Emergency substitutes The Electrical System

Theoretically, diesel engines should be able to run on kerosene, certain airplane fuels, biodiesel in all blends between 5 percent and 100 percent, and home heating oil, but the key word here is “theoretically.” Do not use these oils in your vehicle except in absolute emergencies.

Standards of refining, filtering, and blending these oils differ widely, and they can ruin your engine, void your warranties, and create a whole lot of trouble for you. If you find yourself low on fuel in a remote area, look for trucking companies, food-processing plants, electric plants, hospitals, and farms.

These places usually have diesel engines on the premises, and some good Samaritan may take pity on you and let you have some. If you absolutely can’t find a source of diesel fuel, as a last resort borrow some home heating oil or buy some Jet-A fuel at a local airport. Diesel mechanics consider these substitutes to be like rotgut whiskey — it will get you there, but it’s not the best stuff for your system! Drive on these fuels only long enough to get to the nearest source of proper fuel.

The Electrical System

Diesel requires more stored energy for starting than gasoline vehicles do, especially on cold days. Instead of just using the battery to enable the starter to crank the engine, a diesel must have sufficient power to enable the glow plugs to warm the combustion chambers and then must build up enough heat and compression in the cylinders to ignite the fuel.

For this reason, diesel must possess considerably more battery capacity than conventional vehicles. Some diesels come equipped with two batteries; others feature a single oversized battery that may be more than 50 percent bigger than one found on a conventional vehicle.

You can find instructions for jump-starting diesel batteries in the section “Caring for Your Diesel” later in this chapter. Aside from this battery issue, electrical systems on diesel are pretty much the same as those on conventional vehicles; alternators, solenoids, and starters perform their usual functions. For information about these components, turn to.

The Emissions System

Along with much cleaner fuel, automakers are transforming the old, toxic diesels into vehicles with clean exhaust emissions by making dramatic changes to their emissions control systems. As of 2007, all diesels sold in the U.S. were clean diesels, and they’ll continue to get cleaner each year as new technologies for exhaust cleansing are developed.

California has led the way in this area of change, and each year more and more states adopt its standards, which are stricter than those set by the federal government. Hopefully, the federal government will raise its standards as high as California’s (or higher!) as time goes on.

Caring for Your Diesel

Regular maintenance is absolutely imperative if you want a diesel engine to last, and every diesel owner will probably encounter some pitfalls and problems. This section helps you deal with maintenance and repair issues — whether or not you choose to do the work yourself.

Last word

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 NOxemissions (see the previous section) also need refilling, which is usually done as part of regularly scheduled maintenance.

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