Ah, diesel trucks. It’s hard not to love them. However, diesel trucks come with a bit of a learning curve. Driving these big oil burners isn’t the hard part; it’s the slightly strange mechanics of how the trucks work. An unreliable diesel engine might just be the worst automotive experience ever, but having a solid diesel is unlike anything else. Here are the three most reliable diesel pickup trucks of all time.
Should you buy a diesel pickup truck?
Diesels are not for everyone. However, if you are someone who needs to haul big loads or pull heavy trailers, a diesel will be your best friend. Hell, given the price of gas, the added fuel economy of diesel engines might even be a boon to your wallet.
The most reliable diesel conversation is a tough one. There are many opinions. Brand loyalty plays into this segment in a major way. Another aspect that makes this a difficult question to answer is that diesel pickup trucks have been made for quite a while, and in that time, many different ones were made. MotorTrend picked what we think is a strong trio of oil burners. So, let’s start there before the hate mail pours in.
1999-2003 Ford F-250/F-350 Super Duty (7.3-Liter Power Stroke)
MotorTrend comes out of the gate with some oomph. The first choice for the most reliable diesel pickup trucks of all time is the 1999-2003 Ford F-250/F-350 Super Duty with the 7.3-Power Stroke plant.
The Power Stroke engine is a simple, low-maintenance powerplant that, depending on the year, makes anywhere between 235 and 275 horsepower and 500-525 lb-ft of torque. Part of the reliability of this engine comes from the choice Ford made to build the blocks and cylinders with heavy cast iron. This model range also saw some big improvements from the previous generation.
The mechanical updates included an air-to-air intercooler, lowering exhaust gas temperatures, and improved horsepower and torque output. In addition to being much quieter than the earlier indirect-injection Power Strokes, the updated version also received much-needed split-shot 140cc injectors, according to MotorTrend.
Only two transmissions came in these trucks, an automatic five-speed and a six-speed manual. Both options landed top marks for reliability.
If properly maintained, these pickup trucks can still be work-ready for up to 500,000 miles. This means picking up a used model with over 200,000 miles isn’t all that risky.
1994-1998 Dodge Ram 2500/3500 (5.9-Liter, 12-Valve Cummins)
Everything from engine choice to body design on this era Dodge Ram 2500/3500 was iconic. MT mentions two things that make this truck so special: its Cummins powerplant makes piles of cheap horsepower and is relentlessly reliable.
This year was the first of this body style, and Dodge sold hundreds of thousands. It makes sense; the new look paired with an upgraded 12-valve Cummins – that’s a winning combo. There were a series of upgraded parts, but many were still very mechanical, including the manual transmission option.
Some Cummins during this period made more horsepower than others. As MotorTrend editors wrote:
“The NV4500-backed 5.9-liter Cummins had more horsepower than the engines with 47RH/47RE four-speed automatic transmissions, too. From 1994 to 1995, the engine was rated at 175 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque; the 1996-1998 versions had an output of 215 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque. With the automatic gearboxes, the Cummins was derated to 160 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque (1994-1995) or 180 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque (1996-1998).”
2006-2007 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra (6.6-Liter Duramax LBZ)
Everyone gets a piece of the diesel pie, even Chevy. (sorry, I’m a Ford dork.) MotorTrend explains that part of the reason that these model range diesel pickup trucks are so popular is that they have very manipulatable ECUs. If there’s anything we know about diesel peeps, they love to mod a truck.
Like the other trucks on this list, the 6.6-liter Duramax LBZ V8 was seriously updated for 2006. The updates were a block with more webbing, bores with 4mm of additional depth, stronger main-bearing caps, and forged-steel connecting rods. Not only did these upgrades lead to an engine that made 360 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, but they also made the engine more durable. If that ain’t a win-win, I don’t know what is.
Lastly, for better or worse, these trucks snuck in before modern emissions restrictions, adding another layer of reliability.