We live in a golden era of instant gratification, where every appliance is another appliance, and single-purpose products are benign and unsellable to the masses. Need proof? Your cell phone is a calculator, social media broadcast station, and gaming console, and there’s a chance—however ridiculous—that it gets texts from your refrigerator alerting you when to buy milk. So, too, do we demand this multitool functionality from our trucks. All but gone are the days of single-cab, long-bed haulers. Today’s off-road trucks are expected to do everything, be everything, and are constantly weighed and measured against the yardstick of Ford’s paradigm-shifting SVT Raptor.
Enter our 2019 Ram Power Wagon: a 7,000-pound, plush interior’d workhorse with Rubicon-grade 4×4 hardware, a farm-handy Warn winch, and the capacity to carry 1,510 pounds of whatever in the bed. It tows heavily, out-articulates any new truck on the market, and tucks 37-inch tires with nary a fender trim. Its only off-road shortcoming is a heft-hindered gait across rough terrain. However, that last problem has been remedied.
Carli Suspension, a long-time supporter of solid-axle Dodge (and Ford) performance has concocted a recipe to make this 3-and-a-half ton pig fly over desert terrain. Their take is “this is how the truck should have come from the factory,” and we’re hard-pressed to disagree.
The Great Debate: Raptor vs. Power Wagon
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Comparing the Ram Power Wagon to a Ford Raptor is akin to likening a thoroughbred to a Clydesdale because they both have hooves. That said, the Raptor has enjoyed a decadelong reign over the showroom-stock, off-road kingdom, and it’s hard for enthusiasts not to pair them up, however apples to oranges that pairing may be.
“A Raptor is a -ton truck designed around high-speed, off-road capability,” said Dan Tourino, VP, Carli Suspension. “A Power Wagon is a -ton intended to be the ultimate utilitarian vehicle. Raptors have A-arms, big shocks, and light springs. Power Wagons have straight axles, small shocks, disconnecting sway bars, lockers, and a winch. These two applications are extremes within their own spectrums, which don’t share much overlap despite being off-road intended.”
The Power Wagon is a workhorse designed from the factory to tackle just about every terrain mother earth has to offer, but at a reasonable pace. At least until 2.5-inch King shocks, custom-tuned by Carli, a long-travel suspension, and revised geometry enter the mix.
“Our system blurs the line and overlaps the spectrums,” Tourino said. “Throwing custom-tuned, large-diameter shocks on a Power Wagon makes the truck handle like it’s half its size; Raptor-esque, even. If one maintains the factory Power Wagon sway bar disconnect and Articulink factory radius arms, articulation capability will increase with the extended travel while hard-charging desert terrain is added to the platform’s already impressive repertoire. This kit is hyper focused on the Power Wagon; it’s not a one-size fits all for the Ram 2500 chassis.”
So with all of the aforementioned additions, the factory-equipped front and rear Power Wagon E-lockers, one-ton solid axles front and rear, newfound ground clearance from both 37-inch Toyo Open-Country tires and 2 inches of lift from Carli’s Pintop suspension system, there is more than a fair case to be made that the Power Wagon is the ultimate do-anything, go-anywhere truck.
How Good Becomes Great
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Upping the speed capability of a solid axle truck is an area of expertise that few suspension companies can attest to. Short of King of the Hammers, purpose-built rigs, the roadgoing Ram and Ford platforms have been largely ignored.
“We pioneered the solid axle truck segment,” Tourino said. “They’re factory 4x4s, which means you can putter around off-road, but doing so at speed was never a design intent of Ram or Ford. We’ve really focused on extending the travel and articulation of these trucks. Sage Carli, our owner, has been doing that since 2003, and he has more seat time in these solid-axle trucks than anybody out there.”
Articulation, travel, and geometry are huge components of creating a suspension system that works, but it’s the harshness that makes its way into the driver’s compartment that inspires the confidence to go faster. Selecting the right shock package, and valving it accordingly, especially in the case of the 7,000-pound Power Wagon, is what makes a few quality components into a truly great suspension system.
“I love talking about [shock tuning] because it’s not like you plug any sort of information (weight, spring rate, etc.) into a calculator and get a valve stack,” Tourino said. “We don’t estimate anything. [We] take the truck out into the real world, in the situations for which we designed it, and drive it. Then we revalve it and drive it again until we are happy with it.”
Solid Axle vs. IRS
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It’s somewhat ironic that the Power Wagon and other solid-axle Ram and Ford pickups, have a greatest strength that is somewhat of an Achilles heel.
“A solid-axle truck is never going to be a Baja 1000 winner in any unlimited truck,” Tourino said. “However, it is a very robust platform that, if kept within the capability of the factory components, such as steering and what the axles can handle without bending, can really deliver a best-of-both-worlds experience.”
