If you’re in the market for a used diesel truck and are wondering what the best and worst ones out there are, then you’ve come to the right place.
Diesel machines are pure workhorses. They’re loud, capable of bellowing huge black clouds, and are usually big, heavy-duty trucks. They offer brute towing power and torque which makes them perfect for towing boats, ATVs and just about anything else you can put on a trailer. When fun time is over and you need to get to work, a diesel machine will literally haul tons of cargo.
Diesel engines also offer a variety of benefits over regular gas power plants:
They get better fuel economy, are often easy to modify with aftermarket parts, and will basically run forever, which makes them a great deal if you are looking for a used truck. It is not uncommon for one of these to roll over the 250,000-mile mark with few or no problems.
Unfortunately, all of these factors make diesel machines very popular with used truck buyers meaning you may end up paying a premium for a low-mileage diesel pickup.
Check out our list of the best diesel machines; they range from huge heavy-duty trucks to half-ton pickups, but they all have one thing in common:
There’s a great diesel engine under the hood.
2006 and 2007 Chevy and GMC 2500 and 3500
These trucks have a classic body style and sport the Duramax engine, which puts them at the top of the best diesel truck list. You will often end up paying a premium for one on the used truck market but the performance is well worth it.
The 2500 and 3500 come with a 6.6L LBZ Duramax V-8 with a Bosch common-rail injection system that was not hampered by the emission devices installed in later years. The Allison 6-speed automatic or ZF-6 6-speed manual tranny provides plenty of towing power while the IFS suspension gives it a comfortable and quiet ride. Horsepower can be cranked up to 450 hp with a hot programmer.
The only major downside is that these trucks were not offered with a factory lift pump and heavier trailers tend to push it around a bit. If you can find one in good shape with low miles for under $20,000 you should probably jump on it. A modern GMC Sierra 2500HD will be unbeatable.
2003- 2004 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty
The Ram HD has always ranked high on lists like this and is popular with both consumers and critics. The 2003-2004 lineup is considered one of the best. A 5.9-liter six-cylinder Cummins diesel under the hood puts out 460 lb.-ft. of torque, which can easily pull up to 12,000 pounds. The Ram Heavy Duty is excellent for towing and is the perfect diesel to pull your fifth wheel or even haul a tiny home around the country. The common-rail fuel injection system makes this version of the Ram run cleaner and even increases the horsepower.
While the Ram HD is a serious workhorse, it is outfitted with a spacious and well-planned interior that provides a comfortable and quiet ride. Unfortunately, due to its age, it does lack many of the convenience and safety features you would expect from a new truck.
2008-2010 Ford F-250/F-350
Diesel engines are popular with gear heads because they are pretty easy to tinker with and upgrade their power. The Ford F-250/350s are equipped with one of the easiest diesel engines to tweak, the 350-hp 6.4-liter Power Stroke Turbodiesel. Tuning it up, adding a new intake and new exhaust can quickly turn it into a 600 RWHP monster.
The standard 6.4-liter turbodiesel pushes out 650 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm, which makes it the perfect truck for hauling big loads or towing heavy equipment. The F-250 and Ford F-350 comes standard with Quiet Steel in the firewall, which helps to keep the cabin quiet. This truck is available in a variety of trims so it’s easy to outfit it to your standards of comfort. We prefer one of these over the Ford F-150 if we’re choosing out of Ford trucks.
2014 Ram 1500
A diesel doesn’t have to be of a certain age or certain size to make it onto our best diesel list. The 2014 Ram 1500 is a half-ton pickup with a great engine under the hood. The turbodiesel V6 produced 420 lb.-ft. of torque and can tow roughly 9,200 pounds, which is pretty impressive for a vehicle of this size.
The Ram 1500 comes well-equipped with more modern features, including a USB port, auxiliary input and standard six-speaker stereo system. If you can get your hands on a RAM 2500 SLT, then don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
2012 Chevy Silverado HD
The Chevy Silverado HD offers plenty of power with a number of optional conveniences that make it a very comfortable ride suitable for long road trips. The Duramax 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 cranks out 397 hp and 765 lb.-ft. of torque, and is paired to one of the best truck transmissions out there: the six-speed Allison automatic with manual shift control. This Silverado can go 0-60 in just 7 seconds.
The six-speed Allison automatic with manual shift control. This Silverado can go 0-60 in just 7 seconds.
The interior is outfitted with high-quality materials and numerous trim levels to ensure you can find one that fits your needs, with crew cab and even mega cab options available. As an example, the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD LTZ trim offers keyless entry, satellite radio, full power accessories and alloy wheels. A Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD is even more potent.
1991½ to 1993 Dodge
Slotting into the sixth position on our best diesel truck for sale list is the 1991½ to 1993 Dodge. While not considered an antique just yet, these trucks come with a vintage look and a well-tested engine that has shown itself to be virtually indestructible. Dodge introduced diesel engines into their truck lineup in 1989, but the Cummins six cylinder wasn’t at it’s best until it received an intercooler and an overdrive transmission for the 1991½ model year.
