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Nissan diesel engines, and the people who love them
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Post Number:#1  PostPosted: Sat May 06, 2006 8:30 am 
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Location: Duvall, Wash.
Incomplete, of course, and definitely not definitive, this is a work I did a couple of years ago over at, which is still useful.

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pbender wrote:
[$1000-1500] . . . An old VW rabbit pickup seems reasonable to me, are there any other alternatives I should consider?

While I am not quite an expert in this field, I do have some experience with diesel vehicles that are obtainable within the budget you have outlined. Your choices are rather constrained.

First, the Rabbit pickup. Please, do yourself a favour and try to actually spend some time in one before committing. As a former owner of two diesel Rabbits (Gen 1), I finally had to give up on them for the interiour noise. I would do a three hour drive and get out worn out, with a headache. Great fuel mileage, lousy damping. About 50 HP. Expect a minimum of 43 MPG in one, and if it gets less, the engine is likely worn out. The engines wear out on these. Really. They will get to the point that they will run on their own blowby oil fumes, and the compression will get so low that they're impossible to start without ether, a block heater, or a long downhill slope. Really. Watch out.

Now, if you get into the Gen2s (1984-on) Golf/Jetta diesels, you might have a decent car. I have not driven one. They are reported to have gotten more reliable after '83. However, the PU variant was dropped by then. The PU is of unit-body construction, BTW, so don't expect to actually haul a lot of real weight in them, or they bend. Really. And, once bent, you can't align them. Many people have overloaded and wrecked VW PUs, they are strictly for light-duty use. Or short term use, your pick.

VW sold the Vanagon (the van after the Transporter, but before the Eurovan) with the Rabbit Gen1 diesel engine layed over at an angle in back. Underpowered, they were not a lot of fun to drive fully loaded or in hills, and the engines did not take well to running at 75% rated power for hours on end. But, when available, you can get them pretty cheaply.

VW Dasher is a decent-to-drive rig, and the wagon is esp. nice. Same reliability problems as the Rabbit with the engine -- they respond well to lots of preventative maintenance. Longitudinally mounted engine (rather than the East-West layout in the Rabbit/Scirocco), so perhaps they're quieter inside, I don't know. Also usually worn out by now. Get nearly the same mileage as the Rabbits (40 MPG is common) with more interiour room.

Toyota, Datsun/Nissan (SD22), Chev S-10 (Isuzu), Chev Luv (Isuzu), and Mitsubishi all marketted diesels in their compact pickups until the mid-'80s. They are in high demand, and many of them are worn out from hard use. Also, many of them get bought up and shipped to southern countries.

Ford sold the compact Ranger PU with a diesel in '83-87. It was EPA-rated at 29/33 MPG. According to TheRangerStation, the '83-84 have a Mazda 2.2l with 59HP, and the '85-87 have the Mitsubishi 2.3l with 86HP. I understand that the 2.3l was also offered with a turbo (option) in at least one of those years. The 2.3l -- obviously -- is a lot easier to drive, with quite a bit more power than the 100cc difference would imply.

Toyota sold both the Camry & Corolla with a 1.8l Four diesel, apparenty with the same base engine (?). In the Camry, it was turbocharged and doesn't appear to get very good mileage, only 30/33 MPG. In the Corolla, it is non-turbo, and the lighter car is EPA-rated at 38/47 MPG, which is quite good. These cars are all quite rare now, as they didn't sell in large numbers.

Ford sold the early US Escort & Tempo (Mercury Lynx & Topaz) with a small diesel. It was EPA-rated at 36/44 MPG. I've seen two of them in the US -- a friend of mine owned one (hello, MarkO!). Even available in 4WD. Rare & shaky. According to, this was a 2.0l Mazda engine, and was available from '83 through the middle of '87. The Escort is not a long-lived vehicle in general, but they're around.

Ford (Lincoln) sold the Lincoln MarkVII in '84-85 only with a 115hp turbodiesel (Steyr?) BMW 2.4l inline Six. It was EPA-rated at 23/29 MPG. It was rumoured to be available with an optional 5-spd transmission. I've never seen one of these cars. Anybody know more about this one? Sounds very interesting.

