The scent of diesel exhaust on a clear, crisp morning always reminds me of New York City. Whether waiting on a corner or on a train platform, the city’s ever-present buses, delivery trucks and locomotives were invariably powered by diesel fuel back then, and I came to associate their exhaust with memories of the city.
Fast forward 20 years, and diesel exhaust now triggers a personal memory at the opposite end of the spectrum – country living. Out here, diesel engines are just as common as they are in the city, and maybe even more so, because of farm tractors, pickups, and big diesel-powered trucks hauling grain or manure .
A diesel engine is efficient, both in terms of the fuel economy it delivers and the amount of power it generates from diesel fuel, as compared to a gasoline engine. But like any other mechanical device, diesel engines require some TLC, and perhaps even some modifications, if you want them to work for you.
First up – glow plugs. I learned the hard way about glow plugs’ importance, and that they do eventually need to be replaced. It was a classic January morning on the farm – cold and dark. I needed to use the old diesel tractor to clear the driveway of snow in order to get to work on time. Before I could do that, however, I needed the tractor to start. It didn’t, but did get going later that evening once I replaced the glow plugs.
Glow plugs heat the combustion chambers in a diesel engine, making cold-weather or even cool-morning starts easier. You’ll know it might be time for new ones if you’re having trouble with cold starts, or if it sounds like the engine isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Another helpful tool for cool-weather starts is an engine heater. There are several varieties out there. I’ve used an electric heather that attached to my Massey-Ferguson 65 tractor’s oil pan via a powerful magnet. It kept the oil warm on cold Ohio nights and made starting the tractor easier. There are also heaters that insert into the oil dipstick tube, diesel fuel heaters, and circulation tank heaters that keep the engine’s coolant warm (I know, sounds funny), making for easier starts in low temperatures. If you’ve seen diesel-powered trucks or school buses parked overnight with what appears to be an electric cord sticking out the front, it’s probably for the heater .
With the advent of computer-controlled diesel engines comes the increasing popularity of diesel engine programmers – frequently used for diesel-powered trucks – that enable users to change the engine’s factory-programmed settings in order to increase horsepower and/or fuel efficiency. There are a variety of options out there , depending on your vehicle make and model. Given the heavier loads I’m towing and what seems like steadily-rising diesel fuel prices, I’m considering trying one out on my F-150 to see if I can achieve some improvements.
Another consideration, even for diesel-engine cars, is a diesel fuel additive. Many are approved for use in all diesel fuels, and have a wide range of benefits, including: preventing fuel from gelling in cold temperatures, keeping injectors clean, providing lubricants that protect the engine, and boosting cetane (a measurement of combustion quality) for faster cold starts.
By following a planned diesel-engine preventive maintenance schedule, I’m hoping that any new diesel-scented memories I make don’t involve vehicles refusing to start.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries a wide selection of parts, additives and accessories for diesel-engine cars, trucks, tractors and more.