Budget Diesel Mods: 7.3L Power Stroke

Everyone likes adding power on a budget, right? Due to the ease at which horsepower and torque can be added, diesel heads are some of the most spoiled enthusiasts on the planet. It’s normal for the simple installation of a chip to unlock an extra 100hp and 200 lb-ft. However, for many of us, living on a budget doesn’t leave a lot of disposable income for our toys, which is exactly why we’ve put together our budget-build series for diesel trucks. And because tens of thousands of the near-2 million produced are still on the road, we decided to start with the patriarch of Power Strokes: the venerable 7.3L.

From entry-level mods to combinations that yield as much as 450rwhp, we’ll show you how far $1,000 to $10,000 will take you on a 7.3L Power Stroke. Keep in mind that the power recipes outlined here are designed to provide you the best bang for the buck without sacrificing longevity. After all, plenty of engines can make big power—once. These combinations are designed to allow you to enjoy the added power indefinitely. In our next installment, we’ll show you how to budget-build your 6.0L Power Stroke. Stay tuned!

Things to Keep in Mind

  1. These trucks are old. Many of them were produced more than 20 years ago, so don’t expect everything to be in perfect condition (injectors, fuel pump, transmission, turbo).
  2. The ’99-’03 versions of the 7.3L used in Super Dutys offer more performance potential than ’94.5-’97 engines. (The later engines benefitted from an electronic lift pump, higher flowing injectors and ’99.5-‘03 models utilized a higher volume high-pressure oil pump).
  3. Early 7.3Ls did not come from the factory with an intercooler. If you plan to tow a lot or pursue more horsepower than a chip provides, an intercooler is highly recommended to help control EGT and reduce intake temps.
  4. Considerable money can be saved or spent elsewhere once the clutch has been upgraded in trucks with manual transmissions.
  5. Each budget assumes you’re starting new, with a bone-stock truck.
  6. Most of the items listed in these budgets are stuff that you and a buddy or novice mechanic could install in a weekend. The labor to have these parts installed has purposely been excluded.

$1,000 Budget (240–310rwhp)

TS Performance 6-Position Chip: $230.00

001-TS-Performance-Chip

This chip has been a mainstay in 7.3L performance for more than 15 years and is the ultimate entry-level power adder for any ’94.5-’03 Ford. Advertised as capable of adding 140hp, most Super Dutys will see a 100 to 120hp gain at the wheels, while F-series trucks will see gains of 80 to 90hp. Six different tunes are available via turn knob and can be switched on-the-fly.

4-inch Turbo-Back Exhaust System: $285

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.

EGT, Boost & Trans Temp Gauges: $410

003-Auto-Meter-Boost-Pressure-Gauge

Analog gauges along the A-pillar are definitely old-school and can be a pain to install when you factor in all the wire-stringing, but it is a cheaper way to keep an eye on key vitals than going the high-tech digital monitor route. Auto Meter’s Ultra Lite series pyrometer (0-1,600 degrees), boost (0-35 psi), transmission temp (100-250 degrees) gauges and a three-gauge pod are reflected in the price shown above.

Boost Fooler: $60

004-Strictly-Diesel-Overboost-Annihilator

Speaking of boost, this product will let you build more than 24 psi without the engine defueling. Much more of an issue on ’99-’03 7.3Ls than on earlier models, the factory PCM will pull fuel (de-rating your power) if it sees approximately 24 psi of boost. Strictly Diesel and DieselSite offer different versions that accomplish the same thing—they trick the MAP sensor into believing only 22-23 psi is making it into the engine.

*Budget Buster: Edge Insight CTS2 monitor w/expandable EGT probe (instead of analog gauges and A-pillar pod) = $550

$2,500 Budget (350rwhp)

Custom-Tuned TS Performance 6-Position Chip: $325.00

005-TS-Performance-Six-Position-Chip

Beyond the big performance gains realized by installing an off-the-shelf chip, larger injectors are the next step in noticeably improving power on a 7.3L. However, once you bump up on injector size, custom tuning is required in order to get the most out of them. If custom tuning sounds more expensive, it’s because it is—but it’s a necessity that shouldn’t be overlooked. The price shown above can be had through Full Force Diesel, and features Gearhead Automotive Performance tuning—some of the best custom tuning on the market.

Stage 1 Injectors: $1,195

006-Power-Stroke-Injectors

These injectors, built by Full Force Diesel, flow a maximum of 180cc of fuel (vs. 120cc on ’99-‘03 engines and 95cc on ’94.5-’97 models), will support 350rwhp and won’t kill the factory turbocharger. For reference, a stock ’99-’03 Super Duty makes anywhere from 190 to 210rwhp and 290 to 310rwhp with a chip.

John Wood Automotive Valve Body: $250

007-John-Wood-Automotive-4R100-Valve-Body

To keep that stock E4OD or 4R100 automatic transmission alive with the added horsepower (and especially torque), a valve body that provides quicker shifts, less clutch slippage and reduces heat should be on the to-do list. Owners of ZF-5 and ZF-6 manual transmission trucks need not apply, but at this point you will definitely need a clutch upgrade.

