Diesel engines are seeing a resurgence, with more light-duty and even mid-size pickups offering the torquey, efficient gas alternatives than ever before. Generating huge torque at low rpm makes them extremely durable and excellent for towing applications. They hold value well, and a good design can make waves for decades due to their longevity. There’s interest in used diesel trucks in Colorado Springs, Tampa, Tucson, St Paul, and the whole country since they deliver great value at a fraction of the cost of something new.
In the 30-odd years that truck builders have been loading oil burners into passenger vehicles, there are a handful of models that stand out as the best of the bunch. The highlight is usually the engine. Whether it delivers huge capability, excellent longevity, or is easily modified, it’s hardly a generalization to say “good engine = good truck.”
How We Chose Our List
We’ve compiled a list of 10 of the best used diesel trucks. These models come up time and time again in discussions of the Great Ones, which is why they’re here. A rough estimate of market value, towing limits, and engine output values were gathered, normalized, and added together to create a score for each truck, leading to the order seen below. We also used these estimates while discussing the max outputs for each model, but keep in mind that used model specs will vary from truck to truck.
One more note before we dig in: the newest truck on this list is a 2014 model. Newer models aren’t bad. In fact, they’re undoubtedly the way to go if you need interior luxuries, modern tech, and the greatest towing capabilities on the market. They just haven’t depreciated enough or been around long enough to establish the rep that these legends have, and when it comes to used vehicles, reputation is everything.
10. 1991 – 1993 Dodge D250-350
The 5.9L Cummins engine in the early-90s Dodge trucks is the Babe Ruth of diesel. With many examples in excellent condition, still kicking it on ranches nationwide, it’s also a collector’s item and basically an antique. Models from ’91 onward had an overdrive transmission and an intercooler to take performance to a new level. The engine only produces 160 hp / 400 lb-ft of torque, but it can pull well over 10,000 lbs when properly equipped. Still, $20,000+ for a 30-year-old truck is a tough sell for non-enthusiasts, so it’s #10 on our list.
9. 2014 Ram 1500
The newest model on this list, and the only light-duty example, is Ram’s 2014 1500 with a 3.0L EcoDiesel. Ram was already established as a desirable truck brand by 2014, so not only did this model sport diesel efficiency and capability, it’s also the most opulent diesel truck to be had from the pre-2015 era. It’s #9 on our list because as a light-duty truck, the 9,200 lbs towing capacity of the 240 hp / 420 lb-ft engine is the lowest of the bunch, and its age and amenities make it the priciest entry as well. Even now, it’s not unreasonable to pay over $22,000 for a 2014 Ram with an EcoDiesel – but you can be confident you’ll get what you pay for.
8. 1999 – 2000 Ford Super Duty
Ford’s 7.3L Powerstroke diesel engine earns the aging ’99 – ’00 F-250 and F-350 Super Duty a spot on this list. Why? Because it won’t. Stop. Going. Seriously! There’s at least one of them out there with over 1,000,000 miles on it (it cracked that milestone in 2012 and is over 1.3 million miles today). The ultimate “Built Ford Tough” engine generates 235 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, good for up to 10,000 lbs for towing and for 500,000 miles and beyond. These trucks still go for $14,000, but it might literally be the last truck you ever need.
7. 2010 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty
The last heavy-duty Ram under the Dodge Ram moniker was a simple beast but still showed signs of the beloved vehicle Ram was destined to become. A tough truck with heated seats was not a sure thing in 2010! A standard exhaust brake is a standout feature for the era, which is good because the 6.7L Cummins can haul 18,500 lbs thanks to the 350 hp / 650 lb-ft engine output. The relatively simple design is reputedly easy to upgrade too, allowing even greater numbers. Excellent value retention has these trucks calling around $20,000 today, but there’s no arguing with the results!
6. 2007 GMC Sierra 2500HD and 3500HD
First thing’s first: the same-year Chevy Silverado HD trucks have the same bones, but it’s GMC’s “professional grade” styling that gives it a one-up on its stablemate twin. The ’07 GMC HD trucks are a staple in every conversation of the best diesel trucks because they represent the end of an era. These have GMC’s last diesel engine before mandated emissions-controlling devices started interfering with performance. The legendary 6.6L Duramax LBZ model engine produces 350 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque and is easily modified to squeeze out even more power. Relatively low towing capacity keeps it low on our list, but be sure to check one out if you can find it in your market.
5. 2004 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty
In 2004, Ram was still running with a 5.9L Cummins diesel: a “high output” remodel of the one that started it all back in 1989. 325 hp and 600 lb-ft aren’t mind-boggling engine outputs, but it could still tow 12,000 lbs in 2004. Ram boasts a higher percentage of trucks still on the road of any manufacturer, so with an estimated market value under $10,000, this might be the best value used diesel truck out there. Anybody looking to do real work on a budget would be well advised to track this one down.
4. 2010 GMC Sierra 2500HD and 3500HD
Over the years, GMC has established a talent for building trucks that ride and drive more like sedans than trucks. That’s why the 2010 GMC HD trucks rank so highly on our list. With a 6.6L Duramax engine producing 365 hp and 660 lb-ft of torque, they can tow at least 13,000 lbs. It’s not mind-blowing, but we’re talking about a 10-year-old truck here. With ample capability, GMC’s long list of amenities, and a reputation for easy driving, the 2010 HD makes our Top 5.
3. 2008 – 2010 Ford F-250 and F-350 Super Duty
The 6.4L Powerstroke engine on the ’08-’10 Super Duty is one of the smaller engines on this list, but 360 hp makes it one of the more powerful models as well. 650 lb-ft of torque and a larger stature overall make these trucks useful for towing up to 15,000 pounds, while an emphasis on an improved driving experience made them relatively quiet and comfortable to drive. The key to this Ford’s popularity is the simplicity of the engine, making it one of the easiest diesels to modify with aftermarket parts to make those stats look like golf cart numbers. The potential to nab one in the sub-$10,000 range bumps this truck’s near the top of our list.
2. 2012 GMC Sierra 2500HD and 3500HD
With a redesigned engine, a 6.6L Duramax LML model, the 2012 GM trucks were a huge step up from the great offerings of the previous 5 years. 397 hp and a whopping 765 lb-ft of torque made this truck good for towing up to 22,800 lbs. In layman’s terms, the 2012 Sierra 3500HD can do things that modern 2500HD trucks haven’t caught up to, on a budget well under $20,000. An excellent Allison transmission, relatively modern interior, an uncompromised ride, and class-leading payload capacity? Sign us up!
1. 2012 Ford F-250 and F-350 Super Duty
2012 was a good year for diesel trucks. Ford’s 6.7L Powerstroke wasn’t as big as the legendary 7.3L, but it did a heck of a lot more – its 400 hp and 800 lb-ft of torque are both the highest output numbers on this list. The F-350’s limits are right there with the GM 3500HDs, with towing capability up to 22,700 lbs. Ford has a reputation for being able to out-tow every other truck in its class, and you can bet this Powerstroke design will one day have the same rep for longevity as its predecessor. This is hands-down the best used diesel truck on the market today.
Used Diesel Trucks: Toughness Personified
Toughness is in the DNA of diesel powertrains. While the Big 3 light-duty pickups and even the Chevy Colorado are in on diesel action today, the used diesel market is dominated by heavy-duty trucks that seem like they’re never going to fade away. No matter where you are if you like the sound (literally) of a diesel truck, you owe it to yourself to see what’s available in your local used truck market. Now get to work!