Buying a high mileage diesel truck can feel like stepping into a jungle filled with both hidden treasures and boobie traps. I recently had an interesting experience that many truck enthusiasts may relate to. I found myself with a burning hole in my pocket and a desire to buy a high mileage diesel truck.
You see, there was this 2005 5.9L Cummins quad cab long bed truck with a whopping 290,000 miles on it that I had my eyes on. The price was just right – within the $6,000 range, which was my buy-it-now price.
As an impatient man eager to get behind the wheel of a new truck, I was prepared to overlook a few things to get a good deal. But as many of you truck enthusiasts know, while a cheaper truck might be tempting, there’s a lot you need to watch out for.
When I first stumbled upon the listing, my heart jumped a little. An ’05 quad cab long bed four-wheel drive, cloth interior, automatic, and a recently rebuilt transmission – it was almost too good to be true. To add a cherry on top, the truck was in a gorgeous shade of Atlantic Blue.
The truck, which had been kept 100% stock by the original was impressively straight for its former life as a plow vehicle. Upon inspection, the truck’s interior was in pretty decent shape, albeit with a weirdly fitted middle seat. It had power windows and power door locks, which were a plus. I had a few concerns, like a drilled hole in the dashboard and the fact that the truck had been used as a plow truck by the original owner.
While these might not have been deal-breakers given the price tag, it’s important to remain skeptical and look at the truck with a critical eye. Don’t let yourself be blinded by the excitement of a new toy.
Anytime you’re considering buying a vehicle, no matter what it is, it’s important to give it a thorough test drive. I purposely drove the truck roughly to check for any unusual sounds or movements. Surprisingly, I didn’t notice any abnormal clunks or loose steering — pretty remarkable for a vehicle clocking in at 290,000 miles. The transmission shifted smoothly, the owner mentioned it had been rebuilt around 50,000 miles ago.
The seller disclosed that the truck had a rough idle when cold. He had sent a video of the truck cold starting before we met and while it appeared to run and drive fine once it warmed up, it did emit excessive white smoke, which was the first red flag.
My first thought was that it was probably due for a fueling upgrade. It’s possible the injectors had never been replaced, so perhaps it was suffering from a high return rate or maybe a problem with the pressure relief valve or injector wiring harness. These are all relatively easy fixes.
Taking A Deeper Look
After the test drive I needed an experienced eye, like my colleague Tyler’s, to take a deeper look at the truck. We started noticing a few more warning signs. There was some bed damage and spots of rust, indicative of the truck’s age and heavy usage.
We performed an oil cap test and saw that the truck was blowing more oil than I would have liked. It wasn’t overly excessive – but enough to raise some concern. Further inspection revealed that oil was caking the front differential and the drive line, indicating the truck was producing oil from the crank vent. The red flags started stacking up, and my initial excitement started fading.
It became apparent that, aside from a possible injector issue, this truck might have a compression issue causing it to run rough when cold. These are the types of things you need to be aware of when shopping for a high mileage used truck. A seller might minimize issues, suggesting they’ll disappear once the vehicle warms up, and unless you’re experienced in diagnosing these problems, you might assume it’s a simple fix.
Is The Juice Worth The Squeeze?
My passion for tinkering with trucks led me to contemplate rebuilding the engine, despite only having a one and a half car garage. I envisioned squeezing it into my already-packed schedule and quickly came to the conclusion this was more of a project than I wanted. I’d have to buy a rebuild kit, then take the engine block for machining and inspection.
If it were a transmission issue, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I can easily pull and reinstall a transmission, even taking it for a rebuild if needed. However, the engine rebuild, which is the only way for me to come out financially ahead, would involve more work than I was realistically willing to put into the truck.
Walking away from that truck was a tough decision, but I’m glad I did.
So here’s my takeaway for all you fellow truck enthusiasts out there: sometimes, the truck that seems like a deal might not be the best choice for your circumstances. Do your research, check the vehicle thoroughly, and always remember – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t hesitate to ask the seller specific questions, and always be prepared for the possibility of underlying issues that may not be immediately apparent. Buying a high mileage truck can be a gamble, but with careful consideration and patience, you can increase your chances of finding a reliable vehicle that will serve you well for years to come.
In the end, I returned to my original plan, hunting for a decent truck on the Facebook marketplace that I could work on and eventually flip.