One of my favourites, the Nissan Maxima was sold in the US from '81-83 with an optional LD28 inline Six of 2.8l. Very nice engine, powerful at 80 hp, quiet, mileage only so-so at about 27 MPG. I own one now. You can find these on eBay and other online sources fairly regularly (I've posted links to about two per month both here and the infopop Biodiesel vehicles For Sale/Wanted forum). They were imported as RWD sedans and wagons. The engines require little maintenance other than 60k injection pump belt replacements and normal maintenance otherwise. I happen to know some of their quirks better than some of the other rigs, because I own one. I do not particularly like the driver's seating position, and they have wacky power door locks and other quirks, but the smooth engine makes up for all that.

Um, for completeness I have to mention the infamous GM (Olds) 350 (5.7l) diesel V8, 1978-1984. They enjoy a very poor reputation, however if you get the fifth revision of the engine, they do run out well, and suffer no major weaknesses. Be sure it's either a GM replacement engine, rebuilt to '83+ specs, or is an '83-4 vechicle. In the midsize wagon or sedan chassis, they will get 25 MPG without much pampering, they drive well for RWD cars of that era, are very comfortable and quiet. A Cadillac (both ElDorado FWD and DeVille RWD) of that era is often a cheap car with the diesel. Olds Cutlass came with it as an option. Buick Century, Pontiac Parisienne, Chev. Caprice etc. etc. Parts are drying up for them in junkyards now.

In truck chassis (max 20 MPG or so) you have the Chev C, K, and G series trucks & vans. Depending upon the year, you can get either the old 5.7l or the newer (much! better) 6.2/6.5l. The later engines are much more flexible and forgiving, and get great mileage if not pressed hard. I owned one for 80k miles and would buy another if I had a reason to need a 5,800 lb vehicle again. It just didn't make sense to haul that much steel around to get my ass to work anymore.

Ford has a variety of F & E series trucks and vans with the International V8 diesel, and some of them are getting down into the sub-$2k range now, mosty worn out, but you can still find some decent examples. Still heavy vechicles, and you'll never see 20 MPG from them, they're thisty beasts, but powerful.

Chevrolet sold the Chevette (cheap subcompact from the late '70s to the early '80s) with a decent Isusu 4-banger. I've seen several, never driven one. Expect uninspiring driving, but great mileage. Avoid the automatic transmissions, I keep hearing about problems with them in this application.

International sold the Scout II in '76-80 with a Datsun 3.3l inline Six (SD33), and in 1980 they added a turbo (SD33T). Available in both 4-spd & Chrysler 727 AT.

MB: if you can get past some of their issues, the MB diesels of '77-84 are perhaps the "best buy" for under $2k, provided you can find one that has not been driven or beat to near-death. MB will tend to run -- poorly, but run -- when they are really ready for the scrap heap, so beware when test driving one. Regardless of how shiny the paint and interiour are (and these cars tend to get more care lavished on their bodywork than other cars of that vintage, because of the social MB mystique), pay attention to the mechanical details, because they can really kill your budget! I mean it. If it does not start perfectly and immediately, run. Or expect to spend some time/effort/money on turning a pretty sow's ear into a silk purse.

MB have various quirks and character.

For ease of maintenance, the W123 chassis is hard to beat in the MB lineup. Stay away from the W115 chassis ('75-6 300D). Pretty, but much much harder to perform routine maintenance, including the last years of the impossible-to-change undercar cannister oil filter. I hated mine so much, I welded and machined a spin-on adapter for mine. The W123 chassis took the same engine and make the filter a snap to change from up-top no less.

The 220D (about '72-on), 240D (about '74-on) and 300D (introduced in '75, but not in the 123 chassis until 1978) are all decent enough rigs, provided you find a good one. There are probably three bad ones for every good one out there available to buy. The 300D is a five-cylinder version of the 240D, so most all parts are interchangeable (filters, belts, pistons, clutches, etc.) but the 300D will not quite fit into a 240 chassis (without help and massaging). The 300D was available in turbocharged trim for a hefty output boost (so I'm told). The turbo models' parts are more expensive by a lot.

The W123 chassis is available in a wagon variant which is quite popular today.

Unfortunately, all W123 interiours seem to have black dashboards, which I hate. And though I am a big booster of automatic transmissions, I've owned several MB with the Daimler-Benz AT and I haven't found one I like yet. They shift too high for me, and have poor torque converter action, IMO.

MB introduced an inline Six diesel in about '86, but they are still too expensive for your budget. I don't really know anything about them, except that my father wants one but won't give up his antique 240D for one. The 3.5L I6 TD is not well liked because of piston rod issues. This applies to the late W126 chassis cars and the next generation of "S" class cars to follow.

