4x4 Dodge Ram expedition camper

Source:  4x4 Dodge Ram expedition camper    Tag:  xrf ball joints

- modifications for the pick-up truck Dodge Ram
-modifications for the camper and the service box

We decide for a 4x4 after turning back on the Last Dollar Road , due to lack of 4x4 capability, not to say some appealing sand beaches we couldn't dare with the Sprinter.
Looking over the internet for options available in Canada  we found that the closest for our needs and budget  is a 4x4 pick-up with a truck camper.
In USA and Canada we have some 4x4 trucks like Mitsubishi Fuso, some 4x4 Ford truck to start with.The  popular options are 4x4 pick-up trucks.
Europe has some more 4x4 vehicles builders and choices:

After the Mercedes Sprinter i was looking at :
Volkswagen Syncro (engine too small,camper area too small for us)
Mercedes Vario 4x4 and Unimog, MAN ( importing expensive, parts too expensive, difficult to get and repair in Canada and USA, too big)
Mitsubishi Fuso( doesn't have a 4 people cab 4x4)
Toyota HJ again importing for Europe and expensive
Land Rover 6x6( english technologies,+ same problems like Mercedes)
Duro,Pintzgauer  ( rare)

I saw Dodge Ram sold in Germany, also in South America.

Bought a 2005  Dodge ram 4x4 3500 model.

This comes with 6 inline diesel 5.9 liters Cummins engine 325 HP, The same engine in marine applications with some mods push 480 Hp. Also Cummins sold engines( marine engines also) all over the world so choice was not so hard. 
Also 6 inline diesel is  easy to repair by common truck diesel mechanic, parts are really not expensive.Compared to Japanese and European cars i can say are very cheap.  Decent fuel economy for a 4x4 ( low and high) capability on very good 4x4 axles.  It has a load capacity of 1800 kgs( 4000 lbs) for the 2005 3500 model.  Dodge Ram has many forums over the internet one of the is www.cumminsforum.com very active and helpful.
The cabine can sit 6 people, 4 in real comfort. Also noise in low for a diesel truck which improves the comfort.
So choice was 2005  Dodge Ram 3500 4x4 with Cummins 5.9 liters because of power, comfort, reliability, easy to repair everywhere, cheap available parts, 4 people cabin, payload.
The only downside is that Dodge ram with Cummins diesel engines are expensive even in the used market.
Speaking of payload, over the internet is a real  debate on the truck camper forums about dually vs single rear wheel pick-up truck.
I've choose the 3500 (1 ton) model because the payload 4000 lbs( 1800 kgs). I needed this payload for the service box and the truck camper. It is unlawful to exceed the payload the manufacturer decided for the pick-up.  Speaking of insurance  in case of an accident if the payload is exceed owner could be in big trouble  ( because is unlawful).  Insurance should be informed of any major modification did to the vehicle. The single rear wheel pick-up 2005 Dodge Ram  has 2200 lbs of payload( this including the passengers and all other additional weight). Also it is only 80 inch wide between the tires.
Cons and pros for the dually is the 96 inch wide. But the hard side truck  campers are 94 to 100 wide, so the wider part would still be the truck camper. Bigfoot 1500 is 96 inches wide so it make sense to put it on a 96 inch dually rear axle.Looks better and is a lot  more safe and stable.
Stones can go between the tires when off-road. Well will see about that.
Weight the Dodge Ram, the service box with  all my remote camping equipment and had 4010 kgs(8840 lbs)


Why we like the 4x4 pick-up Dodge ram:
4 people very capable 4x4 go nearly anywhere: beaches, mountain roads, backroads , ability to stay on secluded areas without getting stuck . If somebody wants to go off the beaten path 4x4 is a must. 

Then I’ve bought a 2003 Bigfoot 1500 Fs truck camper
Some of the features we liked were a 2 shell fiberglass gel coat construction method like in boats, huge dinette bed, 2 door fridge, stove , toilet, shower. Well insulated 1 inch( 12 mm)  all tanks inside and  also heated. A 4 season elf contained truck camper. Weight is 2200 lbs( 1000 kg). More on the site 
This is the truck camper model which doesn't have a basement, so is lower by 12 inches than the basement models. it is also very light with all the equipment factory sticker said 2200 lbs( 1000 kg). First day we had it we took out the roof air conditioning ( uses too much Amps, creates wind resistance bad for mpg, too high, we don't use it) and the microwaves oven (  because we don't want to use a generator for Amps power)

Why we like the truck camper ?

