Diesel Performance Handbook. Click image to enlarge
By Russell Purcell
Diesel engines are known for their tremendous torque and efficient use of fuel, so it’s no wonder that they’re the preferred choice for those individuals looking for a light truck that can work as hard as it can play.
The Diesel Performance Handbook for Pickups and SUVs is part of the Motorbooks Workshop series of shop guides, and for anyone looking to modify the engine or running gear of their rig, this book will prove invaluable during the planning process. Author and master mechanic Ben Watson puts his 30 years of diesel expertise to paper and the end result is comprised of 13 concise chapters that will help educate you about the evolution of the modern diesel engine.
After a very thorough but easy to digest opening chapter explaining the basic operation of a diesel engine, Watson tackles the mysteries of injection systems.
Chapter 3 represents an excellent resource as it examines the evolution of the diesel engines used by Dodge, Ford, and the GM twins, GMC and Chevrolet. These companies were forced to react quickly to the constantly changing emissions regulations set by the EPA, leading designers and engineers to continually improve the efficiency and cleanliness of their diesel offerings. Unfortunately, the author chose to present the information for each brand in a different manner, making it impossible to compare them without a little study. The chronological table used for the Dodge entries was by far the easiest to follow, and it would be nice to see a similar format for Ford and GM in a future edition of this book.
Electronic sensors monitor a host of variables within the modern diesel engine in order to ensure it is operating as efficiently as possible. If you’ve ever wondered how the likes of environmental variables (such as weather conditions and altitude) or driver inputs (throttle position, gear selection) affect performance under the hood, you will find this book enlightening. The effects changes to the engine’s operating temperature and pressure have on overall performance is also on the menu. Watson does a good job of providing the answers. He also offers helpful tips on how to troubleshoot the most common sensor circuits.
Discussion turns to the workings of both turbochargers and transmissions, and we learn that careful attention must be paid to both major components should you be looking to add power enhancements to your engine. Too often, shade-tree mechanics take the shortcut of bolting on a part they got a deal on or make a quick alteration that is supposed to deliver big power only to end up with huge mechanical issues down the road, not to mention hefty repair bills. It is important to plan your modifications to include upgrades to any parts that may be compromised when faced with additional torque, heat or pressure.
Once you start meddling with the factory settings of your engine you risk triggering the illumination of the dreaded “check engine” light. A chapter is dedicated to deciphering the various diagnostic codes and systems which will help guide you through this potential minefield.
For light truck owners who plan to utilize all that diesel-sourced torque to tow or haul heavy loads it is suggested by the author that they consider supplementing their truck’s brakes with an exhaust brake system. After a brief explanation of their function and components the author provides a list of aftermarket suppliers for this equipment.
The final chapters introduce us to a variety of bolt-on accessories and gauges, as well as provide tips on how to harness the hidden potential of your diesel power plant by modifying its items such as valves and pistons, porting and polishing heads, or swapping out the camshaft.
In short, if you’re looking to maximize the efficiency, reliability and performance of your diesel-powered light truck, thumbing through this book will help direct you past many of the pitfalls that can hinder the progress of such a project.
Diesel Performance Handbook for Pickups and SUVs