By: Steve Esposito

In our modern world of specialized tools, I always enjoy discovering the old ways of multipurpose/multi task machinery.  The humble pickup truck is one of my favorites.

Old footage of farmers on PBS shows reveals the versatility of first generation pickup trucks in spades.  They pulled plows through fields, a belt attached to a drive wheel ran all manner of external machinery, and they even became a means of escape from the Great Dustbowl.

The thing is, those pickups of old were simple vehicles in every way, and that is a hard to find quality today.  The phrase “old reliable” is the key here.  However, hopping in the time machine to the recycling yard to hunt for a Walton’s style 1928/29 Ford Model AA 1 1/2 ton truck is not necessary.  Besides, that truck ran on gasoline and diesel stores longer.

If you want a truck that can plow the snow on your road that the city does not have the time to plow, plow your back yard garden, pull a stump, or pull down that old shed to make way for a new one, then you might want a 1990s vintage diesel truck.  Added bonuses: Diesel stores well, so you can keep an extra tank of fuel with minimum hassles; biodiesel is much easier to make than bio gasoline.

Do not forget four-wheel-drive, a must for every heavy duty truck application.

The right era of diesel truck to look for is about 2001 and older.  The reason why is simply due to government mandated modifications to diesel trucks since then that make them more complicated, difficult to repair at home, and less efficient.  Diesels manufactured after 2010 have added problems, as they require diesel exhaust fluid, and the engine will shut off without it.

On the smaller side, a good find is the 1989 Dodge Ram with a 5.9 liter Cummins turbo diesel.  However, finding one of those can prove challenging at the least.  It is generally a good idea to stay away from the turbochargers too, for long term maintenance reasons.  That is the downside of the Dodge trucks too, it does not matter what size engine it has, it usually has a turbocharger included.  However, a quick search on Craigslist as I write found a 1990 Dodge 2500 Cummins turbo diesel for $5,000.  Be aware that sellers might not mention the turbocharger, so know how to spot one in the pictures to avoid surprises.

Something else to desire, but you might not find, is a manual transmission for any Cummins diesel.  For some reason, they are very hard to find.

From Ford, 1994 and earlier seems to be the right era.  Look for 6.9 and 7.3 liters, and stay away from the power stroke varieties.  Power stroke motors have extra electronics, and unless you work on that stuff for a living, you don’t want to mess with it.

General Motors used to put out some good motors too, from their Detroit Diesel division.  There is a rumor out there that the 6.2 and 6.5 liter engines were re-tasked gasoline engines, but that is a total myth.  Another upside to these motors is their use by the U.S. military, so replacements can be found at military auctions if needed.  The downside, is have the least power of all motors mentioned here, even though the displacement is slightly higher than the small Cummins mentioned above.

Before you find your candidate trucks, you should read and learn intimately the diesel truck inspection tips at the various diesel truck forums online.

© Steve Esposito, 2014.

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