2014 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel: Overriding The Transmission for Emergency Towing
April 30, 2015
One particular design feature of our 2014 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel slipped under the radar when I explained why it was towed to the dealer for service two months ago. The feature in question played a critical role, however, because it has to do with how we were able to tow it in the first place.
To recap, the engine stalled abruptly while driving and rolled to a stop. In such cases the electronically-controlled transmission defaults to Park. I was subsequently unable to restart the engine, so I could not use the 8-speed transmission's electronic rotary gear selector to execute a shift into neutral in preparation for towing.
Oh, great. Now what?
It turns out there's an app for that. Or, more correctly, a rip cord.
Ram doesn't call it a rip cord, though. The term they use is Manual Park Release Pull Strap. It's all explained in the "What To Do In Emergencies" section of the 784-page owner's manual.
Step one is set the parking brake. This should be obvious because we're about to change the transmission's state from Park to Neutral.
The difference between the two isn't technically a shift because no forward or reverse gears are engaged in either case. The former has the "parking pawl" engaged, the latter does not. The strap pulls a cable that releases the parking pawl, thus converting Park into Neutral.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before we can do that we must remove the rectangular panel above the parking brake release lever. They suggest a screwdriver, but anything skinny enough to fit into the gap without marring the plastic will suffice. I used a key and my fingertips.
Now comes the moment we pull the strap, but in order to do that, we must use our free hand and our key or small screwdriver to push back a small metallic locking tab that exists to ensure that what we're about to do is a deliberate act. The strap will then extract a lever that will snap into place when it protrudes out far enough.
At this point, the truck is in neutral, just as it would be if the rotary shifter was live and moved to the "N" position. But we mustn't release the parking brake until the tow truck is in position. A better plan is to inform the tow truck driver that the truck is in neutral with the parking brake set, then let him release it when he's ready.
Do all tow truck drivers know about this? They should, but you might want to make sure if you have the 8-speed and rotary shifter. This setup hasn't been around for very many years.
The manual goes on to say that 4x2 Ram 1500 trucks can be lift towed, but they recommend a flatbed for four-wheel drive models.
You may have noticed that AAA sent a lift truck instead of a rollback, even though I told them our Ram was a 4x4. I didn't think anything of it at the time because I figured they had some big spreadsheet that told them what kind of truck to dispatch. I hadn't yet read up to page 665 of the manual.
It turns out this recommendation comes from an abundance of caution on Ram's part because they can't control the circumstances out on the side of the road. They're right on the money if your 4x4 happens to be set to any of the available 4x4 modes when it needs towing: 4 High, 4 Automatic or 4 Low.
A Ram representative later told me that 4x2 mode is OK for emergency towing over short distances. The shift into 2-wheel drive disconnects the front driveline in two places: the transfer case and the front differential. Indeed, our 4x4 suffered no damage in the 3-mile journey to the dealer. For his part, the tow truck driver stayed off the freeway and kept his speed at 35 mph or less.
But this is not the approved way to tow a 4x4 Ram 1500 behind a motorhome over long distances. In that scenario, the truck must be flat-towed with four wheels on the ground. The rip cord is not involved because the transfer case, not the transmission, must be put into neutral in that situation - a process also spelled out in the weighty owner's manual (pages 596-605, specifically).
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing