The Ford 7.3L Powerstroke diesel is a legendary engine. It’s well known for its reliable history and solid performance from the factory considering the era it was released. However, there are many ways to get more performance out of the 7.3 turbodiesel Powerstroke engine. Of course, risks exist when upping the boost and power with engine upgrades. In this article, we discuss a few of the best 7.3 Powerstroke bolt-on mods along with a few of the risks and other considerations.
This guide is going to focus predominantly on bolt-on modifications. There are a lot of considerations that go into building a 450whp+ 7.3L so we’re going to stick to the basics. Simple bolt-ons can add an easy 100-150whp+ to the 7.3 Powerstroke so you really don’t need to look much further if you just want to wake the engine up a little bit. We will touch on different power levels and the mods that are needed for those looking to gain more than ~150whp but we will save the details for a separate article on turbo upgrade guides and more advanced mods.
7.3 Powerstroke Power Limits
The 7.3 is a strong engine and power can be added very easily. Easy horsepower is an awesome benefit but it’s also a downside. It means that you will run into the need for supporting mods and more serious upgrades pretty soon once you start modding. This engine can eclipse the 450whp mark but getting there has a few hurdles that can get pretty costly. A stock 7.3 with the automatic transmission creates 250hp from the factory and will dyno around 200whp, for reference.
Here are the big considerations with 7.3 Powerstroke power limits:
The stock fuel injectors are only good for about 350whp. At these power levels they aren’t very reliable either so we recommend upgrading them to stage 1 or stage 1.5 injectors, depending on power goals. This is going to run you about $1,500. With upgraded injectors you can get close to around 400whp but this put a lot of stress on the fueling system. Therefore, we recommend grabbing a fueling upgrade kit that includes a high flow pump, regulated return system, new lines and fittings, and so on.
The stock 4R100 transmission can actually take a bit more added power than most diesel transmissions. It is good for approx. 350whp-400whp, however, reliability will take a turn at these power levels and older transmissions might not quite make it there without needing upgrades immediately. The first upgrade is a valve body that will help reduce trans temps and hold more power. Fortunately this isn’t too expensive of an upgrade. Going beyond 450whp, and sometimes even sooner depending on how your current transmission is holding up, you will need a built transmission which is going to run $3k-$5k.
For manual ZF S5/S6 transmission owners you don’t need as much upgrading. However, the stock clutch will need to be upgraded around 350whp. However, after that you have a lot more runway until anything else is needed.
The stock turbo can take you to about 400whp. To go beyond that you’ll need to look into upgraded turbos. Drop-in turbos aren’t the best on the 7.3 Powerstroke so you’ll want to look into getting a complete mounting kit as well that will let you bolt-up a lot more turbo options. Depending on the route you go this can cost anywhere from $2k to $10k. To get the stock turbo to boost beyond 24psi you will need to install a boost fooler.
Best 7.3 Powerstroke Engine Upgrades
Things we discussed above like fueling and transmission upgrades aren’t as much power adders as they are power supporters. When it comes to bolt-ons mods the 7.3 Powerstroke really doesn’t need too much to see big power gains. So our list is pretty simple. With that being said, check out the supporting mods. With just an intake, exhaust, and tune you can easily add 100whp+ so you will want to look into a boost fooler, injectors, and a valve body upgrade.
1) 7.3L Powerstroke Cold Air Intake
Intake upgrades are a great addition on almost any engine. However, this is especially true for the 7.3 Powerstroke turbodiesel. Turbos move a lot of air and a performance intake mod helps the engine keep up with demand. Air intake upgrades are often referred to as cold air intakes, performance intakes, intake kits, etc. They’re all similar in design and accomplish the same result – getting more air into the engine.
Power gains with an intake come in around 5-15hp and 10-30tq. That’s already pretty enticing. Even more so when you consider intakes are relativelycheap and simple to install, too. It’s hard to go wrong with a 7.3L intake upgrade. We recommend open intake systems where the intake filter is completely open to the engine bay rather than in an enclosed box. Open air intakes flow more than closed box ones do and therefore provide better power gains.
For a more detailed guide and full product recommendations, check out our 7.3 Powerstroke Intake Upgrade Guide.
Best Ford 7.3 Diesel Intakes
The Boosted Performance 4″ open intake offers an excellent balance of price, quality, fitment, and performance. The open design ensures maximum airflow, power, and sound. It uses 4″ aluminum piping with CNC mandrel bends and a large, high-quality S&B air filter. At only $249 – with free shipping – it’s hard to beat the price and quality.
HP Gains: 5-15hp (10-30tq)
2) 7.3 Powerstroke Turbo-Back Exhaust System
A larger exhaust is another simple, basic bolt-on upgrade for the 7.3 Powerstroke. One of the main ways to increase power is to get more air into the engine as efficiently as possible. However, that air also has to exit the engine efficiently. That’s where a larger exhaust system comes into play. An exhaust system will reduce back-pressure which helps increase power and reduce turbo spool time.
A catless turbo-back exhaust will offer the best performance gains on the 7.3L turbodiesel. However, there may be emissions concerns in removing the catalytic converter. High-flow catted exhausts for the 7.3 Powerstroke will also offer respectable gains. Catless is the definite way to go if power and performance are the end goal, though. This is mostly only relevant for the emissions versions of the 7.3L engine which I believe were only sold in California and a few other areas. The majority of the exhaust systems on these engines are completely emissions free.
Expect power gains around 5-15 horsepower. You’ll also notice a solid drop in EGT’s alongside the quicker turbo spool. An exhaust is definitely among the best bolt-on mods for the 7.3L engine. We recommend going with a full turbo-back system for the best power gains and biggest improvement to EGTs.
