1978-1990 which truck to look for and avoid??

AB Lawn Care

LawnSite Senior Member
I am thinking of getting a plow truck next year.I CAN NOT afford to get a new or even late model.So my question is what full sized trucks should I look for and avoid between the years of 78-90????I will be looking at mainly ford and chevy,but if there are good years of dodge out there I would consider it.What engines/axle set ups should I be looking for???I know alot of you guys/girls have used trucks of these years,so what is your advise????What do you think is the best plow truck from 1990-back??????

Thanks for all the help!!!!


LawnSite Bronze Member
Southern, Maine
I would go with any make that has fuel injection on it. Starts easier better fuel economy. Both Chevy and Ford has these around 87 and up im not sure with Dodge.


LawnSite Member
Renton, WA
ok, if your max is around 90' then no go on fuel injection, wouldn't trust early fuel injection models, 90' is when they started doing better as far as I know. And as far as starting easier, if the choke setup is like original or restored to original it warms up just as good as fuel injection, like my truck.

Would do pre 83-84 because they started introducing electronic trannies on Chevy, and this means less time between rebuilds.

Best bet: 78-82 Chevy K20 (3/4ton) with a 350 V8 (so damn reliable, long lasting, and parts and rebuilds are cheap)
TH-400 tranny (really strong).

This will be a perfect rig, oh and make shure that the VIN# starts with a '1', the Chevy rigs made in Canada in this time frame were junk, my friend has one and it is not nearly as reliable as my truck.

Other than that, can't go wrong with 78-82 Chevy 3/4 ton truck.

Keep in mind that in 1980 Ford started using IFS for 4wheel drive, Chevy used straight axle up to 88'.

hope this helps


LawnSite Bronze Member
The finest pure plow trucks ever (IMO) are the 1988 & 1989 Dodge 5.2L 3spd (727) auto, 115" WB.

If I could buy an unused one, I'd buy it tomorrow.

2nd best: 81 & 82 GM as mentioned.


LawnSite Member
Renton, WA
GM must have given employees a raise in early 81 because I have never heard of a person with an 81 Chevy pickup that didn't think it was the best truck on the road.



LawnSite Member

I have a 3/4 ton shortbox. But it's not factory. I have a '75 Dodge Powerwagon shortbox. Factory 440, NP435 4 speed. Dana 60 rear, 8-lug Dana 44 front, NP203. Thing turns on a dime. Plus can get into some really tight spots with the short wheelbase.

Somebody mentioned Ford came out with EFI in '87. Actually '86 was the first year for EFI in Ford. In 1987 Ford went to a new body style which lasted through the '91 year.

I'm very happy with my Dodge, but if I had to pick something else in 78-90 I'd look for another 78-79 Ford.

I'd look for a 78-79 F350. You get Dana 60's front and back. Your choice of either the bulletproof NP435 or the nearly indestructable C6. Transfer cases choices are the NP205 part time case or the NP203 full time case. The 351M/400 the truck will probably have is easily swapped for a 460. Although the 351M/400 is adequate, underpowered it is.

Also if you find a 78-79 F250 Supercab, they have dual Dana 60's. The regular cab F250's had a Dana 44 front.

The F150's of the same years are also great trucks, but for plowing I'd rather have the 1-ton due to the use of coils in front instead of leaves.

If I wasn't limited to 78-90, my dream plow rig would be a late 60's Jeep Gladiator M715. They came with Dana 70's front and back. Toss in a 460, C6, NP205, convert to Saginaw power steering, and you would have the ultimate tough truck. Plus you can stuff 40+ inch tires under one without cutting sheetmetal or lifting one.


LawnSite Silver Member
Central CT
Well if you go with a Chevy/GMC of that vintage the cab will most likely be rotted away, if you go with a Ford the bed will be rotted away, if you go with a Dodge...well they didnt make that many so good luck finding one.

I think your best bet will be to find a Ford and if you need to spend an extra 800 or so for a take-off bed-check the local bargain newspaper.


LawnSite Bronze Member
Well if you buy ford, watch for frame rot behund the cab. I bought an 88 this summer and a hole on each frame rail, the size of your fist. Also the 88 and 89 GM trucks were the very prone to probelms, being a new model, but I would assume that 12 yrs later the original owner would have worked that out by now.
I like the 81-89 style GMs. They coninued that body style on the one ton c&c through 90 I believe. I am picking up an 89 1 ton dually 4x4 with aluminum flat bed dump for 8 k on monday. The 78-87 1/2and 3/4 ton and 1 ton gms were very good trucks. In the 8600 gvw 4x4 you still got the t-400 tranny and a 208 t case up till 87. When you went to the 1 ton you got the t-400 and 205 case. The 1ton has dana 60 front and a monster corporate rear axel. they are bulletproof. Much better than then ford ttb that was out those years. The dodge trucks are hard to come by in one ton 4x4 those years.
I have a nice 1 ton I am building 86 gm dually 4x4 if anyone is interested. A little winter project.