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Diesel Tech Questions

Top Tech

Bruce W. Smith
Aug 9, 2017
Photographers: Bruce W. Smith

DIY Biodiesel

I have an endless supply of free beef and pork fat. Is there any way I can make that into biodiesel and run my ’04 Ford F-350? I looked online, but I got confused with all the information. I thought maybe you could recommend a website or past article that could help.
Brandyn Reinford
via email
Photo 2/6   |   Turning animal fat into biodiesel fuel is a process that’s been around for a long time. The concern is the compatibility (or lack thereof) of a DIYer’s home-brewed biofuel with the finicky fuel systems found in modern diesel-powered pickups.
Biodiesel fuel can be produced using nearly any animal fat or vegetable oil. It just takes a serious investment in time and the right equipment to start your own backyard refinery. Most DIY biodiesel chemists combine their home-brewed products with petroleum-based #2 diesel fuel, because straight biodiesel made from beef or pork fat has a very high gel point (the temperature at which it starts solidifying). That’s a serious downside, especially in modern diesel injection systems, as Graydon Blair at Utah Biodiesel Supply points out:
“I'd be really hesitant to run biodiesel in an ’04 6.0L Ford Power Stroke engine. The injectors on that particular engine are extremely sensitive to biodiesel and haven't historically done well. Because biodiesel is slightly thicker than #2 diesel, it can stress the injectors on a 6.0L and cause them to run dry, which leads to catastrophic damage to the injectors. Biodiesel works really well in the old 7.3L Fords, though.”
If you are still undaunted in your pursuit of using your great supply of animal fat to become the next J. Paul Getty, check out the library of articles on Utah Biodiesel Supply’s website (utahbiodieselsupply.com/biodieselarticles.php) as well as this article we found: articles.extension.org/pages/30256/animal-fats-for-biodiesel-production. Both should answer your basic questions on the production side.
We’ve covered biodiesel a lot over the years in Diesel Power. Here are a few articles that detail the technical aspects related to diesel engines and biodiesel:
trucktrend.com/how-to/engine/0704dp-biodiesel-engine-safety/
trucktrend.com/features/0603dp-making-bio-diesel/
trucktrend.com/how-to/expert-advice/0704dp-biodiesel-vs-your-warranty/
trucktrend.com/how-to/engine/0704dp-living-with-biodiesel/
trucktrend.com/how-to/expert-advice/1704-cetane-numbers-how-diesel-fuels-biggest-unknown-affects-your-truck/

A Helpful Lift

I have a 6.6L Duramax LBZ-powered ’07 GMC pickup with 97,000 miles on it. The engine is pretty stock, except for an upgraded air intake, 3-inch downpipe with 4-inch exhaust, Sinister Diesel fuel-filter adapter and CAT filter, and a Banks Power EconoMind programmer. Since there is no lift pump on this vehicle and it relies on the high-pressure fuel pump to pull the fuel, would I benefit from a lift pump like the AirDog or FASS 100-gph models? I don't plan on doing any further upgrades unless something like the turbocharger gives out. I don't do very heavy towing, and it is a daily driver.
Mike Deibert
Stedman, North Carolina
Photo 3/6   |   Lift pumps are a great addition to any Duramax V-8 engine, helping take the strain off the high-pressure pump while ensuring a flow of clean fuel before it even reaches the injection system.
The one thing any diesel engine needs in order to be able to work at maximum efficiency and for fuel-system components to have the longest life possible is a good flow of clean fuel. For Duramax V-8 engines, taking the load off the factory high-pressure pump by installing an aftermarket lift pump is a sure way to achieve those goals. Some performance-diesel shops are pretty adamant about this, too.
“We absolutely suggest a lift pump for the LBZ or any of the 6.6L Duramax engines,” says Mobile Diesel Service owner Shawn Smalley. “Lift pumps take a lot of stress off the factory fuel system, and those with fuel/air separation filters provide a constant supply of clean fuel that also helps reduce wear on both the factory pump and injectors. The upgrade even changes the tone of the engine. Producing Duramax powerplants without a lift pump was a poor idea. Around our shop, if we’re modifying or replacing injectors or the high-pressure pump on a Duramax V-8, we tell the customer he or she needs to get a lift pump first or we won't continue.”