 for many reasons:
- insulation feature. Well insulated 4 season campers are best for long travels when variable weather is to be encountered. This provides us with a cozy dry shelter from the rainy, cold or hot weather. 
-  self-contained. Because we don't use campgrounds very often we need to have  : water ( 140 L), toilet, shower, stove, fridge, food, electricity so can have complete autonomy for at least 3-4 weeks.
-separate area from vehicle,  stays cleaner, less dust from the roads,
-small, when on the truck it can go in a regular parking lot. This is good when traveling through cities we don't know , mountain roads, etc
-ability to take off and separate the camper from the truck for storage, go to a regular mechanic shop.Big rigs go only at truck specialized repair facilities which are more expensive than a  mechanic shop.
-simple efficient design, we like a lot. No headaches, easy to maintain, getting older very well with any issues(25 years old fiberglass truck campers are still on the road)
- others features: no annual registration, small no mandatory insurance premiums

One of the things I didn't like was the lack of storage. So bought a used 500 $  steel service box, badly in need of a fresh paint.
Took off the useless original truck bed, sold it for 900$ .and worked 1 month with my welder to modify and fix the service box to fit on the Dodge. I'm very happy with the results. Now we have tons of storage for toys, BBQ wood, 4 chairs, 2 folding tables, recovery equipment, 12v compressor etc
The service box or utility box is a Royal Body 9 feet long.Since working with steel is relatively easy cutting and welding to fit the camper was easy for an experienced welder.The service box sticker said 1100 lbs, of course we took off some panels so maybe we are around 900 lbs now. 
Aluminium or fiberglass service boxes or utility boxes weight a lot less, which is better for off-road.
I have a 1 1/2inch clearance between the service box and the truck camper, the truck camper base is 48 inch wide and the service box was adjusted to 49 1/2 so it's a tight fit. That good, no lost space.

Weighted all this and there is a  4000 lbs weight with truck camper and service box and all the equipment ready to go. All together with the truck at the truck scale weighted 12000 lbs, not bad for a self contained expedition vehicle.
Like this we have more storage than we ever dream of for kids toys, recovery equipment, 12v portable compressor, wood for a nice BBQ fire, folding table and chairs, etc, portable stove and 5lbs propane we use for cooking,etc

ADDED 2014:
Since adding a service box  was a new totally project for me i didn't do it right in the first time.
Summer 2013 was there and we've wanted to go on vacation and we went even if things were not 100 % right. The problem was that the camper was sitting too high on the service box , resulting in a 10 inch space between the pick-up cabin and the cab-over side of the truck camper. With this high windage resitance set-up truck was doing 12 mpg. I was hoping for a better mpg , but I needed to lower the camper position on the service box.
So after the summer Ontario tour and the Florida winter vacation we've restarted refitting the service box.
Cut 4 inches of upper  compartments we never used and cutting the 4 inches beams resulting in a much lower service box mount.
Center of gravity should be also lower resulting in a better drive situation.
Also took advantage of the removal of the service box to do a semi permanent  antirust treatment for the frame
-tired of crappy oil or other annual rust more anti rust treatment i've put a sinto racing 3000 semi permanent antirust treatment. hope will slow the rust better.
Also new for this year I've used Corrostop ulta-white brilliant metal paint. Glad I've did it no need for a primer and paint stays ultra-white and brilliant. Painted again with a roller for smooth surface( small cotton like roller). A very nice smooth finish.

/ http://www.corrostop.ca/en/

Modifications for the pick-up truck.

These trucks can be  easily modified to perform a lot better The suspension on these trucks is a compromise, is designed to perform well when truck is empty and when the truck is fully charged. I'm planning mods to make it more off-road ready.

2 inch tubing in front for a 2 inch hitch for bicycles rack.
The manufacturer put huge radiators(4) and then block those radiators with the bumper . So one mod I'm happy about is cutting the restrictive portion of  the bumper in front of the radiator. the lower side measure 3.5x16 inches and the upper cut side measure 2.5x16 inches. Before doing this check the regulations if it is legal to cut the bumper in your area(or federal regulations). This mods improved the cooling , now cruising on highway with the Bigfoot camper water temperature stays 190..
Also made some metallic grills to block the stone, keep the radiators more protected. 
Put an aluminium net again for mosquitoes protection.

