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Old 04-03-2012, 10:03 AM   #1
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Buying an older 7.3 Diesel Truck?

My husband has been looking at early 90's late 80's Diesel Trucks for a pull vehicle was wondering if there is anything we should be looking for or staying away from. Quite a few have said they're truck is great for pulling trailers or is setup with fifth wheel hitch ready to go. Most have mileage around 150+ Some have banks installed which I've heard is good for gas milage. We are looking for a quad cab to pull a 27'-32' fifth wheel or trailer (prefer the fiver). We were looking for 2wd or 4wd 250 7.3 diesel. Thanks!

Most concerned about tranny issues.

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Old 04-03-2012, 10:10 AM   #2
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Get a F350 if you can find one. Used cost will be about the same and you will gain towing capacity, especially important if you are going to a fifth wheel. I gotta ask the obvious, why only Ford? Dodges are darn near bullet proof and you can get one a bit newer in age with a manual transmission.
Have two neighbors with older Fords. One in his really early 7.3 went through two transmissions before he got one that works OK. The other neighbor has a pristine 7.3 about 13 years old maybe 50K miles, and on his way back from Phoenix last week blew the turbo on it. He is sitting in Flagstaff waiting for parts as we speak.

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Old 04-03-2012, 10:21 AM   #3
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One of my neighbors owned a diesel shop and told me not to buy a used Ford(I'm Ford all the way) or Chevy because they are expensive to keep up and people WON'T DO IT!! He showed me $14K worth of repair he'd done and gotten bad checks for..
That was about 5-6years ago.. I'm not a Billygoat lover, but except for electrical
they seem to hang in there... I had a farm truck with over 300K on it..
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Old 04-03-2012, 10:32 AM   #4
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I would think the last year they made the 7.3 (2003) would be a good bet for a tow vehicle. Changed to 6.0L in Jan '03.
From '99 1/2 to '07, the bodies are basically the same, and almost all the parts except motors/trans are similar.
There are early models that weren't turbo-equipped that I don't think you would want.
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Old 04-03-2012, 10:41 AM   #5
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many of those 7.3 F350 pick ups were bullet proof. Great engine. But the problem is they have a tow capacity around 10k - 11k, which isnt a lot when you consider the empty weight of a larger 5er and then add maybe 2k in "stuff". Do some research look up tow capacitys for particular years for the model of truck your considering. Some folks push the limits or go over them. Not a safe option. Better to have a margin of safety. There are threads on this forum talking extensively about tow capacity.
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Old 04-03-2012, 10:45 AM   #6
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I would stay away from the 6.0 F350. Its has turbo issues. I know I own one and last year replaced the high pressure oil pump, the intercooler and the turbo. We bought the truck with an extended warrant so I bought it knowing the issues. But once the warranty is finished the truck is gonna be sold.
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Old 04-03-2012, 12:12 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by wingnut60 View Post
I would think the last year they made the 7.3 (2003) would be a good bet for a tow vehicle. Changed to 6.0L in Jan '03.
From '99 1/2 to '07, the bodies are basically the same, and almost all the parts except motors/trans are similar.
There are early models that weren't turbo-equipped that I don't think you would want.
This. I was looking at older trucks too before I bought my 2000 and this was the advice I got. The older models are not turbo - if you want to pull, I say turbo is a practically must have. So, I would go with late 90's early 00's for the 7.3.

I would also aim for a 350 versus the 250 - price difference on these older models is minimal and you will get a vehicle with a little higher tow capacity (same engine; different suspension).

I forget the exact year, but think is was around 96-97 that turbos came on the engine...just look for 'Powerstroke' for turbo.
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Old 04-03-2012, 02:46 PM   #8
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We aren't exclusively looking at Ford - are main concern is that it is reliable and has ample tow capacity. Thanks for narrowing down our search I think we'll change it to 350 or 3500 (dodge) - late 90's (we'll see what price range that puts us in) and powerstroke or turbo seems to be a consensus for a must. Yes we are complete newbies and I appreciate the input more than you know!!!
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Old 04-03-2012, 04:59 PM   #9
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Prior to 1997, the 7.3L was not intercooled, only turbo charges. Prior to that, Ford diesel was a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) engine. You really should get the 99 up to early 2003 7.3L truck for the power.

