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Buying Jeep 2 1/2 Ton Military Trucks - Buying Big

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2009
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Photographers: Clifton Slay

For as little as $0.04 a pound you can own one of the coolest Jeeps ever built by the Kaiser-era Jeep Corporation. That's pretty cheap when you consider that the steel the Jeep is made from is worth more than that as scrap metal. Dollar for dollar there is no other truck that even compares to the 21/2-ton M35A2 military cargo/troop carrier also known as a Deuce and a Half or Deuce. They are extremely common, replacement parts are readily available and in most states you don't need a special license to drive the 13,000-pound Jeep. Over the years the M35A2 was built by both Kaiser-Jeep and AM General, although they remain virtually the same and most parts interchange. The M35A2s were built in the '60s and '70s and most were refurbished in the '80s. Later on many were rebuilt a third time into M35A3s which feature air-assist steering, a Caterpillar engine, an automatic transmission, and a Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) with super-single double-beadlock wheels among other things. The M35A3s are also a little more difficult and expensive to acquire. For now, we'll focus on the less costly and more common M35A2.

Check the floors and steel top for rust. The driver suspension seat typically needs attention of some kind but when it's working properly it makes a big difference in driver comfort.

Start Your Search
There are several ways to purchase your 2 1/2-ton military truck. The least expensive route is by auction. Government Liquidation offers numerous trucks all over the nation at any given time. However, these trucks can vary in condition from a running driver to a complete basket-case parts truck. If you choose to purchase from the auction, be sure to inspect the truck before placing your bid. As with any used vehicle purchase you should check for worn tires, missing parts, major leaks and inspect the fluids for any potential problems. And if you win the auction be prepared to add engine and gear oil, top off coolant and DOT 5 brake fluid, and replace batteries if need be. Also, if the truck has been sitting for a long time, make sure the air-over hydraulic brakes still work and that there are no major air leaks in the system. It's not uncommon to require a tow to get your new truck home from auction.

The slightly more expensive route is to purchase a truck through a commercial business such as Boyce Equipment or Memphis Equipment. And even though you are paying a premium, you end up with a truck that has been gone through by someone with military truck experience. These are drivers. And then there is always a purchase through a private party. These privately-owned trucks can be found on websites such as and

Before plunking down the cash for your new ride, make sure the current owner has a title, or at least all the paperwork you'll need to register it in your state. In some cases your M35A2 can be registered as a historical vehicle. This type of registration is much cheaper in California for example, but there are on-road limitations for the use of the truck.

Your truck should come with a spare tire and mount. Also inspect the fuel tank for dents and leaks. It's not all that common, but the pioneer tool kit (not pictured) with a pick and shovel is a bonus. The kit mounts next to the spare tire

The interior of the M35A2 is strictly bare bones. And unless you live in a really cold climate, as in sub zero temperatures, you won't need the optional heater found on some trucks. The engine heats the steel firewall and floor very nicely, both of which have zero insulation. So of course in hot climates, you'll be feeling it. As with any vehicle, make sure the gauges work. And if you can, find a truck with low miles, preferably less than 10,000 miles. But even a well-maintained truck with high miles can be a good deal. Keep an eye out for rust on the cab floor. Leaky door and window seals often lead to rust holes near the kick panels if the truck is from a wet state. The windshield frames, cowl area, and steel hardtop seams also have rust potential so look closely for holes and bubbling under the paint. And while you are looking for corrosion, don't forget to inspect the battery box and its mounts on the passenger side of the truck. This area is often a mess from leaky batteries. Upgrade to dry cell batteries whenever possible.

Consider the seat cushions wearable items. Many trucks have seats with holes in them or flattened padding. The newer more-desirable driver-side suspension seat has a coil spring and a shock built into it. The hardware often comes loose or is missing but parts are easy to come by. A properly functioning suspension seat makes the drive in a Deuce much more tolerable. If you can, also check the air-operated windshield wipers. They are prone to failure.

Check all the fluids for signs of trouble. Obviously water in the oil, oil in the coolant, and major oil and fuel leaks are bad. Also check the radiator for cracks and leaks.

Drivetrain And Chassis
There are a few engines that were used in the M35A2s. As with any engine, inspect it for major oil or fuel leaks. Also check the radiator mounts. If they come loose the radiator can crack and leak at the inlet and outlet bungs.