HBS 2 inch leveling kit + steering bar stabilizer

Bilstein 5100 Monotube skocks
Sway bar adjustable end link kit
This link it is broke and gone now. It lasted 4 month and only 2 weeks in Colorado mouintain  roads
sway bar on Dodge is a huge 32mm diameter bar connecting the left and right front wheels.
The sway bar or the anti roll bar prevents vertical movements of the wheels limiting a lot the up and down travel of each wheel. On uneven off roads, pothole roads I want the wheels to move independently and freely with as much vertical travel I can have. Tires and suspensions will work more absorbing the road keeping the frame more level so less twist
Offroading a bit in Colorado with the camper in the box i've managed to brake both sway bar link kit I've bought on ebay supposely were better than stock
Sway bar disconnect is ok only at low speeds less than 20 mph. At high speeds no sway bar could result in very dangerous roll over situations. At highway speeds sway bar should be reconnected

Since over internet I wasn't capable finding a Dogde ram quick disconnect kit I had to make one out of a quick disconnect from a Jeep JK Wrangler 2.5-5 inch lift. The only modification to may swy bar was welding a L braketat the end of the sway bar since on the Jeep kit both pins are horizontal. Time will tell is this kit is strong enough for my Dodge with camper .

For rear suspension I've opted to add a leaf and help the suspension with Firestone Ride Rite 5000 kit.
Before truck with all the stuff was sitting on the overload leafs, now I can adjust the height with the airbags. Air bag were a huge improvement on suspension stiffness. The airbags take a lot of load off the leafs and i don't hear a metallic sound when going on the bumps. Air bags are mounted and act like a cousin between the frame and the rear axle which creates a softer ride. Also with the help of the air bags i would like to level the camper. Bought the double air valve control for the cabin.

Daystar air bag cradles, these are supposed to prevent the damage of the air bags due to over extension.

firestone ride-rite 5000lbs+daystar cradles
Tires  for now are Michelin LTX AT2 which have very good reviews on and off-road.  Also I've bought 4 dually tire valve extensions and automatic tire deflators again from ebay.com
Other mods:  3 inch hole in the bottom of the stock intake filter housing
I put this modification here but it should be done first thing on a Dodge ram:
New and improved Steering box heavy duty from Dodge. 68170214AA
New HD steering box 
is the first mod to be done for a 2003-2007 Dodge ram cummims. In fact the old OEM steering box is so loose so much freeplay inside that box is even dangerous to drive. Now that the steering is very precise is also easier to drive. Also less fatique. The only small issue is that is a huge steering box with a huge shaft so maybe the OEM steering pump is not adequate, since the steering wheel is a little bit harder to turn. Anyhow if I new about it I would have done this mod long time ago.
Bought the steering box on ebay from dodge dealer in Flagstaff Arizona, best price I,ve found on the internet and with free shipping This along with 4 new XRF balljoints and truck is steering straight line even on bad highways without alot of adjustments .

Auxiliary transmission cooler

transmission on my Dodge failed without notice at 180 000 kms. After rebuilt the transmission with heavy duty parts and putting a mechanical water gauge to see the transmission temperature found that offroading with camper transmission still is very hot, going to 210-220 F in no time. Also 4-5 starts-stops in the city is becoming hot also. In order to keep things cooler I,ve bought on ebay an auxiliary transmission cooler 16 rows with 10 inch fan and thermostat. Thermostat goes on at 180 F and off at 170 F. Transmission doesn't need to be hotter than that. Now even the engine runs a little bit cooler since the trasnmission radiator was in front of the engine radiator. Went to a hydraulic shop and made 2 hose with fittings. There is enough space after the transfer case to put the cooler and the filters.  Also this is a pretty easy mod , jsut put a 90 degree fitting on the hose going out of the rear of the transmission with 2 hoses. 2 brackets with screws on the protection plate rear the transfer case.If towing heavy this is a good worth the money modification ( 140 $ cooler+ 90 $ hoses+150$ installation)

Auxiliary 2 micron filter and water separator.

When I bought the Dodge engine was redone due to a failed injector.

Since I don't want this to happen again I wanted a second 2 micron diesel filter . This filter is Caterpillar 1R-0750 with a Caterpillar water separator. Water in diesel or bad diesel for these diesel engines running more than 20000 psi rail pressure could be fatal. This is easy to do modification, just cut the fuel line, use 2 compresion  fittings and 2 pushlock fitthings with a good industrial diesel rated rubber hose.

