The neons are safe as long as you're not stupid with it. But, I've seen the Rams just as messed up as some of the neons at the yard.
But...as far as gas goes...let me just say this...I put $40 of regular in my truck and drove 120 miles this past weekend and I am in dire need of fuel again.
I filled the neon with $35 worth of premium last week and got 220 miles of driving with a little bit of sense (some full throttle time included
) So, much better. And, my insurance went up $100 a month because I have to have full coverage on it since I have a loan. If I didn't have full coverage (which you wouldn't have if you traded), it would only be $20 more a month than my Ram...and I'm 18...which kills me.
So...cost wise, with the Neon you will save. As I said, if its a solid car...go for it. If its a true and nice stage 3 with decent miles, you could easily turn around and sell it for at least $12k. Your truck isn't worth $12k as sad as that is.
So...worst comes to worse, if you don't like it, sell it and get something you want.
But, as far as safety with the kids...if you drive safe with them in the vehicle, than the Neon will be plenty safe. People have gotten in some nasty accidents with them while being dumb and walked away from it.
And...I actually just looked it up...an 01 Dodge Ram gets a poor rating in the crash test while the 04 neon gets a marginal (middle) grading.
So the truck may not be as safe as we'd like to think.