Budget Diesel Mods: 6.0L Power Stroke

What else is there to say about the 6.0L Power Stroke? You either love it or you hate it with a passion—there is no gray area. However, despite its reputation for smoking EGR coolers, popping head gaskets and eating injectors, the 4-valve, oil-fired Navistar-built 6.0L V8 can make very respectable power with the right parts in the mix. Case in point, for less than a grand you can have your 4-ton ’03-’07 Super Duty cranking out 430rwhp, 800 lb-ft of torque and running 14s. And, unlike earlier, 7.3L-powered trucks, the 5R110 TorqShift automatic transmission used behind the 6.0L isn’t of concern until you’re well into the 500rwhp range.

Even though the 6.0L is capable of making sound power right out of the box, that doesn’t mean it will last forever. No matter what, the factory torque-to-yield head bolts are still going to stretch and you’re going to have to “stud” the engine. This is precisely why—just like we did in our 7.3L budget series—the following horsepower recipes are geared toward providing you the best bang for the buck without sacrificing reliability. Whether you’ve got $1,000 or $7,500 to spend, the following parts combinations are designed to allow you to enjoy your 6.0L’s extra power for the long haul.

Don’t touch that dial, the easy-hp 6.4L Power Stroke is up next!

Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. These trucks are getting older, so don’t expect everything to be in perfect condition (injectors, lift pump, turbo, up-pipes).
  2. Without head studs, head gasket issues are inevitable once you add power to a 6.0L.
  3. If/when you decide to pull the heads and install new head gaskets and head studs, make sure the heads are inspected prior to being resurfaced. A lot of folks skip this step, only to end up pulling the heads a second time.
  4. It’s very common for 6.0L heads to crack around the valve seats, so don’t be surprised if your machine shop tells you that one or both heads need to be replaced ($1,500+ apiece).
  5. Each budget assumes you’re starting new, with a bone-stock truck.
  6. Most of these parts can be installed by a fairly knowledgeable wrencher, but if you’ve never worked on a diesel before it might be best to have a professional perform the work.
  7. The labor to have these parts installed has purposely been excluded.

$1,000 Budget (400–430rwhp)

Custom-Tuned SCT X4 Powerflash With EGT Sensor Kit: $700

001-SCT-X4-Power-Flash-Programmer

SCT devices have long been the go-to tuner for 6.0L Power Strokes due to their affordability, durability and ability to hold custom tunes. The X4 Powerflash shown here doubles as a monitor and starts at $399, but we would order one from a reputable tuner that’s already been uploaded with custom tuning. Both Gearhead Automotive Performance and Innovative Diesel custom tuning can be had at the price point above—two of the best calibrators in the 6.0L tuning segment. Note that the optional EGT sensor kit is a must-have item if you do any towing with your truck and is included in the price listed above (along with the $25 windshield mount required to effectively use the X4 as a gauge monitor).

4-inch Turbo-Back Exhaust System: $280

002-MBRP-4-Inch-Exhaust-System

Both MBRP and Diamond Eye offer 4-inch diameter exhaust systems in this price range. They are aluminized, so they won’t last as long as the stainless steel versions, but those of you living in the rust belt can still expect to get 5-6 years of use out of them.

*Budget Buster: Custom-tuned SCT Livewire TS (color touchscreen display) with EGT Sensor Kit and windshield mount = $900

$2,500 Budget (430–450rwhp)

155cc Injectors: $1,450

003-Warren-Diesel-Power-Stroke-Injectors

Warren Diesel offers some of the most affordable, reputable injectors in the 6.0L segment. An entry level injector, the 155cc units flow 20cc more than stock (135cc), retain factory nozzles and are known to provide a small horsepower gain, a considerable torque increase and can even improve fuel economy. Warren’s Premium line of injectors means they come with all new solenoids, spool valves, plugs, plunger springs and poppet springs, which rules out the most common failure points within a 6.0L injector.

Ford Blue Spring Fuel Regulator Kit: $70

004-Ford-Power-Stroke-Blue-Spring-Kit

This mod is more of an insurance item than anything else. It entails replacing the stock fuel pressure regulator spring with a longer version, which allows more fuel pressure to be created at the regulator. This means more fuel pressure reaches your injectors—added protection for your $1,450 investment. On most trucks, an extra 15 to 20 psi worth of fuel supply pressure is discovered (65 psi vs. roughly 45 psi from the factory).

  • Custom-Tuned (to match 155cc injectors) SCT X4 Powerflash with EGT Sensor Kit (Mentioned Above): $700
  • 4-inch Turbo-Back Exhaust System (Mentioned Above): $280
  • *Budget Buster: Custom-tuned SCT Livewire TS (color touchscreen display) with EGT Sensor Kit and windshield mount = $900
  • *Weak link: head gaskets, due to stretching of factory torque-to-yield head bolts

$5,500 Budget (450–475rwhp)

Head Studs & New Head Gaskets: $820

005-ARP-Head-Studs-Power-Stroke-Diesel

At this point (if not sooner), it’s wise to replace the factory torque-to-yield head bolts with ARP head studs to avoid blowing a head gasket. Again, always have your heads properly inspected and resurfaced at a reputable machine shop (a cost that’s not factored in here). In addition, always run OEM Ford head gaskets when installing head studs.

