If you’re surfing the used truck market for the best diesel trucks and are wondering what the best and worst diesel trucks out there are, then you’ve come to the right place. Diesel machines are pure workhorses — they offer up gobs of torque, which is perfect for towing. Whether you’re hauling a boat, racecars, ATVs, or just about anything else you can put on a trailer, a diesel truck is the perfect machine for the job. And when the fun times are over and you need to get back to work, a big diesel truck will literally haul tons of cargo.
Why Choose a Diesel Truck?
Diesel engines also offer a variety of benefits over regular gas engines. They get better fuel economy, are often easy to modify with aftermarket parts, and, when properly maintained, will basically run forever. This makes them a great deal if you are looking for a used truck. It is not uncommon for a diesel engine 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. This means you’re likely to pay a premium for a low-mileage, well-maintained diesel pickup. And just because most diesel engines are bullet-proof doesn’t mean that all diesel trucks are a wise buy — like any used car purchase, you’ll still want to do a thorough inspection and avoid models within known issues.
Luckily, with a little knowledge and a bit of time to surf the used truck market, you can come across some solid deals on the best diesel trucks — and avoid the potentially unreliable ones.
8 Best Diesel Trucks You Can Buy
Check out our list of the best diesel trucks you can buy used. They range from big heavy-duty trucks to basic half-ton pickups. But they all have one thing in common — a great diesel engine under the hood.
Chevy/GMC 2500 & 3500 (2006-2007)
These trucks have a classic body style and sport a Duramax engine, which puts them at the top of the best diesel trucks 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 V8 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 the pickup 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. Heavier trailers do tend to push them around a bit while towing. 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.
Dodge Ram HD (2003-2004)
Over the years, the Ram HD has been popular with both consumers and critics. The 2003-2004 lineup is considered one of the best year models for this truck. The 5.9L 6-cylinder Cummins diesel under the hood puts out 460 lb.-ft. of torque, which can easily pull up to 12,000 lbs.
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-designed interior that provides a comfortable and quiet ride. Unfortunately, due to its age, it does lack many of the conveniences and safety features you would expect from a new truck. But if you don’t mind foregoing these modern luxuries, the Ram HD is a seriously stout diesel that will run reliably for years.
Ford F-250/F-350 (2008-2010)
Diesel engines are popular with gear heads because they are pretty easy to tinker with and boost their power. The Ford F-250/350s came equipped with one of the easiest diesel engines to tweak, the 350 hp 6.4L Power Stroke Turbodiesel. By simply tuning the engine and adding a new intake and exhaust, you can quickly turn it into a 600 hp monster.
The standard 6.4L 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 F-350 also come standard with Quiet Steel in the firewall which helps to keep the cabin quiet.
This truck was available in a variety of trims so it’s easy to retrofit it to your standards of comfort. We would prefer one of these over a used Ford F-150 if we were choosing among old Ford diesel trucks.
Dodge Ram 1500 (2014)
A diesel truck doesn’t have to be of a certain age or size to have a durable, long-lasting engine. The 2014 Ram 1500 is a half-ton pickup with a great diesel engine under the hood.
The turbodiesel V6 produces 420 lb.-ft. of torque and can tow roughly 9,200 pounds. That is pretty impressive for a vehicle of this size! If you don’t need a monster tow-capacity, the Ram 1500 is a well-composed diesel truck that should more than fit the bill.
The Ram 1500 comes well-equipped with more modern features, including a USB port, auxiliary input, and a standard six-speaker stereo system. If you can get your hands on a RAM 1500 SLT for a reasonable price, then don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
Chevy Silverado HD (2012)
The Chevy Silverado HD offers plenty of power with many optional conveniences that make it a very comfortable ride suitable for long road trips. The Duramax 6.6L turbodiesel V8 cranks out 397 hp and 765 lb.-ft. of torque. It is paired to one of the best truck transmissions out there, the 6-speed Allison automatic with manual shift control.
The interior was outfitted with high-quality materials and numerous trim levels so you can likely find a used model that fits your needs. There are even crew cab and 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 Chevy Silverado 3500HD will give you even more bang for your buck.
Dodge W250 (1991½-1993)
These Dodge trucks sport a vintage look and a well-tested engine that has shown itself to be virtually indestructible. Though they are getting harder to track down, if you can find one in good shape, you’ll want to take a second look.
Dodge introduced diesel engines into their truck lineup in 1989, but the Cummins 6-cylinder wasn’t at its best until it received an intercooler and an overdrive transmission for the 1991½ model year. A few upgrades can push this plucky diesel over 300 hp.
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 at their price tag. In many cases, they’re still pulling in $15,000 or more, which is pretty surprising for a nearly three-decade-old truck.
Ford Super Duty (1999½-2000)
To get the best Ford Super Duty diesel trucks, you’ll be looking for a pretty short model year window. But for a year-and-a-half, Ford turned out some truly great diesel trucks.
The standard 7.3L Power Stroke engine was considered one of the best diesel engines ever made. It cranks out 235 hp and 500 lb.-ft. of torque. The truck 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 bump the horsepower over 500.
The Super Duty also came standard with some nice add-ons like air conditioning, power windows and locks, tilt, cruise control, and alloy wheels. It was available in a variety of trim levels so you can sometimes find the exact specifications you want, making it a great choice for hauling tons of cargo or towing your toys.
Dodge Ram 2500HD (2010)
The 2010 Dodge Ram HD is one of the more luxurious pickups on our list. The heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and hard-drive music storage system make it feel like a luxury car instead of a diesel workhorse.
But don’t be fooled as it still has the necessary muscle under the hood to handle all of your cargo and towing needs. 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 6.7L turbodiesel with a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. It can handle over 5,000-pounds of cargo and pull up to 17,500-pounds. If you’re able to pick up a used Dodge Ram 2500 SLT, you won’t regret it.
The Worst Used Diesel Trucks Ever Made
Maybe you’ve seen a Ford with a bumper sticker of Calvin taking a whiz on the Cummins emblem. Diesel truck owners are a proud bunch that swear by their personal truck brands. But not all vehicles are created equal and there are some real junkers out there — even if their sellers don’t want to admit it. Before you get conned into buying someone else’s compression-ignited nightmare, check out this list of the rigs (and diesel engines) you’ll want to avoid if you’re looking for a used diesel truck.
Chevy & GMC C/K 5.7L (1978-1981)
GM’s 5.7L diesel engine can also be found in your grandpa’s Oldsmobile as well as in the 1978-1981 Chevy and GMC pickup trucks. The 5.7L diesel was basically a gas 5.7L converted to 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 we’d recommend steering clear of any 5.7L diesel-equipped rigs.
Chevy & GMC C/K 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 makes a mere 130 hp, which is only 40 more ponies than a modern Smart Car. The 6.2L also tends to dump oil from its rear main seal — a costly repair that involves removing the transmission.
Chevy & GMC C/K 6.5L (1994-2001)
Many C/K 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 the 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 hp and 360 lb.-ft. of torque. Compare that with a Powerstroke-equipped Ford of the same vintage, which made up to 275 hp, and it’s easy to see that 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 the 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 not starting 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 the removal of the cab for repair. Do you want that repair bill coming out of your pocket? Probably not. Buy a Ford with a 7.3L Powerstroke instead.
Which Used Diesel Truck is Right For You?
There are a lot of good used diesel rigs out there. 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 an expensive broken-down yard ornament.