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Diesel Truck Buyer's Guide

We Help You Pick Out Your Next Used Diesel Truck

Text By: , , Photography by The Diesel Power Staff

The Big Three began building diesel pickups back in the '80s, so now there are literally millions of used diesel trucks to choose from. Save this issue forever, because it's the complete buyer's guide of all the makes and models of diesel pickups-everything Dodge, Ford, and GM had to offer for nearly 30 years. Want to know the power potential of a '97 Dodge? The price range for purchasing an '06 Ford? All the answers are right at your fingertips in the next six pages.

Ford '83 to '94

  • Models: F-250, F-350
  • Engine: 6.9L International V-8 ('83 to '87), 7.3L International V-8 ('88 to '92) with Stanadyne DB2 injection pump, and 7.3L International V-8 (turbo optional) ('93 to '94) with Stanadyne DB2 injection pump
  • Transmission: C6 automatic ('83 to '87), E4OD ('88 to '94), T-19 four-speed manual ('83 to '86), or ZF-5 five-speed manual ('87 to '94)
  • Pros: Ford's first diesels are dirt cheap to get into, feature simple components and mechanical injection, and were built to work and last. And considering this truck was basically offered with the same body style from '80 to '97, spare or replacement parts are easy to come by. Due to their high torque (at a very low rpm) and wide powerband, these engines make excellent low-speed haulers.
  • Cons: Although powered by large-bore V-8 diesel engines, their indirect injection and natural aspiration make them quite underpowered when compared to the Dodge Cummins of this era. Even the turbo models lacked power as compared to direct-injection diesels.
  • Performance Potential: If you're looking for lots of easy horsepower-look elsewhere. The only real way to get more power out of these old trucks is by equipping them with an aftermarket turbocharger system, which oftentimes can cost more than the purchase price of the truck.
  • Price Range: $500 to $5,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 170 hp (stock 6.9L) to 300 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: An '87 to '92 with the ZF-5 manual transmission for its simplicity, million-mile durability, and better fuel economy. Also, try to avoid buying a rusty truck.

Ford '941/2 to '97

  • Models: F-250, F-350
  • Engine: 7.3L Power Stroke V-8 with the HEUI injection system
  • Transmission: E4OD automatic or ZF-5 five-speed manual
  • Pros: Often referred to as old-body-style (OBS) Fords, these trucks debuted the direct-injection 7.3L Power Stroke. They are also part of a long production run of trucks ('80 to '97), were refined, and made to last. Their large sales volume makes their replacement parts cheaper, too.
  • Cons: The four-wheel-drive 3/4-ton models came with the undesirable Dana 50 twin-traction beam (TTB) leaf-sprung front end-and all diesel models lacked a factory intercooler.
  • Performance Potential: Once again, if you're after dirt cheap, big horsepower, these trucks don't make the cut. However, the 7.3L can be built to make 350 to 400 rwhp affordably.
  • Price Range: $2,000 to $12,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 210 hp (stock) to 600 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: A '96 or '97 with the E4OD, and a non-California model. In order to avoid all the issues associated with twin-traction beam (TTB) Dana 50 frontends, we'd stick with an F-350 standard cab or crew cab.

Ford '99 to '03

  • Models: F-250, F-350, Excursion
  • Engine: 7.3L Power Stroke V-8 with the HEUI injection system
  • Transmission: 4R100 automatic or ZF-6 six-speed manual
  • Pros: These Super Duty trucks featured the upgraded 101/2-inch rear axle ring gear, did away with the TTB frontend on four-wheel-drive F-250 models, and came with an intercooled version of the durable 7.3L Power Stroke.
  • Cons: While additional power can be made easier than with the '941/2 to '97 models, stock 4R100 automatic transmissions don't hold up well to higher power levels. The '99 to '03 engines did not come with a fuel system return built into the cylinder heads (like the '941/2 to '97 engines did), which needs to be addressed once higher power levels are sought. The trucks themselves are heavy, which hampers their acceleration.
  • Performance Potential: Much like their predecessor, adding power isn't the cheapest, but 400 to 500 rwhp can be obtained affordably.
  • Price Range: $7,500 to $20,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 235 hp (stock '99 to '00) to 700 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: We'd buy a late '991/2 or '00 to ensure it had forged-steel connecting rods. The powdered-metal connecting rods (found in '01 to '03 models) become a major weak link once more than 400 rwhp is produced.

