It’s a philosophy we’ve been preaching for years—buy a good used diesel truck and build it your way with the right combination of aftermarket parts to get the job done. Whether you sled pull, tow, drag race or are just looking for a fun and reliable daily driver, you can save thousands by buying a good, used pre-emissions diesel and outfitting it to make more horsepower and torque, and possibly pick up a few mpgs in the process. And Diesel World Magazine is full of advertisers who have the expertise and parts you need to complete your project.
Regular readers who have been with us for any length of time will recognize Project 2nd Gen. Over the past three years, we’ve been slowly building a reliable and daily driver on a schedule and budget that most of you are familiar with. When you have the money and time, you buy parts and install them on your truck.
We started with a pristine ’99.5 Dodge 2500 4×4. The current owner found the truck in Yuma, Arizona, which is home to hundreds of “snowbirds” who escape the harsh winters of the north and come south to follow the sun and mild temps. Over time, many of them relocate permanently to the area, and put their tow rigs up for sale. Our ’99 Dodge was just such a find.
The truck was a one-owner vehicle with just over 80,000 miles on the odometer and was as stock as a stick. The previous owner was fastidious about maintenance and keeping records, so we knew this was as close to a barn find as you will find. Since it was garaged most of its life, even the paint and interior were just as pristine as the driveline.
When you buy a used vehicle, even with solid service records, fluid and filter changes are always a good practice. We dumped all the dinosaur oil out of the rig and refilled it with Royal Purple synthetic fluids using a factory oil and trans filter in the process. And to help with any heat buildup, a PML deep sump trans pan was added along with one of their cool rear diff covers.
Next up, a trip to aFe’s Corona, California, facility for a serious breathing treatment, something that every turbo diesel can use for improved efficiencies. On the intake side, the truck was fitted with their Stage 2 intake setup featuring a ProGuard 7 washable and reusable filter. To further improve airflow to the motor, the stock air horn was replaced with an aFe Bladerunner intake manfold featuring their patented MVD technology. The finishing touch was the install of a 4-inch turbo-back Mach Force stainless steel exhaust system.
Simple Fueling Upgrades
Since lift pump issues with 24-valve Cummins are common, and can kill an expensive injection pump, the first course of action on Project 2nd Gen was replacing the in-tank lift pump with an AirDog II fuel/air separation system. The setup not only ensures correct fuel pressure and added volume to the VP-44 injection pump, it also provides improved filtration and water separation thanks to replaceable filters on the unit. Strictly Diesel in Phoenix, Arizona, did the install, which involved removing the stock fuel tank, which is never empty when you start.
Strictly Diesel was also pressed into service to replace the stock VP-44 injection pump, which might have been damaged by low fuel pressure from the stock lift pump. Even though the truck ran okay, we went with a Gilmore Diesel Performance prepped VP-44. While there are plenty of upgraded VP-44s on the market to handle larger injectors, Matt Gilmore suggested a warmed-over stocker for this application in case we went with a mild injector upgrade down the road.
Since fuel on the second-gen Dodges is controlled electronically via the VP-44 brain box, which sits on top of the pump, adding a tuner with multiple settings was the easiest and more reliable option. We opted to install at Edge Juice with Attitude CTS system, which features a simple-to-use touchscreen and also provides full in-cab monitoring of such things as EGT, boost, coolant temps, trans temps, and a whole lot more, negating the need for an aftermarket gauge pod.
The beauty of the system, besides touchscreen changes and a color display, is that it also has six on-the-fly tunes from mild to hot rod. The Edge kit also came with a new fitting that restricts air to the factory turbo wastegate for more boost. And speaking of boost, we also pulled out the factory turbo silencer ring for a bit more airflow, and turbo noise.
Suspension & Steering Upgrades
With the engine mechanicals under control, our attention moved to address a common problem with second-gen Dodges: bad steering from frame flex. With only the stamped steel bumper as a structural “crossmember” forward of the engine, second-gen Dodges are prone to frame flex which affects steering and handling. Add a heavy trailer out back and the ride gets even more sketchy.
