Before you continue reading, throw whatever you think you knew about basic physics out the window—seriously. “There’s no way a truck that big should be able to soak up a dip that deep.” Those were exactly the words we said to ourselves as our portly (7,400lb), solid-axle, 1996 Dodge Dually Cummins 4x4 swallowed up a section of road that would leave any other vehicle slammed out, wrecked, and the driver most likely missing a few teeth. Though mystified, we were instant fanboys. Yes, it really works that well. We were ready to enter the Baja 1000. Where do we sign up?
There’s no doubt the popularity of second- and third-generation Dodge Ram Cummins trucks is growing. That said, we had a truly unique truck on our hands and our requirements for updating the suspension were just as special. Our dually in question was already on its umpteenth set of shocks, and the previous owner had installed a very obvious eBay special leveling kit. Steering feel was also sloppy and numb with 185,000 miles on the clock, so the truck was also due for a new track bar. Honestly, we appreciated the current ride height. However, it rode like a UPS delivery truck and steered like an oil tanker. What we were after was a decent rig setup with traditional looks and high-tech suspension that could handle any concrete jungle commute, get toys to the lake and play on any rutted-out fire road with confidence. Of course, we weren’t looking to break the bank, either.
| Beginning with the wheels and tires removed, suspension tech guru, Chris Hrezo of Alternative Offroad, began by disassembling the front sway bar components. Fortunately, Carli Suspension supplies all new extended sway bar links. That said, we won’t be needing any of the factory sway bar hardware.
Determined we could achieve all four of our requirements, we called in the experts at Carli Suspension in Corona, California. When it comes to a highly functioning solid-axle suspension system, nobody does it better than Carli. With overall drivability a priority, Dan Tourino, Carli Sales Manager, suggested the Carli Commuter 2.0 Kit. "The Commuter 2.0 system is designed for people seeking the best on-road ride quality on a budget,” Tourino says. It included new front coils, unique shock tower spacers, custom-length upper and lower control arms, and extended and adjustable sway bar links. “Using front and rear Fox 2.0 internal reservoir shocks, we’ve developed a Carli Signature shock tune that delivers all around comfort and ride quality designed for on-road, in town, highway, and towing and hauling,” Tourino says. Components for the rear also included a five-leaf progressive add-a-pack from Deaver. Of course, all the necessary hardware, U-bolts and instructions for a finished feel.
We completed the setup with a set of 16x6 Ultra Modular Dually wheels in polished, which we wrapped in a balloon-like, P315/75/R16 Falken Wildpeak A//T3W rubber for an aggressive and utilitarian stance. We set off to Alternative Offroad in Chatsworth California, for the complete install, which we installed with simple bolt-on tools in an afternoon. Watch this truck go from stocker to shocker. Besides, when have you ever seen a second-generation Cummins Dodge dually outfitted with a Carli kit look this cool? It’s the ultimate in classic looks combined with a modern stance and performance.
| With the inner wheelwell liners removed for easier access, Hrezo made his way to the front shock. Using a wrench, we removed the top shock nut.
| Next, we removed the nut which fastened the factory track bar (21mm). Luckily, it broke free with ease. In our case, the Dodge was also in dire need of a new track bar. The factory unit was worn and sloppy. It was good timing on our part, so we could essentially remove and replace with all new parts, which we’ll address later on in the install.
| Hrezo removed the stock coil from the front-end housing perch and top bucket. Thankfully, we won’t need these tired springs and to the recycler they go!
| With more access available, we could continue with the removal. Here, we removed the factory hardware that fastens the shock tower and also allowed the eBay leveling kit to drop out, as well. What’s more, the Carli Commuter Kit still uses these factory shock towers. That said, we’ll throw some paint on these before they’re reinstalled.
| With a majority of the factory suspension removed, we could move on to installing the major components of the Carli Commuter kit, which included these custom, aluminum Carli shock tower spacers. We got both sides locked in with ease, using simple hand tools. You’ll notice we also took some time to spray a few coats of black spray paint to give the suspension an updated look.
| Moving on, we dropped in the brand-new multi-rate Carli front coils. Carli coils for the Commuter Kit come in varying height increases. However, ours came ready for the extra weight of the Cummins, which still allows for an additional 3 inches of ride height.
