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Our Favorite Used 3/4 Ton Work Trucks

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 1, 2012
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If someone held a torque wrench to your head and demanded that you list the most important features of a used, four-wheel drive, ¾-ton, fullsize pickup truck that would be used for work, what would you say?

We’d say the truck must produce ample power, above average towing and hauling capability, good visibility from the driver-seat, and ruggedness. It would also need to have an inherent ability to traverse off-road terrain, because that’s often where the work is. In addition, it would be mandatory that the truck must have strong support in the aftermarket for things like fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches, snowplows, bumpers, brushguards, cargo bed storage, headache racks, ladder racks, and even complete utility bodies that can replace the factory cargo bed.

So with these parameters in mind, we submit a few of our favorite used ¾-ton work trucks. And when we refer to used trucks we’re not talking about one-, two-, or even five-year-old trucks. In this story we’re talking about very used, relatively inexpensive (compared to their original sticker price) machines that are 10 to 15 years old. In other words, ’97 through ’02 model year vehicles. You know, the kind you can find all day long on Craigslist or eBay.

Some folks base their truck purchase on past experience. Some folks choose a work truck based solely on their brand loyalty. Others could care less about what badge is on a vehicle and instead judge each truck on its merits. Whatever procedure you follow, one thing all of these trucks have in common is that they excel at many things, with work being job one.

2001-2002 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD
Facts: The regular-duty Silverado 2500 (and its sibling the GMC Sierra 2500) was a good work truck, but the 2500 HD (introduced in 2001) was a completely different animal that offered even more. The 2500 HD had a number of model-specific features including a stronger frame that was the same as the 1-ton dualie frame. The truck had a more rigid body structure that included cross-sills under the cab floor, a double-boxed rocker panel structure, laser-welded door rings, and bake-hardened steel doors. It had a two-inch higher body height than the regular-duty Silverado and it had a different front end appearance including a taller hood, which helped with underhood cooling. The 2500 HD had three engine choices. First was the standard Vortec 6000 6.0L V-8 that made 300 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque. Second was the Vortec 8100 8.1L big-block V-8 that produced 340 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque. And finally, there was the Duramax 6600 (LB7) 6.6L turbodiesel that made 300 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque. The 6.0L engine was mated to either a New Venture Gear five-speed manual transmission or a 4L80-E four-speed automatic. The 6.6L Duramax and 8.1L big-block engines mated to either the Allison 1000 five-speed automatic transmission or ZF S6-650 six-speed manual. The 2500 HD’s front suspension was lighter and stronger with forged lower control arms and stamped-and-welded box-section upper control arms. The rear suspension consisted of two-stage, semi-elliptic, multi-leaf rear springs. The shock absorbers were large diameter and part of the Handling and Trailering package included on all 2500 HDs. Only one suspension option was available and it was the Snowplow Prep package. The rear axle on rigs equipped with the 6.0L engine had a 10½-inch ring gear, while the rear axle found under the Duramax and big-block had an 11½-inch ring gear. The front differential had a 9¼-inch ring gear, but Duramax and big-block-equipped rigs used a stronger “Powerdense” case that had extra ribbing. Other items of note include improved steering; improved braking, thanks in part to 36 percent larger front brake pads and ventilated discs at all corners; higher capacity tires (E-rated standard); larger towhooks; and three outside rearview mirror options.

Pros: Superior to the regular-duty Silverado 2500, beefy IFS, Duramax/Allison combination

Cons: IFS

If it were us: There were very few changes made from 2001 to 2002, so these two model years are similar. We’d try to find a Duramax-equipped rig because in addition to the power and economy of the diesel we like that it had the beefier front differential case. We’re cool with either the automatic or manual transmission; though with the manual transmission the axleshaft U-joints were 25 percent larger and the truck could be had with a manual-shift New Venture transfer case (automatic-equipped rigs got the electric-shift NV 263 T-case).

