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. If you want to sled-pull, tow or drag race, or just have a reliable and fun daily driver, buying a pre-emissions used diesel can save you thousands. It’s also possible to increase the horsepower and torque of your vehicle, as well as improve its fuel economy. Diesel World Magazine contains many advertisers with the parts and expertise you need for 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. If you have money and the time to do so, you can buy parts and put 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. Many snowbirds relocate permanently and list their tow rigs for sale. Our ’99 Dodge was just such a find.
The truck had just over 80,000 miles and was in pristine condition. The previous owner kept meticulous records and was very conscientious about his maintenance, so this truck was the closest thing to a barn-find you could find. It was garaged the majority of its life so the interior and paint were as good as the driveline.
Even if you are buying a vehicle with a clean service record, it is a good idea to change the fluids and filters. Then we refilled the tank with Royal Purple synthetic fluids, using the factory oil filter and oil. A PML deep-sump trans pan and one of their cool rear differential covers were added to the rig in order to reduce heat buildup.
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, the truck received a Stage 2 setup with a ProGuard 7 filter that is washable and reuseable. To improve airflow, the original air horn on the truck was replaced by an aFe Bladerunner air intake manfold that features their patented MVD tech. Installing a 4-inch turbo back Mach Force stainless exhaust system was the finishing touch.
Simple Fueling Upgrades
AirDog II fuel/air seperation system was installed as the first step in Project 2nd Gen, because lift pump issues are common with Cummins engines with 24 valves. These lift pumps can cause expensive injection pumps to fail. This setup ensures that the VP44 injection pump receives the correct fuel pressure, and also adds volume. It also improves filtration and water seperation thanks to the replaceable filters. Strictly Diesel, in Phoenix, Arizona, installed the system, which included removing your stock fuel tank. This is because it’s never empty at the start.
Strictly Diesel also replaced the stock VP-44 injector pump that may have been damaged due to low fuel pressure. We chose a Gilmore Diesel Performance VP-44 even though the truck was running fine. Matt Gilmore recommended a heated-over stocker VP-44 for this application, even though there are many upgraded VP-44s available to handle larger injections.
It was easier and more reliable to add a tuner, since fuel is controlled electronically by the VP44 brainbox, which is located on top of your Dodge’s pump. Edge Juice installed the Attitude CTS System, which has a touchscreen interface and provides in-cab monitoring for EGT, boost and coolant temperatures, as well as trans and transmission temps.
It has six tunes that can be changed on the fly, from mild to hot. The Edge kit came with a fitting that restricts the air flow to the factory wastegate turbo for more boost. We also removed the factory turbo silencer to increase airflow and reduce turbo noise.
Suspension & Steering Upgrades
We addressed the common problem of bad steering caused by 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. A heavy trailer in the rear makes for a bumpier ride.
BD Diesel Performance has several options to fix the problem. The Steering Box Stabilizer is a must-have for second-gen Dodge owners. It adds a crossmember bolted above the swaybar to connect the frame ends. This system stabilizes the steering with an innovative bearing set-up. Then, they have their adjustable track bar and trick sway bars, which use a dual pivot design to improve articulation and reduce 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 kit replaces the Saginaw steering with a Delphi integral steering box, which has a larger diameter piston for better power assistance and a faster steering ratio. It is also a direct bolt on and includes all of the lines, pumps, steering boxes and fittings necessary to integrate with the factory HydroBoost system. H&H Diesel in Dewey, Arizona, spent the day with our project truck installing the steering upgrades.
Towing this truck was Job One, as it regularly tows a fifth-wheel 28-foot trailer with quads and equipment. It was not necessary to worry about EGTs when the truck was loaded. Also, with a mild motor modification, it wasn’t necessary to adjust the steering. It was the brakes and suspension that needed to be addressed. 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.
Anyone who tows a lot of weight will need airbags to level the back of the truck. Whether it’s a bumper pull or fifth-wheel, keeping the trailer and truck as level as possible improves handling. Firestone Ride-Rite was added to the Dodge, with fill lines installed in the rear bumper.
We thought the front end of Project 2nd Gen could use some help in keeping it level. With an aftermarket steel front bumper and a 12,000-pound winch on the way, we figured that the front would need a little assistance. ReadyLIFT Suspension provided a 2-inch suspension leveling kit. The ReadyLIFT aluminum spacers simply fit above the stock coils, and leveled out the truck to the point where it was comfortable adding the new front and 33-inch tires.
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. Quiet Slot Rotors feature a unique alloy combination with a coating and dimpled surface for enhanced 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 got in touch with us to discuss Project 2nd Gen. We received a prototype front bumper, along with a winch system capable of 12,000 pounds. The bumper was shipped to Precision Powder Coating, Tempe, Arizona before being sent back to Strictly Diesel, Phoenix, for installation. Installing the Rigid LED lights before installing the bumper was a mistake we learned the hard-way. It was necessary to clock the winch as well, and for easy access the control box had been installed next to the intake of the aFe. The rear Fusion bumper was fitted with Rigid LEDs.
Then came the 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 have a load rating and look great on the Ram. Bushwacker Fender Flares help keep rocks off the body. The bed was finished with a Vortex spray in bed liner by Coverall Technologies, and a fifth wheel hitch.
The truck performs as intended. 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
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
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