  • *Having an independent shop handle the task of installing head studs and resurfacing the heads and block will cost you in the neighborhood of $3,500 to $4,000.

Regulated Return System: $670

006-Driven-Diesel-Regulated-Return-Fuel-System

For increased fuel flow throughout the heads and longer injector life, Driven Diesel’s comprehensive regulated return system gets our vote. This system eliminates fuel from dead-heading within the heads and ties each fuel rail together via a bypass (and adjustable) fuel pressure regulator. Driven Diesel’s kit also comes with replacement feed lines and high flow banjo bolts that do away with the restrictive factory check valves.

Upgraded Turbocharger: $1,175

007-Garrett-PowerMax-GT3788VA-Turbocharger

The Garrett GT3788VA (also known as the PowerMax) is an OEM turbo upgrade straight from Garrett. Its 63.5mm compressor wheel provides more flow than the factory turbo, and it’s been proven to support roughly 500rwhp. Like the factory turbo, the PowerMax is of a variable geometry design and bolts directly in place of the stock unit.

S&B Cold Air Intake: $299

008-SB-Filters-Cold-Air-Intake

It never hurts to throw an aftermarket cold air intake on a slightly modified truck. At 10 to 20hp, performance gains can be negligible and won’t be easily noticed in the driver seat, but these systems ease serviceability, match or exceed the factory filtration standard and offer an oiled air filter option that’s reusable.

  • Custom-Tuned (to match 155cc injectors) SCT X4 Powerflash with EGT Sensor Kit (Mentioned Above): $700
  • 4-inch Turbo-Back Exhaust System (Mentioned Above): $280
  • 155cc Injectors (Mentioned Above): $1,450
  • Ford Blue Spring Fuel Regulator Kit (Mentioned Above): $70
  • *Budget Buster: Custom-tuned SCT Livewire TS (color touchscreen display) with EGT Sensor Kit and windshield mount = $900

$7,500 Budget (500–550rwhp)

175cc Injectors: $1,950

009-Warren-Diesel-Power-Stroke-Injectors

Warren Diesel’s 175cc injectors outflow the factory units by 40cc and can be had with 30 percent over nozzles or 75 percent over nozzles. With a larger nozzle, the injector is able to empty much quicker, which means less timing and duration (pulse width) can be commanded to make the same power (i.e. less stress on the engine). As was the case with the aforementioned 155cc units, Warren’s “Premium” line of injectors features all new solenoids, spool valves, plugs, plunger springs and poppet springs, thereby ruling out the most common failure points within a 6.0L injector.

Upgraded Turbocharger: Bolt-On Elite PowerMax-SSX ($2,150) or Irate Diesel T4 Complete Kit With S364.5 SX-E ($1,874)

010-Elite-Diesel-Engineering-PowerMax-SSX-Turbo

You make the choice here—neither option will disappoint. The PowerMax-SSX from Elite Diesel Engineering (pictured) is a direct bolt-on turbo based on the Garrett GT3788VA and retains the factory variable geometry functionality, while the Irate Diesel kit comes with everything you need to bolt a fixed geometry, BorgWarner S364.5 SX-E onto your 6.0L (including the turbo). Both options will support 550rwhp, no problem.

Fuel Supply System With 75 PSI Regulator Spring: $765

011-Fass-Power-Stroke-Fuel-Supply-System

While the factory electric lift pump is stout on all 6.0L Power Strokes, it’s worth upgrading once 175cc or 190cc injectors are introduced. The 125 gph Titanium series FASS system shown is one of the most affordable ways to get a stronger lift pump onto your 6.0L Power Stroke—and it’s a great way to start with a completely fresh system from the tank to the engine. It’s important to note that this system should be fitted with a 75 psi regulator spring (a higher pressure spring than what comes standard in them), or else fuel supply pressure at the regulator will be too low for the 6.0L application.

  • Head Studs & New Head Gaskets (Mentioned Above): $820
  • Regulated Return System (Mentioned Above): $670
  • Cold Air Intake (Mentioned Above): $299
  • Custom-Tuned (to match 175cc injectors) SCT X4 Powerflash with EGT Sensor Kit (Mentioned Above): $700
  • 4-inch Turbo-Back Exhaust System (Mentioned Above): $280
  • *Budget Buster: Custom-tuned SCT Livewire TS (color touchscreen display) with EGT Sensor Kit and windshield mount = $900

What to make even more power with your 6.0L Ford? Check out how this '06 Super Duty is aiming for 1,000hp!

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