After conducting research and taking many test drives, Chris DeVore felt great about buying his 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel 4×2 pickup truck. After putting nearly 3,000 miles on the odometer, he caught a whiff of diesel exhaust. At 5,000 miles the smell was so strong he felt like he was choking. Now after four trips to different dealers, more than 30 days of waiting on repairs, a new exhaust coupling, a new catalytic converter, a complaint to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, a phone call to the EPA and other hassles, his truck still stinks.
"The exhaust smell started out intermittent with just a whiff of raw diesel exhaust every now and again," DeVore said. "It then grew constant. It was just like having the tailpipe of an older Power Stroke diesel truck coming right out of the dash in our faces. It would choke us … and make me lightheaded after about 20 minutes of driving. I had to put the [air conditioning] on recirculate and open the windows in order to make the 200-mile drive back to the selling dealer for service. Even with the windows open, I still had to stop a few times for fresh air."
The retired Air Force officer says the smell is a much more than an annoyance; it makes it difficult for him to use his truck.
Many Owners Affected
And he is not alone. In researching this story, we found several owners like DeVore and they all tell a similar story. Each of them loves their truck, yet are tired of the diesel stink. The degree of stink seems to vary by vehicle; some owners say it is just a mild nuisance while one we heard went to the hospital after a driving a long distance.
These fumes apparently come from a defective exhaust coupling, according to Eric Mayne, FCA media relations manager for safety, regulatory affairs and engineering. Ram worked with the EPA to issue a voluntary recall for approximately 3,000 model-year 2014-15 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel two-wheel-drive pickups to replace the part.
"This is a voluntary emissions recall initiated by FCA US LLC in full compliance with EPA regulations," Mayne said. "Tests have confirmed there is no safety issue. Affected customers will be notified when they may schedule service, which will be performed at no cost."
Since Ram initiated a voluntary recall, the EPA will not issue one unless it believes the company is not doing all it can do to fix the issue.
"The Ram recall was initiated by the manufacturer, and they have alerted EPA as required," said EPA spokeswoman Christie St. Clair. "They are following the expected practice of recalling to fix a problem they found themselves."
The EPA issues about 2 million emissions-related recalls each year.
New Exhaust Coupling Coming
The problem first made news in December 2014 when the ABC affiliate in Detroit, WXYZ-Channel 7, followed up on several customer complaints about the diesel Ram. Many of these customers said the diesel exhaust fumes were so noxious they were concerned for their health and safety. Initially, WXYZ reported, Ram said the problem was limited to 11 pickups. Presented with numerous customer complaints, Ram eventually acknowledged the problem was bigger than originally thought.
Ram said it has identified the problem and has developed a new exhaust coupling that will begin shipping to dealers in the coming weeks.
"An exhaust-system coupling may crack because of a resonance specific to Ram 1500 pickups with 4×2 drivelines," Mayne said. "There is no issue with the powertrain, and tests have confirmed there is no safety hazard."
Ram is sending a letter to affected owners in May about the voluntary recall. It is up to the owners to bring their trucks in for the repair, which will be completed free of charge. Ram said if customers experience any issues prior to receiving a recall notice they can bring the truck to their dealer so the issue can be addressed sooner.
Difficult to Identify
An exhaust leak in the cabin is difficult to detect because carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless. For household applications, gas companies add an odor that resembles rotten eggs to provide a scent. In automotive applications, the rotten egg odor doesn't exist. Identifying the problem seems to come down to what the owner and dealership employees smell. Quite often, according to owners we heard from, owners and service managers disagree on whether there is a smell.
It also seems to vary by truck. Several owners dismissed it as a minor problem, others have never experienced it, and others carry a carbon monoxide detector in their cabin.
The odor seems more apparent when the truck is going through a regeneration cycle. This cycle happens when the exhaust particulate filter reaches 80 percent of its maximum storage capacity. The truck will display a message informing the driver to safely drive at highway speeds to remedy the problem. Once this is done, the particulate filter system will cleanse the filter to remove trapped particulate matter and restore the system to normal operating conditions. This process generates a stronger odor, which is normally detected outside the truck. In the case of the affected trucks, this odor permeates the cabin and can be quite strong.
Ram says the issue is only with 4×2 EcoDiesel trucks, yet our unscientific sample revealed some owners of 4×4 trucks have had the same issue as DeVore. These trucks include various trim levels.
Perplexing as it may be, DeVore simply wants his pickup fixed. He's had a software update, replaced the exhaust coupling and a cracked turbo exhaust pipe, yet the problem persists.
"The truck is being driven daily, but I still get weird exhaust smells intermittently that reek of DEF [diesel exhaust fluid]," DeVore said. "The smells seem to enter the cab at highway speeds and then dissipate completely randomly. If I leave the truck run while hitching up a trailer, it will usually burn my eyes and nose. It's strong smelling one day and clean smelling the next."
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams