How to Better Maintain Your Diesel Fuel System

About Zach Mayock - DieselIQ

Meet Zach

Zach is one of the founders of 8020 Media and a lead writer for DieselIQ. He’s been in the automotive industry for over a decade and has published more than 400 articles for DieselIQ, TuningPro, BMWTuning, & more. His blend of automotive knowledge, writing & research skills, and passion make him an excellent resource for fellow diesel owners. His expertise goes beyond writing and includes a deep knowledge of Cummins and Powerstroke engines, as well as nearly 10 years of DIY experience. Zach is also experienced with tuning and has a wealth of technical knowledge that he brings to every article he writes.

Diesel Fuel System Maintenance

If all diesel engines had nearly identical fuel system trouble, diagnosis and maintenance procedures could follow a general pattern. But, with the exception of similar fuel tanks and basic piping system, diesel fuel systems differ considerably. Consequently, each engine manufacturer recommends different specific maintenance procedures. However, the tune-up and maintenance procedures described are representative of the job you will do. For all jobs, refer to the manufacturer’s service manual for the fuel system you are servicing, even if you fully understand all procedures.

Dirt in Diesel Fuel System

Many diesel engine operating troubles result directly or indirectly from dirt in the fuel system. That is why proper fuel storage and handling are so important. One of the most important aspects of diesel fuel is cleanliness. The fuel should not contain more than a trace of foreign substance; otherwise, fuel pump and injector troubles will occur. Diesel fuel, because it is more viscous than gasoline, will hold dirt in suspension for longer periods. Therefore, every precaution should be taken to keep the fuel clean.

If the engine starts missing, running irregularly, rapping, or puffing black smoke from the exhaust manifold, look for trouble at the spray nozzle valves. In this event, it is almost certain that dirt is responsible for improper fuel injection into the cylinder. A valve held open or scratched by particles of dirt so that it cannot seat properly will allow fuel to pass into the exhaust without being completely burned, causing black smoke.

Too much fuel may cause a cylinder to miss entirely. If dirt prevents the proper amount of fuel from entering the cylinders by restricting spray nozzle holes, the engine may skip or stop entirely. In most cases, injector or valve troubles are easily identified.

Failing Injection Pump

Improper injection pump operation, however, is not easily recognized. It is more likely caused by excessive wear than by an accumulation of dirt or carbon, such as the spray nozzle is subjected to in the cylinder combustion chambers. If considerable abrasive dirt gets by the filters to increase (by wear) the small clearance between the injector pump plunger and barrel, fuel will leak by the plunger instead of being forced into the injector nozzle in the cylinder. This gradual decrease in fuel delivery at the spray nozzle may remain unnoticed for some time or until the operator complains of sluggish engine performance.

Although worn injector pumps will result in loss of engine power and hard starting, worn piston rings, cylinder liners, and valves (intake and exhaust) can be responsible for the same conditions. However, with worn cylinder parts or valves, poor compression, a smoky exhaust, and excessive blow-by will accompany the hard starting and loss of power from the crankcase breather.

Water in Diesel Fuel System

It requires only a little water in a diesel fuel system to cause an engine to miss, and if present in large enough quantities, the engine will stop entirely. Many fuel filters are designed to clog completely when exposed to water, thereby stopping all fuel flow. Water that enters a tank with the diesel fuel or that is formed by condensation in a partially empty tank or line usually settles to the lowest part of the fuel system. This water should be drained off daily.

Air in Diesel Fuel System

Air trapped in diesel fuel systems is one of the main reasons for a hard starting engine. Outside air can enter the fuel system at loose joints in the piping or through a spray nozzle that does not close properly. Letting the vehicle run out of fuel will also cause air to enter the system. Like water, air can interfere with the unbroken flow of fuel from the tank to the cylinder. A great deal of air in a system will prevent fuel pumps from picking up fuel and pushing it through the piping system. Air can be removed by bleeding the system as set forth in the procedures described in the manufacturer’s maintenance manual.

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