- 4-inch Turbo-Back Exhaust System (Mentioned Above): $285

- Auto Meter EGT, Boost, Trans Temp Gauges (Mentioned Above): $410

- Boost Fooler (Mentioned Above): $60

*Budget Buster: Edge Insight CTS2 monitor w/expandable EGT probe (instead of analog gauges and A-pillar pod) = $550

$5,000 Budget (380–400rwhp)

Custom-Tuned Hydra Chip: $460

008-Power-Hungry-Performance-Hydra-Chip

If you’re the type of owner who plans to leave your setup alone, a custom-tuned TS chip will work just fine. On the other hand, if you’re the type who likes to change things up (i.e. you’re always tweaking your setup), a Hydra Chip from Power Hungry Performance with the optional USB extension cable is more your cup of tea. With the USB extension cable, you never have to remove the chip and send it in to your tuner to be reprogrammed ever again. Get a Hydra. It’ll change your life.

Stage 1.5 Injectors: $1,395

009-Power-Stroke-Diesel-Injector

Like the Stage 1s listed in the $2,500 budget, these injectors are also built by Full Force Diesel and flow a maximum of 180cc of fuel. However, they’re equipped with a 30 percent over nozzle rather than a stock nozzle. This allows a higher volume of fuel to be injected in a quicker time window, which means you’ll see less EGT while making more power. The Stage 1.5s support 380rwhp.

DieselSite Adrenaline High-Pressure Oil Pump: $689

010-Adrenaline-HPOP-Power-Stroke

This one is not an absolute necessity, but it will add power and offer a fresh start over your aging factory high-pressure oil pump. The Adrenaline from DieselSite offers a considerable increase in high-pressure oil volume without sacrificing durability and has long been the standard go-to HPOP in supporting stock to 500-plus hp trucks.

Upgraded Fuel Supply System: $1,100

011-Power-Stroke-Fuel-System

As a means of insuring you’re protecting your injector investment, the factory fuel supply system needs to be upgraded. Various kits are available in the aftermarket (see Irate Diesel, DieselSite or Marty’s Diesel), which provide higher fuel volume, steady supply pressure and a regulated return function.

S&B Cold Air Intake: $299

012-S&B-Cold-Air-Intake-Power-Stroke

At this point, we would throw an aftermarket cold air intake on the truck. At 10 to 20hp, performance gains can be negligible and won’t be noticed by the seat of your pants, but these systems ease serviceability, match or exceed the factory filtration standard and offer an oiled air filter option that’s reusable.

- John Wood Automotive Valve Body (Mentioned Above): $250

- 4-inch Turbo-Back Exhaust System (Mentioned Above): $285

- Auto Meter EGT, Boost, Trans Temp Gauges (Mentioned Above): $410

- Boost Fooler (Mentioned Above): $60

*Budget Buster: Edge Insight CTS2 monitor w/expandable EGT probe (instead of analog gauges and A-pillar pod) = $550

$10,000 Budget (400–450rwhp)

Irate Diesel T4 S366 Turbo Mounting System: $2,299

013-Irate-Diesel-T4-Turbo-Mount

Just like the Hydra Chip, this mod will change your life. Take it from us, bolt-on turbochargers aren’t worthwhile upgrades in the 7.3L segment. By adding one of Irate Diesel’s complete turbo mounting kits to your truck, it opens the door to running any T4 flanged turbo you want, namely the BorgWarner-based S366 shown, which is a great budget turbo that’s perfect for any use (street, tow or competition).

Stage 2 Injectors: $1,695

014-Full-Force-Diesel-Stage-2-Injector

Like the Stage 1s and 1.5s listed in the $2,500 and $5,000 budgets, these injectors are once again built by Full Force Diesel and flow a maximum of 180cc of fuel. This time however, they’re equipped with your choice of either an 80 percent or 100 percent over nozzle. This allows a higher volume of fuel to be injected in a quicker time window, which makes it even less stressful on the engine to make more power. Full Force Diesel’s Stage 2 injectors are listed as being capable of supporting 400rwhp, but with the aforementioned Irate T4 S366 system in the mix, the improved airflow can easily push you past that point.

Dorsey Diesel Stage 1 Transmission: $2,900

015-Dorsey-Diesel-4R100-Transmission

If the stock E4OD or 4R100 didn’t complain by the time you reached the list of parts outlined in our $5,000 budget, it definitely will once you throw Stage 2s and an S366 turbo at the truck. At this point, a reliable transmission from a reputable builder should be added. Dorsey Diesel’s Stage 1 automatic comes with a billet, triple disc TCT torque converter, Raybestos GPZ clutches, machined pump, modified valve body and numerous other upgrades. At $2,900, this highly affordable transmission is one of the hidden gems in the 7.3L industry.

- Custom-Tuned Hydra w/USB cable (Mentioned Above): $460

- DieselSite Adrenaline High-Pressure Oil Pump (Mentioned Above): $689

- Electronic Fuel System (Mentioned Above): $1,100

- 4-inch Turbo-Back Exhaust System (Mentioned Above): $285

- Auto Meter EGT, Boost, Trans Temp Gauges (Mentioned Above): $410

- Boost Fooler (Mentioned Above): $60

*Budget Buster: Edge Insight CTS2 monitor w/expandable EGT probe (instead of analog gauges and A-pillar pod) = $550

Can you beat the prices you see above? Sure! But just remember that if you do your parts shopping on eBay, you’ve cut out the middle man and sometimes even the original manufacturer—so don’t expect to receive product support if you encounter any issues.

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