Heading down the east side of Hagerman Pass, near Leadville, Colorado, after crossing the continental divide.
I’m in my 2017 Ram/Cummins with Hallmark Nevada flatbed camper, following my buddy Brad, pulling his Kimberley Karavan trailer with his second generation Toyota Sequoia, and Tony in his 6.4L F-250 with a Four Wheel Campers Hawk on the back.
It’s not news that oil and water don’t mix, but if it happens inside a driveline component and you are unaware, the results will eventually be catastrophic. The factory differential breathers on late-model Rams are raised slightly, to near the top of the tires, which is good enough for most folks. Hopefully that would be plenty for me too, as I’m not a fan of playing in deep water or soupy mud. However, it has happened before, including an unfortunate loss of forward progress that lasted hours. Being an ounce-of-prevention guy, I chose to be proactive regarding keeping the H2O out of my gearing lubricants.
For decades I have extended the breathers for driveline components using small, inexpensive air or fuel filters, but a few years ago ARB introduced a most tidy aftermarket solution that I’ve used since. Employing the same filter as their 12-volt air compressors, ARB makes a neat aluminum manifold into which their filter and extended vent lines attach. Vent tubing and fittings are also supplied, and the kit retails for $72.
Aluminum manifold block and air filter.
For the 2017 Ram/Cummins 2500 Pack Mule with Hallmark flatbed camper, I mounted the ARB manifold at the top left of the engine compartment, similar to my 2014 Ram, but I drilled a new hole this time. Using the OE rubber vent hose as my start, the rear axle breather line was extended using ARB’s plastic vent tubing, first inside the Hillsboro flatbed frame, then along the truck frame under the cab and up into the engine compartment. The front differential vent was extended the short distance from near the left front shock, and the transfer-case breather was raised from atop that gearbox into the engine compartment. A trained eye might notice the ARB Differential Breather Kit as aftermarket, but it’s very tidy and clean.
Low, factory vent hoses/caps can get clogged with goop, snow, or ice, causing housing pressure that can lead to leaks. Mounted in this spot, the filter just clears the closed hood.
Are 20 inch wheels and tires better for handling heavy loads? Is the firmer ride on rough surfaces (both paved and not) worth the additional lateral stability? How about for all-around, dual-sport, and overland uses? I’ve never run 20 inch wheels before, preferring the proven off-highway formula of less wheel and more tire sidewall.
About a week ago I bought a used set of stock Dodge/Ram 20 inch wheels and tires, and have been driving on the worn factory tires to establish a 20 inch baseline on my heavy camper truck.
Tires and wheels at the end of this video are: Toyo C/T 35×12.50R17 on Ram forged aluminum (WFV) Power Wagon Wheels, Toyo R/T 285/75R18 on Ram Forged aluminum (WBJ) Big Horn wheels, Firestone 285/60R20 on Ram (WF3) black painted, aluminum, Black Appearance Group wheels.
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Copyright James Langan/RoadTraveler. All Rights Reserved
Big Wig bar diameter is noticeably larger than the OE anti-roll bar.
Hellwig Big Wig Anti-Roll Bar
Both my Fourth Generation Ram/Cummins 2500s have been frequently or constantly loaded to their Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), and the stock suspensions and chassis have impressed me with their ability to handle maximum loads, including the factory rear stabilizer bar’s ability to tame body-roll. However, when pushing the limits of ratings, sometimes a little help from the aftermarket can increase handling performance, safety, and improve our driving experience. My choice was a heavy-duty, adjustable, rear stabilizer bar from Hellwig Products; they call it the Big Wig (part #7306, $570). Hellwig makes another rear bar for late-model Rams; however, I wanted the stoutest one for my loads.
All parts and fasteners were included with the Big Wig bar.
Hellwig knows more than a little about suspension products, they’ve been doing it since 1946, remain a family-owned-and-operated company, and still manufacture their products in Visalia, California, with American-made steel. They make steel helper springs, anti-roll (sway) bars, and air springs. Back in the early 1980s I purchased my first sway-bar product from Hellwig, for a VW Bug, which also lowered the front of the car. (I’ve not lowered a vehicle since.)
Mounting the Big Wig was easy, similar to changing shocks on a Fourth Generation Ram. After assembling a few bits, and properly adjusting the end links, it’s simply a matter of removing the factory bar and mounting the Big Wig in its place. All the parts and fasteners needed are included, and the written instructions are clear. Hellwig gets extra points for above average photos that are bright, and separately securing both the heavy bar and small box of parts inside the large shipping box, avoiding common strewn bits, box failures, or parts damage.
Using the factory bar to measure and adjust the length of the much beefier Hellwig bar ends.
Bar end bushings were pressed-in with a bench vise using the lube provided.
The Big Wig bar is substantially larger than the factory piece, and its shape provides plenty of clearance for my Mag-Hytec rear differential cover. Hellwig recommends starting at the outer, rear-most bar-end mounting hole, which is the softest setting, and moving to the two more firm holes, if desired after adjusting to the vehicle’s new handling characteristics. Because of my maximum load, I went straight to the firmest position.
