How to Maintain a Diesel Pickup Truck: Best Practices

According to auto industry analysts, of the quarter of a million diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. last year, 85% were pickups or cargo vans. 

Those numbers include half-ton pickups, cargo vans, work vans, and heavy-duty pickups for towing. Ram trucks spokesman David Elshoff told last year that “diesel powertrains offer an outstanding combination of capability and efficiency.”

So it’s no wonder so many new owners are wondering how to maintain a diesel pickup truck. Experts say that your average shade-tree mechanic can do most of the maintenance for a diesel pickup as long as they have the time. 

In the following article, we’ll discuss some essential maintenance for your truck or van that could save you costly repairs down the road. 

When and How to Maintain a Diesel Pickup Truck

Master mechanics suggest changing the oil on your truck every 3,500 miles or after 200 hours of operation. This is probably a good time to give your vehicle a thorough inspection and check several filters and fluids.

Although there are several similarities between gasoline-fueled and diesel-fueled engines, the most significant difference is the lack of spark plugs in a diesel engine.

Both types of engines are four-strokes, but diesel engines compress air for ignition, unlike gasoline engines that rely on the spark plug for firing.

Failure to change your oil or filters after too many miles can age the engine in a gasoline engine. Doing the same thing with diesel can ruin it. Dirty oil can cause heat, friction, and clogs.

Diesel engines also run at higher temperatures than gasoline engines adding for the necessity of more frequent oil changes. Hard carbon deposits, or coke, can build up without regular oil changes, and that could cause trouble for your engine’s bearings. 

Regular oil changes will also keep your seals from hardening and in good working order.

Any of these problems could cause serious engine failure, so make sure to stay on top of your oil and oil filter changes first and foremost.

Clean Engine, Longer Life

So after oi changes, you should also check the fuel and air filters. These are two other ways dirt and grime can get inside your engine and cause severe damage. 

It’s recommended that you change your fuel filters every 10,000 to 15,000 miles.  Impurities in the diesel fuel — clay, water, other fine particles — can damage your engine’s injectors if not adequately filtered. Eventually, the fuel filters reach their max, and you’ll need to replace them too.

Every one in a while lightly cleans your engine to keep it free of surface dirt and grime to ensure that particles that can harm your engine are held out of your ignition system.  

Change Those Air Filters

Without clean air helping ignite your engine, it’s hard for a diesel engine to maximize its miles per gallon. Air contamination from dust and debris can restrict the engine and lower fuel efficiency.

Air impurities can also cause poor handlings like slow pick-up, sudden jerks, and that classic diesel smoking

At the very least, you should consider an air filter change every 15,000 miles. 

Ready for an Additive

You may want to consider using a diesel treatment. These fuel additives are designed for any number of issues. Some diesel treatments claim to add more mileage per gallon; others eliminate water. Others work well cleaning your engine and protecting your fuel system. 

Some fuel additives even get that big diesel engine roaring on cold mornings. It’s best to do your research and select the one that combats the issue you are concerned about.

Monitor glow plugs

While a diesel truck does not have a spark plug to help with the ignition process, it does have glow plugs to help get the engine started, especially during the year’s colder months.

A glow plug is only used to start your diesel pickup truck, while spark plugs are used with every revolution of your pistons. 

After your engine sits overnight at low temperatures, the glow plug heats the air in the cylinder to help ignition. It takes anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds for the glow plug to generate enough heat for your diesel engine to start up on that cold morning. 

Ironically, experts say the most likely time for glow plugs to fail is in those same winter months, so make sure you monitor ignition time as temperatures drop.

Watch the Coolant

That diesel engine’s operating temperature is the neighborhood of 2,000 degrees, so it’s crucial to maintain proper temperatures and reduce the risk of overheating.  Keeping an eye on your coolant is an excellent way to do that.

The coolant regulates heat and moves it from the engine block and cylinder head to the radiator. It also prevents corrosion, boiling, and freezing.

Old coolant left too long ion your diesel cooling system becomes acidic and will start to rot away critical parts.  Flush your diesel pickup’s coolant system every so often and consider using an extended life coolant. 

Exhaust Systems

A check engine light is sometimes an indicator that there’s a problem with your exhaust system. You should check your exhaust regularly to avoid any issues.

Corrosion, exhaust fumes, and wear and tear from the road can all take a toll on a truck’s exhaust system. 

One item to check is your exhaust hangers. These keep your exhaust system in place on the underside of your vehicle. Also, look for rust, corrosion, or any punctures in the exhaust system. You might hear some of these inevitable problems before you see them.

Take the Time

Modern diesel pickup trucks are marvels of efficiency and power. These high-performance vehicles use significantly less fossil fuel than their gasoline guzzling cousins.

It may take some time to learn how to maintain a diesel pickup truck, but it’ll pay off in the long run. A new diesel engine can set you back tens of thousands of dollars and recent changes in how the engines operate – increased horsepower, torque, and technology – mean that maintenance isn’t as simple as it once was. Yet, it can be learned.

If you have questions about your diesel pickup, maintenance, or want to speak to a qualified diesel technician, contact us here.

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