Is a 2nd Gen Cummins Diesel a Better Buy Than a New Ram Truck?

Classic diesel trucks are surging in popularity. This is because while gasoline engines of yesteryear are not as efficient or powerful as modern pickup trucks, some of the diesels are comparable. The 2nd generation Dodge Ram with a Cummins engine (1994-2002) is an especially appealing option. This is because it’s available with a quad cab and is cheaper than earlier Rams. So is it a better buy than a new truck? Here are the pros and cons of each.

Why are classic diesel trucks so expensive?

The price of some classic diesel trucks, such as 1st generation Ram’s with Cummins engines, rivals the cost of a new truck. This is because they offer towing capacity equal to some new trucks while maintaining the cool factor of a classic.

A dually, heavy-duty Dodge Ram pickup truck with chrome trailering mirrors.
1996 Dodge Ram Club Cab 3500 | Stellantis

The main reason early diesel trucks are enjoying so much popularity is that many of these engines offer power and efficiency equal to many modern V8s. These diesels far surpass the performance of their contemporary gasoline engines.

But in the past 30 years, fuel injection and variable timing have made gasoline engines both powerful and efficient. At the same time, increasingly stringent diesel emissions requirements have automakers struggling to maintain both the power and the reliability of their diesel engines.

Classic diesel trucks do have several downsides. One major issue is starting them up in cold weather. In northern climates, many diesels require an engine heater in the winter. In addition, when heavy-duty diesel trucks do need major service items, they will be more expensive to maintain than their light-duty gasoline counterparts. Finally, diesel fuel can cost more, be more difficult to find, and some passengers simply don’t like the smell.

In addition, minor things are constantly breaking on any 20-30-year-old truck, requiring money or time to fix–according to DrivingLine. If you add the regular downsides of driving a classic truck–uncomfortable ergonomics, poor handling, and wonky electronics–you may decide a gently used recent Ram with a HEMI V8 better fits your needs. Daily driving a classic is definitely a lifestyle choice worth thinking twice about.

Is a 2nd Gen Cummins a good investment?

A 2nd Gen Ram truck with a Cummins engine is a quickly appreciating classic. This means that if you can still find one for a relatively low price, it is a great investment.

Bird's eye view of a 2nd Gen Ram truck with a Cummins diesel engine and quad cab parked on a dirt parking lot with all its doors open for a promo photo.
1998 Dodge Ram Quad Cab | Wieck Photo Database via Stellantis

Because many truck owners consider the 2nd Gen Cummins to be a work truck, or “beater,” there are still some deals available. The most valuable configuration continues to be a truck with both a manual transmission and 4WD.

But if you are deciding between a new truck and a 2nd Gen Cummins, think twice about categorizing your truck purchase as an investment. If you are driving your truck daily, and pressing it into hard use as a tow vehicle or work truck, it may not appreciate at all. This is because its condition will worsen as quickly as the market value improves. This is twice as true if you’ll be driving it on salty roads.

What year 12V Cummins is the best?

The first generation of I6 Cummins engines available in Ram trucks had two valves per cylinder, 12 in total. These industrial-grade 12V engines are prized for their reliability. From 1994 through 1998, the Cummins in Ram trucks benefited from both an intercooler and Bosch injector pump, making these years especially desirable.

Blue 2001 Dodge Ram pickup truck with a 2nd Gen Cummins engine parked by a lake with mountains visible in the background.
2001 Dodge Ram 3500 4×4 Quad Cab Sport | Stellantis

Fans of 1st Gen Cummins engines often search for 1991-1993 Ram trucks because they had a turbocharger with an intercooler. Swapping to a Bosch injector pump is a relatively easy upgrade for these engines.

Fans of diesel 2nd Gen Ram trucks (1994-2002) have their choice of either 12V Cummins (1994-1998) or 24V Cummins (1999-2002). When Ram swapped to a Cummins engine with four valves per cylinder, it gained both power and efficiency. The resulting engine was a bit more complicated, and some claim it’s less durable. Others prefer the 24V because it’s easier to tune with a high-output “chip” or ECM.

Next, find out why a classic diesel truck is future-proof, or learn more about the 2nd gen Cummins Ram in the video below: