COAL: 2016 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – The Bitter Taste of Limone

In my last published COAL post over 2 years ago (here), I made a brief introduction to the newest member of our fleet; a 2016 Ram 1500 with the 3.0L EcoDiesel V6.  More specifically, and quite a mouthful, a Certified Pre-Owned 2016 Ram 1500 Crew Cab Laramie 4×4 EcoDiesel.  My husband, James, and I had been racking up the miles on our primary cars (E350 Bluetec & Magnum SRT8 here).  Projects around the house were growing in size.  We had a desire to head back out to the desert to go offroading.  We also had sights set on a travel trailer to go camping and to go to Burning Man with.  With these criteria, we started to shop around for a truck to add to our fleet.

As we started shopping, a Ram truck was at the top of the list for several reasons.  My parents own a 1998 Ram 1500 equipped with a 5.9L V8 that has 380K miles on it, and a friend owns an ’08 Ram 1500 Sport Crew Cab with the 5.7L Hemi.  We also considered an F-150, due to an extensive list of previous Fords that we had owned.  The biggest factor in considering the Ram was that James really wanted to get another diesel engine.  Not wanting a heavy duty truck, the only one to look at was the Ram 1500.  At the time, it was the only light duty full size with an available diesel engine (Chevrolet and Ford have just recently jumped into this market segment).  We found a Certified Pre-Owned truck locally in our price range.  After the test drive and during the negotiations, we looked over the CarFax report that was provided by the dealer.  Service, service, service, engine replaced.  Say what?!?!

[Just a few days after the new purchase.]

The engine replacement was done at the dealership we were at.  We asked what the deal was.  According to the sales manager, the original owner was a “special kind of customer”.  He was the kind of customer that was never happy and complained about everything.  He kept brining the truck back in, complaining of smelling diesel in the cab of the truck.  The dealership had gone through everything and was never able to replicate the problem.  The customer made such a stink that FCA authorized replacing the engine.  In the middle of the engine swap, the owner traded it in on a new Cummins powered 2500.  Once the engine was replaced, it went through the certification process and was now listed as CPO.  We debated on this for about an hour, the pros and cons of buying this truck with a brand new engine.  It was still under the factory warranty, plus the extended coverage of the CPO warranty.  We decided to gamble and in September of 2017, this truck came home with us.

[Just a few days after the new purchase.]

She was a beautiful truck.  It was Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl metallic with a black interior.  It’s the Laramie trim level, a mid-range luxury trim.  It sits above the Tradesman, Express, SLT, Big Horn/Lonestar, Outdoorsman, and Sport and below the Laramie Longhorn and Limited trims.  It has a lot of luxury features; 20″ chrome clad wheels, chrome LED head and taillights, chrome bumpers, leather interior, heated/cooled memory power seats, heated steering wheel, back up camera, tasteful wood accents on the interior, navigation, bluetooth etc.  Honestly my favorite feature of the truck was the heated steering wheel.  I thought that had to be one of the most pointless features.  Maybe you’d enjoy it in cold climate, but in southern CA?  However, I used that thing all the time.  After a day of working and being on the computer all day, the commute home with the heated steering wheel on it was soothing to my hands.

The EcoDiesel engine is the Italian heart of this American pickup truck.  The 3.0L DOHC turbodiesel V6 is built by VM Motori in Italy.  The engine was available in both the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Ram 1500 in North America, as well as a few Maserati models in Europe.  The engine was named to Ward’s 10 Best Engine list for 2014, 2015, and 2106.  It spins out 240HP and 420 LB/FT of torque!  Towing capacity is 8,560lbs.  The first weekend we had it, took it on a road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs and back.  Over the entire trip we averaged 25 mpg!  The truck drives and rides very well, the coil spring suspension in the back definitely helps.  Considering it has the aerodynamics of a brick, it was surprisingly quiet on the inside at freeway speeds.  Much closer to his Benz than my Magnum.

[Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time.]

About a month into ownership, on one of the first Home Depot runs, the truck flashed a “Service Electronic Throttle Control” error and went into limp mode on the way back home.  We managed to get the truck home, and called Roadside Assistance.  Roadside Assistance is provided as part of the Certified PreOwned warranty, and the truck had its first trip on the back of a flatbed back to the selling dealer (Flatbed Trip #1).  They found that the plastic turbo inlet pipe was cracked, allowing excess air into the engine and the computer was freaking out.  The inlet was replaced and we had the truck back to us the next day.

[One of the reasons we bought a truck, let’s go back country camping.]