Diesel Tacoma Conversion

I have an ’03 Toyota Tacoma powered by a 2.7L gas engine with 236,000 miles on it, a manual transmission, and 4:30 gears. Even though I use Amsoil synthetic lubricants, I know it is only a matter of time before this engine gives out. I want to start looking for a replacement in the form of a diesel engine. Is a diesel swap feasible? What size engine and what type of electronics will this require? What about the suspension? Would the driveline hold up? Would it be worth my time? I currently own an ’06 Dodge Ram 2500 with a 5.9L Cummins engine, so I am not a complete stranger to the diesel industry.
Nathan Hostetter
Rockwood, Pennsylvania
Anything is feasible…as long as you have the money to pay for it—especially gas-to-diesel conversions. If you want a stock-feeling, turn-key makeover, we suggest contacting Tacoma Diesel in Tacoma, Washington. Better known as “Diesel Toys,” the company specializes in doing diesel swaps for Toyota pickups and SUVs. Diesel Toys suggests the 130hp 3.0L 1KZTE turbodiesel engine for your year truck, telling us, “Toyota put these powertrains in its Hilux trucks. They’re great, super-reliable engines, and the total conversion cost would be in the $22,000 range.” Diesel Toys uses all OEM parts. And half the cost is in labor.
The do-it-yourself road is less costly, but every bit as time consuming. There are no complete kits we know of for such a conversion. The simplest way would be to find an importer, such as Japanese Classics (japaneseclassics.com), that could bring in a “half-cut” Toyota Hilux, Hilux Surf (4Runner in North America), or Land Cruiser Prado that’s an ’03-or-newer model so you meet the federal law’s “like-year-or-newer” engine clause. The cost should be around $4,000 to $5,000. Those years are equipped with a 172hp 3.0L 1KD-FTC, a common-rail version of the aforementioned 1KZ-TE . Using this powerplant makes the conversion a straight swap of engine, transmission, transfer case, ECM, and wiring into your Tacoma, dealing, of course, with the possible differences between right-hand and left-hand drive.
We have seen innovative Toyota owners install the Cummins 4BT, Mercedes-Benz OM617, and VW TDI diesels. The TDI is designed to power cars that weigh far less than the Tacoma, so torque, or a lack thereof, makes it a less desirable choice in our opinion. The 4BT has the muscle. It probably requires moving the steering sector down a couple of inches for clearance, fabricating engine mounts, and using heavier-duty front springs to handle the extra 250 to 350 pounds the Cummins brings to the table. Because firewall clearance is so close, you’ll also need to find a center-mount exhaust manifold—or cut down a Cummins 6BT manifold and weld/cap off the ends—for turbocharger clearance. For the transmission, you may want to find an NV4500 manual gearbox and an adapter for it to connect with the transfer case if your Tacoma is four-wheel drive, or a Dodge Getrag 360 transmission in front of a Ford NP205 transfer case, using an Advanced Adapters adapter to mate the two. You might also contact Duiser Off-Road (duiser.com) to see if any of its Land Cruiser 4BT/5.9L diesel conversion parts work with the Tacoma.
For the 123hp I-5 Mercedes, we recommend talking with the technicians at Koch Enterprises (Mercedes Diesel 4x4) in Newville, Pennsylvania. Although Jeep-oriented, Koch sells the engines and can provide good insights as to what it’d take put one in your truck.
All diesel swaps require some modifications/upgrades to the cooling system, the driveshaft(s) needs to be custom-made, and provisions have to be made if you want air conditioning or other components to function. (Duiser Off-Road has accessory mounts for both 4BT and 6BT conversions.) Vehicle wiring is always a pain in gas-to-diesel conversions, so you need to use aftermarket gauges. If you really want to turn some heads, find a donor Ram 1500 or Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 3.0L EcoDiesel engine. Now, that would be a great conversion.
By the way, before diving into any engine swap, consult with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles on licensing requirements. At the very least, you’d need to use an engine of the same year or newer to be “street” legal when doing a swap on a vehicle that’s 25 years old or newer, and in many states, it’d need to meet certain smog requirements to be licensed for daily driving.

