I currently own a 1997 Dodge Ram 1500 4X4 with a stock suspension. While I love the truck, the only area that I would like to improve is the ride quality. As you may know the Ram has a very bouncy ride and the handling is ponderous. My driving is primarily on-road, through the pot-holed streets of New Jersey.
I have spoken to several local truck shops and they all seem to agree that the best performance upgrade I can make is to change the shocks. I wanted to get your expert opinion on whether you would recommend this change, or upgrade any other area. Also what type/brand of shock would work best, a firm off-road (ex Rancho, Trail Master) or a softer Bilstein?
The Dodge Ram has most certainly lost the battle of the late model big three as far as ride and handling is concerned. As with most vehicles, the installation of quality aftermarket shock absorbers is almost always an improvement. The upgrading of the factory sway bar(s) in addition to better shocks can give you further assistance with sloppy handling characteristics.
What to use? We spoke with Dave Stout, an engineer with Addco Industries which is an aftermarket suspension parts manufacturer. They've been working on achieving the optimum sway bar/shock combinations for light duty truck applications while taking into consideration the vehicle's projected use.
Through trial and error on the half-ton Ram 4X4 the Tokico Premium Performance non-adjustable shocks provided the best results for on-road handling and ride quality. The second runner up was the Edelbrock Performer IAS Shock which will also provide you with a significant improvement. These shocks work well on truck applications due to their relatively soft resistance on compression and a harder resistance on rebound. The Rancho and trail master shocks are also high quality replacements, but they can be a little stiff on the highway and may be better fitted to a more off-road application. We all know of the quality and price behind a Bilstein shock absorber, but they're not truly designed for truck applications and would be a little on the mushy side for a Ram pickup.
Go ahead and start with the shocks, you should notice a considerable improvement. It seems there is a problem with the production of sway bars for the Dodge Ram at this point in time. We've gone through all the significant aftermarket manufacturers, and only rear sway bars are currently on the shelves. The reason is that either the stock front sway bar is sufficient in its performance and doesn't warrant an upgrade, or the needed angles are very difficult to remanufacture. We get different stories depending on whom we talk to.