Home » We Need To Talk About The Dodge D-Series Ram Truck’s Hilariously Pathetic Dashboard Designs

We Need To Talk About The Dodge D-Series Ram Truck’s Hilariously Pathetic Dashboard Designs

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A long, long time ago, I made a decision about how I’d approach my job: nothing is too small. As far as I’m concerned, there is no detail too insignificant, too ignorable, too minuscule to look past, because it is in these tiny things that the true soul of something is often revealed. For good or bad. And I think that may be why I want to talk about this particular thing right now. It’s something insignificant, but it’s also kind of fascinating, filling me with the sort of delicious awe one gets when viewing a job done really, really crappily. The subject I want to discuss as part of my “Phoning It In” series is the dashboard and instrument panel design of the third generation of Dodge D-Series trucks, which is so gloriously crappy it makes me genuinely excited. Let’s dig in.

I feel like the biggest defining trait of this era of Dodge truck dashboard design is lots and lots of real estate to work with, but absolutely no idea what to do with it. The planning and layout of the controls seems to be roughly on par with the planning that goes into how crabgrass grows when a fistful of seeds are flung at a patch of wet dirt.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The three main instruments are conventional enough, but the placement of everything else seems like what you would get if you separated everyone involved in this dashboard’s engineering and design and kept them isolated in sensory deprivation tanks until the project was completed, with zero communication between designers and engineers and parts supplier and everyone.

Let’s just walk through some of the juicer, more thrilling elements here. Like this one that my co-Autopian, The Bishop, showed me earlier today. It’s the cargo light switch, used to switch on the lights in the truck bed. Not a vitally important control, but handy, sure. So where to put it, and how to design the switch? Here’s what they came up with:

Cargolight1

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Oh yeah! Great job, fellas! Really nailed that one! Get the smallest button you can find, and stick it smack dab in the center of a nice, huge, empty plastic plain. And why the hell would you settle for one silver-painted plastic bezel when you can have two? Two silvery frames! That’ll give your fingers something else to feel while they make the long, flat, scrambly journey to find the tiny button in the center!

You know what I respect about these Dodge interior designers, though? They don’t just let things be. They know that when you’re committed to really crap design, there’s always a way to go further, to crap things up just another notch, because it’s worth it. And that’s exactly what they did with the next iteration of the Cargo Light switch:

Cargolight2

I can just hear the design meeting pitch for this one:

“What if – and hear me out here – we keep the cargo light button still shoved down there in that awkward spot, and we keep the button nice and tiny, and keep it on the same huge blank plastic rectangle, but we eliminate the silvery paint from the two bezels and we get rid of 50% of the letters on the button! Half the letters! It’s genius!”

I bet that person got a raise for saving the Chrysler so many letters. “Sure, maybe CGO LT is a bit tricky to process – is it a cigarette lighter or a way to select some limited traction mode? (car-go limited ?)– but they’ll figure it out!”

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I bet in that picture up there something else caught your eye: that “O/D” overdrive button:

Overdrive

Wow, look at that! It’s positively majestic! That center panel thing there, sized just delightfully too wide for that standard Mopar HVAC panel, and with all that dead real estate up top, it’s a perfect place for what looks like four possible warning lights, maybe, and a small overdrive button, placed haphazardly off-center in a confusingly vertical panel, and with that confusing overdrive on/off conceit where it’s just an off button where the light turns on when overdrive is off. Easy!

That center panel really managed to confound the Dodge truck design team, who came up with a dazzling array of varieties of that panel, all somehow equally shitty:Centerpanel Options V

 

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It’s incredible how much those 20 or so square inches of black plastic really confounded this team. Sometimes they stuck a reminder about what engine you bought, sometimes they just told you that those two to four warning lights were, in an act of wild aggrandizement, a “message center,” which I think may mean you could stick Post-It notes there, or there was the O/D button or, most excitingly, that 2WD or 4WD indicator graphic, which did replace that ribbed panel, so if you wanted to use your thumbnail to make brrrrrrrrrrrrrap sounds, you’d have to find another solution.

Oh, and the little cubbyhole that sometimes took the place of the flat plastic wall is almost useless. What are you really putting in there? I guess you can shove a wallet or small sandwich in there. Maybe sleep a gerbil. That’s not so bad, I guess.

In some ways, I think the instrument designers did the best they could. After all, this was the base dashboard panel they were given to work with:

Dashcasting

It’s like whoever designed the mold for this dash had zero idea of what might go on it, so they just cut out some arbitrarily-sized rectangles then knocked off early, to get drunk. And that’s the sort of thinking that gives you incredible instrument panel designs like this:

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Lights

Look at that shit! Come on! It’s like they were thinking we need a switch for the lights, but is there any way we can make it both look awkward as hell and attract as much dust and crumbs as possible? And then the whole IP design team bellowed, in unison, hold our beer.

