Mike Pavel says the guy who sold him the truck assured him that the Ram pickup was the perfect match for a given truck camper. And for 25,000 miles across the U.S., it was. But a few miles into Mexico’s Baja country, Pavel’s Ram 3500 suffered a potentially terminal frame break, leaving the Eagle Cap camper pitched at a precarious angle. As for what the truck dealer told him? No matter. Mopar says Pavel will need to come up with the $17,000 to fix the broke-back pickup.
Well within load capacity?
How did Pavel get in this “expensive fix” situation? When he originally visited the Ram dealer, he says he explained the matter in full. The Eagle Cap camper he wanted to haul had a dry weight of 4,900 pounds. He knew he’d be adding some gear weight, but as he told thedrive.com, he’d be well within the range of the payload capacity of the truck. After all, he says, 7,800 pounds capacity is a long way away from the camper’s 4,900, even with some gear stowed in it.
But here’s the snarl: Mike Pavel was apparently under a misimpression—or perhaps even misdirection. He understood his 2020 model Ram 3500 had a payload capacity of 7,800 pounds—and some models are close to that, showing 7,680 pounds. But Mike didn’t have the long-bed, regular cab, two-wheel drive model with a 6.4 Hemi. Rather, his is equipped with a crew-cab, a 4×4, with the larger, 6.7 Cummins diesel. Ram’s specifications suggest a carry capacity of that model at 5,580 pounds.
Who told Mike the wrong specs? Who knows? Maybe in the excitement of the dealer telling him the news that the Eagle Cap was a good match, he just assumed his rig had the heavier specs. But the wrong impression led to a broken frame after some rough Mexican roads. With 2,500 miles on relatively smooth U.S. roads, Pavel was ready for the challenge. He headed into the Baja, where, by Pavel’s own admission, the roads are pretty tough. He says both with bumps and narrowness, he kept the rig speed down, averaging less than 60 miles per hour.
The first sign that all was not well was when Pavel heard some creaking noises. Eyeballing the springs and shocks showed nothing. He kept going. A few days later, while heading north, things got scarier. At first it felt like he had a flat tire as the truck surged forward. Another roadside inspection revealed nothing but, concerned, he dropped the truck speed to less than 10 miles per hour. But another under-check showed cracks developing in both frame sides.
The next manifestation happened just across the road from a mechanic’s shop. The broken frame couldn’t be mistaken, and didn’t need a crawl underneath. The photo says it all. Using his camper jacks to raise the weight of the camper back up, the mechanic was able to do a temporary fix on the frame, but obviously something more was needed.
Thrown under the bus
Pavel turned to the dealer, who told him this wasn’t the first time he’d seen a situation like this. He urged Pavel to file a warranty claim and that if it was accepted, voila! Ram would stick a new frame under the truck. But Mopar didn’t wave the magic wand. They flatly turned down the warranty request, ruling the broken frame was not a bad workmanship issue but, rather, a result of customer overloads. At last check, Pavel was hoping his insurance company would cover repair costs.
What are the takeaways from Pavel’s broken frame problem? First, you must absolutely know the true payload capacity of your tow rig. We’ve heard that when some ask a dealer what the payload capacity of a truck is, they’re tossed out a number. Too often, that number is true—but not necessarily for the specific truck the customer is looking at. It could well be the maximum capacity of the top payload capacity rig for that model of truck. Do your homework and look it up.
Weight distribution matters
Keep in mind, payload capacity for a pickup truck isn’t just what goes into the truck bed. Add in the weight of the passengers and other gear that may be hauled in the cab. Payload weight doesn’t just go over the rear axle—it’s distributed over all the wheels, front-end included. And how that weight is distributed can make a huge difference.
Look at the picture of Pavel’s truck and camper. This short-bed pickup is carrying a fairly long camper. That means that a great deal of the camper weight is stuck out far behind the truck axle. Still, the rear wheels are acting as a pivot point for that weight. As the truck rolls, bumps, and bounces down the road, the frame, in Pavel’s case, ahead of the rear axle, takes a fair amount of flexion. While the bumpy roads of the Baja may have contributed to the broken frame, it could have happened anywhere. Expansion and contraction from heat, the flexing as the load weight shifts up and down, all of this adds up. Eventually, the frame, evidently hauling more weight than designed for, simply suffered metal fatigue.
Here’s another thing to hold in mind. When you toss more weight on the back of your rig, you’re transferring more weight to where it can create flexion problems. This applies not just to pickup trucks, but to motorhomes and trailers, too. Got a bike carrier on the back of your rig? It may not look like it’s a lot of weight, but sticking that weight farther back simply transfers more weight to the back, and can create additional flexion issues up front. You may still be on the “safe” side of axle capacity, but the frame may be the “weak link in the chain” that can ruin your whole trip.
Don’t make Mike’s mistake. Know your actual limits, and do not overload. And don’t believe everything that your dealer tells you.