Spring Into Action
| Carli multi-rate springs are manufactured with the coils spaced differently to allow for a variable spring rate. In a nutshell, the more the coil is compressed, the stiffer it becomes. Thus, the more force applied, the more spring is increased. This allows for a better-than-stock ride over most surfaces while also allowing for increased coil control off road or during harsh conditions for maximum performance. Whether added to a complete kit or purchased separately, coils are shot peened and pre-set from the factory for lifelong durability.
| It’s important to note when lifting the front end of a straight-axle truck, the front end housing can shift position. According to Carli, “With just 3 inches of additional lift in the front, the front-end housing will shift towards the driver’s side 3/4 inch and back towards the cab 1/2 inch.” To prevent any irregular geometry with the suspension, Carli also recommends its extended Carli control arms. With the old arms out, we used the factory hardware and fastened the new extended Carli arms into position.
| The beauty of the Commuter Kit is clearly the Fox 2.0 shocks, which come developed with a Carli Signature tune that allows for all around comfort and ride quality. Essentially, they give the truck great on- and off-road performance all in one shock package. Each Fox 2.0 shock is fully rebuildable and built with hourglass bushings. Each also features aluminum construction and clear anodizing for corrosion resistance. We locked down the new shocks within the factory shock towers and Carli coil spacers.
| After just a few short hours, Hrezo had the front end with the new Carli coils, spacers, and extended controls arms with Fox 2.0 shocks locked in. Now, we could shift focus to the rear.
Welcome to the Gun Show
| Carli sets the bar high with their extended control arms. Arms are 1/2-inch longer than the factory units and feature box tubing construction. Box tubing allows for a reduced control arm width, while allowing an offset location inboard for added tire clearance.
| The arms also feature spherical joints that allow servicing. Spherical joints eliminate kinetic chatter caused by rubber-bushing style setups, which in turn create for a smoother ride. Carli control arms are finished off with a Satin Black powdercoat to ensure long-term protection from corrosion.
| Carli does offer their own upgradable steering system. However, this kit is for third-generation and up Dodge trucks and would require extra fabrication. In our case, we were looking for a bolt-in solution and decided on a DTS Pro Fab track bar as replacement. It came with a heavy-duty drop bracket, 4130 heavy-wall tubing with 7/8-inch Chromoly spherical rod ends. It also included the necessary bracket and hardware with instructions to boot!
| Moving on to the rear, Hrezo made quick work of the old shocks and U-bolts. We kept the factory shock hardware to use for the new installation. However, we ditched the factory U-bolts and nuts since Carli supplies all new ones.
| Once the U-bolts are removed, Hrezo began disassembling the rear leaf packs. Since the new Commuter Kit includes a 5-leaf Deaver pack, we could remove the factory overload and replace with the supplied U-bolts and hardware.
| Using the supplied hardware, we locked down the new U-bolts and Deaver spring packs.
| Installing the rear Fox 2.0 shocks was a breeze, and we even used the factory hardware.
| It’s clear Carli has thought of everything. Extended sway bar links are machined out of 17-4 stainless steel. Links come with FK bearings and Chromoly rod-ends. We installed the new extended links onto the factory sway bar with, and back into, the factory location.
| With a traditional concept in mind, we went the extra mile to assure we could achieve exactly that. Using a timeless wheel design with the Ultra Modular dually wheels, we grabbed ours in a polished finish 16x6-inch. For rubber, we knew daily driving with some back-road blazing was on the menu. That said, we went with a set of Falken Wildpeak A//T3W’s in a P315/75/R16. Doing the conversion, that’s a 35-inch tire. Yes, they’re huge! Packed with technology, these tires will combine great on-road performance while also excelling with confidence when the dirt gets loose! Honestly, we don’t think the Dodge could look any better.
| To say we were impressed would be an absolute understatement. Not only did the parts and components far exceed our expectations, but the truck now steers, drives, and cruises better than most late-model generation trucks. There’s no dip, freeway expansion, or car-swallowing pothole this rig needs to ever slow down or avoid. We can’t wait to throw some weight behind this pig, too. Now, it’s time to get this thing dirty!