Ford '03 to '07

  • Models: F-250, F-350, Excursion (discontinued for '05)
  • Engine: 6.0L Power Stroke V-8 with the HEUI injection system
  • Transmission: 5R110 automatic or ZF-6 six-speed manual
  • Pros: This version of the Super Duty featured the 32-valve, 6.0L engine with a variable-geometry turbo. Its HEUI fuel system was made to push higher injection pressures than was possible with the 7.3L. Even in stock form, 6.0Ls are snappy with quick throttle response and high rpm power, giving them an almost gas-like feel.
  • Cons: The engine has an inadequate exhaust gas recirculation system, four torque-to-yield factory head bolts per cylinder that lead to blown head gaskets, and injector stiction issues are common (coking of oil on oil side of HEUI injectors). To make matters worse, the factory oil and EGR coolers are prone to fail.
  • Performance Potential: Good power can be had with just an intake, exhaust, and tuning (400 to 430 rwhp), but we wouldn't recommend it without adding head studs and deleting the EGR system. For a street-legal option, you can add BulletProofDiesel's engine oil system.
  • Performance parts aren't cheap for these engines, but people have built them to make 700 hp on fuel, and more than 1,000 hp on nitrous.
  • Price Range: $10,000 to $30,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 325 hp (stock) to 700 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: We wouldn't be as concerned with what to look for in an '03 to '07 as we would be about what would need to be done once we bought the truck (delete the EGR and add head studs, or swap out restrictive oil and EGR cooler for a more durable one).

Ford '08 to '10

  • Models: F-250, F-350
  • Engine: 6.4L Power Stroke V-8 with Siemens common-rail injection
  • Transmission: 5R110 automatic or ZF-6 six-speed manual
  • Pros: This engine features compound turbos and common-rail injection. This is one Power Stroke in which respectable horsepower levels can be achieved very affordably. An intake, free-flowing exhaust (no DPF), and tuning can yield 550 to 600 hp at the wheels. And the best part is, the factory 5R110 TorqShift transmission will handle it-for quite a while. In addition, with its emissions controls removed, 20 mpg or more is possible (not bad for an 8,000-pound truck).
  • Cons: They came from the factory with exhaust gas recirculation, a DPF system, and regeneration mode-and if you remove these items you will void your factory warranty.
  • Performance Potential: As stated, with just an intake, exhaust, and tuning, as much as 600 rwhp is possible-which is enough to get a four-door, four-wheel-drive Super Duty into the 12s in the quarter-mile. Beyond that, performance parts aren't the cheapest, but many owners can settle for 600 hp at the wheels for less than $3,000 (intake, exhaust, tuning). We've seen some trucks make more than 1,000 hp on nitrous.
  • Price Range: $25,000 to $40,000 (depending on condition and dealer)
  • Power Range: 350 hp (stock) to 700 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: A low-mileage used truck, or a '10 leftover on the lot. With the '11 model 6.7L-powered Super Dutys moving in, the right dealer will sell you a 6.4L for a hard-to-beat price.

Chevy/GMC '82 to '00

  • Models: Chevy and GMC pickup, Suburban, Blazer, Jimmy, and Hummer H1
  • Engine: 6.2L naturally aspirated V-8 ('82 to '93) or turbocharged 6.5LV-8 ('92 to '00) with a Stanadyne DB2 ('82 to '93) or DS2 ('93 to '00) injection pump
  • Transmission: TH400 three-speed, TH700R4 four-speed, 4L80E four-speed, or NV4500 five-speed manual
  • Pros: They're cheap, there are tons of them, spare body parts are easy to come by, and they get very good fuel economy-especially the earlier models.
  • Cons: These engines have limited performance potential. Their crankshafts and harmonic balancers are prone to failure, and the PMD on the electronically controlled 6.5L trucks is prone to overheating.
  • Performance Potential: If you can make 250 to 300 hp at the wheels with this engine, consider yourself a superstar. These trucks need all the help they can get, which includes propane injection, water-methanol injection, and nitrous. If you're looking to buy a truck for around the farm, however, this truck is for you.
  • Price Range: $500 to $7,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 130 hp (early 6.2L) to 300 hp (highly modified 6.5L)
  • What To Look For: A newer, low-mileage truck with the 6.5L turbodiesel.