Read our full 7.3 Exhaust System Upgrade Guide to learn more about the benefits and best exhaust setups.
Best Powerstroke 7.3 Exhausts
- Banks Monster Exhaust System
- MBRP 4″ Turbo-Back Exhaust
As with intake mods, this is simply a short list of Ford 7.3 exhausts that we believe offer a great balance of price, quality, and performance. Tons of great options exist. Look for a stainless steel exhaust if you want top quality. Aluminized is a great option too, but some may begin having problems after 5 years or so. Sticking with a 4″ exhaust is also a good idea. Otherwise, simply check out some sounds and prices and see what’s the best balance for your goals.
HP Gains: 5-15hp (10-30tq)
3) Engine Tuning / Chipping
While we have this #3 on our list it is certainly the best modification for the 7.3 Powerstroke. We always recommend an intake and an exhaust alongside tuning to help improve airflow to compensate for the higher boost levels.
Tuning is a little bit different for Ford’s 7.3. Programmers like Bully Dog, Edge, EFI Live, and so on are not the ideal option. Instead, the best tuners for the 7.3 Powerstroke are chips. Chips function more so like a piggyback tuner and basically override the factory ECM/PCM parameters instead of completely overwriting them like a flash programmer does.
If you have a stock or very lightly modded F250 or F350 then getting a Hydra or an SCT X4 and running the pre-loaded tunes is a great option. However, once you get a bit heavier into the modifications the best route is going to be custom tuning.
Best 7.3L Powerstroke Tuners
- PHP Hydra
- DP Tuner
- SCT X4
There’s a lot that goes into a proper tune, so we recommend sticking with a reputable, well-known product. The above three are solid starting points, and other good options exist. If you’re looking for the best performance then eventually a custom tune is the way to go. However, if you’re new to tuning and modding it’s best to start with a basic off-the-shelf tune.
HP Gains: 30-140+hp (50-150+ torque)
4) 7.3 Powerstroke Turbo Upgrades
Turbo mods for the Ford 7.3L diesel are getting into slightly new territory. Intake and exhaust mods are simple bolt-on that offer solid performance for the price. Tunes offer excellent bang for the buck and are essential in getting the most out of your engine. Turbo upgrades have the ability to take the engine to totally new heights but it also comes with a lot of added costs.
We’ll likely have an upgraded turbo guide coming in the future. In the meantime, we’ll keep this section pretty short (relative to how much goes into turbo upgrades). We recommend doing quite a bit of research prior to upgrading the 7.3 PowerStroke turbo.
Moving on, there are tons of different options for turbos. You can keep things modest and go for a minor turbo upgrade. Or you can shoot for the moon and buy a turbo kit capable of 500+ horsepower. However, if you’re looking to push past 400whp then you’re going to have a lot of supporting upgrades that will easily take the cost of a build like this into the $15k+ territory.
HP Gains: 50-100+hp
7.3 Powerstroke Supporting Mods
- Boost Fooler (required for more than 24psi of boost)
- Injectors (for 325whp or more)
- Gauges (always recommended)
- Transmission upgrades (valve body at 325whp, built trans at 400whp+)
- High Pressure Oil Pump (always a good addition)
We discussed the boost fooler, fueling, and transmission upgrades earlier so we’ll just mention the others here.
Boost & EGT Gauges
Once you start adding mods to the Ford 7.3 it’s a good idea to pick up a set of gauges. This will help you keep an eye on some important parameters. A lot like to start with gauges that show trans temp, turbocharger boost, and EGT’s. Plenty of other options exist so the sky is the limit. Stick with the important gauges, though. Unless you want to find yourself with a dozen gauges lining half the interior.
High Pressure Oil Pump
At this point your stock HPOP is probably pretty old and worn down. Oiling is obviously an important factor in engine reliability so it’s common to upgraded the oil pump even on a stock 7.3 to provide added reliability. Additionally, it’s actually good for some power gains as well and helps support the fueling system and injectors.
The DieselSite HPOP is the most trusted on the market and is good for anything from stock to 500whp+ builds.
Other 7.3L Powerstroke Supporting Mods
We skipped over a few mods that may also be considered power mods. An intercooler is a great addition to the Ford 7.3L Powerstroke engine. However, intercoolers can get pretty expensive. Some opt for the 6.0L Powerstroke intercooler. Used ones can often be found for a reasonable price. Otherwise, an intercooler upgrade can run $1,000+. It’s definitely a great mod to keep charge air temps down and help EGT’s, too.
The list goes on and on. We’ll expand on some more mods in the future for more in-depth builds. Most are probably best off starting with the basics like a tune, intake, exhaust, injectors, and gauges. Once you’re ready to start pushing things further then you should have a solid understanding of what’s required.
7.3 Powerstroke Engine Upgrades Summary
Ford’s 7.3L PowerStroke engine has earned itself a legendary reputation. It’s a great engine that’s still powering tons of trucks even 16-25 years later. They make solid power from the factory. However, some basic bolt-on mods can really wake up the 7.3L diesel and help boost it to the next level. It’s important to keep in mind these trucks are only getting older. Adding power may expose other underlying issues or weaknesses.
Nonetheless, a tuner, intake, and exhausts is a great starting point to unlock more power from the 7.3L with simple bolt-on mods. Those looking for more power may consider turbo upgrades. Though, once you begin nearing or passing the 350 horsepower ballpark the costs can add up quickly. You’ll want to consider supporting mods like injectors and transmission upgrades. Too much power also puts a lot of stress on the engine and may reduce longevity and reliability.
Are you running any mods on your 7.3L Powerstroke? Which are you considering?