By on March 4, 2013

Douglas writes:


Here’s some fodder for Piston Slap. Situation: I have a 1993 Dodge Power Ram 250, 103k miles, base model, so about the only thing it has in the way of amenities is AC.

It’s got a 5.2l Magnum (318), mated to a NV4500 with a NP241 transfer case. It came from Arizona where it saw light duty on a ranch of some sort. Overall, it is a excellent shape. All mechanicals work, body is in great shape, no rust, a small ding or two on the tailgate and by the bumper. I’ve replaced the shocks, new radiator, new AC condenser, installed new AC compressor, converted to R134, new tie rod ends in one year ownership. Still need to tear out the old headliner backing, and fix the 4WD light (bad switch on the transfer case top). Maybe a coat of paint, too.

It took me a long time to find this truck – manual, stripper, 4×4 in great shape. I use to make dump runs, tinker around, and help out friends.

Here’s the dilemma. It will need new tires soon, and since I want to replace the spare, I’m looking at around $700 for new tires. At some point, I’ll need new brakes, and I’ve been thinking about getting a donor engine to rebuild and replace the one I’ve got in there now. (Small rear main seal leak, plus twenty years of use on the existing motor.) I like to tinker and wrench, and this truck provides me that opportunity. But I wonder if I’m a fool for thinking about new rubber and a rebuilt engine in a twenty year old truck. On the other hand, I think I’m a fool for wanting to move onto to something newer when I’ve got such a great setup in my driveway now.


From a Fellow Texan,

Sajeev answers:

Now you could be considered foolish on either side of the split decision presented here. But combine the relevant and necessary parts you’ve already replaced (nice job on the shocks, that gets neglected far too often) with the need for new rubber on any vehicle, and keeping the truck is far from foolish.  It’s the right move.

Do you need a spare motor to rebuild? Probably not.  But that shouldn’t stop you from tinkering and having fun in your spare time, while preparing for a future mechanical failure.  If you want to rebuild a spare motor in your “spare” time (sorry), go right ahead and do it.

Old trucks never die, they just get better. Even Dodge trucks, which are rarely loved like their GM and Ford counterparts. Keep it and get new tires, for sure.


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14 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Power Ram Split Decision?...”

  • avatar

    Keep it until it dies or sell it for a profit. I had the an 89 W250 with an auto tranny base model with 80k original miles. Bought it for $800, put a nice set of used 33″ tires and black wagon wheels for $500, plowed with it for 4 years and had a $4000 cash offer while getting gas one day. I wound up selling it for a great profit. Check ebay. These trucks can bring some good cash to the right buyer. They were tanks. Full floating rear, decent tranny, bullet proof 318. Just leave a roll of duct tape in the glove box, a quart of tranny fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid and you will never get stranded.

  • avatar

    If it came down to raw dollars the discussion could go either way. but I always thought there is value in knowing what you have. As far as the rear main seal, I had success on a very tired Honda Civic by using the “high mileage” oils. It didn’t stop every leak, but it sure did slow down the hemmorage enough that replacing any gaskets really wasn’t worth the effort.

    I currently have a 2000 Honda CR-V 4wd 5spd and love it to death. Over the last 8 months I stuffed almost $2500 in suspension and major scheduled service in the form of timing belt/water pump, etc, an aftermarket radiator, oil pan gasket, and new Michelin tires. Yes, I engage the dealer on some of this and yes that makes the cost go up, but I simply don’t have resources to wrench as much as I would like. The damn thing officially books for $3500 so it can be said I am crazy. Really? So show me a 4wd 5speed SUV that gets well over 25MPG on the highway for anywhere close to $3500. The reality is a car, ANY CAR will cost you money, whether it’s wrenching and higher than normal maintenance or payments and depriciation, and the latter usually cost considerably more. So you might as well have what you want. They don’t make a new “CR-V like” vehicle at any price that I prefer over my current ride so I’ll continue to replace the wear items, cost be dammed.

    Now the one caviot to all of that is when you have a vehicle that is a lemon, defined by having stuff go out that simply shouldn’t like window switches, seat mounts, window seals, power lock, A/C compressors, etc. We had that and that vehicle got traded off in a hurry. Ironically, it was my wife’s 2003 CR-V with less miles and wear than my 2000. Also, at it’s best it wasn’t half as good as my 2000.

  • avatar

    The only reason I can think of to give up on this truck is because you find one of the last full-sized pickups (circa 2007 or so) equipped as you want (manual, stripper, 4×4). Or, well, you really have a hankering for a brand new Ram 2500 with the Cummins and manual (at $38 grand). Just because of the finite supply of potential replacement vehicles, if you don’t intend to keep this one forever, you’ll have to keep an eye on the used car market for the next just right truck.

    That said, if in 20 years, you’ve only racked up 100k, I don’t see why you can’t keep something so simple running forever.

  • avatar

    If you like the truck it it certainly worth spending the money to replace the tires, it is well on its way to becoming a classic. BF Goodrich All-Terrains wear like steel, are reasonably priced, and look great on older 4×4 trucks.

    The 318 should still have a lot of life left in it at only 103k, if you feel like tinkering replace the rear main seal and clutch. You should also consider replacing the transmission fluid, transfer case fluid, diff fluids and front wheel and spindle bearings. If you still aren’t sated after that tackle the water pump and timing chain.

  • avatar

    No your not crazy for putting $700 into your truck, its the one you want and has been properly maintained. I see no reason why it shouldn’t last almost indefinitely. The 318 dodge small block is just about the most reliable and long lasting motor that Dodge has made. IIRC it had lowest amount of warranty claims, even less then the slant six. Friends have its big brother the 360 in a van, and its going strong at 200+k. Put some tires on it and drive it till it blows.

