97 F250 plow truck / former plow trucks in general

Messages
499
Location
VA
I am in Northern VA. I am thinking about getting a f250 1997 that was used as a plow truck. I can get it for next to nothing, and I plan on selling the plow and spreader off of it. Vehicle has less than 20k miles, and body/interior look VERY good. Underneath, not so much. Rust- lots of rust underneath. Frame and other components have a lot of rust on them Brake light is on. No idea why, not familiar with the ford trucks. Would have to diag it at a shop. I do have the Carfax report, and it has all the repairs/maintenance shown on it from when the vehicle was new. Any input/advise would be appreciated. Talk to me about rust, the brake light, the cons of owning a former plow truck, etc.
 

Nick1994

$50 Site Donor
Messages
13,301
Location
Phoenix, AZ
Check all the front end parts, bushings, ball joints, tie rods etc. They've probably had a lot of stress on them. Buy lots of scrap steel like angle iron and weld it along the frame to strengthen. Brake light is probably a leaking wheel cylinder, caliper, or brake hose. Might be almost out of brake fluid.
 
Messages
2,363
Location
Virginia
Sandblast the rust with grit made from either walnut shells or recycled plastic bottles. Won't get all the rust off, will get 80%, but the metal will not be chewed up... Paint with rust reformer, or POR-15...
 
Messages
2,688
Location
Elderly County, Florida
Is the rust blistery and flaky? If so, I wouldn't want to mess with it. Even though it might be a really good deal, you have to remember that all that rust has eaten away at the frame, not to mention parts of the truck you can't see. For a beater/firewood hauler it might be okay, but I would be wary of buying it with dreams of "fixing it up." As far as the brakes are concerned, check the fluid level and look for leaks. Brake lines might be leaking somewhere. The master cylinder might be bad as well, does the brake pedal hold pressure or do you have to "pump it up."
 
Messages
36,465
Location
ME
If this was owned by an institution (eg your work) then it has the chance of having been properly maintained with someone else's (the institutions') money. Up here, plow trucks are completely ghetto rigged. We have inspections, though, as do you, and unless the previous owner "knew a guy" (likely!), you only have a years worth of deferred repairs to catch up on. 97 was around the body style changeover; sometimes the 3/4 tons carry over the previous style an extra year-- is this one? I have a 95 and while the frame itself holds up, stuff like the rear leaf mounts, cab mounts, radius arm mounts etc that attach tend to rust out first. The "Brake" light might be complaining that the "ABS light" bulb is out-- check for it, as well as airbag, CEL etc during the key on test.
 
Messages
17,931
Location
NH
If it is rusty I'd think the brake lines were not in good shape. What are the plans for this beast? Around town work, or a long term investment? I would be concerned about spending a lot on it to fix it up, when for similar money better examples may be found.
 
Messages
2,553
Location
Deep in the heart of Jersey
Snow plowing stresses every part of a truck except the rear view mirror. Look the frame over real good before you buy it. Like was said rust is the big killer of plow trucks. Unless your going to use it as a farm truck, I would pass it by.,,
 
Messages
14,732
Location
Central NY
Run from that truck. Plow drivers, in my experience, beat the living daylights out of their trucks. If it's a company truck they do not personally own, it's a completely higher magnitude of abuse. That truck has spent it's entire life with the gas pedal on the floor and the transmission switching directions while still moving.
 
Messages
25,950
Location
MA, Mittelfranken.de
Many plow trucks go through multiple transmissions during their life, sloppy diff, rusted drive shafts and u joints are also common. Brake lines, fuel lines, gas filler pipe, gas tank straps, rocker panels, floor pan, frame, oil pan are all areas that can rot bad on these things. They live in salt water.
 
Messages
6,480
Location
Connecticut
I would run far away. Every single plow truck I've seen has a rusted out frame and tweaked front end. Not to mention the transmission abuse and lack of maintenance. My friend bought a 2002 GMC 2500HD Duramax that was an ex-plow truck. The front end is completely toast. The alignment shop wouldn't even touch it until he replaced all the steering components including the steering box. Thousands of dollars later and it still keeps bending the passenger front shock, and he wears through a set of tires in 10,000 miles. Not to mention the no longer functioning transfer case, wiring issues, and the transmission that needed to be rebuilt right after he bought it. For the amount of trouble a plow truck will be, I'd rather pay a few thousand more for a truck that wasn't a plow truck.
 
Messages
4,885
Location
Lakeville, MN
Not adding a whole lot that hasn't been said, but anticipate that truck has been abused. Plowing is one of the hardest duty cycles that these trucks will ever see, and it takes a big toll on pretty much any component you can think of. The front end suspension and steering in particular, then all of the driveline - bearings, axles, u joints, transmissions, transfer cases, clutches, etc... They all take more abuse than normal in that duty. Then there is the rust. Just assume at that age, even without snowplowing here, that the body at that age is rusty. Then add being bathed in saltwater for plowing duty, and go from there. More or less, unless I was looking for a true beater, I'd forget about any plow truck.
 
Messages
7,180
Location
CT
Don't buy old plow trucks unless you can it for nothing and plan on throwing it away when something major breaks. The undersides turn to dust and the transmissions get ruined, along with everything else. Than again if it runs and drives OK and you can get it for next to scrap value just drive it until something fails and scrap it. The underside of this truck is going to be shot so putting any kind of money in it will be throwing good after bad.
 
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Messages
10,110
Location
Nut farm
Now, from someone who has owned & plowed with four trucks, all of which are still on the road...one with close to 400,000 miles. First and foremost: you need the right truck. (A 2002 GMC 2500 is emphatically not it.) A 1997 F-250HD is by no means a BAD choice. Especially with only 20,000 miles, that's a good start. First: what drivetrain? Plowing with a diesel is very hard on the front end...the 7.3 PSD is a 1000lb hunk of iron. If it's the 351W I expect it is, that's better. Either way: check the front end thoroughly. Ball joints, tie rod ends, spring bushings, and on the leaf-spring Fords, check for cracked leaves. On a TTB F-250, check for worn parts where the beams pivot on the frame. (This can cause all sorts of weird handling and tire wear.) Also, check the PS fluid...figure on changing/flushing it. If it's burned, figure on a pump. (The truck may have a PS cooler--my 92 did. IIRC, it was part of the plow prep.) Assuming it's an automatic, flush the transmission--it should have an auxiliary cooler (never seen that era F-250 without one). A 1997 E4OD should be Mercon V. If they haven't been done, you will need to do a brake job. (I went through a set of pads every season plowing.) Flush the fluid...if it needs a master cylinder, you want to do the F-450 MC upgrade! (100% bolt-on, zero downside, and runs about $5 more than the F-250 master.) You may need to replace the brake hardlines...mine wouldn't come loose from the MC. (I replaced all of them, MC to wheels.) Is the underside RUSTY (frame & floors coated in surface scale) or ROTTED (holes)? If the former...any good shop can undercoat it. (Make sure they do it RIGHT!) I had mine done and it stopped corrosion absolutely cold. The BEST plow truck is a 1986-early 1992 Ford F-350 4x4. From 1986 to 1991, they all got the absolutely bulletproof Dana 60HD front axle with kingpins. My 92 was a Job 1 truck (July build, IIRC), and rather than the new-for-92 ball-joint axle, it had a kingpin front end. (I had to ask for front end parts for a 1991 F-350.) Ratings notwithstanding, I would bet a 1991 kingpin 60 (rated at, IIRC, 4600lbs) is stronger than the F-550's 6500lb-rated ball-joint Dana 60.
 
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