One month later, Veteran’s Day weekend was going to be our first off-road and camping excursion with the truck.  4 days and 3 nights in Saline Valley Springs, one of the most remote locations in all of California.  Access to the Valley and Springs requires a high clearance vehicle, and it is 50 miles down an iffy dirt road (80-90 miles from anything remotely considered civilization). From our home in San Diego, it is 390 miles one way to get there.  300 miles into the trip, we got a faint whiff of diesel smell in the cab of the truck.  Initially we thought it was from the tractor trailer we had just passed since the smell dissipated soon after.


Just as we are getting off the beaten path, the check engine light comes on.  No reduction in power, it seems fine.  Soon, we smell diesel and the truck is dumping smoke out the back.  We pull off at a safe spot and there is fuel pouring from underneath the truck.  We shut the truck off to start investigating, and now it refuses to restart.  While attempting to start it, we are able to determine the source of the fuel leak.  One of the high pressure fuel lines is cracked and spraying fuel everywhere.  After several failed attempts (extremely spotty cell coverage), we get in touch with Roadside Assistance.

[One of the prettiest shots on a flatbed I’ve taken]

It takes a couple of hours for the tow truck to arrive.  The CPO warranty covers a tow to the nearest dealership, which is in Bakersfield approximately 230 miles away.  We have to spend a night in Bishop, CA before heading to Bakersfield the next morning (Flatbed Trip #2).  Being Friday afternoon when we arrive, they quickly do the initial analysis and verify that they do not have the part in stock.  It won’t be in until Monday.  We are given a rental and return back to San Diego, camping trip ruined.  On Tuesday I make the round trip from San Diego to Bakersfield to retrieve the truck.

[She went off the beaten path a few times, and actually made it back.]

During our downtime that weekend, we got to thinking about the original owner and his complaints of smelling diesel in the cab.  We determined that the fuel line had to have some sort of microscopic flaw during manufacture, and would drip out fuel when it was under heavy load.  It was clear from the marks in the bed that the truck had been used to haul stuff.  He would smell it, take it to the dealer.  A normal test drive around the block or even on the freeway wouldn’t create a heavy enough load on the engine to cause the fuel to leak.  Our trip, we were loaded down and heading up some decent grades.  This put it under load enough to cause that drip to become a large crack and spray the fuel on the engine.  Our own hypothesis, but nothing ever confirmed.

[Some light wheeling in Anza Borrego.]

After getting the truck back, while our confidence was severely shaken things seemed to get better.  I rotated it into my commute, splitting the week between the Ram and my Magnum.  During my commutes I was getting 21-23 mpg, which is better than my Magnum was getting.  The 8 speed automatic was buttery smooth, always in the right gear and never hunting.  I once rented a Mustang GT with the 10 speed auto and that automatic was terrible.  It was a very comfortable cruiser, glided down the highway.  The back seat had more leg room that our 1995 W140 S-class Mercedes.  I read somewhere that this is what the personal luxury coupe has become, and I agree to some extent.  These are definitely the modern version of the full size cars of the 60s/70s.  There were some dump runs, more Home Depot runs, a trip to Phoenix.  The truck performed without hiccup.  In May of 2018, I took the truck out to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park for a photo shoot with a friend.  We ventured several miles down some of the off-road trails in the park.  The temps in the desert were pushing close to 100, and even with the A/C blasting we made it there and back without issue.  In July of 2018, we took a trip to Palm Springs for the weekend.  I was meeting up for another photo shoot, and again the truck performed flawlessly.  Two weeks later, that all changed.

[That *$#@(&% message!!]

The dreaded “Service Electronic Throttle Control” message appeared, and the truck again went into limp mode.  This time, I was within a couple of miles of the dealership so I just drove there and dropped it off.  This time, the IAT sensor had become clogged and was sending faulty readings to the computer.  The IAT sensor was cleaned, and I could come pick up the truck.  1 week later, limp mode.  This time, Roadside Assistance was called and back to the dealership on a flat bed (Flatbed Trip #3).  Again, the IAT sensor was giving faulty readings so a new sensor was put in.  Less than a week and I was back at the dealership (Flatbed Trip #4).

[My rental Ram, that I had for 5 out of the 6 months.]