  • avatar

    103,000 and from an Arizona area now in Texas?

    That truck is barely broken in even at 20 years old. It probably has even 10-15 more years on it in Texas. Anywhere else these trucks would have already rotted away…

    Tires: get 4 new tires for the road wheels and a more recent age cheap used tire for the spare maybe $50-75 mounted. Brakes- less costly if you can do them yourself with aftermarket parts. You might be able to turn in the old discs and drums for a core charge.

  • avatar

    “Old trucks never die, they just get better.”

    This is the reason I keep my old GMC on standby. Whether it’s hauling motorcycles, dirt, yard debris, garbage, friends and family’s knick-knack garbage, etc., it’s always faithfully there, durable, and cheap to fix when need be.

  • avatar

    It sounds like you’ve already made the decision with the investments already made. Brakes and tires won’t cost as much as replacing the truck, and considering how much you use it, the engine will probably last a while too.

    They don’t make em like that anymore, if you like the 4×4 stripper witha stickshift, keep what you got.

  • avatar

    I have a truck very similar to the one pictured, except not folded 90 degrees. Mine is a ’92 with the Cummins, a 5 speed stick, 4×4, and extended cab. And it is about the worst truck imaginable, except for one thing:

    It never dies.

    Pretty much everything about the truck is terrible. But it has somewhere around 300,000 miles (don’t know for sure, the terrible electronics gave up the ghost 5 years ago with the odo stuck somewhere near 260,000) and just refuses to die. Recently the alternator gave up. No worries- I just made a 500 mile round trip with a spare battery to swap over when the headlights got dim.

    There’s not really much to recommend these trucks. When mine dies, I’ll replace it with something newer and more comfortable. But damn, they are reliable as a rock, if that’s all you care about.

  • avatar

    You have an awesome truck. I had an ’88 Ramcharger 2WD 360 4bbl (very hungry) as my first vehicle and it looked and drove awesome. This era Ram that you have, is a favorite of mine. But what’s even better is you have a ’92, the first year to have the 318/5.2 in Magnum form–read real fuel injection, more modern, and a good bit more powerful. And you have a 5 spd. AC and 4×4 top the cake off and, as far as this generation is concerned, and as much as I’ve looked for a local example to hopefully own at some point, you have a near unicorn-status truck, only out-unicorned by a ’93 Ram 5 spd with the Magnum 5.9 (only year the 5.9 was Magnum in this generation). Majorly cool. Great looking truck, the 5.2 will last a long time (especially at just over 100k!) with proper maintenance, which it looks like you do. Tires cost money, but they last a long time in normal use. That generation of truck was a bit the last of its kind, so it will be louder and less refined, but I would keep it. It’s hard to beat this kind of old school cool (at least to this 28 y/o).

    I understand your dilemma. Enthusiasm aside, consider the more or less fully or near-fully depreciated status of this truck, mostly due to age/it’s value to you versus what you could realistically sell it for. And then, what you could get from the money you sold the truck for. I don’t know if you have extra to put into getting a newer vehicle or not, so that’s a variable that affects the decision-making process. Add into it the good, bad, and done/upcoming maintenance work. You are familiar with this truck. It’s then a decision to figure out if you want to go through a learning process with a newer used vehicle or stay with what you know. The decision is up to you, and there are arguments both ways, but given the work you’ve done, your knowledge of it, and it’s youth-in-miles, keeping it would be a solid choice.

  • avatar

    You have no idea how hard it is to find those trucks — base model 4×4 with a stick. My ‘yota is old enough to drink, I’m about to sink $1200 into it, and I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of it. You’d be foolish to get rid of it, because what will you replace it with?

    Even if I had the money to go buy a brand new full size pickup (which I don’t), I wouldn’t spend it on one. It’d be dumb for me to spend 30-35 grand on a pickup, when I could buy a decent car for half that. I’d cheerfully pay 20 grand for a nice small pickup, but no one wants to build one for me.

  • avatar

    I’ve got a 92 Ram 150, 2wd, Magnum 318 with a 5 speed. Rear main seal on that engine is a piece of cake to do, 2 piece seal and the bottom half of it unbolts, so easy-peasy it’s almost funny. Just push the old seal out with a small flathead, be careful and don’t scratch anything while doing it which I’m sure you are aware of, dab the new one in some oil and push it in the slot. Hardest part is taking the oil pan off. That engine is still going fine, it’s only on it’s 2nd fuel pump and alternator and its 3rd water pump, odometer quit working before 200k and it must be closing in on 300 by now.

    Many a 302, 305, 350, 351 and newer motors in half ton pickups have been beaten by that 318 on backroads East Texas drag races.

    And like mechmike said, while the drivetrain is unkillable, the rest of the truck isn’t so great. I always found the interior clashed a bit between the old early 70’s designed elements and the newer Chrysler parts bin stuff in my 92. Hey, lets put a new design steering column in a 20 year old dashboard! The electronics are iffy and mine, despite being a Texas truck all its life, already has a rust through on the cab above the windshield frame. Seems like body and chassis wise, the Fords and GM’s of that era hold up a little better, but a 4WD with a stick and that Magnum 5.2 is still an awesome truck. And trust me, do the paint and keep up on any rust spots, I didn’t.

    Keep it, but then again if you do decide to sell it, a manual transmission equipped 4wd with working AC and 100k or so on the clock, you’ll find someone who will pay at least 5 grand for it in Texas, probably more.

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