6th Mar 2007, 18:19

It's the original reviewer here again, reporting on the yearly update. The '85 Ramcharger now has 254,200 miles on it, and I'm still driving it regularly. I drive it to work every day, the hundred-mile round trip to the airport every month or so, the occasional 300-mile round trip for sightseeing, and a 200-mile trip every to every other weekend. For the last couple of years, I've been driving an average of 10,000-12,000 miles per year.

I was wrong about the lifter rattle and the plugs fouling. I just changed the plugs, and they made it to the 30,000 mile replacement interval with almost no discoloration, just a bluish gray deposit and some light brown deposits, but no carbon or oil.

Apparently the rattling was not the lifters, but an extremely loose timing chain, which is the only major thing I've replaced since the last update. At the same time, I had the fuel pump replaced to head off a problem that sounded like it was beginning to suck air, even though it wasn't affecting the running yet.

I've done some minor maintenance on my own, listed in the next paragraphs, such as replacing the heater hoses and the rubber transmission cooling lines.

The old rubber was getting hard and mushroomed out around the clamps, so I replaced them before they started seeping or cracking -- that cost about $20.

I also had to replace the plastic bushing for the windshield wiper cam, which cost only half an hour and 25 cents -- the cordless screwdriver made short work of that job.

I replaced the front u-joint at a cost of $15, and a couple hours of leisurely work -- having a 6-inch table vise also made short work of that job.

I had to fix the glove box lock when a sprawl sheared off from metal fatigue, which cost nothing -- I just drilled down into the lock shaft, and pressed in an old needle bearing to act as a new sprawl for the knob to engage on.

Similarly, I had to fix the driver's door latch when the head of a machine screw popped off from the fatigue of having the door slammed for the millionth time -- just drilled out the body of the old screw, tapped the hole, and installed a new screw, so that cost nothing.

I also replaced the dimmer switch when the low beams wouldn't come on after it was wet out, which was a $5 repair.

One random problem was stripped bolts for the harmonic balancer pulley, which I think was a result of a garage changing the belts improperly (they either didn't understand how to pivot the power steering pump or couldn't free the hold-down bolt, and instead loosened the pulley and then torqued it down hard with an air wrench, I believe -- serves me right for not changing my own belts). The pulley was so loose it was held on by one bolt. I simply tapped out the 5/16" holes in the harmonic balancer to a 3/8" coarse thread, reamed out the holes in the pulley, and installed new, larger bolts. They torqued up just fine to the specified 200 inch-pounds. I can't blame that one on the vehicle, but it cost about $40 for a high quality tap, the tap handle, a reamer for my drill, and the bolts and washers.

Somewhere in there I had the cooling system pressure flushed as part of routine maintenance, and I also changed the transfer case fluid and transmission fluid/filter at their recommended 37,500 mile intervals. I also change oil at about 2,000 miles.

A couple of years ago, I had difficulty with the truck not wanting to start the day after I went on a long trip, and beginning to run rough the afternoon of the trip. I changed several things to no avail, but finally used a resistance meter to determine that the distributor plug from the control module was resting on the hot engine, and would expand and contract to increase the resistance to the point that the control module couldn't send a signal to the distributor to get spark. I tied the plug up off the intake manifold with a twisty tie, and it's been running fine for 2 1/2 years and 20,000+ miles since then.

Downsides: with a sagged out suspension, the ride is rough and the front tires show uneven outside wear after only 8,000 miles. I only got 28,000 miles from my last set of tires, although the previous set gave 50,000 miles, so I suspect moving to the curvy hills has impacted that. Going over a bump or pothole is like simultaneously being punched in the face and kicked in the a**.

Despite rebuilding the carburetor some time ago, which solved several issues, it still has a dead spot, like a bad accelerator pump even though I replaced it. It has very poor acceleration, and will bog out if you let off the gas and then step on it, which is tough for city driving. You have to drive gently on the throttle, increasing speed gradually and let it run at its own pace. If I'd known how long I would keep the vehicle, the best fix for that would have been an Edelbrock intake and Holley 600 4-barrel.

General comments thus far: the 12 mpg represents the very worst driving conditions, city driving in winter. Average is more like 14 mpg. The best I have ever gotten was on a long distance drive on the highway doing 55 mph, when I got 18 mpg.

Due to a couple of repairs like the timing chain, and buying a new set of tires, my average cost per mile went up to about 8 cents per mile before dropping back down to about 7 cents per mile. Over the last 6+ years, my average repair and maintenance cost (which represents the total ownership cost aside from buying gasoline) has been about $80/month (that is an average, so a couple of years were quite expensive, and the rest pretty cheap).

The engine, transmission, and drive train still seem good and don't give any indication of quitting. The biggest detriment looks like it will be the rust from spending its life in salt states, rather than any mechanical failure.

My Haynes Manual has been instrumental in keeping this vehicle going, and has probably saved it from the junkyard or being drained on every little repair. It is the Haynes Manual that helped me solve the starting problem, the door latch repair, the windshield wiper bushing, and provided the torque specifications.

12th Jun 2007, 16:10

I'm the original reviewer, providing the final update on this vehicle.

I have retired it from my service at 259,865 miles. Although it continues to run and drive, the Wisconsin rust had eaten into it so badly that it can't reasonably be repaired enough to pass the West Virginia vehicle inspection. I would have been willing to have the body repaired, but the frame braces and floor were badly rusted.

The 318 engine and 727 automatic transmission are still performing fine, but rust was the achilles heel for this 22-year old vehicle, which spent its first 11 years in Wisconsin.

I drove it back to Wisconsin and gave it to my parents to use as a utility or winter emergency vehicle. The trip was 945 miles, during which time the truck ran perfectly and achieved 19 mpg at 55 mph.

In addition to the items mentioned previously, I also replaced both power steering hoses, at a cost of $13 apiece.

For the final summary, I owned this truck for 11 years, during which time I put nearly 96,000 miles on it at a cost of just under $7,000 (including oil changes, tires, and routine maintenance in addition to required repairs), which is an average monthly cost of just under $52. I have no complaints about that service (considering I bought it with 163,000 miles on it), and would recommend a Ramcharger to anyone who needs a true, utilitarian 4x4 to take off-road for hunting, camping, or working in the woods.

My new SUV is nicer in every measurable way, but it's not even remotely in the same class as an off-road 4x4 when compared to the Ramcharger.