Chevy/GMC '01 to '04

  • Models: 2500HD, 3500
  • Engine: 6.6L Duramax LB7 V-8 with Bosch common-rail injection
  • Transmission: Allison 1000 or ZF-6 six-speed manual
  • Pros: Although these trucks are approaching 10 years old, they're still a very good bang for the buck, and they only have one major issue: injector problems. Once that is fixed, they're very powerful, reliable, quiet, and achieve good fuel mileage.
  • Cons: The independent front suspension (IFS) is prone to failure during hard off-roading or boosted dragstrip launches. Still, many people are able to make them survive with a few upgrades. Injector leaks tend to contaminate the oil and are expensive to fix.
  • Performance Potential: Lots of power is available here, but the Allison transmission will need to be upgraded before that power is used. With a built transmission, torque converter, tuner, intake, exhaust, and lift pump, 400 to 500 rwhp is a no-brainer.
  • Price Range: $9,000 to $20,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 300 hp (stock) to 1,100 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: A well-taken-care-of truck that's just had its injectors replaced.

Chevy/GMC '05 to '06

  • Models: 2500HD, 3500
  • Engine: 6.6L Duramax LLY ('05), or LBZ ('06) V-8 with Bosch common-rail injection
  • Transmission: Allison 1000 (six-speed with LBZ engine) or ZF-6 six-speed manual
  • Pros: Both '05 and '06 models were one-year-only trucks. The '05 LLY engines featured a larger variable-geometry turbocharger (which is thought to be superior to the LB7s), while the '06 LBZ engine featured a stronger short-block than previous years.
  • Cons: The independent front suspension (IFS) is prone to failure during hard off-roading or boosted launches on the dragstrip. The LLY engines had overheating issues when towing hard, but other than that, these were very good model years for the Duramax engine.
  • Performance Potential: If you're into Duramax performance, LBZ engines are thought to be the year to have. The '06 model (the last year before diesel particulate filters) featured stronger rods that could support up to 650 rwhp, without any extra emissions equipment. Both LLY and LBZ models feature the same plug-in power as the earlier LB7 trucks-they also need the same transmission upgrades.
  • Price Range: $15,000 to $25,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 300 hp (stock) to 1,100 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: A low-mileage '06 LBZ. While we wouldn't shy away from the '05 models, we'd still opt for an '06 if we could find one.

Chevy/GMC '07 to '10

  • Models: 2500HD, 3500
  • Engine: 6.6L Duramax diesel LMM V-8 with Bosch common-rail injection
  • Transmission: Allison 1000 six-speed
  • Pros: They have reliable engines that are also very strong. These trucks feature a plush, comfortable ride and are very quiet.
  • Cons: The independent front suspension (IFS) is prone to failure during hard off-roading or boosted launches on the dragstrip. These trucks had additional emissions systems that added weight, complexity, and reduced fuel mileage.
  • Performance Potential: These trucks basically have an upgraded version of the LBZ engine, so its performance potential is very good. The only downside to these trucks is that to hot-rod them to their fullest, you have to remove the DPF, which will make the truck illegal for road use in many states.
  • Price Range: $30,000 to $40,000 (depending on condition and dealer)
  • Power Range: 300 hp (stock) to 1,100 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: A vehicle that has been well taken care of and has all its emissions equipment intact.

Dodge '89 to '93

  • Models: D250, D350, W250, W350
  • Engine: 5.9L Cummins I-6 with a Bosch VE pump
  • Transmission: TF727 three-speed ('89 to '91), A518 four-speed ('911/2 to '93), or Getrag five-speed manual ('89 to '93)
  • Pros: They're stone simple, reliable, cheap, and have a lot of performance potential for an earlier-model truck. They also get 20 mpg or more if driven conservatively.
  • Cons: Everything rattles on these trucks. The doors don't shut right and people think you're driving a '70s model.
  • Performance Potential: These trucks can make 250 to 300 hp with almost no modifications, and 550 to 650 hp when leaned on. Their performance parts aren't that pricey compared to later models.
  • Price Range: $2,000 to $10,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 160 hp (stock) to 650 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: A '911/2 to '93 model with a four-speed automatic and intercooler.

Dodge '94 to '98

  • Models: Ram 2500, 3500
  • Engine: 5.9L Cummins I-6 with a Bosch P7100 injection pump
  • Transmission: 47RH four-speed ('94 to '95), 47RE four-speed ('96 to '98), or NV4500 five-speed manual ('94 to '98)
  • Pros: These trucks may offer more performance potential than any other model and can be modified on a low budget as well. These trucks are very reliable, too. Many over-the-road haulers swear by these pickups when equipped with a manual transmission.
  • Cons: There was no four-door option, and the truck tends to fall apart around the engine. The factory paint is known to peel over time.
  • Performance Potential: They may possibly offer more power potential than any other diesel engine. We've seen these trucks used as daily drivers even when making 700 to 900 hp. At high power levels, these 12-valve engines are usually pretty smoky, but if you don't mind the haze, performance potential is virtually unlimited with these rigs.
  • Price Range: $4,000 to $10,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 160 hp (stock) to 1,200 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: A few extra-cab shortbeds were built for '98 models with the 12-valve engine (where the rear doors opened).These are probably some of the most sought-after versions of '94 to '98 Dodges.

