My Dodge Truck Project (Cummins Inside)

Nov 4, 2012
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I've been debating on whether or not I should do a thread on my recently acquired Dodge truck. I really enjoyed updating the thread I did on my F150 so I figured I'd go for it.

I love my current daily 2015 F150, its quiet, modern, comfortable, kinda quick for a truck and it's reliable, and I don't want to change that. I've done some subtle tweaks with it and I'm happy with it as it sits. That said, I've missed having an old truck around to wrench on. I'm not a big mopar fan at all, but I have a soft spot for the quirkiness of 90s and early 00s Chrysler.

This is my first diesel as well as my first Chrysler product. The truck is a 1997 Dodge Ram 2500 with a 5.9L 12 valve Cummins, 47RE automatic transmission. It is 4WD and has an NP241.The axles are Dana, I believe the rear is a 70 and the front is a Dana 60. They are limited slip and if I'm reading the tag under the hood correctly they are 4.10s.
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I shopped around for a few of these trucks. Test drove one locally that was a 24 valve 5 speed but it was a bodywork nightmare and the seller wanted too much. I found another one in Georgia that I was going to have shipped up here. It was a 24 valve auto that was rock solid, but it had been sitting and had gone from a running truck to a "ran when parked" to "not running". Plus it would've been a logistical nightmare to get shipped, titled, registered, etc. Eventually I found this one by chance. The previous owner passed away earlier this year and so I purchased it from his widow. She had it inspected and started it up and drove it once a month or so since he passed. It had new batteries a year ago, and the transmission was serviced recently and was rebuilt by an unknown builder in 2018. The starter was replaced in June, and that's about all the service history I have for it.

The truck has a shockingly small amount of rust for a PA truck, and it also has EGR on it, which only came on California trucks so I suspected that it may have come from out west. When the state mailed the title, sure enough it says that it was previously registered in California. It also states that the PO owned it since 2003, so either the PO lived in California or it has been here most of its life.

The truck runs and drives, and I drove it 2.5 hours home, but its definitely a project. The engine itself seems to run well. It starts right up,, has little to no blow by and the turbo spools up nicely. Power steering/hydroboost pump is noisy but steering feels tight.

The body is relatively rust free, but it does have a couple bubbles and some scabs. Nothing compared to most Dodge trucks this age and nowhere near as bad as my Ford was. The frame, floors, doors, core support, fenders, rockers and cab mounts are all solid. It could probably use wheel arches eventually and a cab corner but they will pass inspection as is. Interior is worn but not trashed. The dash is cracked just like every other Dodge from this era, the steering wheel is worn out. The headliner is just starting to go. Carpet is stained but probably saveable, the drivers seat has a couple small rips on the bolster from sliding in and out.
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The transmission is shifting a little strange, for a while I was having to let off the throttle for it to upshift from 3-4, and reverse was working intermittently. Topped off the fluid, it was down about a quart and the problem seems to have gone away. I'm hoping it was that simple but I'm told these transmissions are fragile like glass so I'm hopeful but keeping low expectations.

Electrical is the biggest issue and top priority. There is a lot of "questionable" wiring that has been done on it and quite a few mystery wires that I need to track down. There were several accessories that were added on- a BD Diesel exhaust brake and torque converter lockup, an aftermarket alarm, a trailer brake controller, a couple different kill switches, an EGT and boost guage and there are remnants of a lot of other stuff too. None of them are functional and while the exhaust brake is cool, I have no need for it so I'll probably get rid of it. Already ripped out this rats nest-
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I've got some plans for it, mostly clean it up, make it look nice and make it reliable. Maybe do a few performance mods. No stacks, no Carolina squat. I've already fixed a few things and I'll cover that in the next couple posts. Stay tuned, hope to have some of you follow along.

And yes I know it will bump the Regal down on the priority list again. I'm okay with that. I feel better working on this than forcing myself to passionlessly work on the Regal. I'll get there someday.
 