Sloppy Steering Fix

The steering in my lifted ’06 Ram 3500 is at the point where I am continually sawing the wheel to keep it between the lines going down the highway. It has 127,000 miles and 35-inch tires. I replaced the worn-out steering box with a Cardone remanufactured unit. It lasted less than a month and started puking oil from around the top of the shaft. I returned it and put on a second box. That one didn’t last three days before steering fluid started leaking again—this time from what appears to be a hairline crack in the side of the part. Before I replace this a third time, is there a steering box that’s actually rebuilt with some semblance of quality? I plan on keeping this truck around for a long time, so I don’t mind paying a little extra if it lasts and tightens up the steering.
Jeremy Mason
Salem, Oregon
Wandering steering, particularly in Rams running lift kits and taller tires, is a common issue when the box gets past 125,000 miles of service. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of the “reman” products we buy these days lack in quality control, with power-steering boxes being a crapshoot when you are looking for a wallet-friendly fix.
There are two premium steering-box replacements we’d put in our trucks: RedHead and Borgeson. Both hit your wallet about twice as much as the customary units you find at discount auto-parts stores. But their reputation for quality, durability, and enhanced steering performance are stellar. Borgeson boxes have a larger piston and quicker gear ratio that reduces lock-to-lock steering for faster, easier maneuvering. You’ll also be wise to get the company’s heavy-duty steering shaft to replace the stock part.
The RedHead box is a straight bolt-in, as well. RedHead takes great pride in the rebuilding process, going as far as checking the sector shaft for straightness and precision-fitting steel balls in the worm-and-piston assembly so the tolerances are closer than factory specifications. We also highly recommend installing a steering-box support kit, such as those offered by BD Diesel Performance or Sinister Diesel. The parts are easy to install and will help keep your rig on the straight and narrow path.

Pushing Tow Limits

I am debating getting a ’10 Ram 2500 to tow my 10,000-pound fifth-wheel trailer. One model I’m eyeing here in Canada only has 130,000 miles. My research says payload is 2,400 pounds for this truck and towing capacity is less than 10,000 pounds (numbers that are pathetic in my humble opinion). What’s the reliability of the ’10 Ram 2500? Are there any modifications that are absolutely necessary? How far can I push this truck? Can I tow a 20,000-pound trailer safely? Does it have enough power (even though its rated at less than 10,000 and payload is 2,400 pounds)? Can I put 3,000 pounds of cargo in the bed and carry it safely by installing airbags and switching to 10-ply tires?
Robert Kopenski
via the Internet
Photo 4/6   |   Tow ratings are often ignored when the truck pulls whatever is on the hitch with apparent ease. The concerns with towing trailers that weigh more than the vehicle manufacturer’s limitations are: 1) public safety, 2) liability of the driver, and 3) overstressing the drivetrain. No amount of modifications change the vehicle’s towing and payload ratings as set by the manufacturer.
You ask all the right questions, but you’re probably not going to like our answers. Let’s start with the basic premise: trailer tow ratings. That’s a number every truck manufacturer assigns to a vehicle based on what it feels is the maximum that particular configuration can safely tow, based on extensive testing (braking, handling, acceleration, and so on). It’s also the maximum load threshold at which the engineers feel the vehicle’s drivetrain will be reliable throughout the drivetrain warranty period with whatever axle ratio is chosen.
The maximum towing capacity, payload, gross combined weight rating (GCWR), and gross axle weight ratings (GAWR) the vehicle’s manufacturer assigns to that vehicle are numbers set in stone, much like the VIN. Once on, the values never change, regardless of what modifications are done at a later date by the owner. In a court of law, exceeding those factory limitations places the vehicle owner at risk of facing liability actions related to improper and/or negligent use of the vehicle should it be involved in an accident while “overloaded.”
As for the towing and payload (pin weight in your case) capacity of the ’10 Ram 2500 you are considering, the data from Ram Truck’s commercial website (rambodybuilder.com) clearly shows the 3.42 gears have the lowest tow capacity at 9,700 pounds for the SLT model and only 9,600 for the Laramie, with payload of 2,930 and 2,870 pounds, respectively. The typical travel trailer has about 18 to 20 percent pin weight, which is considered payload, because that weight sits ahead of the rear axle.
Therefore, per Ram’s limitations, you should not use that particular model to haul 3,000 pounds in the bed or tow a fifth-wheel/gooseneck trailer that has the equivalent in pin weight. Doing so would exceed both GAWR and the maximum trailering limit.
If the truck came from the factory with the optional 3.73 or 4.10 gearing, the towing limit jumps to 13,600 and 16,700 pounds for the Laramie and SLT, respectively. However, although the GCWR increases dramatically, the payload capacity and the GAWR remain the same. So, the lower axle gearing doesn’t allow more pin weight/payload. Those trailer-tow ratings also require the trailer and truck to be “properly equipped,” which means using a weight-distribution hitch setup.
On the modifying side, putting on 20-ply tires and bolting on a big rig hitch, heavy-duty airbags, and sled-pulling transmission; upgrading to the biggest brakes on the market; and building the 6.7L so it makes 1,500 hp and 3,000 lb-ft of torque will make it a badass street truck for sure. But none of those mods change the towing and hauling limitations set by the truck’s manufacturer.
If you are seriously considering towing a gooseneck or fifth-wheel travel trailer/toy hauler (or equipment that puts any trailered weight above 10,000 pounds) for extended periods of time over long distances with an older truck, ditch the idea of a single-rear-wheel pickup and look for a 1-ton dualie with a 6.7L engine and 4.10 gears. Is the 6.7L capable of towing 20,000-plus pounds? Yes. But understand, there’s a big difference between “capable” and “rated.”
We’ve all seen the Toyota Tundra that towed the 292,000-pound Endeavor space shuttle 300 yards over a California interstate overpass. Is it capable? It completed the task, sure. But it isn’t rated to do such a feat. A heavy trailer adds a significant safety concern to your towing mission. Abiding by the manufacturer’s tow ratings plays a big part in keeping those who share the road with you at a little less risk, should the driver of the tow vehicle need to make an emergency turn or stop while loaded down.