This isn’t designed so much as it is a series of events that just sort of happened, and that ended up, somehow, in the truck having an instrument panel. And, for Chrysler in the 1980s, I think that was very much good enough.

Why do I love crap like this so much? There’s no way anything like this would fly today, and I suppose in some ways that confuses me. How and when did we finally get up the gumption to say no to this crap? Or did it just change forms, and now it’s all in shit interfaces and UX for touch screen displays? Maybe.

That said, I kinda miss the days where your new car could have a dash populated with huge acres of black, textured plastic, fencing in a lone, lonely button with a cryptic series of letters on it, hoping to, one day, be pressed.

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Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
10 months ago

Back when I was a young, impressionable lad, someone pointed out to me that EVERY manmade object is “designed.” Someone made decisions about how something should function and look. Sometimes no conscious thought was expended at all, but the result is still a “design.” That concept has stuck with me.

“Holy crap, why is this like that?”

“Because someone or some group decided it should be.”

Autojunkie
Autojunkie
11 months ago

First, you have the wrong truck at the header.
Secondly, you have to realize that the D series barely made a blip on the truck-selling radar compared to the numbers that Ford and GM were doing. The fact that Chrysler even did an update to the D series was amazing. Some of the blanks in the IP were there for different reasons including that Chrysler was still building commercial-sized trucks when this redesign was being engineered, so some of the blanks were in anticipation for that (it never happened).
The blank to the far left with the headlight switch was also used for the windshield wiper control until they moved it to the steering column, which left the blank. If they were forced to integrate any changes to corporate-wide components, they ahd to find a way to integrate this change into the trucks that used these parts. The sales numbers couldn’t justify the investment.
This is why the 93 Ram was such a huge deal. It was a massive rethink for truck that they thought might only sell slightly better then the outgoing model, but wanted to bet big. The bet paid off in spades.
I’m not making excuses, but you could probably write a better and more interesting story on this than what really comes across as a complaint about a perceived weak design effort.

Sloppy McHackpants
Sloppy McHackpants
11 months ago

As for the big empty space to the right of the light switch, that’s actually where early models with non-intermittent wipers had the wiper switch.

SuperNova
SuperNova
11 months ago

No hablo inglés, locos americanos. ¿Por qué no símbolos simples?

Last edited 11 months ago by SuperNova
J Money
J Money
11 months ago

I have a weird fetish for ’80s El Caminos and I’m always fascinated when I see their instrument cluster and it’s one where the owner cheaped out and didn’t opt for the tach or the clock…. so the right guage is literally just blank and empty.

Like so: https://i0.wp.com/www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Bad-gauges.jpg

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
11 months ago

It reminds me of when you first start a scenario in Roller Coaster Tycoon with $5,000 and no R&D.
“I guess I’ll just stick this shit here”

Drew
Drew
11 months ago

There’s no way anything like this would fly today

The hole in the dash for a pack of cigarettes has come back in the Ford Maverick, so let’s not count any of this out.

Bork Bork
Bork Bork
10 months ago
Reply to  Drew

Just watched the new Indiana Jones and the only warning it had was “Contains depictions of tobacco”.

Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green
11 months ago

Tinkering on a 1973 Ford, you get the idea of engineered cheapness. It’s not that they didn’t care, or that it was poorly designed or engineered; it was that they were deliberately going for the cheapest way assemble a car. It is both clever and shocking.

As the saying goes, you can have it fast, cheap, or good; pick two.

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
11 months ago

I never thought a tiny button with four consonants and a vowel could make me laugh so hard. In that sense, it has far exceeded what anyone could have imagined for it.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
11 months ago

It’s same with General Motors choosing GAGES instead of GAUGES. It was supposed to make the text larger and more legible for the ageing drivers who need corrective eyeglasses that get stronger and stronger prescription with each year.

Cautionary Tail-Light
Cautionary Tail-Light
11 months ago

That first iteration (I’ll include it here so you don’t need to scroll back up):
https://images-stag.jazelc.com/uploads/theautopian-m2en/cargolight1.jpg

…is just freakin’ majestic.

We have, in no particular order (because let’s keep the randomness going!) :

  • different woodgrains between the upper and lower areas
  • different number of shiny borders (mostly two, but the radio gets one)
  • different spacing between the shiny borders
  • different heights, widths, offsets and spacing between “modules”
  • mostly squared-off corners, but the vent gets rounded inner shiny borders
  • buttons with their labels above, below and on the button itself

It’s absolutely breathtaking how few f*cks are given here. Bravo.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
11 months ago

Then there’s the whole thing about a cargo area light switch being in the center of the dashboard in the first place. Wouldn’t it be better to have it on the left side where it can be easily reached while standing outside the truck? and make it a 2-way switch that works in conjunction with another one in the cargo area itself so that you can control the lights whether you’re in that space or not.

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
11 months ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

Maybe, MAYBE they could even place it the vicinity of the actual light controls. Lord knows there’s plenty of room.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
11 months ago

Not factory, but these pictures made me think of those clear vinyl black-bordered documents pouches held to the steering column with a mini screen door spring

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
11 months ago

> There’s no way anything like this would fly today

1) Audi
2) Touch screen controls

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago

Yeah, at least it was unique and differentiated vehicles…I actually love this about these Ram trucks (and other gens of them) and in general most older vehicles because of that. Most new cars suck because they all look similar and have too many stupid screens

Last edited 11 months ago by Freelivin2713
DOHCtor
DOHCtor
11 months ago

“There’s no way anything like this would fly today”

It did fly at corporate Honda when it was decided that my 2012 Civic Si would have 3 blank spots out of 3 possible spots where switches could have been on the left of the steering wheel.. just like there were options that you could have and you were too poor to take them. Spoiler alert, a 2012 Si was fully optioned in Canada.

Kevin B
Kevin B
11 months ago

I remember the commercials where they dropped a truck out of the camera’s view. When it hit the ground, it sounded like a front-end loader dropping a load of car parts in a dumpster.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
11 months ago

I don’t care what you say about the dash – my dad’s ’77 and ’82 Dodge trucks were freakin’ awesome, malaise era or not. I learned to drive manual with the ’77’s three-on-the-tree, and I still regard the ’82 as one of my favorite pickups I’ve ever driven. There was something about the simplicity and honesty of those 2WD half-ton work trucks with the 318 and bench seats that just worked.

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
11 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

> that just worked

… When it worked

Ryanola
Ryanola
11 months ago

Perfect example of why I have never even considered a ‘Chrysler’ product (Jeep, Dodge, etc.) Still building garbage today. Lease swapped a Maserati to scratch the ‘Italian car ending in I’ itch. Hated it, caused me back issues, punted it within six months to the 4th owner (!?!) in a 39 month lease. I think the seat cores were made of cardboard. Not just any cardboard, the special kind from the bottom of the barrel lowest bidder.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
11 months ago
Reply to  Ryanola

Actually, I’d like to hear more about why you bailed on it. Honestly: not sour grapes because I’ll never drive one—I’d like to know how something so beautiful could turn you against it so quickly. Had to be more than just the seat, right?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

What would you have done under use this already existing dash model and dont cost more than necesary?
I prefer aux light just an additional turn of the headlight switch but that though elegant has disappeared..
Really you cant bitch unless you can do better under the same rules.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Ha! Can’t even hardly read your post…learn spelling/grammar

Chris D
Chris D
11 months ago
Reply to  Freelivin2713

And punctuation.

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris D

Punctuation? Spelling? Coherence? Pfffft, who needs ‘em?

Dave claims to have been a newspaper man earlier in life.

Paperboy, I’m guessing.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 months ago

Who needs em? Anyone who’s reading so they can actually read it and enjoy the site instead of gibberish
Newspaper man? What a failure
Paperboy? Ha ha…maybe he was on that show “Get A Life” as Chris Elliott…anyone remember that from the 90’s? It was stupid/funny humor but hilarious…best was the toolbelt fight

Gene1969
Gene1969
11 months ago

Ok. It’s way too easy to bash someone else’s design and sit back for the comments. Bishop, I challenge you to design a better dash using the template given. Are you game?

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
11 months ago

Thanks for dredging up another Chrysler-based memory from long ago. My dad bought a 1983 Ramcharger brand new. I loved that thing as a kid – it was custom ordered: bright red with a 318, 4WD, no AC, a four barrel, and a four-on-the-floor. I remember that 4×4 dash-indicator well. I thought it was cool as hell when its uneven orange glow would appear. Granted, that was unusual in and of itself, since we almost never actually used the 4WD.

Another thing I remember was the array of bungy cords scattered about the truck. My dad seemed to always be chasing down yet another squeak or rattle – using the 4wd shift lever required disconnecting two of these. The spare had at least a couple helping to hold it tight and I seem to remember the passenger seat having one or two attached as well at one point.

Didn’t matter – I still loved the big red truck. Took it to prom one year – good memories there. Spent all day detailing it and about a half hour getting myself ready. Must’ve been the right choice given the delightful conclusion of that evening.

I was supposed take ownership after graduating college, but that somehow morphed to “it’s a solid deal at $2K” over the course of four years (my memory and the old man’s differ on this point). Except it wasn’t – after buying it (I was in “keep it in the family forever mode at the time”) I had to replace the fuel pump, the exhaust system, the liftgate cylinders, the valve-cover gaskets, and the usual ignition tune-up items plus rebuild the carb. I also didn’t know the steering box had developed a nasty leak and the brake lines were just about rusted out. While fixing all of that, I discovered the frame itself was rusting out completely in some places (stupid salt), so I finally just let it go for $500 and replaced it with a ’94 F-150 at the same price. The Ramcharger looked much better, but the Ferd proved to be more useful, more reliable, and wasn’t swiss cheese under the body.

Anyway, back to the dash – by the time I owned it that big plastic panel squeaked like everything else in the truck, but it couldn’t be fixed with bungy cords. Instead I took it apart and added some of that window-frame stick on foam insulation to tighten things up.

If it hadn’t been for two-plus decades of road salt turning the frame into a DT project, I’d probably have hung on to it. Oh well, I’ve got The Autopian here to periodically remind me all about “the good ‘ol days”!

Last edited 11 months ago by Boulevard_Yachtsman
TOSSABL
TOSSABL
11 months ago

That…that was almost like one of those, ‘Can you write a short story in under x number of words’ : descriptive, has an arc, and even character development. Thanks for towing me down memory lane with you using a frayed and tied-together old ratchet strap.

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
11 months ago

> Must’ve been the right choice given the delightful conclusion of that evening.

And by that you mean the truck didn’t leave you stranded 10 miles from home, of course.

Jbavi
Jbavi
11 months ago

or it did?

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
11 months ago

As far as I’m concerned, there is no detail to insignificant, too ignorable, too minuscule to look past…”

Jason, sometimes I can’t tell if you’re trolling us or just excited to share the gospel.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

You have to remember this is the site that begs the US to bring in cheap China junk, built with slave labor, and cant pass safety rules and in return demands the Big 3 pays ever increasing rates, keeps everyone on the payroll meets ever increasing safety rules but sells for less than the Chinese junk.

Utherjorge
Utherjorge
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

what sort of stupid post is this

Bork Bork
Bork Bork
10 months ago
Reply to  Utherjorge

Normal post from Dave.

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Here we go again

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Just what exactly has pissed you off here? Have a beverage-maybe a nice cup of tea, kick back, and enjoy life. It’s way to short to carry that much bile.

Jake Harsha
Jake Harsha
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Lighten up, Francis.

Fletcher Smith
Fletcher Smith
10 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I’m sorry. Why are you here?

Griznant
Griznant
11 months ago

Not going to defend the ergonomics, but EVERYTHING on the dash of my ’82 D150 still works perfectly 41 years later and counting.

Acrimonious Mofo
Acrimonious Mofo
11 months ago

“Oh, and the little cubbyhole that sometimes took the place of the flat plastic wall is almost useless. What are you really putting in there?”

Dude–I know you are old enough to actually remember the 80s. That’s clearly where you stash your pack of smokes (and/or other combustibles) and your lighter. But, yeah these dash boards are pretty gloriously awful.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
11 months ago

Don’t forget your can of Skoal.

Drew
Drew
11 months ago

Smokes and a lighter were always in the dash cubby in my dad’s pickup. He doesn’t smoke in his vehicles these days, but he’d still probably keep a pack there if they had the cubby.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
10 months ago

Yep, my ’83 Ford F150 had a similar cubby. A bit bigger, in fact.

Also, anybody care to guess why the cubby had to be big enough, at minimum, to hold a pack of smokes and a lighter? Because on pickups, the 12v cigarette lighter was an option commonly left out on base trim models!

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
11 months ago

I love my old Dodge trucks but will concede your example are not well designed.

That said, I don’t aggressively shout “which f-cking engineer designed this sh-t!?” nearly as often on my old truck as I do on anything more modern.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
11 months ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

I couldn’t agree more with this comment. I drive a very well designed by AMC, Jeep Comanche. There are two things I don’t like about the design, the parking brake pedal sucks, and the HVAC fan speed control is difficult to roll into position. Now if you compare it to my parents 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee, I’m not sure where I could end the list, it certainly starts with the touchscreen and goes through, comfort, visibility, and cheapness of the interior materials.

Last edited 11 months ago by pizzaman09
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