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Oct 14, 2008
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Melville,Saskatchewan
I remember my old boss had a 94, he said the Cummins was great, everything else on the truck broke. I actually saw a transfer case with every bolt sheared off on one of these. Yeah, I don't know how Dodge, just by adding electronics and a bolt on overdrive, made the reliable 904 and 727 junk. Leave it to Dodge to make the unlikely, the new normal. Supposedly there are specialists who build these trans very strong and reliable. Good luck, the Cummins should make owning a Dodge worthwhile.
 
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DRIVEN

Geezer
Apr 25, 2009
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Nice! You bought the one to buy. I always liked that color too. How many miles?

Those had a solid drivetrain if not blatantly abused. We maintained, but rarely repaired, a ton of those at my last shop. If your transmission was rebuilt it likely got some upgrades, although there's no way to really know. I'd recommend a steering box brace if it doesn't already have one. Plan on occasionally doing front wheel bearings too (if you keep it that long). Aside from that, I don't remember doing much more than regular fluid maintenance and brakes on that vintage Ram. My former boss had a '97 dually with a Gearvendors behind a manual. He claimed 26-27mpg in the right lane on the freeway.

 
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joesregalproject

Geezer
Thread starter
Nov 4, 2012
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Nice! You bought the one to buy. I always liked that color too. How many miles?

Those had a solid drivetrain if not blatantly abused. We maintained, but rarely repaired, a ton of those at my last shop. If your transmission was rebuilt it likely got some upgrades, although there's no way to really know. I'd recommend a steering box brace if it doesn't already have one. Plan on occasionally doing front wheel bearings too (if you keep it that long). Aside from that, I don't remember doing much more than regular fluid maintenance and brakes on that vintage Ram. My former boss had a '97 dually with a Gearvendors behind a manual. He claimed 26-27mpg in the right lane on the freeway.

Thanks. I think it was a pretty good find, one of my better craigslist/marketplace experiences. I always liked this body style and its the configuration I like- 4WD, extended cab, long bed. 320,000 on the clock. Definitely on the high side, but not scary.

The engine runs well, it has some things that need addressed but nothing that is concerning. I'll list the known issues when a get minute. The woman I bought it from told me the transmission was rebuilt and said she had paperwork, but I forgot to get it from her. I don't know who built it or what was done, but she had no reason to lie about it so I'm certain it had some form of rebuild. It does leak, I believe the cooler lines and pan gasket are the source. I wish it was a stick but I can live with the auto. I'll have to check to see if it has a brace around the steering box or not. Wheel bearings are quiet but I'll have to lift the front up and check them for play to really know.
 

DRIVEN

Geezer
Apr 25, 2009
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320k is nothing to be concerned about. We had a customer with 670k on the clock when I left that shop. Engine had never been touched. Unless it leaves puddles, I'd let 'er bleed and just not park on the driveway slab. Personally, I'd take an auto any day unless I was maybe a hotshot transport trucker. Makes 6-in-a-row feel much more civilized.
Looks like you found a good one. I would have guessed closer to half that.
 
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81cutlass

Comic Book Super Hero
Feb 16, 2009
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Western MN
6 iN a RoW BuILt To ToW!&$-)/+

Nice pickup! Obviously going to haul the regal and all those chainsaws around ;)
 
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Oct 14, 2008
8,175
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Melville,Saskatchewan
As said, for an older diesel, that is low mileage. Get the trans leaked fixed ASAP, good way to cook a nearly new trans. The trans gasket on my 42RE is rigid core with silicone sealing beads. I would assume that style is still available for the 48 RE. I'm pretty sure my 42RE was rebuilt before the old guy traded it in, so far so good, about 80,000 km.
 

joesregalproject

Geezer
Thread starter
Nov 4, 2012
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320k is nothing to be concerned about. We had a customer with 670k on the clock when I left that shop. Engine had never been touched. Unless it leaves puddles, I'd let 'er bleed and just not park on the driveway slab. Personally, I'd take an auto any day unless I was maybe a hotshot transport trucker. Makes 6-in-a-row feel much more civilized.
Looks like you found a good one. I would have guessed closer to half that.