MB of that era enjoy a reputation of durability, but not necessarily of reliability. That is, they wear well, but they do break down, sometimes in expensive ways.

Who am I forgetting . . . ?

Volvo! They make a superb, spacious and durable wagon (245? 740?) with a VW inline (5? 6?) diesel that people seem to either love or hate, there's no middle ground. I love Volvo wagons for their utility, but they are not either very fuel efficient nor are they quiet inside (quiet on the road is important to me though perhaps not to you). They are still quite pricey with the diesel option. You might find one to fit your budget. ISTR that they came in both NA and turbo variants, but I might be wrong.

Peugeot. They sold a variety of NA and turbo diesels, AFAIK all inline Four cylinders. French cars are . . . French. What can one say? You either love them or hate them, there is no middle ground. Typical of French vehicles, the suspension is long-travel. Ride is very, very good, even in the wagon. However, opinions vary widely about the mechanical bits. The fuzzy, general consensus is that, with religious maintenance, they can be very durable. Peugeot pulled out the US market in 1992, but spares are readily available from overseas. The last Peugeot diesel was imported in 1986 even though the 1987 brochures suggest otherwise. The poor quality ZF 4 spd automatic transmission from 1986 did not help the situation.

Another thread to read:

I've gleaned the following list from a Wix filters catalog, so there might be some errors, but this is a start (glenlloyd has edited and added/revised information as well)

'81 1.6 L4 diesel (52hp)
'82-83 1.6 L4 turbo diesel (69hp)
(VW engine, same longtitudinal mounting as Dasher & Quantum)

'79-83 2.0 L5 diesel
'82-83 2.0 L5 turbo diesel
'84-? 2.0 L5 TD (Canada only - new body style) (VW engine, same longtitudinal mounting as Dasher & Quantum, stretched to 5 Cyl.)

'85-86 2.4L L6

'82-85 4.3L V6

Electra & Park Avenue
'80-85 4.3L V6
5.7L V8

Estate Wagon
'80-85 5.7L V8

'82-83 5.7L V8
'82-85 4.3L V6

'81-85 5.7L V8

'81-86 1.8L L4 (Isuzu engine)

Luv (PU)
'81-82 2.2L L4 (Isuzu engine?)

Chev. S10/Compact Blazer
(GMC S15 Jimmy)

'84-85 2.2L L4

Chev. El Camino
'81-85 5.7L V8
(GMC Caballero)
'82-84 5.7L V8

'82-84 4.3L V6

'82-83 4.3L V6
'82-83 5.7L V8

Monte Carlo
'82-83 4.3L V6
'82-84 5.7L V8

Fullsize PU & Van/Suburban/Silverado/Tahoe/etc
(and GMC variants)

(numerous options and variants, incl. turbo)
'77-81 5.7L V8
'82-93 6.2L V8
'92-02 6.5L V8
'03-04 6.6L V8 ("Duramax")
Note: 6.6L unavailable in G-series van ('03-on)

D150 (fullsize PU)
'78 ONLY 3.9L L6 (Mitsubishi engine)

Ram 50 (compact PU)
'83-85 2.3L L4 (Mitsubishi engine, alum. head)

D100/150/1500, D200/250/2500, D300/350/3500,
W100/150/1500, W200/250/2500, W300/350/3500
(Fullsize PU)

'89-97 5.9L L6 (turbo, 12-valve)
'98-04 5.9L L6 (turbo, 24-valve)

Bronco II
'85-86 2.3L L4 (Mitsubishi engine?)

'83-84 2.2L L4 (Mazda engine?)
'85-87 2.3L L4 (Mitsubishi engine?)

F150/150 (??), F250, F350 (Fullsize PU)
E150, E250, E350 (Fullsize van)

'83-87 6.9L V8
'88-04 7.3L V8
Note: no diesel available for '00-on F150 (and possibly never in the F150?)
Note: DI & IDI, turbo & non-turbo model options in various years.

Ford Tempo
(Mercury Topaz)

'84-86 2.0L L4 (Mazda engine?)

Ford Escort
(Mercury Lynx)

'84-87 2.0L (Mazda engine?)