Problems with the Super Duty truck was ball joints (2 wheel drive) and transmission. If you don't abuse the truck, large external transmission cooler, change the tranny fluid often, the tranny will hold together pretty well.


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Old 04-03-2012, 05:09 PM   #10
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Definitely go with a Turbo Diesel! All of these trucks have some little quirk that someone can complain about. The reality is the 7.3 Powerstroke is an amazingly reliable engine and put into a solid truck. 7.3 Powerstrokes started in 1994 (there was still a non turbo option in 94 as well so look carefully) and was replaced by the 6.0 for the 03 model year. The Dodges have the amazing Cummins engine that is known to run darn near forever. I have heard a lot more complaints about the Dodge truck then the engine. The GM Duramax is another outstanding engine and the Allison is a great trans with a reliable truck wrapped around it. Any of these trucks are going to be well over 100K miles and even deep into the 200K. Nothing to be afraid of as long as you are realistic. You a re looking at a 10+ or - year old truck. It will need some love. There will be some parts that need to be replaced. Keep that in mind when you select a truck and budget accordingly. Make sure you have some cash set aside for some repairs and do not get mad when they happen. Once you get caught up on any neglected repairs maintain it well and it will treat you well. I have found that parts have come down in price over the last few years. My brother in law has a 97 F-30 with the 7.3 and the parts we have put on his were a lot cheaper then when I had my 7.3.

Sorry for such a long post but this topic can get out of hand real easy.
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Old 04-03-2012, 05:14 PM   #11
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In 2000 - 2001 I had a 2000 F-250 7.3 diesel with a six speed manual transmission and pulled a 34 foot King of the Road (to heavy for the F-250). I changed to a 2001 Dodge 3500 4X4 which handled the King of the Road. If the F-250 had been an F-350 4X4 I'd probably still have it. Never a bit of a problem with that truck. I agree with the others go for the one ton - big difference in the capacity.
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Old 04-04-2012, 10:06 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by fam5rving View Post
My husband has been looking at early 90's late 80's Diesel Trucks for a pull vehicle was wondering if there is anything we should be looking for or staying away from.
I know not much about Dodge and Chevy, except for the years you're looking for (before 2005), I know:

Dodge is a great diesel engine with a lousy tranny wrapped up in a POS truck. GM 6.5L diesels before about 2002 were unreliable and trouble prone. My local dealer stopped selling them long before GM stopped making them. Later GM trucks with the Isusu diesel engine were okay.

Ford diesel is my game. I've been a moderator on TheDieselStop for about 12 years. Here's what I know about the Fords:

As others mentioned, the Ford 7.3L diesels before 1995 model year were not turbocharged - they were not PowerStrokes. Dead reliable and would run forever if you maintained fresh motor oil in them, but not enough power/torque to drag a medium-size 5er at a reasonable speed up a steep grade. The '95 thru '97 (old body style or OBS) had PowerStroke turbocharged engines, but no charge air cooler (so-called intercooler).

So from Ford, I would not want a tow vehicle older than the '95 PowerStroke. If he is partial to the OBS body, then look for a '95 thru '97 PowerStroke.

There is no such thing as a '98 Ford diesel pickup. Ford built the '97 models right up until about Thanksgiving 1998, then switched the Kentucky Truck Plant over to the new '99 SuperDuty trucks which began coming off the assembly line in January, 1998.

The '99 had not only an intercooler, but a 4R100 automatic tranny instead of the A40D of the '97 and earlier. The ZF manual tranny went from a 5-speed in the '97 to a 6-speed in the '99. With the intercooler, the engine produced 230 HP and 500 lb/ft.

The "early" '99 SuperDuty had a few teething pains, but Ford took care of them as they occured. Ford came out with a much-improved '99 SuperDuty diesel in December, 1998 (almost a year after the first '99s apeared). Enthusiasts call those the '99.5 model, but Ford still called them a '99.

