If you’re looking at a diesel engine, you’re probably impressed with their combination of power and fuel efficiency. Modern diesel engines are also environmentally friendly and fairly low maintenance. Europeans have enjoyed diesel powered vehicles for years, and they’re finally starting to catch on in the United States. Considering all their benefits, it’s quite possible that diesel engines will one day be more popular than gas engines. Since most U.S. drivers have limited experience with diesel engines, here are some tips for new diesel drivers.
1) Nearly all new diesel engines come equipped with a turbo-charger. Think of a turbo-charger as a jet engine – it forces outside air into the engine and increases efficiency and performance. Turbo-chargers are very powerful, so great care must be taken to make sure the air entering the turbo-charger is clean and clear of debris. Therefore, it’s important that the air filter on your diesel is clean and changed often. Most manufacturers equip their vehicles with electronic sensors that will tell you to check or replace your air filter, and when this sensor tells you to change the air filter, do so immediately. If you ignore this warning, you could damage your engine.
2) Diesel fuel isn’t as clean and pure as gasoline, so the fuel filter in a diesel is very important. Again, your car has sensors that will warn you if the fuel filter becomes clogged, and you should react to these warnings quickly. If you fail to change a clogged diesel fuel filter, it could leave you stranded on the side of the road. Also, keep in mind that diesel fuel filters need changed a little more often than gas fuel filters, so don’t be surprised if you have to replace your diesel’s fuel filter ahead of schedule. That’s perfectly normal.
3) Here’s some shocking news for new diesel owners — in addition to being less pure than gasoline, diesel fuel also contains water. Even though small amounts of water will not hurt your diesel engine, nearly all modern diesels are equipped with water/fuel separators. Depending upon your vehicle, you may need to purge the water from your diesel’s fuel system manually. Check your owner’s manual for instructions on how to do this and to find out how often it should be done. The good news is that many service facilities will perform this task for you at little or no charge (as well as the dispose of the water/fuel mixture in an environmentally friendly way).
4) Diesel engines are often referred to as “oil burners” because, unlike gasoline engines, diesel engines typically burn some of the engine’s lubricating oil during normal operation. That’s why it’s especially important to check your diesel’s oil level between oil changes. To check the oil, make sure the engine has cooled for at least 30 mins and that the vehicle is level. Your owner’s manual will explain when you should add oil based on the engine’s dipstick reading.
5) Diesel engines don’t like cold temperatures. At low temperatures, diesel engines tend to start harshly and warm-up very slowly. At extremely low temperatures (below -10 F) diesel engines may not function at all. Therefore, it’s very important to remember to use your diesel’s block heater if outside temps ever dip below zero. The block heater is nothing more than an electrical plug on your car that uses your home’s electricity to keep your engine warm, and it’s as simple as plugging your car in at night. If you can afford the electricity, you can plug-in your block heater any time the outside temperature dips below freezing. This will protect your engine and make for quick and smooth start-ups, and it will help your engine warm-up quickly. Check your owner’s manual for your block heater’s location.
6) While all new engines have a short break-in period, new diesel engines usually have a break-in period that lasts 500 or 1000 miles (check your manual to find out). Usually, the manufacturer recommends that you avoid driving at sustained speeds (i.e. long trips on the highway) during this period. Additionally, most manufacturers suggest you not tow or haul anything during this period as well. Once the initial break-in is over, it’s not uncommon for your diesel to continue to improve in power and efficiency for the first 20k or 30k miles. Unlike gas motors, which often stop improving in power and efficiency after 3k to 5k miles, diesels need lots of time and use to reach their peak efficiency and performance. In fact, most long-time diesel owners will tell you that their engine didn’t really start to truly perform until a year or two after they bought it.
To summarize, it’s very important that new or first-time diesel owners review their engine manual. In addition to normal vehicle maintenance, diesel owners should keep a close eye on their air and fuel filter warnings, they should always check engine oil between oil changes, purge water from the fuel system as required, and remember to plug-in the block heater any time outside temperatures drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. When you do all these extra tasks, your diesel engine will reward you with power, great fuel economy, and 200,000+ miles of good service.