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Six Tips for People New To Diesel Engines

Jul 17, 2008
Diesel engine fans will rapture on about the impressive combination of power and fuel efficiency that modern diesel engines carry. Environmentally friendly and fairly low maintenance, diesel engines have been popular for years in Europe, and that popularity is finally beginning to grow in the United States as well. With all their benefits, diesel engines may very well become more popular than gas engines! Here are some tips to consider if you, like most U.S. drivers, are fairly inexperienced with diesel engines.

1) Virtually all new diesel engines are equipped with a turbo-charger, which works like a jet engine, forcing outside air into the engine. This increases efficiency and performance. Turbo-chargers are very powerful, so it's important that the air entering is clean and free of detritus. You can make sure of this by keeping the air filter on your engine clean and changing it often. Most vehicles are equipped with electric sensors which alert you when your air filter needs changing. Pay attention to this! Ignoring this alert could damage your engine.

2) Diesel engines need to use fuel filters, since diesel fuel isn't as pure as gasoline. Your car will have sensors much like those in the air filter, and these will tell you if your fuel filter becomes clogged and needs to be changed. It's strongly advised that you heed these warnings quickly, as failure to change a clogged fuel filter could leave you stuck on the side of the road. Expect to change your diesel fuel filter more often than you're used to, since diesel filters have a shorter life span than gas fuel filters.

3) You may be surprised to learn that diesel fuel contains water! A little bit of water won't damage your engine, but the vast majority of modern diesels are fitted with water/fuel separators regardless. Some vehicles may require you to manually remove the water from the diesel's fuel system. Your owner's manual will tell you how to do this, and how often to do it. If DIY is not your thing, many service facilities are willing to do this for you at little to no charge, and will dispose of the water/fuel solution in an environmentally friendly manner.

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 minutes, 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. Thus, 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 that you not tow or haul anything during this period. Once the initial break-in period 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.
About the Author
Author Jason Lancaster, a car industry veteran, developed AccurateAutoAdvice.com. You'll find accurate auto advice and car buying tips.
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