If I were looking for an older diesel tow vehicle, I'd look for a '99.5 thru 2003 Ford 7.3L. Ford replaced the 7.3L with the 6.0L early in the 2003 model year, so there were not many 2003 7.3Ls produced.

I ordered my '99.5 CrewCab diesel in April 1999, and was driving it by June 1999. I put almost 200,000 mostly-towing miles on it in a little over 11 years. I sold it about a year and a half ago for $10,000.

We are looking for a quad cab to pull a 27'-32' fifth wheel or trailer (prefer the fiver). We were looking for 2wd or 4wd 250 7.3 diesel.
Don't even consider the F-250 if your trailer is a 5er. My F-250 CrewCab diesel with two-wheel-drive was overloaded by several hundred pounds over the GVWR with our 25' 5er with only Darling Wife and a puppydog in the CrewCab. I had a toolbox full of tools and a floor jack in the bed, but you should too. The F-250 had plenty of "tow rating" for a 12,000 pound 5er, but not nearly enough payload capacity (GVWR) for the hitch weight of any 5er that weighed more than about 7,500 pounds.

Ford also made a 'tweener in the F-350 SRW (single rear wheels). It had 1100 pounds more GVWR, so it could handle more hitch weight. But GVWR was still the limiter. It had GVWR of 9,900 pounds, and our wet and loaded 4x2 weighed about 8,000, leaving a max of 1,900 pounds for hitch weight. 1,900 pounds hitch weight translates to a max 5er weight of about 11,200 pounds. If you buy a 4x4 CrewCab diesel, expect the truck to weigh about 400 pounds more than a 4x2. So that reduces the max trailer weight you can tow with an F-350 SRW diesel without being overloaded over the GVWR of the truck to about 8,800 pounds. You probably won't find many 27' plus 5ers with a GVWR of only 8,800 pounds.

So if your trailer is a 5er and your truck is a '99.5 thru 2003 F-350 SRW 4x4 with 7.3L diesel engine, then shop carefully for a 5er with a GVWR of less than 8,800 pounds. With a 4x2, you can go on up to about 11,000 pounds

The F-350 dually is a horse of a different color. GVWR is not the limiter, so you can tow a heavier 5er without being overloaded. But ignore the tow rating, because it's way overstated. A '99.5 thru 2003 F-350 DRW CrewCab with 7.3L PowerStroke engine has a GVWR of 11,500 pounds and a GCWR of 20,000 pounds. A 4x4 will weigh almost 9,000 pounds when wet and ready for the road with passengers and "stuff" inside. The remaining 2,500 pounds available for hitch weight translates to a max 5er weight of way more than the GCWR will allow. The GCWR of 20,000 pounds minus the truck weight of 9,000 pounds is a 5er with a max weight of 11,000 pounds. There are lots of 27' to 30' 5ers available with GVWR less than 11,000 pounds.

So notice that about 11,000 pounds is the limit for a 5er behind either the F-350 SRW or DRW, but for different reasons. The F-350 SRW is limited by its GVWR. The heavier DRW is limited by it's GCWR. The DRW is a much more stable towing platform, so most DRW owners would't be caught dead in an SRW. But lots of folks can't stand the thought of driving a "real truck" with the bussel in the rear bodywork, so they compromise by towing a lighter trailer with an SRW.

But you said you'd consider a TT instead of a 5er. An F-250 can tow a small ultra-light TT because the hitch weight is less than a 5er of the same size. Figure 12 to 15 percent hitch weight for a TT, but 15 to 25 percent for a 5er. I use 12 percent estimated hitch weight when matching TTs to tow vehicles, but 17 percent hitch weight when matching medium-size 5ers to tow vehicles.

So for a '99-'03 F-250 CrewCab 4x2 with 800 pounds max hitch weight, that translates to a TT of about 6,600 pounds. You probably won't find a TT with a 27' or longer box (not counting hitch length) with that little GVWR. But for the same drivetrain in an F-350 SRW, that translates to a TT grossing up to way over the tow rating of the F-350 SRW. Even with an F-350 SRW 4x4, you could still tow a TT grossing up to around 11,500 pounds before you bumped into the GCWR limiter of 20,000 pounds.

