When it comes to doing work — towing, hauling or otherwise being a truck — the heavy-duty class of trucks gets the lion’s share of the workload. Like any tool, you need something that will work time and time again. So, before you fork out the dough for this tool, look at our research to see how reliable heavy-duty trucks are for 2020.
For this article, we consulted sources such CarComplaints.com, the National Highway Safety Administration database and Consumer Reports. We share our findings on the three brands offered as heavy-duty trucks: Chevy/GMC, Ford and Ram. This is not a ranking of reliable heavy-duty trucks, it’s simply a compilation of our research in alphabetical order.
For each heavy-duty truck, you will find information broken down into popular issues, links to sources, total recalls and Consumer Reports predicted reliability for the past 5 models years out of a total of 25 points.
It is also worth noting, our research looked at the trucks without breaking the issues down specifically to gas or diesel unless a known diesel defect existed.
Finally, we focused on the past five model years for data since past performance can sometimes, although not always, be a good measuring tool for understanding future dependability.
Starting with steering, many people have complained about loose steering wheel feel or a complete lock-up of the steering during low speeds. There have been several Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) to address steering issues — especially in the 2015 model year with 17 different TSBs we counted up. Several people pointed to TSB PIT5501F as a possible fix and it states technicians should look a the pitman shaft adjuster screw as possibly being loose.
For the transmission issue, owners are finding problems with surging at the wrong times as well as having a shudder at higher speeds. A TSB 16-NA-175 was issued to address this issue for 2015 through 2018 models of Silverado/Sierra pickups as well as a variety of other GM models. The TSB looks like it is having technicians take a look a the torque converter clutch as the problem needing fixing.
On Duramax diesel LML engines, offered through 2016, there is an ongoing concern about the Bosch CP4 fuel pump used on these engines. For many owners, they are having to spend thousands to replace engines or entire fuel systems to keep their trucks running. This issue has become so prevalent, there is an ongoing class-action lawsuit. If you have one of these trucks, you need to check it out here.
Electrical issues are primarily focused on the Stabilitrak traction control and brake light came on while the brake pedal became soft. This lead to many people replacing the brake booster and checking the brake fluid.
There have also been cases where the entire dash went dark and the engine stopped. After a few minutes, the owners were able to get the truck started again. This is a random electrical issue related to a poor sensor for most people.
Overall, we counted up 60 recalls for the Chevy Silverado 2500, 3500 (GMC Sierra as well) having to do with steering for the 2015-2017 model years.
Total Recalls: 26 (2500), 34 (3500)
Consumer Reports reliability: 15/25 (2500), 18/25 (3500)
Our reliable heavy-duty trucks research drilled down to one specific item for the Ford Super Duty lineup of trucks: the death wobble. This issue dominated all the search results and, frankly, was such a big issue, it was really hard to identify any other common issue.
The issue has to do with an uncontrolled shaking of steering wheel causing many people to either let go of the steering wheel or slam on their brakes to slow down the truck to lessen the shaking.
Now, the death wobble issue has impacted every truck on this list at some point with the Dodge death wobble being a top search term for a while as was the Chevy shake. It seems now the issue is on Ford trucks.
Here is one person’s description of the issue:
“I have a 2015 F350 with 24881 miles on it. I have experienced the ‘death wobble’ I have read about in recent lawsuit news on the Ford trucks a handful of times on the highway. The truck will start shaking violently and I had to slow down drastically to get it to stop. I use this truck mainly to tow my boat and is completely in stock form. This isn’t something that should be happening to a 65K sticker truck with low miles and poses a serious danger.”
The issue has, not surprisingly, lead to a Class Action lawsuit which is currently ongoing.
For recall information, the Ford Super Duty trucks had relatively little except for the 2017 model year – the first year of a redesigned truck. This year stood out with 12 recalls for just the F-250 including a door latch and seat belt weld issue as well many other items.
Overall, it seems the Ford Super Duty lineup has done pretty well for reliability, (even including the spark plug wire issue on the new 7.3L V8) well except for 2017 and the death wobble issue.
Total Recalls: 21 (F-250), 26 (F-350)
Consumer Reports: 14/25 (F-250), 15/25 (F-350)
For the Ram heavy-duty 2500/3500 trucks, owners reported many issues on items like a dead pedal feel, drag link recall as it relates to steering, a faulty turbo boost actuator and cheap stock tires.
Starting with the dead pedal feel, this is a sense of lag between the pedal acceleration and how fast the truck responds. This is often related to the new way throttle response has changed from an older mechanical system opening up the throttle to a newer electronic signal going through the ECU. Automakers, like Ram, have gone to this electronic signal as it lets them have more adjustment on how the truck performs. However, consumers who want a fast response to their throttle have complained about the system. Aftermarket companies like Pedal Commander allow you to get a faster pedal response and their four drives modes (Eco, City, Sport and Sport+) now mirror what newer vehicles have in terms of throttle response. If you have an older Ram HD and want a faster throttle response, the aftermarket system is probably your best best.
For the drag link recall, many 2015-2018 Ram 3500 owners complained about steering issue, NHTSA 19V021000, which was addressed by mechanics either replacing the drag link assembly or welding the adjustable part of the steering linkage rendering it not adjustable. The latter is causing a lot of concern since is if the truck ever needs another alignment, the welds have to be broken and re-welded back together. Also known as a pain in the butt and there are concerns about longevity of the metal after subsequent welds.
Another large area of problems is due to a loss of power, some owners reporting smoke from under the hood, along with the exhaust brake not working due to a faulty turbo boost actuator on the 6.7-liter Cummins engines. It seems like a fairly common issue with the error code U010C – Lost Comm with Turbo showing up on the truck. This is a fairly simple fix for dealers to swap out and replace.
For many 3500 owners, the stock Nexen tires are a big concern with reports of tires separating from the hubs, tire splitting and blowouts common on low mileage tires.
Several other complaints were about recalled parts taking an excessive amount of time to be sent to the dealers.
Total Recalls: 43 (2500), 48 (3500)
Consumer Reports: 7/25 (2500), 6*/25 (3500)
*many of the 3500 predicted reliability rankings were N/A. The 1 score was the only score given for the 2015 model year, so we used this score on each model year to make the scoring fair in comparison.
While there is simply no guarantee you won’t end up with a lemon truck, our listing is a good informational resource to refer back to when shopping for new or used reliable heavy-duty trucks.