American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) has been building expertly modified Jeep and Ram trucks for the last 20 years. While many companies make off-roading gear, AEV is run by ex-Chrysler engineers who obsessively develop, fabricate, and test everything they make so that it all works together seamlessly.
All the parts are American-made and they install the Recruit packages (starting at $14,950) onto new trucks right in their Michigan facility. Here’s how it all comes together.
AEV can use any model Ram 1500 for a Recruit conversion. Our test truck began life as a Rebel—the most off-road focused model in the light-duty line. The Rebel comes with a smooth-riding Bilstein-supplied air suspension at each corner that has multiple height modes. And AEV retains those air springs—and all those modes too.
The 395 hp V8-powered Rebel was equipped from the factory with 3.92:1 gears. Those are aggressive for a stock 4WD truck. And that’s a good thing because AEV says lower (numerically higher) gears to turn larger tires aren’t available for the Ram 1500’s axles.
No, the Recruit’s acceleration isn’t quite as aggressive as that of a stock Rebel. But thanks to the 8-speed automatic, this is still a quick truck. From a standstill, the powertrain had no trouble turning the massive 37X12.50R18 BF Goodrich Radial Mud-terrain tires. On the freeway, there’s some hum from those mud tires but wind noise (even with the snorkel) seemed to be no worse than stock. Most impressive is the ride quality, which is nearly as supple as a stock Rebel.
The bottom line? There aren’t many on-road compromises with this package, except of course for height—most parking garages are off limits to this rig.
An independent front suspension for a 4WD truck, like this Ram is a complex puzzle of parts. And lifting that suspension requires maintaining the proper operating angles for the CV drivelines as well as all the suspension arms and steering linkages. AEV went deeper than most suspension companies with their four-inch system by fabricating its own replacement cast aluminum steering knuckle instead of making a spacer for the stock unit.
The new knuckle is made from military-grade A206-T4 aluminum that not only raises the mount for the suspension’s upper control arm, but moves the wheel assembly slightly forward so that the larger tires are centered in the fender and have enough room to stuff inside without rubbing.
Unlike most 4X4s with an independent front suspension, Ram attaches its front differential to the truck’s engine mounts instead of directly to the frame. And when the truck is lifted, that differential must be relocated to maintain proper operating angles for the CV axles.
So AEV mounts the diff to its incredibly beefy 4-mm thick steel skidplate. That plate is not only robustly bolted to the chassis but it’s been stamped in a way that follows the contours of the frame for maximum clearance and protection.
Most pickup trucks today use old-school leaf-springs to suspend and locate the solid rear axle. However, Ram is the only fullsize truck manufacturer that uses a smooth-riding five-link coil or air spring suspension in the rear. To achieve a height that matches the front, AEV uses spacer blocks under the air springs, relocates the swaybar with longer end links, and supplies longer Bilstein 5100 dampers.
The result is a comfortable ride that maintains the factory suspension adjustment modes. And that means it has an “off-road” mode that raises the truck as well as an “aerodynamic” highway mode that lowers it down below normal ride height.
The giant 37X12.50R18 tires provide serious gains in ground clearance and traction. And the suspension lift up front doesn’t just maintain the factory levels of wheel travel—it increases them. AEV says there’s an increase of 1.5 inches in rebound (suspension down travel) and an additional 3 inches of jounce (up travel).
The result is a big truck that has the suspension stroke to handle moderate off-road obstacles while keeping all four tires in with the terrain—most of the time.
AEV anticipates many of its customers will use their Recruits for longer off-road journeys. And that means carrying lots of equipment along for repairs and recovery. This one had a bed-mounted storage box, an ARB refrigerator (temporarily removed), a bulkhead mounted fullsize spare tire and wheel and a rack system to hold a jack as well as off-road traction ramps for deep sand or snow extrication.
AEV stamps its own steel bumpers. And that allows them to shape the bumper in a way that mimics the factory look, with smoother contours than other aftermarket bumpers. It looks very much like a production part Ram might have built and weighs around 100 pounds less than a typical aftermarket bumper.
But make no mistake, it’s a strong unit. The recovery attachment points are robust and optional Warn Zeon 10 winch as well as an LED lightbar add to the functionality. Underneath the front edge, AEV even has “skids” to help guide the bumper over a rock or dirt berm.
A convoy of rigs driving down a dirt two-track can kick up plumbs of dust. And in a relatively short time, the factory air cleaner can get clogged. AEV’s snorkel draws air from a higher location and can be fitted with a pre-filter system that forces the dust out the back and lets the big V8 breath clean air.
The snorkel is also handy for water crossings, should the front of the truck temporarily dip into deep water when fording a stream. And for the record, AEV recommends keeping that water level below the headlight