Installation completed and ready for a road test.
Using the firmest, most forward hole. Zero clearance concerns near the tailpipe on the passenger side.
Does It Work?
From the beginning of my first test, there was a noticeable reduction in body roll, and overall improved stability and control. It does not turn a heavy truck into a sports car, but it was a great improvement. I made detailed notes during my initial drives which included the following Big Wig attributes:
-Limits how much roll occurs; the performance is somewhat similar to a better shock absorber. With the factory bar, after the initial body roll, there would be added oscillation and wiggle before the chassis returned to neutral after the disturbing force ended. The Big Wig stops the roll sooner and then holds the chassis more firmly until centering occurs.
– Very noticeable difference on 75-mph freeway sweepers; much less body roll.
– In high winds, control was much improved; this should reduce driver fatigue.
– Slow speed roll was also limited, including when entering and exiting driveways.
These were substantial improvements, but it is even more impressive when one remembers my custom Hallmark cabover camper, several hundred pounds of tools and recovery gear, bumper, winch, and 35-inch-tall tires. The Big Wig works, is worth the money, and I’m considering adding Hellwig’s front bar also.
Glad I finally added the Big Wig. Fits and works well.
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Copyright James Langan/RoadTraveler. All Rights Reserved
Fun Countrys walked through every type of terrain with ease.
The Dick Cepek Fun Country
The Dick Cepek brand and the Fun Country tread: the names are icons. Mr. Cepek essentially started the aftermarket industry focused on enthusiast four-wheel-drives in the 1960s. Off-highway tires for the exploding Southern California and Baja desert scene were his initial product, before expanding to include shocks, tire-repair kits, jacks, and the other accessories that backcountry travelers needed and wanted.
At the time, the big rubber companies were content making very narrow and short tires for the OEMs, and were ignoring the burgeoning specialty market. Dick Cepek’s first offering was a farm-implement tread with a DOT rating, the Hi-Way Flotation, made for Cepek by Armstrong.
In 1978 Dick Cepek introduced the first Fun Country, a bias-ply design, which was huge by the standards of the day, 36” tall, 15” wide, made for 15” and 16.5” wheels. The first radial was introduced a couple of years later, and called the F-C.
Since 2003, Cooper Tires has owned Mickey Thompson and Dick Cepek, but these brands are independently operated, and the relationship predates the acquisition by several years. Also in 2003, Dick Cepek introduced the F-C II, which advanced the cult following of both their brand and their unusual hybrid tread design.
Moderate noise, any-terrain traction, and winter grip have been consistent attributes throughout the generations of the Fun Country. My built and heavy 2011 Tundra project ran a set of 33” F-C II during most of my stewardship and thereafter with the new owner. They were removed after covering 47,065 miles, with 5.5/32” of the original 18/32” remaining, for an incredible 3,765 miles per 1/32” of tread depth.
Dick Cepek F-C II tread wore like iron on my 2011 Tundra.
Comparing the Dick Cepek F-C II (L), and latest Fun Country (R).
The current Fun Country was introduced at the 2012 SEMA Show, where it won a Global Media Award. The tread and construction had been updated and improved, though the heritage was clearly visible, including the unusual shaped sipes (like little seagulls), which I’m convinced are part of the secret traction recipe. It was the first aftermarket tire I put on my 2014 Ram Carryall, which was covered in TDR87 (pages 91-92). They performed well but were removed to make room for larger rubber. After a couple years I circled back to the Dick Cepek Fun Country, choosing the much larger 305/70R18 size, 12.5” wide, and a bit over 35” tall.
More Void, Special Sipes, Premium Construction, Specs
Even a cursory glance at the Fun Country will communicate the traction potential. Not a full mudder, and proportionally less noisy (but not quiet), they offer substantially more void to handle sloppy conditions compared to typical all-terrain designs. The first Fun Country was probably the original hybrid design offered to the enthusiast market (decades before hybrid was in vogue), and the newest Fun Country leans toward the aggressive side of the category.
Fun Country is a high-void hybrid traction tire, but not a full-on mudder.
The Fun Country has copious siping for such a high-void tire, just like the previous versions. Every block has at least one of the unusually-shaped seagull sipes, and the bigger blocks have three. Like the tread blocks themselves, the sipes are placed at various angles, which provides biting edges in nearly every direction when compared to simpler designs.
The compound is more cut and chip resistant than the previous F-C II, all sizes feature three-ply sidewall construction and 18.5/32” of depth. The shoulder Sidebiters™ mimic the tread design; they are a whopping 6/32” deep and also have micro siping! Of course, the Fun Country is M+S rated.
Sidebiters™ mimic the tread design, and are a whopping 6/32” deep.
All sizes have 18.5/32” tread, more than some competitors.
The 305/70R18 size is a bit wide for an 8-inch-wide wheel; 8.5” is the recommended minimum. I had zero problems with the 305s on factory aluminum 8” wheels, but some shops might balk at mounting this combination. With a load index of 126, and a 65-psi maximum, each tire is capable of supporting 3,750-pounds, with a speed rating of 99 miles-per-hour. My scale said they weigh 71-pounds each.
