Cars and Drivers

The 5 Worst Dodge Ram 1500 Years To Avoid and 5 Years to Own

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In the world of pickup trucks, Ford and Chevy might be the two biggest names, but they are not the only names. The Dodge Ram 1500 has been around since 1981 and has more than held its own against the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado. Accordingly, the Ram sold 444,927 models in 2023, not too far behind the Silverado’s 555,148 models. 

As the Ram’s popularity isn’t up for debate, the question turns to what are the vehicle’s best and worst model years. As is the case with all vehicles, pickup or otherwise, there are good and bad releases. Thankfully, we have publications like CarComplaints, FIXDapp, CoPilot Search, and AutoChimps to help us determine exactly which model years are good and bad for the Ram 1500

Why We’re Covering This

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The Dodge Ram 1500 has long been the third best-selling pickup in America.

The popularity of pickup trucks is unquestionable in the U.S. as the Ford F-150 is one of the best-selling vehicles. Given that brands like Ford, Chevy, and Dodge are major contributors to the auto industry, which is in turn a big contributor to the economy, covering these vehicles makes a lot of sense. 

How well cars are selling is also a strong indicator of the strength of the economy. The same can be said for the average cost of a new car available today. If you’re wondering, the average cost of a new car is $48,000, which is the highest it’s ever been. 

Avoid: 2001

2001 Ram 1500
Source: order_242 / Wikimedia Commons
The 2001 Ram 1500 began a four-year stint of really poor reliability.

With some of the lowest reliability ratings in the Dodge Ram 1500 history, 2001 kicked off a four-year stint of bad fortune for the pickup. According to FIXD, the reliability of the Ram 1500 was a shockingly low 1 out of 10. If you’re wondering how this car earned such a painful score, you can turn to the high volume of NHTSA (National Highway Transportation & Safety Administration) complaints. 

In 2001, more than 2,000 complaints were registered with the NHTSA. By far the biggest volume was related to body and paint problems. More specifically, many owners complained about cracks forming in the paint and/or frame of the car. As a result, 18 injuries were reported as a result of structure problems. 

Avoid: 2002

2002 Dodge Ram 1500
Source: User3204 / Wikimedia Commons
In 2002, the Ram 1500 received over 2,000 NHTSA complaints.

Unfortunately for the Dodge Ram 1500, 2002 didn’t get any better. Considered one of the vehicle’s worst years ever, another 2,000 plus complaints were lodged to the NHTSA. Along with electrical issues, structural problems continued to be an issue in 2002 as well. Between paint bubbling and peeling or rust showing up prematurely, there were a host of body and paint problems. 

Diving deeper into the structure of the Ram 1500 in 2002, the complaints continued. While injuries related to structural problems dropped to 12 in 2002, there were still 12 injuries. Last but not least, a FIXD reliability score of 1 out of 10 makes it so the 2002 model was an easy call to avoid. 

Avoid: 2003

2003 Ram 1500
Source: Guillaume Vachey / Wikimedia Commons
With another year of 2,000 plus NHTSA complaints, Dodge wasn’t turning things around fast enough.

If Dodge hoped things would get better for the Ram 1500 in 2003, they were mistaken. Yet again we saw the vehicle earn another 2,000 plus NHTSA complaints. Similar to the last two years, the largest reported issues were related to body and paint problems. Among the top complaints were disappointments with the final paint job on delivery or rust and corrosion appearing too early in the vehicle’s lifecycle. 

However, 2003 also opened up a new set of issues: airbag complaints jumped up considerably. Over 444 NHTSA complaints were filed and at least one death was attributed to an airbag issue in 2003. Thankfully, a recall was issued for the passenger-side front airbag, but not until 2015. Just skip the 2003 model entirely. 

Avoid: 2004

2004 Ram 1500
Source: Greg Gjerdingen / Wikimedia Commons
The 2004 Ram 1500 saw NHTSA complaints drop, but engine stalling issues persisted.

Capping off a terrible four-year run for the Dodge 1500 Ram is 2004. The good news is that NHTSA complaints dropped by half, but still over 1,000 were filed. This year, a few new issues also popped up. The most notable of which were engine issues. The biggest concern was that the engine would stall or just die out completely while driving which can lead to serious injury. 

In addition to engine troubles, you also had some Power Train concerns, which caused at least one fire and 8 crashes. When you look at electrical issues and see owner concerns over all of their driver dashboard gauges quitting, you get concerned about the Ram 1500 2004 and safety. 

Avoid: 2011

2011 Dodge Ram 1500
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In 2011, the Ram 1500 had better success but electrical issues hurt overall reliability.

After 2004, the Dodge Ram saw a better run for a few years until 2011. It was in 2011 that the RAM brand was formed and spun off from Dodge. As a result, several issues could be just coincidentally tied to the same year the RAM brand was created. According to FIXD, the 2011 only earned a 5 out of 10 on the reliability scale. 

More importantly, the 2011 only received a 3.5 out of 5 on the NHTSA crash testing score. For that reason alone, you should stay away from this model year. However, 393 NHTSA complaints might also convince you to stay away. The biggest complaints centered around the module that controlled the Ram 1500’s electrical system. When it failed, it would cost around $1,500 to replace. 

Own: 2017

2017 Ram 1500
Source: Calreyn88 / Wikimedia Commons
The 2017 Ram 1500 saw strong quality and reliability ratings from J.D. Power.

After spinning off from Dodge into its own brand, the 2017 Dodge Ram 1500 made a strong comeback starting in 2017. While 2017 still delivered 814 NHTSA complaints, the overall repair costs for this year were less expensive than other years. With the Ram 1500 retiring the 6-speed automatic transmission, it was a new opportunity to deliver a much-desired 8-speed transmission. 

As a result, you have three different engine options which pleased customers to no end. Plus, you have J.D. Power coming in strong giving the 2017 Ram 1500 an 81 out of 100 for Quality & Reliability. As a bonus, the 2017 model also received a J.D. Power score of “Great” with an 87 out of 100 for resale value. 

Own: 2018

2018 Ram 1500
Source: Calreyn88 / Wikimedia Commons
With the 2018 Ram 1500 release, things got even better as the pickup received outstanding crash ratings.

Things got even better for the Ram 1500 in 2018 when J.D. Power jumped its resale score to 93 out of 100. This is good enough to give the vehicle a “Best” rating which is no easy feat. On the same line of thinking, FIXD gives the 2018 model a 10 out of 10 on reliability, which combined with the J.D. Power score showcases how far the Ram 1500 has come in 10 years. 

Of course, the good news doesn’t end there as the NHTSA crash test rating for 2018 earns the truck a 4.4 out of 5. This is more than good enough to make Ram customers feel good. Future 2018 model year customers might also like that the average cost of ownership with this model year was only $672. 

Own: 2020

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images
The 2020 Ram 1500 was even better as NHTSA complaints dropped significantly.

As soon as you jump into 2020, you’re entering the best model years for the Ram 1500. J.D. Power kicked things off with the overall score for the Ram 1500 earning an 82 out of 100. However, the resale score was still going strong with a 90 out of 100. Add in a driving experience score of 84 out of 100 and it’s clear J.D. Power loved this pickup truck. 

The same story can be said for FIXD as well, which gave the 2020 model a 10 out of 10 on reliability. Add these results alongside a sizable drop in NHTSA complaints down to 426 and the 2020 model was looking pretty good. Unfortunately, some engine issues were present as were a series of electrical issues with the key fob. Still, neither problem was enough to stop a strong recommendation for the 2020 model year. 

Own: 2021

2021 Ram 1500
Source: Ethan Llamas / Wikimedia Commons
With the 2021 Ram 1500, the pickup received a “Superior” rating for crash protection.

Moving into 2021, the good news continued for the Ram 1500. You still had a good story with NHTSA crash test results with a 4 out of 5. This was enough to give the vehicle a “Good” score on all crashworthiness tests. Most notable was that the NHTSA gave the Ram 1500 a “Superior” rating for its front crash prevention. 

With the TRX model introducing a 702 horsepower V8 Ram 1500, the number of engine options jumped to four. New model owners in 2021 also got a new heads-up display and an option for a trailer reverse steering control function. With NHTSA complaints holding steady at 656, it’s clear 2021 is another easy-to-recommend model year. 

Own: 2022

2022 Ram 1500
Source: MercurySable99 / Wikimedia Commons
The 2022 Ram 1500 received a “Top Safety Pick” from IIHS for crash results.

With a sizable drop in NHTSA complaints down to 324 total reports, the 2022 model year continued to show why this era was the Ram 1500’s strongest. Among the most important considerations was that the NHTSA gave the Ram 1500 excellent safety ratings. Perfect scores were also available for the side barrier rating, side pole rating, and overall side rating. 

The IIHS safety report also gave the 2022 Ram 1500 a “Top Safety Pick” rating which was the highest rating it can award a vehicle. In addition, the Ram 1500 received an entirely new and well-upgraded infotainment system. All of this combines to make the 2022 model year an easy recommendation.  

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