Buying a Diesel
WHEN BUYING ANY USED DIESEL CAR:
There are lots of great articles on the internet about buying used cars. I am not attempting to give you all the advice needed, I just wanted to summarize the common advice I seem to give very often. Here is what I recommend in terms of getting a diesel. First, figure out what you are looking for. The diesel market is quite limited but there are still lots of options and it is a good idea to test drive what you are interested in to make sure you feel comfortable and enjoy driving it. Then make sure it is a good candidate for a conversion. You can use the information below to help determine that. Once you find a possible vehicle, have a shop look at it BEFORE you buy it. Although it may cost $50-$100 it is well worth it. Get a local shop, ideally one you trust that works on diesels, to do a complete inspection. While there is no way to know exactly what you are buying this is the best way to get an idea. Here is some more vehicle specific information:
ADVICE ON BUYING A DIESEL CAR TO CONVERT:
The most common diesel cars in the US are the VW and Mercedes diesels.
A ton of Mercedes we imported into the US staring in 1968 and continuing into the 80's. Different models include: 190D, 220D, 240D, 300D, 300CD, 300TD, and 350SDL. I would recommend trying to find one with 150,000 or less miles and getting an experienced shop to check it out before you buy it. In addition I would really avoid rust as this is one problem that is next to impossible to fix. There are also newer Mercedes that are good candidates including the 1995-1999 E300D and the newer 2005 and 2006 E320 CDI. These are more complicated and expensive to convert but we have experience with both of these and many people really enjoy driving them and the newer looking body style.
VW made diesels starting in 1977 and continued on to the present. The older VW's had the 1.5L and 1.6L are are great cars but some people find them underpowered. The most common ones we work on are the TDI's which range from model years 1996 to 2006. These are very fuel efficient cars and a little faster off the line than the old diesel Mercedes. The engines in the early TDIs were a 1.9L and then in 2004 they switched to a 2.0L PD. While we can convert any pre-2006 TDI, the 1996-2003 with the rotary injection pump are the most reliable and therefore the ones I would recommend most highly.
There are many other diesel cars out there as well. Some examples are: Toyota 1.8L, BMW 2.4TD, Peugeot 2.3L, Volvo 2.4L and more. There are not that many of these out there so getting parts and getting people to work on them is harder but they are also options for SVO conversions. The Toyota and BMW's are much more reliable than the Peugeot and Volvos but we have worked on all of them.
ADVICE ON BUYING A DIESEL TRUCK TO CONVERT:
First, here are the diesels I do NOT recommend converting:
98.5 - 2002 Dodge Cummins (the 24 valve with the VP-44 injection pump)
6.0 L Fords (Trouble vehicles for sure, in 2004-2006 model years)
Any 2007 or newer GM, Ford or Dodge with newer emissions control
That said, I would convert any other vehicle out there. Some, like the 6.5 GM diesels and the first two years of the 6.6 GMC Duramax seem to have slightly more problems but as long as you aren't buying someones problem truck and you should be fine.
Finally, in terms of most reliable, I have found that the 7.3 Ford Powerstroke, the Early 12 Valve Cummins (1992-1998) and the newer common rail Cummins (2003 to 2006) seem to be the most bomb proof.