305/70R18 supports 110# more per tire at 65 psi than the stock 275/70R18 size at 80 psi.
LT305/70R18 First Spin
Highway manners were excellent at all speeds. The 12.5” wide and 35.1” tall 305s are the tallest and widest rubber I’ve run on my Rams; they did not appear to extract a drivability penalty. The stock wheels keep the tires narrow and tucked under the fenders. There was some minor rubbing on the radius arms at maximum steering lock that removed a little paint (they just barely touched), but this didn’t cause any problems. If the occasional, slight rubbing is a concern, aftermarket wheels are a simple solution. Fourth Generation Rams handle larger tires extremely well. Both Ram 2500 trucks used to evaluate these meats have stock suspensions, not even a so-called leveling kit in front.
On- And Off-Road At GVWR
The 1,400-mile roundtrip highway drive from my home in Northern Nevada, to Flagstaff, Arizona, to attend 2017 Overland Expo West was pleasurable and uneventful. With a truck and camper gross weight of 10,000 pounds, the tires also delivered me to the Southwest for an annual backcountry excursion with a buddy after the show.
Several days were spent exploring and camping in remote places, with hundreds of dirt miles passing under the tread. We started adventuring at Monument Valley, advanced to the Valley of the Gods, and then drove deep into the Manti-LaSal National Forest northwest of Blanding, Utah. It was in this forest that I was able to really test some of the off-highway traction and self-cleaning attributes of the Fun Country.
Off-highway flexing, 25 psi in the fronts with a maximum load.
The trip was in late spring after a wet winter, and we headed for a camp at Deadman Point, 8,700’ above sea level. The shaded spur to this site contained numerous muddy puddles that were from two to several truck lengths long and several inches deep. This was not just a little bit of mud or water; the road often swallowing half of the 35-inch tall tires, submerging my White Knuckle Off Road sliders, scraping crossmembers along the bottom, and packing mud on the differentials.
Chocolate pudding, several inches deep.
Exit on one of the many mud puddles we drove through.
My preferred finesse driving, putting along in low range with minimal fuel from the skinny pedal, combined with the outstanding sloppy traction of the Fun Countrys, pulled me through all of the soft spots. There was no need to spin the tires to help clear the mud-packed lugs after each dunking. They self-cleaned easily at normal trail speeds over the dry sections between the muddy spots.
Leveling the camper at Deadman Point, Manti-LaSal National Forest, Utah. Front tire at 25 psi.
Evaluating longevity can be difficult. The same tread can offer vastly different wear on different vehicles, while the driver and conditions are also likely to skew results, often dramatically. My extensive experience evaluating tires on modern diesel pickups provides a solid foundation.
The weight, diesel torque, and manual transmissions on my rigs all contribute to rapid treadwear regardless of what’s mounted. More wear is typically seen on the rear axle, with much less on the front regardless of the brand or design. During the first 2,000 miles logged, including hundreds off-pavement, wear was an equal 1/32” on both axles. The even wear was atypical, but likely reflected the high percentage of highway miles.
To give this set of Fun Countrys a bigger daily driving challenge after duty on the 2014 Carryall crew cab, they were mounted on a 2016 Ram 2500 crew cab that sees much more commuting and personal-use city driving than my outfits. Harder starts, stops, and faster turning, generally contribute to increased wear compared to steady-state, long-distance travel. After another 12,000 miles, for a total of 14,088 miles, they were down an average of 11.5/32” (two at 12/32”, two at 11/32”). Regular rotations kept the wear even, just a hair over 2,000 miles per 1/32”. This is good for the application, duty-cycle, and aggressive tread deign. With the same 2016 Ram and driver, the OE Firestone Transforce HT lost 8.5/32” of their original 15/32” in 9,942-miles, a mere 1,170 per 1/32”!
Swapping the 305 Cepeks onto the second Ram 2500 tester.
These 35” Fun Country treads are a tight fit on stock wheels, but look great and keep a Fourth Generation narrow.
Wearing evenly with about half the tread remaining.
Most light-truck tires are better than in decades past, yet there are still differences in quality and function. The Deck Cepek Fun Country is a premium traction tire, Made In USA by an American company. The LT305/70R18 we tested are $312 each online from tirerack.com, an exceptional value.
The original and still one of the best, Dick Cepek and sister brand Mickey Thompson don’t advertise as much as some of the competition, though their truck tires are better than ever.
Copyright James Langan/RoadTraveler All Rights Reserved.
A version of this article was also published in the Turbo Diesel Register magazine.
Before there could be a Hallmark flatbed model camper, there needed to be a flatbed on my truck. I wanted a readily available and less expensive commercial product, not a custom or semi-custom bed for two or three times as much (out-the-door). After months of research, study, and planning, I decided on the 7′ x 8.5′ Hillsboro Series 2000, and to purchase it and have it installed at Idaho Trailer Sales in Buhl, Idaho.
All of these videos are short.
It took a full day to mount this Hillsboro 2000 Series flatbed and accessories on this 2017 Ram 2500.