The Power Wagon’s multilink rear suspension and radius arm front does a more than respectable job from the factory, and with the added travel from Carli’s Pintop system, it delivers even more articulation and whoop-absorbing acumen, making the Power Wagon an incredibly well-rounded rig.
Carli’s most popular suspension for Power Wagons is its Pintop system, which boats meaty 2.5-inch custom-valved King shocks, softened springs for improved off-road performance, and all of the necessary Carli-designed brackets and hardware to correct suspension geometry and increase travel.
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We began the lift installation in the rear of the truck where the nut on the factory shock is slightly obscured by the factory plastic fender liner. We lightly trimmed it with a razor blade to make the bolt easier to access to remove the shock.
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We removed the bolt attaching the ABS cable bracket to the rear axle. This allows a little more slack when dropping the axle out to replace the coil springs.
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With the rear shocks, track bar, and sway bar links removed, the axle is able to droop out for removal of the factory coil springs.
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While the kit uses a softer spring rate for improved ride quality, Carli’s springs are taller and have been load-tested to 2,000 pounds. That means they don’t lower the truck’s payload capacity, but actually increase it, while simultaneously increasing travel.
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We used a heavy-duty spring compressor to compact the Carli springs for installation; however, removal of the center, factory shock would allow the axle to droop even further. According to Tourino, this was factory installed for anti-hop purposes and is no longer required with the King 2.5-inch shocks.
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The custom-valved Carli-by-King shocks feature 2.5-inch pistons and remote reservoirs to drastically improve suspension control and ride comfort both on- and off-road.
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The rear shocks were bolted into the factory Power Wagon mounts and torqued in place.
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It’s attention to detail that makes any lift kit great, and these emergency brake relocation brackets ensure the new suspension components all play nice with the factory hardware.
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Being a five-link rear suspension, the back of the Power Wagon is a very busy place. In order to install the Carli track-bar relocation bracket, the muffler needs to be temporarily removed at the rearmost exhaust coupler.
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The track-bar relocation bracket slots over the factory bracket, adding additional holes and bolts to substantially secure it to the frame. Relocating the track-bar downward corrects the geometry and recenters the axle under the Power Wagon.
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When reinstalling the rear, factory track bar, a simple ratchet strap goes a long way to pull the massive axle back into position.
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Carli provides these longer, billet sway bar links to reconnect the factory bar to the axles.
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The Power Wagon incorporates a rear bump-drop bracket, but it’s impossible to deny the billet jewelry from Carli is more aesthetic when peeking over the rear tire.
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With the rear suspension complete, we turned our attention to the front, again loosening the ABS connections and removing the shocks and sway bar links.
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The front Carli springs are side specific as denoted by the part numbers.
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These clever reservoir brackets sit between the top spring isolator and the frame-mounted coil spring cups.
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The Carli front track bar has significantly more adjustment than the factory unit and incorporates a spherical joint with misalignment spacers to add articulation and strength.
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This tapered jam nut in conjunction with a healthy dose of red Loctite keeps the steering nice and tight.
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When installing the track bar to the axle bracket, the misalignment spacers are position sensitive, so take note of their orientation.
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Carli also provided a gas-charged steering stabilizer. It is preset to counteract common tire-pull issues, but the nitrogen pressure can be adjusted. One note was that there is a factory steering position sensor that is likely to throw a traction control light on the dash after the lift install. We can confirm that a simple alignment—recommended after any suspension alteration—clears that right up.
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Dropping the front bumpstops, due to the factory design, requires prying the rubber out (we used channel locks), drilling a hole into the frame, and using a self-tapping bolt (supplied) to mount the drop brackets. The rubber portion of the bump is then pressed into the new bracket.
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We used a bottle jack to quickly and easily press the factory bump into the Carli bracket.
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One of the most significant, suspension-correcting components of the kit is the radius arm drop brackets. They install onto the frame over the existing mounts, similar to the rear track bar, and incorporate substantial additional fasteners to facilitate a rigid installation.
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This drill guide ensures that the holes for the new fasteners end up in the proper position.
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Bolts passing through the frame utilize a crush sleeve so as to provide maximum clamping force for the Carli drop brackets without pinching the Power Wagon frame.
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2019 and up power wagons incorporate this harmonic balancer, which helps mitigate vibration from Eco mode (when the engine shuts down four cylinders for fuel economy). These billet aluminum brackets from Carli reposition the passenger- and driver-side dampers while keeping them 100 percent functional.
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Here is a shot of the completed drop bracket with the supplied grade-8 hardware. Note the harmonic damper in the top left corner.
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With great suspension comes greater potential for “oops.” This Carli front differential skid plate is a 5-minute, bolt-on install and reduces the chance for rock damage to the factory, stamped-steel, front differential cover.