Reader Question: Undiapered Diesel Trucks?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

KC7 writes: I have a small tribe (mama bear and our four cubs 6 and under) and we need to tow a 5th wheel RV trailer.  So I am very interested in a solid diesel truck with enough room for most/all of us (.gov “rules” not really a big part of my decision making process – so I figure a Crew Cab).  I have essentially zero diesel experience aside from driving/riding in HMMWVs in the military during my misguided years as a gov enforcer in foreign lands (sorry).

We, of course, have a limited budget, and I understand I should stay away from modern/complicated diesels that are essentially older than 2003 or so, correct? Would you be so kind to provide any recommendations and/or reliable research tools to find which ones have proven to be generally problem-free (Ford F-250 Super Duty?) and those to avoid like a recently “vaccinated” covidiot? We currently rest our heads in the Texas area, so we’re hoping that we will be able to find a suitable pickup in the region.

My reply: This subject has been coming up a lot lately – understandably! Many people are realizing we’ve passed the Event Horizon – and not just with regard to vehicle over-complexity and disposability. Accordingly, older vehicles – especially trucks and even more so older diesel trucks – are fast becoming almost worth their weight in gold. Or at least, silver.

I personally regard the Dodge (now Ram) diesels from circa the mid-’90s with mechanical injection to be the picks of the litter. The Cummins is arguably the finest expression of the diesel ethos of ruggedness, simplicity and durability. Your main worry with these trucks is not mechanical. It is structural. Be wary of rust – as regards any older/used truck. They are often used as plows or exposed to road salt and that sometimes eats their frames long before their engines reach their Event Horizon!

Be wary of early 2000s Ford Powerstrokes as they had more than their share of problems. The older (7.3 liter) engine is better.

GM’s Duramax diesels are considered generally solid and GM makes – well, made – excellent automatic transmissions.

The main thing is to avoid, if you can, a diesel with electronic fuel injection and DEF. These are the chief culprits behind the “modern” diesel’s not-so-great reliability, higher maintenance costs and much higher cost, period.

The older mechanical diesels are lower-maintenance than gas engines and last much longer. They are also simpler and can burn almost any oil, making them much more versatile than modern diesels, which require ULSD (ultra-low sulfur) fuel.

The other thing is the same thing that applies to any quest for a new (to you) used vehicle: Due diligence. Check the vehicle out carefully. Have it checked out, thoroughly. Make sure – before you you buy – and you ought to be ok!

. . . 

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  1. I recently picked up a ’96 F250 Powerstroke, extended cab, two wheel drive for towing a camper – yes, I wanted the old body style. I picked a Ford over a Dodge because the Fords seem to hold up better. I looked at an F350 that had been parked in a field and homeless people had slept in, yet the interior was still in good shape – no torn seats, no major dash cracks, etc…. However, the Ford does need a (simple) computer to drive its injectors, as they’re hydraulic/electric. Aftermarket support for the Ford is quite good at on-line forums, parts, and upgrades. Maintenance is straight forward and parts prices are not horrible, just a bit annoying as I have to stand on a step ladder to work in the engine bay (I’m nearly 6′). Remember, at that time the F-series trucks were the best selling, so there’s a lot of them out there.

    And there’s no mistaking that Interational/Powerstroke engine – it is not subtle, even stock.


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