Front Coil Conversion

I have a ’97 Ford F-250. I am the second owner. I would like to change the front suspension from leaf springs to coil springs. Do you know of any company that makes a conversion kit? If not, what would I need to complete this conversion? Also, I would like to change the rear brakes from drums to discs. Is there anyone who makes a conversion kit for the rear brakes?
Lennie
via the Internet
Photo 5/6   |   Converting the older Ford F-250 and F-350 from leaf springs to coilovers is easy with the four-link coilover conversion lift kits offered by Full Traction Suspension. Such makeovers soften the ride and improve handling.
That’s an easy answer on the conversion, if you are looking for a kit: Full Traction Suspension (fulltraction.com) offers 4-, 6-, and 8-inch four-link coilover lift kits that have everything needed to convert from leafs to coils. Kits run from about $3,500 to $5,300, depending on the sophistication level of the kit and cost of the coilovers used in the conversion. The premier setups use either Fox or King coilovers, which provide the most ride control and adjustability. As for the rear brakes, bolt-on disc-brake conversion kits are easy to find for the Sterling 10.25 axlehousing. Lugnut4x4, EGR Brakes, TSM, Ruffstuff, and other manufacturers have them.

Brake Not

I drive an ’01 Dodge 3500 Ram with about 170,000 miles on it. I accidentally drove it with the Pacbrake on and didn't notice until I tried to accelerate up to freeway speed and it went very slow, my EGT went to 1,400 degrees, and huge clouds of black smoke were behind me. I got off the power, pulled onto the shoulder, downshifted several gears, and continued to the next off-ramp at a slow speed with the brake off. By the time I got to the off-ramp, the smoke had cleared up and the engine seemed OK. However, now boost doesn’t get above 18 psi when pulling a grade at full throttle. Prior to my idiocy, it would be 28 psi. Did I damage the intake or exhaust? Hurt the brake?
Chris Baker
Kingman, Arizona
Photo 6/6   |   Exhaust brakes work by cutting off the flow of exhaust with a flapper-type valve. If the brake is accidentally left “on” while trying to accelerate, the heat and exhaust pressure generated under throttle can bend the flapper, resulting in a partially blocked exhaust.
Jim Foster at Pacbrake says these types of “operator error” incidents happen from time to time. He says the butterfly flapper, which closes to restrict the flow of exhaust when the brake is activated, usually takes a big hit in this scenario. There’s a tremendous amount of heat flowing through the exhaust-brake assembly under normal conditions. When the brake is activated, the metal butterfly closes, creating the exhaust backpressure that slows the truck down. Normally, the driver lets off the throttle at the same time, reducing the flow of —and heat in—the exhaust, which the butterfly can handle with no problem.
However, when the butterfly closes and the throttle is still being applied, that heat in the exhaust climbs to the point of melting parts, just as your pyrometer indicated. When that happens, the butterfly heats up to the level where the pressure of the exhaust being forced against it (in its near-melting state) causes it to fold over around the shaft it rides on. By the time you realized your error and turned off the brake, the damage had been done, and the butterfly probably couldn’t move, continuing to partially restrict the flow of the exhaust. Such a partial restriction can lead to exactly what you are experiencing—limited boost. The only way to see if that’s indeed what has happened is to remove the exhaust brake and inspect it, then repair/replace as necessary.

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