The rental I was given was a base model Jeep Renegade.  I was only expecting to be in the rental for just a couple of days.  After a week, my service advisor called me with some interesting news.  They had run every test in their arsenal, and have found nothing wrong with the truck.  They had consulted with the “head office” and ran some additional tests and diagnostics at their instruction, and still found nothing wrong.  At this point, FCA wanted to flash the computer with a new emissions calibration.  In order to do that, the new calibration had to be approved by the California Air Resource Board (CARB).  This being August of 2018, FCA was in the middle of a lawsuit with CARB and the EPA about diesel emissions cheating, which delayed the approval of the new emissions calibration.  They did not want to release the truck back to me because there was no guarantee I wouldn’t be back in two days or two months.  They asked if I was OK with staying in the rental.  Since I was making payments on a truck, I wanted a truck.  The Jeep Renegade that I was in wouldn’t do, so they arranged for another Ram pickup with Enterprise for me to have.  Thankfully it was essentially the same truck as mine, only silver and with the Hemi engine.

6 months!  That is how long I was without my truck.  The rental allowance was $35/day, and that was paid by my CPO warranty.  We figured the rentals ended up costing FCA about $6500.  For the first month, I was in contact with my service advisor once a week.  Then it moved to once a month.  Enterprise called me in December saying that they needed to swap me out for another truck, because this one had hit it’s time limit and needed to be serviced.  When I swapped the silver Laramie truck out, I was put into a white SLT.  I was also informed that I held the record for the longest continuous rental from that particular location.

[First day back home after a long absence.]

In January 2019, I was called and told my truck was ready.  They had not yet flashed the computer, still pending the CARB approval.  However, they had run another battery of tests, replaced a few sensors, replaced the particulate filter, and had driven the truck about 250 miles and had yet to have any errors show up.  I turned in my rental and went home with my truck.  I pressed the truck back into daily driver status.  I beat on her and I beat on her hard.  I really wanted to put the truck through its paces to see if it would break again.  Maybe I was taking a little bit of anger out on it.  After a few weeks, nothing had broken and things were starting to return to normal.

[The final tow, and final straw.]

In March, I am leaving work to go get some lunch.  A few miles from the office I smell diesel!  The check engine light comes on!!  When I stop at the stop light, I can see smoke seeping out from the hood!!!  I know exactly what is happening, another cracked fuel line!!!!  I am fuming more than the truck is!!!!!  I immediately hit the freeway.  It’s about 20 miles to the dealership, and I’m going to deliver this thing smoking like crazy right up to the front door.  I have people passing me on the freeway honking and gesturing about the smoke coming out of the back, which I am well aware of.  I make it about 1/2 way and the truck starts losing power.  I can go no further, so off to the side of the road and a call to Roadside Assistance (Flatbed Trip #5).  Luckily I didn’t have to wait long, maybe 15 minutes.  When you are leaking fuel on the road, you become a priority.  Sure enough, another of the fuel lines (different than the first time) had developed a crack and was spraying fuel on top of the engine.  It was replaced and we had the truck back in a couple of days.

[The last time we saw her.  Ciao!!!]

That was it, we were done.  That Italian heart was a big fat yellow Limone (if you hadn’t guessed, that is Italian for LEMON).  We started to look at what our options were.  Lemon Laws vary by state (consult an attorney for specific details), but what we were able to determine is that our truck was covered under California Lemon Law because it was a Certified Pre Owned purchase.  We contacted FCA through a toll-free number and requested a buy back.  They took down our information and info on the truck.  They reached out to the various dealership service departments to review all services and repairs performed on the truck to determine if it was eligible for buy back.  I’m sure that when they reviewed the records they saw the massive tow bill from Bishop to Bakersfield and the $6500 rental charges as well.  They called back a few days later to inform us that it was going to be bought back, and we were going to get a full refund on the truck minus usage until the first problem.  So we ended up only getting charged usage for a few months of miles.  After getting the approval for the buyback, it took another 3 months before they finally collected the truck.

It was bittersweet to see it go.  We owned the truck for 18 months, 6 of which it sat at the dealership’s service department.  Other than the unreliability of the Italian engine, I loved that truck.  How it looked, how it drove, the features.  Other than the problems outlined, only once did it have to go in for anything else.  One of the cruise control buttons sometimes wouldn’t engage, and that was replaced under warranty.  No manufacturer is without producing lemons.  This one was my first, and hopefully my last.   It’s been almost a year that we have gone without a truck, and we are itching to buy another one.  With all the great Mopar vehicles I’ve had, I would consider buying another Ram again.  Would it be with the EcoDiesel, I’m not sure.  I’ve talked with many EcoDiesel owners who have had nothing but good things to say about them.  We will just have to see.