'76-80 3.3L L6 (Nissan engine SD33 (SD33T in 1980))

'81-87 2.2L L4

'81-84 1.8L L4

'84-87 2.2L L4

Cherokee, Comanche, Wagoneer
'85-87 2.1L L4 Turbo (Renault engine)

Continental, Mark VII
'84-85 2.4L L6 (BMW engine)

'84-85 2.0L L4

'82-85 2.2L L4

Mercedes Benz
(many models missing pre-67: 190D, 180D, etc. Suffice to say that there were MB diesels available in the US prior to the '67 200D.)
190 Series (newer)
'84-86 2.2L L4
'87-89 2.5L L5

200D Series
'67-70 2.0L L4

220D Series
'68-73 2.2L L4

240 Series
'74-83 2.4L L4

300 Series
'75-77 (W115 chassis) 3.0L L5
'76-85 (W123 chassis) 3.0L L5 (NA & Turbo models)
'86-87 3.0L L6
'90-93 2.5L L5
'92-93 3.5L L6

350 Series
'90-92 3.5L L6

S Class
'95 only 3.5L L6

E Class
'94-99 3.5L L6

'83-85 2.3L L4

Nissan (Datsun)
'81-83 2.2L L4 (SD22)
'83-86 2.5L L4 (SD25)

'81-83 2.8L L6 (LD28)

'83-87 1.7L L4

Delta 88
'78-85 5.7L V8

Custom Cruiser (wagon)
'78-85 5.7L V8

'78-84 5.7L V8
'85 only 4.3L V8

Cutlass Ciera (FWD)
'82-85 4.3L V8

Cutlass Supreme (RWD)
'79-85 4.3L V6
'79-85 5.7L V6

'78-85 5.7L V8

'75-76 2.1L L4 (XD90)
'77-83 2.3L L4 (XD2)

'80-83 2.3L L4 (XD2)
'81-85 2.3L L4 (XD2S) turbo (80hp)
'85-86 2.5L L4 (XD3T) turbo (95hp)

'81-84 2.3L L4 (XD2S) turbo (80hp)

'83-85 1.8L L4 (Isuzu engine)

'82-85 4.3L V6

'80-85 5.7L V8

Grand Prix
'81-85 5.7L V8

'80-81 5.7L V8

'83-85 5.7L V8

'70-74 2.3L L4

'83-87 3.4L L4
'86-87 4.0L L6

'81-83 2.2L L4
'83-87 2.4L L4

'84-85 1.8L L4
'86 only 2.0L L4

'84-85 1.8L L4

'82-83 1.6L L4 (Rabbit model engine)


'78-83? 1.5 L4 diesel
'80?-84 1.6 L4 diesel (52hp)
'83-84 1.6 L4 turbo diesel (rare)

'85-86 1.6 L4 diesel (52 hp)
no Golf diesel in US again until 1999.5

pre-1984 coming...

'85-87 1.6 L4 diesel (52hp) & turbo diesel (69hp)
Diesel engine special order after 1987 on Jetta
'91-92 1.6 L4 Ecodiesel (59hp) (small turbo KKK K20?, no LDA IP, oxidation catalyst. Only 720 (supposedly) made, mostly 1991)
'97-99 1.9 L4 TDI (90hp-intercooled)

'82-85 1.6 L4 turbo diesel (69hp)

'96-97 1.9 L4 TDI (90hp-intercooled)
There were reported to be four 1998 Passat TDI's imported, three have been accounted for.

note - VW switched from solid to hydraulic lifters mid-1986 for D & TD engines

240 Series
'80-84 2.4L L6 (VW engine, stretched Rabbit engine to Six cyl.)

740 Series
'83-86 2.4L L6 turbo (VW engine, stretched Rabbit engine to Six cyl.)

760 Series
'83-86 2.4L L6 turbo (VW engine, stretched Rabbit engine to Six cyl.)

24x series no turbo, 740/760 turbo 2.4 L6

(8xx series diesels?)

Email me ( if you have additions or corrections, and I'll update this list.

Al S.

1982 Maxima diesel wagon, 2nd & 4th owner, 165k miles, rusty & burgundy/grey. Purchased 1996, SOLD 16Feb10
1983 Maxima diesel wagon, 199k miles, rusty, light yellow/light brown. SOLD 14Jul07
1981 720 SD22 (scrapped 04Sep07)
1983 Sentra CD17, 255k, bought 06Jul08, gave it away 22Jun10.

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