1999-2002 Ford F-250 Super Duty
Facts: When Ford rolled out the ’99 F-250 Super Duty it was available in 44 different configurations. Twenty-one of those were new to Ford and 15 were unique to the industry. It was clear that Ford was serious about this new truck. The truck was available with either the 5.4L Triton V-8 that produced 235 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque, the 6.8L Triton V-10 that made 275 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque, or the improved, intercooled, direct-injection 7.3L Power Stroke turbodiesel that kicked out 235 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. The 4R100 four-speed was the automatic transmission found behind all of these engines for this model year. According to archived press info, a ZF M5HD five-speed was the manual transmission used with the V-8 and V-10 engines and a ZF M6OD six-speed manual was used with the Power Stroke. Power flowed through a NV271 (manual-shift) or NV273 (electric-shift) transfer case to a Dana 50 solid front axle and a Ford 10½-inch rear axle and both of these axles were fitted with disc brakes. Up front, the suspension consisted of leaf springs and out back it used a single-stage constant-rate leaf spring setup with auxiliary spring. Eight-lug wheels and E-rated tires were standard. Each year brought changes to the F-250. In 2000 tow hooks became standard; in 2001 the trailer tow package became standard and fuel economy was improved with the help of a lower valance; and in 2002 a six-speed manual became the standard transmission for the gasoline engines. During this timeframe engine horsepower and torque numbers climbed as well. The Super Duty was offered with an impressive number of features geared for specialized work including a Snow Plow package, max front GAWR package, camping package, and PTO provisions.

Pros: Solid front axle, powerful and efficient 7.3L Power Stroke turbodiesel

Cons: Leaf springs can crack as they age, automatic transmission failure when paired with the diesel engine

If it were us: We’d like to find an ’02 SuperCab shortbox with the Power Stroke turbodiesel mated to the six-speed manual transmission. This engine/transmission combination improved the trucks output by 25 hp and 15 lb-ft of torque compared to the Power Stroke/automatic transmission combination. As a bonus, the six-speed transmission has a standard PTO provision. The ’02 Super Duty also received interior changes designed to improve comfort and convenience, a new instrument cluster, and better headlamps.

1998.5-2002 Dodge Ram 2500
Facts: Dodge restyled the Ram in 1994, and this included the Ram 2500. The 2500 retained that styling until the 2003 model year even though the Ram 1500 was restyled in 2002, so keep that in mind if you’re hunting one of these trucks. When it came to the engine, big news hit in the late ’90s when midway through the ’98 model year the optional Cummins 5.9L I-6 turbodiesel got a new four-valve head, electronic engine management system, intercooler, and an increase in horsepower and torque. In ’99 we reported that this 24-valve Cummins ISB engine produced 460 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600 rpm, which was 60 lb-ft more than the engine it replaced. Other engine choices included the 5.9L Magnum V-8 that made 245 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque and the monster 8.0L Magnum V-10 that produced an impressive 300 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices included a 46RE four-speed automatic or NV4500 five-speed manual behind the 5.9L engine, while the V-10 and Cummins engines were mated to a 47RE four-speed automatic or a NV4500 five-speed or NV5600 six-speed manual transmission depending on year. It’s worth noting that both of those manual transmissions sported a granny-low First gear. Most 2500s came with either an NVG 241 or NVG 241HD transfer case, but in ’02 the NV271 GII manual-shift and NV273 GII electric-shift T-cases were used. The front suspension consisted of coil springs, shocks, and links, while the rear suspension was a simple leaf spring setup. Most of the Ram 2500 trucks came with a Dana 60 front axle and either a Dana 70 or Dana 80 rear axle depending on powerplant. If you’re looking at a 2500 make sure it’s not one of the rare light-duty models that had a Dana 44 front axle, Chrysler 9.25-inch rear axle, and NV3500 manual transmission. When it came to body configurations, Dodge introduced the Quad Cab in ’98 and it was sold alongside the Club Cab and regular cab models. The Club Cab was discontinued for the ’00 model year.

Pros: Solid front axle, Cummins ISB option, strong axles

Cons: No “real” four-door configuration, weak automatic transmissions, vacuum-operated center axle disconnect on pre-’02 front axles

If it were us: We’d look for a ’01 or ’02 model. We like that for 2001 Dodge replaced the rear drum brakes with dual-piston-caliper disc brakes, and a high-output version of the Cummins ISB turbodiesel mated to the NV5600 six-speed manual transmission became available. There’s a lot to like about the ’02 model as well. Dodge increased the size of the brake rotors, used a new recirculating ball steering system, an NV271 manual-shift transfer case was available, and the center axle disconnect on the front axle was discontinued.

Work bodies
If you’ve purchased a work truck and you’re finding that you need more secure space than the pickup bed can offer, there are a number of companies that offer service bodies that replace the factory truck bed. Typically these vary in size and features and can be made of steel, fiberglass, or aluminum. There are also slip-on truck bodies that slide into the factory pickup bed like this fiberglass Durashell 170 that’s available through Fleetwest ( This body requires no drilling, offers 170 cubic feet of storage, and it only weighs 385 pounds.

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