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2018 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty towing a Pontoon Boat

Pickup trucks are useful things to have around. Especially heavy-duty trucks like the Ram 2500. This big, burly, towing machine has a maximum tow rating of 17,980 pounds (about 9 tons). So when Ram Truck asked us if we wanted to test drive their 2018 Ram 2500, we immediately started looking around to find something to tow. Anything larger than a jet ski or a teardrop camper would do. We ended up with a huge pontoon boat and a fun day on the water with the Wyoming Air National Guard!

We often think of pickups via their “tough guy” personas or “wannabe rancher” cliches. What gets forgotten is that more trucks are sold in this country than any other type of vehicle. Mostly to people who use them, at least occasionally, to do the kind of work pickups are designed for. Here in Wyoming, for example, pickup trucks are used to pull livestock trailers, haul fencing and feed, to move home improvement goods, and to pull boats and RVs. Just to get started on their uses. “Maybe city folks don’t understand that,” my friend Rod has said, “but city folks don’t understand a lot of things.”

2018 ram 2500 cummins 6.7 litre turbo diesel engine compartment

Our 2018 Ram 2500: specs

The truck we were loaned was a 2018 Ram 2500 Longhorn Crew Cab 4x4 equipped with the powerful 6.7-liter six-cylinder Cummins turbo diesel engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. The truck’s starting price is $57,895 plus $8,700 for the bigger engine and $445 for the 3.42 anti-spin rear axle. We’d also recommend adding the $1,595 auto-leveling rear suspension, which makes hooking up to and decoupling from a ball-hitch trailer really easy. The $445 fifth-wheel/gooseneck towing preparation option is also a good idea to make a truck like this truly versatile.

With the host of add-ons our near-luxury Ram 2500 had installed, its final ticket price was $76,400. A lot of the price difference, for those doing the math, was in the Limited Package and Tungsten Edition additions to the mix, which are largely cosmetic.

Hitching Up the Big Boat

The week that Ram loaned us the 2500, my fiance’s unit in the Wyoming Air National Guard was having their annual family fun day on the lake. They hold this every year as a morale booster and everyone chips in to buy food, rent equipment from the F.E. Warren Air Force Base’s outdoor recreation department, and have a day of fun on the water. They’d rented jet skis, paddle boards, and a huge pontoon boat.

I drove to the Air Force base to pick up the pontoon boat. I didn’t know how large it was or how much it would weigh, but was confident that the Ram 2500 was more than enough for the job. The boat’s size was the factor that ended up mattering the most. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Arriving in the morning, kids ensconced in the back seat of the truck, I met up with the guy in charge of the recreation rentals. He showed me where the boat was and asked if I had a 2-inch ball hitch. I have a multi-ball hitch, which has one of each of the three common sizes of ball.

Tips For Towing a Boat Like This With Your Truck

There are several kinds of trailer hitch. The “bumper pull”-style hitch, which we were using here, is a hitch kit mounted to the vehicle (usually welded or bolted to the frame) that comes out from under the bumper with a receiver. That receiver is where the ball hitch is placed and locked on (the “ball” being the round knob on top”). The trailer, as mentioned, sits atop the ball and then a latch closes around underneath the ball to hold it in place. Safety chains are then attached from the trailer’s tongue to the vehicle (usually below the ball, into eyelets made for the purpose). As with any tool, there are proper ways to use it and ways to really screw it up.

When pulling a trailer, a few factors have to be considered. The weight of the trailer itself (trailer’s tare weight), the weight of the trailer when fully loaded (towing weight), and the weight that the trailer puts onto the vehicle towing it (tongue weight) are chief considerations. The combined weight of the trailer, its load, and the truck is the total gross vehicle weight. The goal is to know the weights involved so as to not overload the truck or have the load unbalanced and dangerous.

The Ram had the aforementioned load-leveling suspension. This allows the driver to push a button and lower the rear by almost two full inches, which drops the ball hitch almost three inches down. That makes for backing up and under a trailer (using the standard backup camera on the truck) a very easy job. Once the ball was under the tongue, another press of the button to lift the suspension back up also lifted the trailer as the ball met its receiver. We then locked the receiver on the tongue, crossed and fitted the safety chains (they should be crossed to “cradle” under the tongue so that if it comes loose, it doesn’t hit the ground), stowed the trailer prop, then plugged in the trailer’s lighting to the socket on the truck’s bumper. The Ram comes standard with both common types of trailer plug.

