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Six Tips for Diesel Engine Beginners

Jul 12, 2008
Modern diesel engines are a feat of engineering, combining impressive power with fuel efficiency. Their environmental friendliness and fairly low maintenance have been the cause of their long-time popularity in Europe, and they are recently beginning to become more common in the U.S. Given the slew of benefits they carry, diesel engines may quite possibly become more popular than gas engines someday. If you're like most U.S. drivers, you're probably not very familiar with diesel engines. Here are some tips to get you introduced.

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 engine 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 to be 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) You already know that diesel fuel is less pure than gasoline, but you might not have known that it also contains water. Small amounts of water won't damage your engine, however, almost all modern diesels have water/fuel separators anyways. Some models may require manual purging of water from the diesel's fuel system. If you're doing this yourself, your owner's manual will tell you how to do this, and how often you should perform this action. Otherwise, there are many service facilities who will do this for little to no charge, and will dispose of the water/fuel mixture in an environmentally safe way.

4) Diesel engines are "oil burners", typically burning some of the engine's lubricating oil during normal operation. This is why it's so important to check your diesel's oil levels often, even between oil changes! Before checking the oil, make sure the vehicle is level and allow the engine to cool for at least 30 minutes. Your owner's manual will explain how to determine if you need to add more oil, based on your engine's dipstick reading.

5) Cold temperatures are bad for diesel engines. Your diesel engine will start up harshly and take a long time to warm up if the temperature outside is low. If it's extremely low outside, with a temperature of -10F or lower, diesel engines might not work at all. It's very important that you remember to use your diesel's block heater. The block heater is an electrical plug on your car that keeps your engine warm, using electricity from your home. Use the block heater at least whenever the temperature drops below zero outside, and at best, whenever the temperature is below freezing. This protects your engine, so it can continue to start smoothly and warm up quickly. Refer to your owner's manual to locate the block heater on your vehicle.

6) New diesel engines have a break-in period, just like any other car. The break-in period on a new diesel is usually around 500 to 1000 miles. Your owner's manual can give you a figure specific to your vehicle model. During the break-in period, driving at sustained speeds, such as on the highway for long periods of time, are not recommended. Neither is towing or hauling anything during this time. After the break-in period, your diesel engine will probably continue to improve in power and efficiency for 20,000 to 30,000 miles, since diesel engines require plenty of time and usage to reach their best levels of efficiency and performance. Most experienced diesel users agree that their engines didn't start to reach their best until a year or two after purchase.

Overall, it's very important for new diesel owners to familiarize themselves with their engine manual. Diesel owners need to pay close attention to air and fuel filter warnings, check engine oil between scheduled changes, purge water from the fuel system as needed, and use the block heater during colder temperatures. This may seem like a lot of work to perform on top of regular vehicle maintenance, but the reward will be power, fuel efficiency, and 200,000+ of great performance.
About the Author
Author Jason Lancaster, an auto industry veteran, created AccurateAutoAdvice.com. You'll find accurate car buying tips and car advice.
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