Sometimes the best choice is about the best balance for the individual.
For me, as much as I respect the torque (not so much the HP) of the old 5.9L Cummins, I'm not so sure about dealing with a "backyard" assembled concoction versus a factory manufactured and engineered product. I had a Ford "Quadravan" once. When I needed front brakes, what a mystery, as Pathfinder Equipment had gone out of business, and the bill of material number on the axle didn't match any Ford product of that generation. Turns out it was a special "converter" axle. It took a lot of hassle to round up the right parts, as there was no information widely distributed about it.
I then grew to appreciate a factory engineered vehicle where you can give a make and model number over the counter at any parts place in North America and they will be able to look up what is supposed to be in that vehicle and order a part that fits, rather than figure out what will work instead.
That being said, I can definitely see a reason why people stuff the Cummins B 5.9L into Ford bodies. In my opinion, one reason is that the Ford bodies (were) bigger, better, and more comfortable. Dodge didn't even have a crew cab for the longest time.
In the mid 90's, I wanted to buy a 1996 12 valve, and/or a 1997 24 valve. It was fall, right about this time, and both models were still available on dealer's lots brand new to choose from. I think there was a High Output version in 97. I ended up not getting either truck for a few reasons, but I will mention two reasons here, that both relate to the Dodge cab.
First, the Dodge A pillar was hard for me to see around. It seemed I could lose an entire pedestrian entering a crosswalk behind that pillar, and end up hitting them before knew they were there. Second, Dodge didn't have a crew cab. They had a Club Cab, but the rear half of the Club cab didn't open up... it was fixed panels. But what a beautiful looking truck, that Dodge was. I really liked it, and the torque between 1300 and 1600 RPM was amazing.
When the 1999 model Superduty came out the next year in early 1998, a better balance for me had materialized. The 7.3L ran away from the Dodge in terms of acceleration and horsepower. It's just that one had to get used to higher revs to find the peak torque in the V8, versus the torque off idle in the I6. And the 7.3L was soooo much quieter than the Dodge 5.9 of that era. Sooo much quieter (an almost laughable point, given how quiet the newest engines are today).
So that is my example of buying the balance, that is tailored to the individual's needs and taste. The Ford A pillar didn't bother me. Maybe it was the seat position relative to the A pillar's distance from the seat. Maybe it was the windshield rake. I don't know, but I would never have known had I not driven the trucks.
If I were just buying the motor, and I were not in an emissions controlled state, I might pick the 5.9L Cummins. But when buying the entire truck, the balance of needs enters into the equation.
And if I were to ever repower my Ford, I'd have to go for the ISC 8.3L Cummins. Why mess around?
Listen to BigToe, he knows what he is talking about! You can buy a truck with a 7.3 for around $10k or less, depending on miles. Perfect example: My brother in law lives in louisiana and is a die-hard ford guy. He has owned several 7.3 powered trucks, this guy has diesel running in his veins lol. He just sold his 96 F350 single cab long bed 4x4 for $9600 with the manual trans. and low miles. He also currently has a 2003 F350 Crew cab long bed 4x4 that he is going to keep. He bought this one with around 100k miles for $9500. It already had large push bumpers front and rear, and some extras. He put 35" tires on it(they live in the woods) and they fit without having to lift the truck or do any modifications. I didn't drive the truck but I did get a nice, long ride in it. The engine sounds VERY healthy, has tons of torque/hp and just hearing that turbo spool gives me goosebumps. He did add an aftermarket exhaust and it sounds amazing. It rides great and handles great, too. I know these trucks can be had for around $10k, but you may have to drive several hundred, or maybe even several thousand miles to get one. Look hard, you will find one that fits your needs and also in your price range. Hell, even if the tranny needed to be rebuilt you'd only be into the truck with a brand new tranny for $12k. I'd get a 7.3 and look no further at dodge or chevy, for the money you can't go wrong.
I have seen some around the $10k price but they are usually a regular cab. Going to need a crew cab, got 2 golden retrievers that will be going along. Seems like the crew cabs have a bit of a premium on them. Seen some 02's with any were from 105k to 145k miles ranging in price form $14k to $17k asking price. I'll start expanding my search range next time I'm looking.
Again I would like to thank everyone for their input. It has been very helpful and I will keep all updated of progress.
If I were going to tow upwards on 12K# I would definitely go diesel.
Just having gone through this exercise in August there are a number of online sources for trucks. It is not all that hard to find good used diesels of almost any stripe.
I know people who buy their trucks through an online Houston dealer who has beaucoup Rams with the 5.9 diesel. If you want Fords, that is not hard either. GMCs are a little harder to come by, but that was what my mechanic recommended.
I lucked out and got a Sierra with the LBZ engine. I did not know that was the one to get but sometimes you get lucky. That Sierra is really nice especially since it is married to a Allison transmission. You have to get use to the fact that it does not sound very dieselly.
It seems like you find diesels up to about 100K miles used. After that they dissappear until the doors start falling off. You can even find some old Fords with a mere 60K miles on them (its 1999 or 2000 if you are interested in Louisiana).
One other tip. If you are into boondocking get 4WD. I really tried to avoid 4WD but the first boondock trip I took I would have had to have a tow truck drag me out if I hadn't had 4WD.
My buddy who does not have 4WD said it saved him $6,000. "Good thing too," he quipped. "I needed that for $6K winch I need to pull my rig out when I get stuck!"
Thanks for all your input. We have purchased a 2004 Chevy Silverado 2500HD Duramax Diesel w/ 5 speed auto Allison transmmission, 2 wheel drive crew cab and 8ft bed. Also came with trialer brake and hitch rails in bed. It does have 145k miles on it and appears to be in real nice shape and it was hard to walk away from for $13,900.
I suggest this to anyone that asks about buying used rigs, Make a small payment every month to a truck repair fund. Try not to touch it for other than the truck. Don't get behind on maintenance (oil changes, fuel filter changes, coolant flushes, etc).
I tow with 05 dodge 5.9 cummins 325 hp 610 ftlbs torque 4.10 gear and a 6spd manual nv5600 cast iron case . This set up tows like a beast. If you thinking about a dodge 2500/3500 get a 04.5 to 07 with the manual tranny. the 06 and up manual tranny is a g5600 aluminum case. Ensure yo get the 3.73 or 3.43 rearend gears. The automatics have to many problems especially a weak torque converter. Pre 04.5 24 valve engine had problems with the lift fuel pump. do not get the 6.7 cummins alot of problems with the dpf and turbos The perfect tow vehicle would probably be an 5.9cummins with a allison tranny. Do not buy a duramax with a manual tranny the engine is derated 90 hp. One of the vendors at work has an 2011 ford f650 with a factory option cummins.