Auto Repair: Caring for Your Diesel

Two men repairing an engine in a garage.

Regular maintenance is absolutely imperative if you want a diesel engine to last, and every diesel owner will probably encounter some pitfalls and problems. 

Although diesel engines require no ignition tune-ups and tend to last longer without major repairs than gasoline engines, they do require regular low-cost maintenance, mostly in the form of frequent oil and filter changes. The urea injection systems that reduce NOx emissions also need refilling, which is usually done as part of regularly scheduled maintenance.

Caution: If you own a conventional gas-powered vehicle and you get sloppy about maintenance and don't change the oil often enough, you'll probably end up with an engine that has aged prematurely. If you own a diesel and do the same thing, you may end up with an engine that's prematurely dead. The same goes for changing filters: A dirty fuel filter can impair a conventional vehicle's performance, but dirty fuel can clog a diesel's fuel injection system, and you may need expensive professional help to get back on the road again.

Remember: As a rule, you shouldn't try to clean or adjust a diesel's fuel injectors yourself, but if you maintain your vehicle according to the directions in the owner's manual, they can last 100,000 miles or more. After all, truckers have always preferred diesels because they find them to be tough, reliable, and cheap to run and maintain.

Most diesels are designed so that the owner can perform regular maintenance chores without an undue investment of time and money. 

Tip: If your owner's manual doesn't advise you on a specific maintenance task, or if you have no manual, amble on over to your dealership's parts department and ask to see a copy of the service manual for your vehicle (some bookstores and public libraries may also have them). A quick look at the proper sections should tell you whether you can do the job yourself. If you're not sure, ask one of the service advisors at your dealership to show you where the oil, air, and fuel filters are located and what's involved in changing or servicing them. Most service facilities are pretty nice about that kind of thing. If the job really is easy, they don't make enough on it to make lying to you worth the loss in customer goodwill; if the job isn't so easy, they figure you'll be happy to have them do it for you.

From Auto Repair for Dummies, copyright © 2009 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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