The most desirable of all of the available diesels is the LDT-465-1C "whistler" turbo. It's easily recognized when running. The turbo features an extremely audible whistle. Typically there is also a tag on the front of the engine with the designation if there is any doubt. Some LDT-465-1C diesels even have a multifuel option. This allows the truck to run on gas, jet fuel, kerosene, diesel, or any combination of these fuels. Since it's an older non-computerized diesel it's also the perfect candidate for B100 biodiesel or even vegetable oil with the proper cold-weather tank-heating equipment.

The M35A2 has a 24-volt electrical system that is made up of two 12-volt batteries. Missing battery caps and leaky batteries make a mess of the metal battery box. It's best to eventually convert over to two 12-volt dry-cell batteries.

All but the earliest M35A2s came with the bombproof Spicer 3053A Five-speed manual transmission. It's only real disadvantage is the oddball shift pattern. You'll get used to it. But look for a truck with the air-shift Timken T136-27 transfer case. It's easy to spot; the truck will have an air-shift lever just below the center of the dashboard. This is a far superior unit compared to the Timken T136-21 sprag-type transfer case. Although the sprag T-case can be outfitted with an aftermarket REB kit from Memphis Equipment to make it more reliable.

The axles feature air-assist drum brakes all around. Greasy driveshaft U-joints are a good sign. It at least means someone knows where the grease fittings are and uses them. The most wear-prone items in the axles are the pinion bearings. You can check these by releasing all tension from the drivetrain. First release the E-brake and put the tranny in Neutral. Then have a buddy keep the truck in place with the brake pedal. Grab each of the six pinion yokes and check them for endplay. They should be tight with zero slop. While you are under there, inspect the rubber bushings on both ends of the six rear torque rods (two uppers and four lowers). A few small cracks in the bushings are normal but rotten and missing chunks of rubber are bad signs. They may need to be replaced. The parts are available and relatively inexpensive but it's not an easy task. While you are checking the pinion yokes on the front axle make sure the knuckle boots are in good shape and not torn or missing. Also inspect the tie rod for bends and the tie-rod ends for wear.

Inspect the torque rod ends on the rear tandem axles. Small cracks in the rubber are no big deal, but missing chunks and rotten or soft rubber are bad news. If worn or damaged, the ends or the entire link will need to be replaced.

The M35A2 trucks never came with luxuries such as power windows, power door locks, air conditioning, or power steering. If you're looking for this level of comfort you're buying the wrong truck. Although there is a bolt-on Air-O-Matic air-assist steering kit available from Inter Agency Motor Pool. Most trucks came with canvas soft tops which are typically in ratty condition. Trucks with steel tops and trucks with winches bring a premium price since they are the most desirable. You're better off taking your time to find the truck you want. Trying to make the wrong truck right will cost you more time and money in the long run. That is unless you have the space and time to stockpile and sell non-running parts trucks. Ultimately, if you want a M35A2 with a winch, find a truck that has one on it. If you want a truck with a steel hard top, find one that has the steel top on it. But hey, if you're into projects and don't mind the extra expense go ahead and build your dream truck. Companies such as Boyce Equipment, Government Liquidation and Memphis Equipment can supply you with all the parts you need to install a steel or fiberglass top or a winch.

Inspect the knuckle boots and steering components for damage. Most of these parts are easily replaced and not very expensive. It's very rare to find a spotless truck like this. Some oil leaks are normal, a real gusher is not.

If you can, take the truck for a test drive. It should start right away. If the engine needs to crank-over more than a few seconds it could be worn and have low compression. Once started you'll need to let it warm up. Watch the oil pressure gauge; it should slowly climb to 60-75 psi. It takes a little while for the oil to circulate through the engine block so give it plenty of time before mashing the throttle. Also monitor the air pressure gauge. No air pressure means no brakes. Hopefully the low air pressure alarm still functions. There should be about 1.5 inches of free play in the clutch pedal. If the clutch engages near the top of the pedal stroke and or it feels like it's slipping it may need to be replaced soon. If there is noticeable slop in the steering it can typically be remedied by tightening the draglink ends or replacing the draglink if it's worn beyond adjustability. The truck will be loud, but listen for any unusual noises. Some gear whine is normal, but hissing air and loud knocking are bad signs. If the owner claims the fuel pump has been turned up, you'll notice increased power and more smoke from the exhaust stack. But if the fuel pump has been turned up, the truck should also have a pyrometer installed in the exhaust manifold just before the turbo. The exhaust gas temperature should not be allowed to reach 1,400 degrees for more than a few seconds or engine damage could result. Test the air-shift transfer case mechanism and transfer case levers as well to make sure the truck is shifting into 6x6 and Low-range.

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