Yeah it's not enough to have me worried about it. Oil leaks don't bother me, but I'd like to minimize the transmission leaks. There is also some coolant dripping from somewhere, I suspect the water pump. It's a pretty slow leak but I want to address it. Autos have their advantages, especially around here where its all hills. From what I've researched they are pretty easy transmissions to work on.

6 iN a RoW BuILt To ToW!&$-)/+

Nice pickup! Obviously going to haul the regal and all those chainsaws around ;)
bUt bRuH iTs gOt a cUmMinS iN iT
 
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joesregalproject

Geezer
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Nov 4, 2012
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As far as things I've already done to the truck go-

When I bought this truck it had a kill cable installed because the fuel shutoff solenoid had gone bad and been disconnected. Basically it used a choke cable from a lawnmower or something mounted under the dash that pulled on the shutoff lever on the injection pump. Kinda hack, but it worked. The shutoff solenoid was only $100 so I bought one and installed it. Now the truck shuts off with the key the way it is supposed to.

I fixed the EGT gauge and the reconnected the boost guage. Boost gauge is a little sticky but it works.
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There was also a short in the parking lamp circuit. It kept blowing the fuse and while I haven't technically fixed it, I traced it to the plate light bulb, so I just disconnected it for now and the fuse stopped blowing.

I also removed all of the stuff for the exhaust brake except the valve itself. It's a cool accessory, but I really don't think I'll need it and the install was not up to my standards so I'll save the components but I for now I'm running without it.

This truck has scotchloks all over it and a lot of broken wires because of them. I fixed a lot of those wires already but I'm not done.

Currently the issue I'm working on is with the alternator and voltage regulator. Dodge was stoopid and put the voltage regulator inside of the PCM, so when it goes bad you have to replace the whole computer, if you can find one. Most people just install an auxiliary external regulator, or buy a kit to make it a 1 wire alternator setup like GM alternators. The previous owner put an external regulator on it, however when I checked it with my DVOM, it was charging at nearly 15 volts at idle which is a little too high for comfort, and the wiring was really messy. The original hot wire to the battery was chopped off and taped up but not disconnected at the fusebox so it was still hot.
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So what I did was cut open the factory harness and removed the original alternator wire entirely and replaced it with a new 4 ga cable with new lugs on it. I removed the existing external voltage regulator and ordered a 1 wire alternator kit. I installed the kit and the voltage was low, only at about 12.2-12.4 and wouldn't go up with RPM. Ordered 2 replacements and made absolutely certain I installed them correctly and they put out nearly the same voltage. I ran over to Carquest and bought a new external regulator and pigtail, temporarily installed it and it charged fine at 14.3V. So I guess those internal kits just suck. I think I'm gonna make a little harness and go with the external regulator for now. I'll have to tap into switched 12V power somewhere, and there isn't anywhere to do it under the hood so I'll have to run the wire into the cab fusebox. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to install a relay, but I really don't think its necessary. I might, not sure yet.

As for other issues that need addressed soon-

1. Exhaust manifold gaskets. They leak. They don't look too bad to replace if I can get away without removing the whole thing and I don't break any bolts.

2. Coolant leak. Seems to be a small coolant leak towards the front of the block. I suspect the water pump but I haven't verified it yet. I wanted to replaced the thermostat and flush out the cooling system anyways. Its only two bolts and looks easy to replace.

3. Injector line leak. A couple of the injectors look a little wet on top. I think is coming from the brass/copper gaskets.

4. Track down mystery wires. There are a lot of wires that are cut, disconnected and dangling that I haven't identified yet.
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And of course just basic maintenance stuff. Fuel filter, oil change, air filter. Fluid changes all around.

I'm covering a lot of stuff in only a few posts so I'll break this stuff down into more detail as I go.
 
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DRIVEN

Geezer
Apr 25, 2009
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This thing is going to teach you so many life lessons.


:popcorn:
 
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