Selecting a vehicle for a trip like this is quite the undertaking as there really is no perfect vehicle. We talked about the pros and cons of different vehicles for some time without really coming up with a definitive answer. The answer became easy when we found that Brad was selling a truck and camper combo as noted in the Vehicle Selection post.
Before we jumped into the deal, we again considered the pros and cons.
Cons – It’s an older truck so seals are more likely to dry, crack and leak, it has some rust in spots, it was likely to be behind on maintenance, the regular cab is small, high mileage, Dodges are notorious for having bad steering.
Pros – Its a regular cab so a short wheel base makes turning around easier, diesel engine gets better mileage and has more power than gas, already set up to carry camper, manual transmission (more reliable than auto), 4WD, older truck is less likely to draw attention, no big deal if we get a few dents and dings along the way.
We test drove the truck with the camper off and again with it on the truck. It was pretty quick and peppy without the camper but still handled well and had plenty of power with the camper. We knew that there would be work to be done before we left, but felt good about the combo and purchased it!
On the way back to Casper from Spearfish, the Wyoming wind was
blowing howling 50mph but the truck easily maintained 60mph and we got 17mpg. Not too bad!
Some information about the truck:
- Aside from the rusty spots, the body is straight and the interior is very clean. The interior is very basic with a radio (no CD or tape deck), no cruise control and vinyl floors, but it does have A/C that blows cold all day!
- Air bags help support the extra weight of the camper and were already installed. It greatly reduces the rolling motion when rounding corners or driving on side hills.
- The truck is all stock with the exception of an upgraded fuel plate which ups the horsepower slightly. To make sure we aren’t running too hot, we have a boost and pyrometer gauges.
- The 12valve Cummins is an extremely reliable engine. It is all mechanical (no electronics)and will run on any diesel we encounter on the trip. US diesels 2007 and up require ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) and many countries in Central and South America do not sell ULSD. Additionally, some newer diesels require diesel exhaust fluid which may be difficult to find. There are many resources for traveling with diesels along the Pan-Am so I wont get into it here.
- A manual transmission paired with the Cummins is preferred because the automatic transmissions can’t handle the torque created by the Cummins. The manual transmission may be less convenient in city driving, but will come in handy when descending mountain passes along the way.
- Fuel mileage with the diesel will be greatly improved over a gas engine. Without the camper, the truck gets about 22mpg and with the camper it is about 17mpg at 65mph. A V8 or V10 Dodge in the same configuration would likely be closer to 8-12mpg. The 4.10 gears require that the RPMs be fairly high to maintain 65mph but it is unlikely that we will be going that fast once we leave the US. I would imagine that we will be averaging 40-50mph on highways outside of the US which will hopefully yield fuel economy of 20+mpg. We will do our best to calculate our fuel economy throughout the duration of the trip.
Here is a list of maintenance/upgrades that has been done on the Dodge:
- New tires – Cooper S/T Maxx 285/75/16
- Towing mirrors
- Dodge Off Road Steering Stabilizer
- New brakes – calipers also rebuilt
- Rebuilt transfer case
- New ball joints (Dodges are also notorious for eating these up – especially diesels)
- New tie rod
- New belt tensioner
- Killer Dowel Pin tab placed
- Welded 5th gear nut in place
- Rear main seal
- New clutch
- Replaced leaking axle seal
- Added heavy front grill guard purchased from my neighbor for $100 – Thanks Jerry!
- Other misc maintenance including differential service, changed oil, fuel filter, air filter, etc.
- We also have a selection of belts and filters that we are bringing along to make routine maintenance quick and easy.
With the maintenance up to date, we feel confident that we won’t have many mechanical troubles along the way. That said, this is a 22 year old truck and we have told ourselves that we WILL eventually have vehicle problems and we will be prepared for that!