We then tested the trailer’s connections to the truck with a quick “tug test” of the hitch connection and then a full lighting test to make sure brakes, turn signals, etc. were all working on the trailer. These tests should be done every time a trailer is disconnected and reconnected. If the trailer has brakes (ours did not), they should also be checked each time.

rear view of ram 2500 towing pontoon boat

Towing the Big Boat

Our trailer was a dual-axle trailer, which means it has two axles (one in front of the other), so the trailer bore nearly all of the load’s weight, putting only a small fraction of it onto the truck. In this case, the boat weighed about 5,500 pounds and the trailer another 2,300 pounds for about 7,800 pounds in all. Well under the 2018 Ram 2500’s towing capacity of 17,980 pounds. Less than 1,000 pounds of all of that weight was placed onto the truck’s hitch as cargo load. That’s a good thing for a lighter-duty truck, but not so good for a heavier truck like ours. Luckily, we also loaded about 500 pounds of coolers, ice, food, etc. into the bed of the Ram. That helped a little. So did having the truck full of people (five in all, three kids and two adults).

Pulling the trailer was, at first, a bit comical given that the truck so outmatched the load. The big Ram 2500 acted as if the trailer wasn’t really there. Being a well-trained and experienced trailer hauler, however, I knew not to let that fool me and to keep tabs on the trailer in the turns and as we drove along the highway. This paid off because the trailer and boat had a distinct disadvantage later on: they are both lightweight and tall.

Being tall and high, the center of gravity for the trailer is also high up and easily manipulated by things like wind. One thing we have plenty of in Wyoming, especially when changing elevations and climbing into the mountains, is wind. Heading up to the lake, that wind really began to push the trailer around. In a lighter-duty truck, the only options would have been to slow down considerably and get a tight grip on the steering wheel to control the sway and push of the wind on that trailer or to turn around and call it all off. In the big 2018 Ram 2500, the option was to just keep driving. Its excellent trailer sway controls, huge bulk, and powerful engine counteracted the forces of the wind easily.

Once on the lake, I found that the huge mirrors the Ram was equipped with made backing the boat into the water an easy job. They can tilt upwards from their standard position to stand tall, like those on a semi-truck, making backing maneuvers easier to see. After a day of fun on the lake, driving around in the pontoon boat, flying about on jet skis, and hanging out with friends and family, getting the trailer into the water and reloading the boat was also easy. We added other toys into the 8-foot bed of the big Ram as more ballast for getting home.

We drove the big 2018 Ram 2500 back down the mountain and returned the boat to the Air Force base, unhitching the trailer and disconnecting using the easy method of lowering the truck’s suspension to drop the ball out from underneath the tongue.

2018 ram 2500 with a 67 cummins turbo diesel towing pontoon boat

Notes on the 2018 Ram 2500

The Ram 2500 is a big, comfortable, well-made pickup truck. As a three-quarter ton heavy-duty truck, it’s extremely capable. Especially in the Crew Cab long-bed configuration as we had it. The Crew Cab comfortably seats five adults with lots of room in every seating position. An option for six (front bench) is available as well. The long bed is the 8-foot bed option, which allows full 8x4-foot sheets of plywood or sheetrock (or anything else) to be laid into the truck’s bed without leaning on a side rail or requiring the tailgate to be open.

Another option is to fit the Ram 2500 with a Mega Cab, which adds even more space to the rear seating of the cabin, and the shorter 6-foot, 4-inch bed. This option is great for those who don’t need to haul a lot of things in the pickup’s bed, but are more interested in carrying people, tools, or other items inside the truck. Either setup with the Ram 2500 means towing is likely a big portion of the truck’s expected workload. A two-door regular cab is also an option.

Also available for the 2018 Ram 2500 are the standard 5.7-liter gasoline engine, a larger 6.4-liter gasoline engine, and the 6.7L diesel we drove. The Ram 2500 comes in seven trim levels, each of which builds on the last with more and more content within the truck. The Tradesman base model is well-named as that’s who’s most likely to buy it. The SLT is very similar to the Tradesman, but gives access to more options that fleet buyers of the Tradesman probably aren’t interested in. The volume seller in the Ram Truck line is the Big Horn trim (called the Lone Star in Texas), which aims towards value in terms of amenities versus price. Finally, the Laramie, Laramie Longhorn, and Limited models are the more luxurious options. The Power Wagon stands separate from the others as it is aimed towards being the serious off-road variant for the Ram 2500.

For our weekend on the lake, the 2018 Ram 2500 was a beautiful choice. In its Longhorn trim, it provided excellent amounts of comfort and drew remarks from those riding at how luxurious it felt inside. On the road, the Ram 2500 is a smooth ride, even when empty, and extremely capable when loaded.