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12 transmissions, 3 Cummins swaps, 1.4+ million miles later for 1997 Dodge 3500

Million Mile Dodge

Gary Johnson bought this 1997 Dodge 3500 new and has put 1.4 million miles on it since along with a slew of new transmissions and engine rebuilds.

For years, the joke with Dodge trucks has been the Cummins diesel engine will always outlast the truck. This million-mile Dodge 3500 turns the joke on its head.

Gary Johnson, from Killeen, Texas, has been driving his 1997 Dodge 3500 since he bought it brand new and has more than 1.4 million miles on his truck. This is a pretty remarkable to have a million-mile Dodge truck, however, what is really remarkable is keeping the truck even after many powertrain issues.

The 5.9L Cummins engine has been swapped out a few times due to oil leaks and usage issues.

Plenty of work done on the Million Mile Dodge 3500

Over the years, Johnson says he has replaced the transmission 12 times and has swapped the Cummins engine out 3 times, with one of those being a rebuild. He also said he is working on rebuilding another Cummins engine to swap out the current engine in the truck. Why?

The 1997 Dodge 3500 has the numbers “5500” on it to mess with Ford guys Johnson said.

Oil usage. The current engine runs great, however, it is using oil, like the other engines, and there is a leak Johnson said he can’t find. Instead of pulling parts of the engine to replace gaskets, he thinks it’s easier to pull out the whole engine and swap it.

The body of the truck is in pretty good shape except for some rust on the fenders in front of the doors. He said that’s his fault for drilling holes for mud flaps and not sealing the metal back up. Turns out that spot is a collection point for leaves and debris causing it to rust quicker than other body panels.

Johnson is able to rack up these miles as a RV hauler and trailer hauler (much like the million mile Chevy owner we profiled last year). He has driven all over the country and into Canada. Plus, he has taken his truck to Alaska several times pulling his own camper.

The seats have been redone a few times, but overall, the interior is in pretty good shape considering the mileage.

After his many problems and miles with this truck, Johnson says he isn’t done with it. Asked if he would be willing to sell and buy a new truck, he made it pretty clear how he felt about new engines even with their max tow increasing to 37,000 pounds.

“This is a mechanical engine, and I can work on it,” Johnson said. “The newer engines you can’t work on. … I read about all the problems they have with them on forums.”

Ultimately, Johnson is one of those guys who likes to work on his own truck and read about how to repair it on forums like Turbo Diesel Register where we found his story. He has modified his truck to his needs and has even made modifications to make it easier to work on himself. With truck prices soaring higher and the difficulty of repairing them, it is easy to see why guys with the time and experience like to do the work themselves.

Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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1 Comment

  1. Stephen Morris November 2, 2021

    I have a 97 5.9 Cummins 2500 with 388825 on it I’m looking for a 12 valve motor Cummins I’m in Amarillo if anybody can help locate one


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