www.max-airtrailers.com (website
under construction until April) ph. 1-800-456-2961 in Ft. Collins for the Featherlite trailer.
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