These trucks can go close to huge 500 hp with these mods and still have decent fuel economy.
Bought on EBAY.COM a Bully dog Gt tuner. This is a tuner( 4 power options up to +130 Hp) and monitor. When adding a tuner which adds significant hp to a truck is very important to watch the EGT and transmission temperature . Especially when you have a camper over the truck and plan to pass over some mountains. Bought again on ebay the Bully Dog docking station for the pyrometer temperature .Transmission temperature is a Esquus 17$ water temperature mechanical gauge. works like a dream. it is taped with an aluminium home hardware tape on the hotline of the transmission, the one with  the

hottest temperature. Since is taped with sticky homeware vent aluminium tape due to conductivity i have good readings for the transmission temperature.
Added fall 2014:
After testing this expedition rig in Colorado mouintain roadsthis summer vacation this cool little gauge indicate that transmission is becoming very hot wen going over a mountain at s;ow speeds less than 30 30 mph.There is not enough air going through the radiators so everthing is becoming very hot.Transmission at 210-220F very fast only after 5minutes of going up or a couple of stop and go with the camper in the city.
So decided of an auxiliary cooler for the transmission, with 10 fan and thermostat. This goes on at 180 F and stops at 170 F which I hope will keep the transmission in better shape by preventing overheating.
More mods:
-adding an aditive to protect the transmission
-adding an additional fire extinguisher in the cabin
-replacing the original dodge ram jack ( is that a joke- a joke jack?) with a custom 12 tonnes real life jack with a 12x12 inch support base.

GPS with rear view camera: at the beginning I was very fond of this Gps( Garmin 5000 and then Magelan 5255) which help me see my rear bumper  when parking. The problem was that GPS screen  switched to rear view camera monitor only when i was in reverse. But one day I was driving and an ambulance was behind me and  I didn't see it. So i decided to change for an ordinary Garmin GPS and a wireless rear-view camera with a separate monitor, which will stay on all the time I'm driving. I think is better this way. GPS has a  9$   flexible mount screwed into the dash so i can't be seen from outside like the windshield models and doesn't block the view. And it doesn't fell neither.

gps monitor
rear view camera over the camper door

One last modification was to take out the spare tire and to put into that huge empty space a 40 gallons( x4 for litres) tank for  the shower and the toilet.before this mod i had to empty our small tanks every 3-5 days .Now we hope we can stay out at least 2-3 weeks before needing a pump-out
Also made an aluminium support base for the tank.It protects the plastic tank from stones and tank sits better on it when full.Used metallic galvanised stuff from homeware store with 3/8 inch galvanised screws.

One more mod was an auxilaiary transmisssion coller with fan. fan goes on at 180 F and off at !70. Found that

Modifications to the truck camper

Inside from front to rear:

-Since is too much space left unused int he cab-over compartment I've
added 2 3 plastic compartments , one each side of the bed. this
improves a lot the storage.

-Took out the microwave,added a new door to that compartment.

-put a 600 watts 12v to 110V, USB' converter for laptops, coffee
maker, AAA batteries charger, etc. near the dinette area

-put a switch for the exterior alarm horn , when we are inside and
someone comes too close of the camper

-added temperature sensor station for in/out

-put a spice holder rack on the wall behind the stove, a double soap holder,

-on the wall left to the stove  put a plastic world map, just to keep
a better track of our path.

-changed all lights for led lights a lot less Amps demand on batteries

-30A MPPT solar controller

-added a very nice 12 shoes holder

-added a trash holder into the double sink.

-added a 300 watts one cup coffee maker 10$ at Wal-mart . makes a nice
campermade morning coffee.

-added a storage compartment separator, since the storage compartments
have too much height. this allows us to use all this height.

-added a step because the step to the cab-over is too high,the step
can be used as a can or bottled water storage compartment.

- added a 3 pieces doorway carpet. we like this  3 small piece carpet
which can go to a  washing machine and be clean very easy.

- toilet area: added another carpet, more soap holders and a small trash holder.

Outside from front to rear:

-spare tire holder compartment on the roof

-1 150 watts and 1 100 watts solar panels

-fabricate an outside compartment for 2 6V batteries for a 232AH total capacity.

- exterior 12v socket for  a camping light

-exterior 4 inch ABS tubing for holding the pump-out hose

-changed the upper window on the rear door with an opening window and block the small lower window again on the rear door of the camper.

-rear view camera. At first it seemed to me it was a good ideea to
have a GPS with rear-view camera. It worked well on the narrow
Sprinter. On wider truck camper i don't see in the back so i changed
for the Garmin GPS and an separate monitor for the rear view camera.
Monitor  is connected to a key on fuse so monitor will be on all the
time when i drive.

Another camper related modification was to put an additional 40 gal(
160 L) black tank in the spare tire location which went on the
roof.This mod will increase the intervals between the pump out at 2-3
weeks . So now we have a full 2-3 weeks water, food, propane,
grey/black tanks autonomy.

Customized an already made camper is way way  easier that building
from scratch like the Sprinter project was.
Also these are not big mods but each one takes time: finding a good price vs. quality,  finding info on how to install and the install take some time