5 More Aftermarket Fixes for Factory Diesel Problems
Continuing on with Part 2 of our “factory fixes” series, we’re spotlighting five more weak links bred into late-model Ford, GM and Ram trucks. Once again we’ll be offering a permanent solution for each shortcoming. From plugged oil coolers on ’03-’10 Fords to bent tie rods on IFS-equipped GMs and the dreaded Dodge death wobble, to the need for better fuel supply and filtration on each of the Big Three’s engines, we’ve got you covered. We’ll even end things with an extreme example of how the aftermarket has gone about solving the issue of exploding crankcases in the upper echelon of diesel motorsports. Hang on, this one’s chock full of information you need to know to keep your truck in one piece.
1. Tie Rod Sleeves (’01-’18 GM HDs)
Since it's so easy to add horsepower to a Duramax-powered Chevy or GMC heavy-duty, most owners can’t resist the urge to tap into the hidden performance potential of the 6.6L diesel. Unfortunately, drag racing, sled pulling and off-roading in four-wheel drive can spell disaster for the factory tie rods, with larger wheels, aggressive tires and cranked up torsion bars only amplifying the problem. Under heavy stress, the tie rods are notorious for flexing, bending and can even break if the front wheels toe in enough. Although the weak factory tie rod problem surfaces much more quickly in modified trucks, leaving your GM at the stock power level won’t make it immune to the problem.
Aftermarket tie rod sleeves reinforce the factory tie rods by threading onto the inner tie rods, effectively doubling their outer diameter. As a result, the sleeves make the tie rods as much as 500-percent stronger. Companies that cater to Duramax performance such as Merchant Automotive, Pacific Performance Engineering, Dirty Hooker Diesel and Fleece Performance Engineering all offer sleeves in either 304 stainless steel or steel with a durable powder coat finish. Perhaps the best part is that they’re easy to install and cost less than $100. If you plan to add power to your ’01-’18 Duramax, do yourself a favor and add this cheap insurance item for ultimate peace of mind.
2. Steering Box Stabilizer (’94-’07 Dodge Rams)
Although it can rear its ugly head in any solid front axle application, death wobble has long been a problem on Dodge Rams. Death wobble is an uncontrollable shaking of the front wheels that typically occurs at speeds between 40 and 70 mph after hitting a bump. It’s dangerous to say the least and makes for a white-knuckle ride anytime it happens. While bad ball joints, shot tie rod ends and other worn steering and suspension components can contribute to death wobble, the problem usually originates at the steering box. In stock form, a considerable amount of flexing and deflection occurs at the steering box’s mounting location on the frame.
For trucks that have upper and lower ball joints, tie rod ends and all other steering and suspension-related components in tip-top shape but that are still experiencing death wobble, a steering box stabilizer is the permanent fix. A steering box stabilizer that mounts between the front frame rails not only strengthens the area where the steering box mounts, but also supports the sector shaft in the steering box, preventing it from side-loading. A steering box stabilizer will also allow the steering box itself to live much longer. BD Diesel, Source Automotive and Custom Diesel Inc. are a few companies that sell death wobble-curing steering box stabilizers.
3. Coolant Filtration Kit (’03-’10 Fords)
The stacked-plate heat exchanger that’s part of the internal oil cooler located in the lifter valley of 6.0L and 6.4L Power Stroke engines is equipped with ultra-tight passageways for coolant to pass through. When these passageways become clogged with casting sand, sediment, suspended solids or other debris present in the engine coolant, the coolant that’s required to keep engine oil temperature in check is no longer able to travel through the heat exchanger. As a result, the engine oil becomes super-heated. In addition to excessive engine oil temps being harder on the engine, it often contributes to failure of the EGR cooler. Once plugged (sometimes within as little as 50,000 miles), the oil cooler has to be overhauled or replaced.
While remote mount, external oil cooler systems are available in the aftermarket and ultimately solve the problem, keeping the cooling system free of debris is the most affordable way to prolong the life of the factory oil cooler. Available for less than $170, coolant filtration systems are a must-have item for all 6.0L and 6.4L Power Stroke owners. These bypass-style systems filter a small amount of coolant at a time, feature a spin-on, low-micron filter and most can be optioned with ball valves for simplified filter changes. Removing the larger chunks of debris from the coolant circuit keeps the oil cooler from plugging up—and you from experiencing one of the 6.0L and/or 6.4L’s most common failures.
4. Electric Fuel Supply Systems (All Makes)
Some engines were void of a lift pump from the factory (’01-’16 Duramax), some came with inferior lift pumps (’98.5-’02 Cummins) and others suffer from poor filtration (’03-’12 Cummins). In other cases (’99-’16 Power Stroke, ’13-’16 Cummins), a durable lift pump coupled with adequate filtration can still have supply problems once bigger injectors or a second injection pump is brought into the equation. In either instance, contaminated fuel or a lack of adequate fuel pressure making it to the injection pump (and ultimately the injectors) can shorten the life of expensive injection system components.
Be it for added filtration, improved air removal or increased supply pressure for higher horsepower applications, aftermarket electric fuel supply systems have become big business in the diesel segment. Companies such as FASS, AirDog, Fuelab and Aeromotive all offer complete, bolt-in systems that outflow factory lift pumps and either match or exceed OEM filtration. The primary purpose of these systems is to ensure a steady supply of clean fuel is being delivered to your engine’s injection system at all times. Although an aftermarket fuel supply system can add as much as 30hp to your parts combination, its primary purpose is to keep the injection system healthy.
5. Billet Blocks
Any time you’re asking a factory-based crankcase to handle three, four, sometimes even five times the power it left the manufacturer with, things might not end well. You can upgrade connecting rods, add a girdle or bed plate, run large diameter main studs and even fill the block’s water jackets full of concrete, but at a certain point the original cast-iron block will succumb to the immense stresses that come with running extreme cylinder pressure. Even after the big name/big power engine builders began to add steel deck plates to the tops of 6.7L-based Cummins blocks (a popular combination in Pro Stock and Super Stock pulling classes), reliability was becoming an issue. At 2,500-plus horsepower, the factory block material had nothing left to give and competitors were running the risk of literally ripping the block in half.
In order to curb the pending carnage of running a factory-based block, a few engine builders began making custom crankcases from a billet blank of steel. While time-consuming to machine and extremely heavy when finished, these first billet-steel blocks were a great alternative to the OEM 5.9L blocks that were beginning to split in half at the power level required to compete at the top of diesel truck pulling. A few years later (2013), the first billet-aluminum block from Scheid Diesel infiltrated the Super Stock pulling class and it’s been the foundation of choice for many competitors and a few select drag racers ever since. The all-aluminum block is stronger and (just as important) more than 100 pounds lighter than a cast-iron OEM block.