5 Things You Need To Stop Doing If You Drive A Diesel Truck

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Ford F-550

If you're in the market for a truck, then a model with a diesel engine may be a sensible choice. Despite recent crackdowns on diesel in some countries, the engine type has its positives. A diesel engine usually has noticeably more torque than a gas-powered engine of comparable size. The fuel also tends to be cheaper — it can be tax-free in certain jurisdictions and under certain circumstances. Then there's the lifespan of the engine, as diesel ones tend to feature more precise and robust construction. This means the notoriously reliable engines can perform well for hundreds of thousands of miles.

But diesel also has a few issues. There used to be a fairly significant disparity in performance between a gas-powered car and a diesel. However, turbochargers have since closed the gap, and you may find a modern diesel provides a very solid driving experience. Other differences may be more subtle, and if you're used to a gas-powered car or truck, then you could end up doing something that can severely damage your new diesel. Here are a few things you should watch out for if you own a diesel truck.

Stop idling your truck excessively

pickups stopped and braking

Idling a diesel engine for an excessive amount of time is a bad idea. Operating your diesel engine at low speed, or just idling it, causes double the amount of wear on engine components compared to normal use. The extra wear takes two forms. The first is an excessive buildup of carbon deposits in the engine. This buildup comes courtesy of the lower temperatures an idling engine runs at. A lower operating temperature will result in a less efficient diesel, and the carbon itself comes from unburnt fuel.

Excessive idling may also result in a smooth, mirror-like finish on the cylinder walls. This "mirror glazing" effect nets the same result as the worn piston rings you'll find on older engines. The piston rings will have a more difficult time clearing engine oil from the cylinder walls on the way down, and the excess will be burnt during combustion. This means you'll have to top up your oil regularly, adding expense and threatening some severe consequences should that oil run too low.

The increased wear and other problems caused by excessive idling translate to increased maintenance costs and a shorter overall lifespan for your truck's engine. So, if your truck is stationary for more than a few minutes, consider turning it off and giving its hard-working diesel engine a well-deserved break.

You need to let your engine warm-up

glow plug light on dash

There's a reason diesel engines have glow plugs installed, and it goes beyond helping it get past that initial crank on a winter's morning. The glowplugs help get the engine warm as quickly as possible. This is a vital function since putting a lot of stress on a cold diesel engine is an awful idea.

This is mainly due to the way diesel engines are constructed and the oil used to lubricate them. In terms of construction, diesels tend to be built to finer tolerances than their gas counterparts. Fine tolerances are needed as the engines use compression to achieve combustion. Those tightly fitted parts need oil to move smoothly, which brings us to our second issue. Like many viscous liquids, motor oil gets denser and less fluid when cold. The thicker oil can't circulate the engine properly and coat parts sufficiently.

So, if you start your engine cold and proceed to rev it or just drive off, you're probably going to see increased wear on your engine. A properly taken care of diesel engine can last hundreds of thousands of miles, but regular cold starts will drop that lifespan drastically.

Stop running your diesel on fumes

fuel warning light

Yes, we know, fuel is really expensive these days. Gas prices are high for several reasons, and diesel prices are even worse. So it can be tempting to just put the occasional $20 worth of diesel in the tank and let that needle sit on empty for as long as possible. But this is a bad idea for a few reasons.

For a start, your fuel tank is probably filthy. While modern diesel is fairly clean, sediment and sludge will still build up in your tank over the years. This isn't usually a problem, as debris will settle near the bottom of your tank. However, if you don't have much fuel left, there's a good chance your pump will suck something nasty up. Sediment can quickly clog a fuel filter and greatly impact overall engine performance as a result.

But there is a bigger reason why running a diesel on fumes is an awful idea. Unlike gas-powered cars, diesel engines are a pressurized system. Any air in a diesel fuel system will cause the engine to stall, and it won't start again until that air has been purged. While a gas-powered car with an empty tank will start as soon as you put more fuel into it, your diesel will be stranded until you bleed its entire fuel system. This process can take hours. So, for your truck's sake, don't let the tank go below a quarter full.

Stop skipping an oil change

pouring fresh engine oil in

Times aren't great economically, and people may be looking to cut corners where they can. If you own a truck with a large diesel engine, an oil change may be particularly expensive. A bigger engine tends to need more oil, and the oil your truck needs may also come at a premium. But skipping an oil change might cost you a lot more in the long run.

Engine oil serves a few vital functions. First and foremost, it keeps everything lubricated and stops parts from wearing out prematurely. It also keeps things clean, removing grime, soot, and bits of metal dust from parts like the pistons. Finally, it cools things down very slightly. But motor oil will only last so long.

Several things cause it to degrade and lose its ability to perform its tasks well. That dirt it's picking up from your engine will take its toll, the number of heat cycles it goes through will also cause degradation, and if you regularly take your truck offroad or onto dirt tracks, outside contaminants will further shorten the oil's effective life.

Oil changes are usually scheduled based on time or miles driven since the last service. How long the oil lasts depends on a few factors, and you should consult your vehicle's manual to ensure you're on top of everything. While they may seem minor, oil and filter changes are some of the most important maintenance tasks you can perform if you want to keep an engine at its best.

Stop installing lift kits

pickup truck offroad suspension

Lifted trucks are incredibly popular these days, and the practice does come with a couple of benefits. Long-range visibility will be improved, and offroading performance may also get a bit of a boost. But for most truck owners, you're basically ruining your vehicle in an attempt to achieve a certain look.

The downsides of lifting a truck are numerous. Its handling is going to get noticeably worse, and it's easy to ruin your wheel alignment while installing a lift kit. Expenses may also be greater than you initially anticipated. You could find yourself fitting new tires at the very least, and in a worst-case scenario, you may have to add or modify several other parts to make your lifted truck street-legal. There's also the truck's warranty to consider. Lifting the vehicle may void it.

If offroading isn't your thing, and all you're gaining is aesthetics, lifting your truck is an objectively bad idea. You won't even get the visibility benefits in an urban environment, as you won't be able to see things right in front of you without installing cameras. Save your cash and invest in something actually useful, like a turbocharger upgrade instead.

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