Making an old truck new again!
12-valve Cummins trucks may be getting old, but they still carry a cult following. Thanks to features like a Bosch P7100 mechanical fuel pump and a gear driven camshaft they tend to be reliable trucks even at high mileage. Paired to an NV4500 manual transmission like the truck pictured here, they’re even more dependable.
The interior, however, was never this truck’s high point. Though it may have been good back in 1994, it does little for most truck buyers today. (That being said I still love my own 12 valve‘s interior.) One of our viewers, Michael, put in the work to improve the interior on his truck in a couple of key ways.
Check out the whole story below in Michael’s own words.
First off, thanks for all the great content as I really find it a lot of fun to follow y’all…
And thank you for the interest in my truck. In brief, I mentioned what I was doing in passing because I thought others might find it interesting/new information that some pretty modern tech was actually able to be retrofit into older trucks – and work well!
The backstory is this: I’ve driven a truck most of my adult life and like to do/need to do truck things with it. Largely, it was an older truck that I bought new and kept for a long while. I decided about 2 years ago to buy a brand-new truck. (Very similar to your RAM that you’re building into an overlander). The only problems were that I was mortified of scratching it. As soon as it stopped being “new” (i.e. the next best things were coming along), it really seemed to lose it “specialness”. Which BTW it is insane how short of an interval this is now. Cars and trucks really are more like computers now in this regard!
How I built my truck
Therefore, being a lover of old trucks for a myriad of reasons, I decided that instead of paying a TON of money in payments for a truck I wasn’t in love with, I would buy a bucket list old-truck that would always be special to me no matter how long I had it, and no matter what the next best thing on the horizon was…
The idea then became to try and customize that truck to suit my needs and preferences. Including with the modern tech items I specifically wanted (without any of the random stuff I didn’t). After some research, I found it was possible to add quite a bit of modern tech. I’m actually quite happy with how it’s turned out. And what’s wonderful (to me at least), is that I can change that tech over time as it evolves. The “platform” can always be my super solid, super simple older powertrain.
Here are the specifics:
The truck is a 1996 Dodge Ram 2500. Club cab long bed. 5.9 12-valve Cummins 6BT. Manual transmission NV4500. Bought it with 101K miles; has 114K today.
Features that are now on the truck
- Modern receiver: it should come as no shock to anyone that you can upgrade the receiver in your truck. What I did find surprising here is that there are custom dash inserts for older vehicles that can make it look pretty seamless. Apple Car play and Android auto are also available in a ton of models. I personally find Apple Car play really helpful when I’m using navigation and am on the phone (nothing else seems to get meshing those quite right in my experience). Mics placed close to you also make it possible to have conversation quality like a modern truck.
- Front and rear cameras: it should also come as no shock that front and rear cameras can be added. The ones I got work just fine. Resolution is just OK, but again, they work just fine.
- Collision Mitigation: This was something I was pleasantly surprised to find was available for my truck. While many modern cars will also have a function for adaptive cruise and emergency braking, having a simple warning (i.e. a beep) if I was going to hit something was plenty good for me. Being in healthcare and taking care of lots of injured folks over the years, this extra peace of mind is really nice for me. The system that I had installed has been working great (at least as well as the OEM did in my new truck). It also recognizes pedestrians which I think is great.
- Lane Deviation Warning: the collision mitigation system also provides a warning (i.e. a beep) if I drift out of lane. It does not steer you a little like modern cars, but frankly I don’t find that super helpful.
More tech for added comfort
- Remote start: While adding remote start to a vehicle isn’t a new idea, I was actually quite surprised to find that it was possible for my manual, diesel truck. It was also possible to integrate with an app on my phone. I don’t know if all systems would be set up the same, but mine is set up like this: to mitigate the issue of the manual transmission, the system has you “arm” the truck with a specific sequence that ensures it’s in neutral, and that the parking brake is set; to mitigate the issue of the glow plugs, the system starts the starting sequence, and then knows to pause while they do their things.
- Heated seats: Some folks may not know that you can add heated seats pretty darn easy to any vehicle. The supplier I used for my parts (Geno’s Garage) had a wonderful suggestion to replace the upholstery with a seat cover because then you don’t have to worry about getting it off w/o any damage to it, and it is a major PITA to put back on. Custom seat covers, while expensive, also seem to be available in many different options for old trucks that look custom rather than like they are cover-ups. This was also a great opportunity to replace the old seat foam!
- Interior functionality: While there isn’t anything wrong with the bench seat that came with my truck initially, it just didn’t work for me – I carry too much junk that I like to have at hand when I drive. I also really like to have a second screen mounted in the truck for doing stuff when parked/eating in my truck (read: watching YouTube). While building custom consoles is no new idea, I had the thought to use a console that was built for the public service industry as the platform (i.e. what you would find in a police car). While things like sirens, etc are regulated, consoles/mount aren’t. Lots of industries also use similar stuff. This ended up being a bit pricy, but it did do the job to give me what I wanted without it having a MacGyvered look to it.
A few things you can’t easily do
Only thing left to brief on is what I found there weren’t great solutions for… First thing was parking sensors. According to the very reputable shop I worked with (they did the receiver, cameras, crash warning, and remote start for me — I did the rest on my own), there isn’t a great solution for aftermarket parking sensors that work well in metal bumpers. I have no idea how valid this is, but that’s at least what they told me that kept me from trying some.”
They did a great job overall, and seemed VERY knowledgeable. I’m at least taking their word for it (AMS in Madison, WI). Second was blind spot indication. The same shop told me that these aftermarket products also don’t work great in metal bumpers. Unless you can find one that replaces a taillight housing (which there didn’t seem to be one for my truck they had experience with), you’re better off not going down that road either.hanks again for the opportunity to present this story to y’all. I hope at least some of it has been an interesting read. I’m sure some purists will see this as adulteration of an old truck’s simplicity/more stuff to break. For me it makes it a more functional/pleasant daily driver ride. It’s also something that makes me happy that I’m in more than 20K less (after all of the above and more) than a new truck. ☺