BD Diesel Performance offers several upgrades to address the issue. A must for any second-gen Dodge owner is their Steering Box Stabilizer system which essentially adds a bolt-in crossmember above the sway bar to tie the frame ends together. It also stabilizes the steering box with a unique bearing setup. Next up, their adjustable track bar kit and trick sway bar end links, which utilize a dual-pivot design for improved articulation and less stress on the components.
And speaking of steering, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take it a step further with Borgeson Universal’s Dodge Ram Steering Upgrade Kit for the 1994-2002 Ram. The setup replaces the original Saginaw steering box with a Delphi integral power steering box that has a larger piston diameter for better power assist and a quicker steering ratio. Best of all, the kit is a direct bolt-on and comes complete with lines, pumps, steering box and all the necessary fittings to tie into the factory Hydro-Boost setup. H&H Diesel in Dewey, Arizona, spent the day with our project truck installing the steering upgrades.
Since this truck regularly pulls a 28-foot fifth-wheel trailer, loaded with quads and gear, setting it up to tow was Job One. With mild motor mods, there was no worry about excessive EGTs under load, and with the steering up to snuff, handling improved. What needed attention were the suspension and brakes. And while we were at H&H Diesel, we had them add a leveling kit, air bag system and simple brake upgrade to the Dodge.
Just about anyone who tows heavy will need a set of air bags to level the rear of the truck. Whether it’s a bumper pull or fifth-wheel, keeping the trailer and truck as level as possible improves handling. We added a Firestone Ride-Rite system to the Dodge with individual fill lines mounted in the rear bumper.
Speaking of keeping things level, with an aftermarket steel bumper and 12,000-pound winch headed for the front of Project 2nd Gen, we figured the front end could use a little help. The answer was a 2-inch leveling kit from ReadyLIFT Suspension. The ReadyLIFT T6 aluminum spacers simple fit above the stock coils and leveled the truck enough to be comfortable adding both the new front end and 33-inch rubber.
To help with stopping power, the folks at H&H freshened the rear drum brakes on the Dodge and added a Hawk Performance Quiet Slot rotor and brake pad combo up front. The Quiet Slot rotors utilize a unique combination of alloys with a special coating and dimpled design for improved performance. Complementing the setup is Hawk’s SD line of ferro-carbon brake pads, which are engineered for severe duty commercial use. Installation was a simple R&R deal.
Fusion Bumper contacted us regarding Project 2nd Gen and sent over a prototype front bumper and 12,000-pound winch setup. The bumper was sent over to Precision Powder Coating in Tempe, Arizona, before being shipped back to Strictly Diesel in Phoenix for installation. We learned the hard way you should install the Rigid Industries LED lights first before installing the bumper. Strictly had to also clock the winch, and the control box was installed alongside the aFe intake for ease of access. The crowning touch was a rear Fusion bumper with more Rigid Industries LEDs.
Next came new rolling stock. The folks at Mickey Thompson made things a one-stop shop by sending over a set of 17×9-inch MT-88 Mickey Metal wheels and 285/70R17 Baja STZ tires for the Dodge. The steelies are load-rated and the old school combo looks awesome on the Ram. A set of Bushwacker fender flares keep any rocks from hitting the body. Finishing touches included a Vortex spray-in bed liner from Coverall Technologies and a fifth-wheel hitch setup.
The truck works as designed. It’s a great 20-mpg freeway daily driver and can haul 14,000 pounds easily up and down Arizona mountain grades. Sure, we could’ve got more crazy in terms of turbo and fuel injector upgrades, but for its intended use, this setup is reliable and fun to drive. DW
Advanced Flow Engineering (aFe)
BD Diesel Performance
Borgeson Universal Company
Firestone Industrial Products
Gilmore Diesel Performance
Precision Powder Coating Inc.
Pure Flow Technologies/AirDog
ReadyLIFT Suspension Inc.
4 Wheel Parts Wholesale