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What to do with a dually?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  March 19, 2010 04:11 PM

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(All photos: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)

The double-wide axle pickup, lovingly nicknamed "dually," is an American legend. They give horses a break and set bragging rights in the construction yard. They're the reason RV enthusiasts can watch football, grill, and pass out drunk on king-size beds in the middle of nowhere.

Most people without a commercial license won't ever drive a dually besides helping a friend move with a U-Haul. Short of an 18-wheel tanker, it's hard to think of any vehicle more manly to own or scary to motorists than a dually.

I've driven several U-Haul duallies, but never had to park them where I didn't have several car lengths on either side. So when a 2010 Dodge Ram 3500 Heavy Duty greeted me at the Globe for the ride back to Brookline, I felt intimidated.

That's the point. The Ram 3500 is a condensed Mack tractor, with its five yellow roof lights, swinging mud flaps, and big-bore diesel exhaust. For 2010, Dodge enlarged the chrome snout and refreshed the interior layout, though it's still full of hard plastic.

Everything else about the Ram clatters, knocks, and shuts with metallic authority. The front bumper is hard steel, not plastic-wrapped styrofoam. The windows, locks, and 16-inch long sideview mirrors — with convex glass at the corners — are manual. Starting or stopping the turbocharged, 6.7 liter inline-six shakes the entire cab side to side, and there's so much torque — 650 lb.-ft. at 1,500 rpm — that first gear is labeled "L" on the two-foot long six-speed shifter.

Ram rule number one: Unless you're towing a boat uphill or ripping someone's house apart, you never start in first gear. In fact, as New York Times writer Ezra Dyer discovered when he took this same truck for a test drive, you can start in any gear. Need to merge quickly? Plant it and keep an eye on the tach. The 3,500-rpm redline comes up way faster than you suppose three-and-a-half tons could move. Dan Roth of Examiner.com went so far to call it a sports car.

Which, if you were blind and raised in oil-burning Mercedes sedans, you could agree. But while the steering is surprisingly accurate and the suspension a little rougher than a Tesla Roadster over train tracks, in the city the Ram is like slipping a cruise ship through the Panama Canal.

Ram rule number two: Always watch your back. The Ram's rear track is 7.2 inches wider than the front, which means that even your best parking job will land the tires on the lines of a standard space. Luckily, the mirrors stick out equally with the rear fenders, so you can quickly tell if you're too big to fit. It does require wider turns and sometimes straddling two lanes if the road gets narrow. Believe me, no one, not even in Massachusetts, will attempt to pass.

As you downshift slowing down, the exhaust brake belches an earful of brrrrap! just like semis do, and if you're still in gear below 15 mph as you brake, the torque fights to keep pushing. Which made me imagine, on more than one occasion, of what it would be like to plow traffic with a BMW 5 Series stuck on the Ram's face. If I could get away with property destruction like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day," the Ram dually would let me.

Ram rule number three: Leave the vehicle before invincibility sets in. Right as I was getting comfortable, my Ram experience was over. If you were reading this in the Houston Chronicle, you'd find out how well the Ram towed 17,000 pounds and took a 5,000-pound payload. But up in Boston, the big Ram just invites trouble.

Intimidated? You better be.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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