A few upgrades can push this diesel over 300HP. The Dodge W250 has started to become a collector’s item, and if you’re looking for a 4×4 version in good shape, you may be in for a surprise when it comes to price. In many cases, they’re still pulling in $15,000 or more, which is pretty surprising for a 15-year-old truck.
1999 ½ – 2000 Ford Super Duty
These trucks fall into a pretty short model year window, but for a year-and-a-half, Ford turned out some truly great diesel trucks for sale. The standard 7.3L Power Stroke engine was considered one of the best diesel engines ever made cranking out 235-horsepower and 500 lb.-ft. of torque. It comes with a factory intercooler, forged steel connecting rods and a 17-degree high-pressure oil pump.
These trucks are easy to modify with aftermarket parts that could easily push the horsepower over 500. The Super Duty came standard with air conditioning, power windows and locks, tilt, cruise control, and alloy wheels. A variety of trim levels lets you outfit it to your specifications, making it a great choice for hauling tons of cargo or towing your toys.
2010 Dodge Ram 2500HD
The 2010 Dodge Ram HD is one of the more luxurious pickups on our list. It is all luxury on the inside but still has the muscle under the hood to handle all of your cargo and towing needs. Heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and hard-drive music storage system make it feel like a luxury car instead of a diesel workhorse. It also comes standard with an exhaust brake, which helps to slow it down when you’re pulling a heavy load.
The Ram HD has a Cummins 6.7-liter Turbo Diesel with a six-speed manual or automatic. It can handle over 5,000 pounds of cargo or pull up to 17,500 pounds. Pick up a Dodge Ram 2500 SLT and you won’t regret it.
And: The Absolute Worst Used Diesel Trucks Ever Made
These are the rigs to avoid if you’re looking for a used diesel truck.
Everyone’s seen a Ford with a bumper sticker of Calvin Hobbes taking a whiz on the Cummins emblem. Diesel truck owners are a proud bunch that swear their trucks are the best. But not all vehicles are created equal. There are some real Junkers out there – even if the owners don’t want to admit it. Before you get conned into buying someone else’s compression-ignited nightmare, check out this list. These are the rigs you’ll want to avoid if you’re looking for a used diesel truck.
Chevy and GMC C/K pickup 5.7L (1978-1981)
GM’s 5.7L diesel can be found in your grandpa’s Oldsmobile, and it can also be found in Chevy and GMC pickup trucks. The 5.7L diesel was basically a gas 5.7L converted into a diesel. This sounds like a bad idea – and it is. All kinds of problems plague this old oil burner, including faulty head bolts. Weak torque to yield bolts paired with an extremely high compression ratio, cause the cylinder heads to lift off the block. And levitating cylinder heads are bad business. Sure, vintage diesel trucks can be cool, but stay away from 5.7L diesel-equipped rigs.
Chevy and GMC C/K pickup 6.2L (1982-1993)
After the 5.7L diesel debacle, GM realized it should get out of the diesel-building business. So, it hired engine maker, Detroit, to build its next diesel power plant. The result was the uneconomical and anemic 6.2L diesel. Although it’s the size of a VW bug, the huge naturally aspirated engine makes very little power. The original 6.2L make 130 hp, which is only 40 more ponies than a modern Smart car. The 6.2L also has the tendency to dump oil from its rear main seal – a costly repair that involves removing the transmission.
Chevy and GMC C/K pickup 6.5L (1994-2001)
Most 6.5L engines are turbocharged, which gives them an edge over the feeble 6.2L. Even so, the Detroit built 6.5L can’t compete with same era Cummins and Powerstroke engines. While the other diesel engines were being fitted with direct injection, the 6.5L hobbled along with indirect injection. At its best, the 6.5L makes 180 and 360 lb-ft. Compare that with a Powerstroke-equipped Ford of the same vintage, making up to 275 hp, and it’s easy to see the GM 6.5L is outclassed.
Besides the glaring lack of power, the 6.5L is riddled with mechanical problems. One of the most common issues is failure of the pump-mounted driver. This unit is used to supply power to the fuel solenoid. When it fails, it can cause all kinds of problems from a no-start condition to stalling. The lesson: save your pennies and buy a Duramax.
Ford Super Duty 6.0L (2003-2007)
Introduced mid-2003, the Ford 6.0L turbo is by far the worst modern diesel engine. It’s so bad, in fact, that Navistar (Powerstroke’s parent company) and Ford had a legal battle over it. The list of issues ranges from head gasket problems to catastrophic fuel system failures. And the best part is, most of these problems require remove of the cab for repair. Once a vehicle has been ravaged to the point of having its crew cab removed, do you really want it? Probably not. Buy a Ford with a 7.3L Powerstroke, instead.
These used diesel units are the worst of the worst. But there are also a lot of good used rigs out there. Notably, there are no Dodge trucks on the do-not-buy list. That’s because Dodge always sticks with stout Cummins turbo diesel -built engines. Same with the Nissan Titan. If you’re in the market and shopping around for used diesel trucks for sale, take your time and do your homework. Otherwise your dream truck may end up a broken-down yard ornament.