Dodge '981/2 to '02

  • Models: Ram 2500, 3500
  • Engine: 5.9L Cummins I-6 with a Bosch VP44 injection pump
  • Transmission: 47RE four-speed, NV4500 five-speed manual, or NV5600 six-speed
  • Pros: These trucks have an updated body style and a rear opening door option as opposed to the earlier '94 to'98 trucks. They also make easy power using basic upgrades. An aftermarket turbo, injectors, and head studs will go a long way on these models.
  • Cons: The VP44 injection pumps tend to be problematic and usually fail around 150,000 miles. Adding a high-pressure aftermarket lift pump helps address this weakness, but the jury is still out on whether it is a permanent solution or not.
  • Performance Potential: If you're the type of guy who wants to piece his truck together on a budget without doing a crazy amount of labor, then these trucks are for you. More than 500 hp can be had with an aftermarket turbo, programmer, and big injectors.
  • Price Range: $7,000 to $15,000 (depending on condition)
  • Power Range: 215 hp (stock) to 800 hp (highly modified)
  • What To Look For: We figure you don't know what condition the injection pump is in when you purchase the vehicle, so plan on spending $1,500 to $2,000 somewhere down the line for a new one.

Dodge '03 to '07

  • Models: Ram 2500, 3500
  • Engine: 5.9L Cummins I-6 with Bosch common-rail injection
  • Transmission: 47RE four-speed ('03), 48RE four-speed ('04 to '07), NV5600 six-speed manual ('03 to '05), or G56 six-speed manual ('051/2 to '07)
  • Pros: The Mega Cab option offers epic rear seat room. These trucks are quiet, get good fuel economy, and have great plug-in power potential.
  • Cons: A bad injector or too much timing (stacking boxes) can destroy pistons. The truck's ride is still pretty rough, especially with 1-tons. Also, the fuel filtration from the factory system is thought to be rather poor.
  • Performance Potential: These trucks can make 450 to 500 hp with just a programmer. As long as owners don't go crazy with fueling or timing, these trucks can be very reliable-even at power levels approaching 700 hp to the wheels.
  • Price Range: $15,000 to $30,000
  • Power Range: 305 hp (stock) to 1,100 hp
  • What To Look For: Try and find one that has not already been hot-rodded.

Dodge '071/2 to '10

  • Models: Ram 2500, 3500
  • Engine: 6.7L Cummins I-6 with Bosch common-rail injection
  • Transmission: 68RFE six-speed or G56 six-speed manual
  • Pros: The Mega Cab option offers epic rear seat room. These trucks are quiet, get good fuel economy, and have great plug-in power potential.
  • Cons: A bad injector or too much timing (stacking boxes) can destroy pistons. The variable-geometry turbo becomes too restrictive once owners seek more power than a programmer can provide (450 hp and more).
  • Performance Potential: The newest Rams feature a 6.7L version of the Cummins engine, which is saddled with some extra emissions hardware. Still, with or without the DPF, these high-torque engines can make an easy 400 rwhp, and hot-rodded versions with compound turbos can make 600 to 800 hp at the wheels and crazy amounts of torque due to the increased displacement.
  • Price Range: $30,000 to $40,000
  • Power Range: 350 hp (stock) to 800 hp
  • What To Look For: One that has not already been hot-rodded.

What We'd Buy

  • Daily Driver: '06 GMC 2500 or an '00 Ford Excursion
  • All-Around Play Toy: '06 Dodge Mega Cab, '08 Ford F-250
  • Car Hauler: '97 Dodge 3500, '01 Ford F-450
  • Farm Truck: '93 Dodge W350, Ford or GM IDI

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1 comments
cwathen513
cwathen513

I was wondering if you could possibly update this guide/create a new one. I plan on buying a new truck around February and considering this is 4 years old I'm sure things may have changed just a tad bit, and so if you could update it, I would really appreciate it and I'm sure others would too. Thanks a lot.