Most concerned about tranny issues.
Automatic tranny is the weak point in all diesel pickups, including the '99.5 to 2003 7.3L SuperDuty. Heat is the tranny killer. So you must have a good tranny temp gauge and never allow more than 225 tranny temp. To help with that goal, you may need to replace the oil-to-air tranny cooler with a much-bigger one. And if you ever see over about 210, you should be running synthetic ATF.

If you can do that, then your 4R100 tranny may last as long as you own the truck, and you won't have to worry about replacing it with a bulletproofed tranny, such as a Ford HD or BTS tranny. You will probably need to replace the torque converter, but that's a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand for a good rebuilt tranny.

If you waited too late to control the heat of your tranny, then there are fixes available to bulletproof your 4R100 tranny. If you buy one that doesn't already have the tranny bulletproofed, then plan to spend the big bucks to have it done later.

For the 99-up 7.3L with 4R100 tranny, there are two choices. Ford now offers a rebuild 4R100 HD tranny that will fix the problem. That's a decent choice with a two-year warranty for about $3,000. The ultimate bulletproofing job is done by an outfit called Brian's Truck Shop (BTS). That one will cost you a lot more up front, but Brian will tell you that it's the last transmission you'll ever have to buy. Today a BTS 4R100 rebuilt tranny will cost you over $4,000.

My 4R100 lasted 112,000 miles before I noticed some slipping from the torque converter. I drove to BTS and had him do "the works". It was less than $3,800 out the door back then, but I was really proud of my BTS tranny, and never had more tranny problems.

If you get a Ford, then surf to www.TheDieselStop.com and spend some time in the FAQs and Forum FAQs, and read the articles under "contents" off the home page. We've allowed the website to go downhill lately, but all the great stuff for the 7.3L PowerStrokes is there. Note especially Mark Kovalsky's how-to on changing the ATF in a 4R100 tranny.
Changing ATF: 7.3L PowerStroke Engine and 4R100 Automatic Transmission. - Diesel Forum - TheDieselStop.com
Grumpy ole man with over 50 years towing experience. Now my heaviest trailer is a 7,000-pound enclosed cargo trailer, RV is a 5,600 pound Skyline Nomad Joey 196S, and my tow vehicle is a 2012 F-150 EcoBoost SuperCrew.
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Old 04-04-2012, 10:24 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by SmokeyWren View Post
I know not much about Dodge and Chevy, except for the years you're looking for (before 2005), I know:

Dodge is a great diesel engine with a lousy tranny wrapped up in a POS truck.
Well, let's see. We ordered our 2002 Dodge 3500 dually with the Cummins 5.9L HO and the NV5600 6-speed manual transmission and took delivery on September 5, 2001. It had the Sport appearance package, leather and all the bells and whistles. It pulled our 13,500 GVWR Jayco Designer and our current 5th wheel until 2010 when a physical problem with my back and left leg forced me to switch over to an automatic transmission - thus, our current truck (see signature).

In all the time we owned that truck, it never saw the inside of a dealer's shop for anything other than routine service. It never left us on the side of the road, and it did everything that we asked of it, including being called upon to rescue 5th wheels towed by dead Brand X and Brand Y trucks a number of times. When we sold it, you would be hard pressed to find any deterioration from the day we took delivery - no rust, no rattles or squeaks, no faded paint, no cracked leather or interior pieces, etc. This truck was one of the most reliable, well built vehicles I've ever owned (and, yes, I've owned Fords, Volvos, Hondas, Acuras, Toyotas, etc.). The photos below were taken in August 2010.

Therefore, I for one take strong exception to your generalization above.

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Old 04-04-2012, 01:01 PM   #14
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Not to threadcrap but I tow a 30' fifth wheel with a '99 f350 cc drw with the v10. It tows nicely. Now, I live in the Midwest so I don't have to climb the Rockies or the Sierra nevada's and my trips are about 6 trips a year. The rest is short, local driving.
Depending on your amount of driving and the elevation climb/descents a v10 may work out for you.

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