Fuel Tech: Risks And Rewards Of Diesel Fuel

When you are off-roading or towing, the last problem you need is something with your fuel system, which can be fixed before ever getting to the dirt.
A truck in the wilderness.
Problems with your diesel can start before you hit the dirt. Steven Olsewski

When you are off-roading or towing, the last problem you need is hard starting, rough running, clogged injectors, or your fuel pump breaking. That problem can also start before you get to the dirt with the fuel in your diesel vehicle.

The fun stops when you are a hundred miles from a mechanic who can fix these problems. That is why understanding diesel fuel is important. You may have noticed a loss of acceleration (no fun), power loss while towing or driving up a slope, or even excessive smoke. All of these could be the result of poor diesel fuel quality. 

Injectors and fuel pumps can become real headaches as deposits can build up in your fuel injection system. These deposits cause excessive wear and can damage the fuel pump and fuel injectors. Replacing injectors in a diesel truck or an SXS can be expensive. To better understand how to keep your diesel running top-notch, let’s look at what makes diesel different than gasoline and how to care for it. 

fuel pouring out of a nozzle.
There is more to diesel fuel then just filling your vehicle up. Hot Shot’s Secret

To use a metaphor, diesel fuel is like the “hot dog” of fuel. It is much less refined than gasoline. It is refined from crude oil and has a higher BTU than gas, so less fuel is used to travel the same distance, making it more economical for fuel mileage. On average diesel fuel contains 13-percent more energy per gallon than gasoline and is 25-percent more fuel-efficient. 

Diesel is also more expensive than gasoline because of refining costs, taxes (24.4 cents per gallon vs. 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline), and supply and demand. Since 2013, the U.S. GDP has grown 9.5-percent, spurring a six-percent increase in demand for diesel.

Because the freight industry relies on diesel so much, the good news is that it is readily available – convenience retailers, service stations, and truck stops all have diesel pumps. Retailers make a better margin on diesel than gas – about 11 cents more, and diesel prices are typically 31 cents per gallon higher than gasoline when looking at weekly averages. 

With the changes in EPA regulations and the switch to Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel, a host of problems have surfaced with diesel fuel which can wreak havoc on vehicles. These problems include fuel that is out of specification in terms of lubricity, cetane ratings, detergency, and more.   

A diesel engine.
Increased cetane levels can help improve newer diesel engines efficiency. Steven Olsewski

What is Cetane?

To find out more about what we could do to help our diesel engines and the fuel we put in them, we reached out to the Hot Shot’s Secret team to help get the inside scoop. 

“Every diesel fuel has a cetane number, which is an indicator of the combustion speed of the fuel. Similar to octane and gasoline,” Eric Trumble of Hot Shot’s Secret explained. “The higher the number, the more efficiently the fuel burns. An efficient fuel is a fuel that ignites quickly and completely, leaving as little unburned fuel behind in the combustion chamber as possible.”

“For example, a fuel with a cetane rating of 50 is going to be far more efficient than a fuel with a cetane rating of 40. Most diesel engines operate best with a cetane level of around 48 or 50. When the cetane number is lower than this, the fuel will have a longer ignition delay, which requires more time for the fuel to fully burn and provide power to the engine.”

Injector nozzle diagram
Proper diesel injector spray patterns. Hot Shot’s Secret

With an increased cetane number, cold starting is improved, less black smoke is seen because of the improved combustion efficiency, and there is more power output. Fewer hydrocarbons and particulate matter in your exhaust also reduce the blocking of your Diesel Particulate Filter.

The science of diesel fuel goes far beyond a simple cetane rating. However, by understanding the cetane level of your fuel and how it impacts the performance of your engine, you can dramatically increase the combustibility of the fuel and overall performance. Off-roading or towing demands much more power output to be successful when compared to highway driving, so an increased cetane rating is essential. 

Over the lifetime of a vehicle, if you were to run diesel fuel with an average cetane rating of 40 for as long as you own the vehicle, you would have wasted far more fuel and much more money than if you would have been running fuel with an average cetane rating of 47.

engine parts on a table.
Lack of lubrication can lead to costly repairs. Hot Shot’s Secret

Why Diesels Need Lubrication

Today’s Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) does not contain the lubricity needed to fully protect today’s highly engineered fuel systems creating new problems for diesel owners. Diesel acts as a lubricant in your fuel system, protecting fuel injectors, pumps and more.

This is more important than ever with today’s engines being engineered for better fuel economy and performance, which leads to components being designed with even tighter tolerances. The tighter the tolerances throughout the engine, the more lubricity and protection is needed. 

“The lack of lubricity in Ultra-Low Sulfer Diesel is the main factor in the catastrophic failures of fuel pumps and injectors in many late-model diesels,” Trimble said. “High wear rates from lack of lubricity can introduce metal shavings into the fuel system.”

These metal shavings create wear that damages your injectors, cylinder walls, pistons, and rings, costing several thousands of dollars to repair. When you are off-roading or towing and putting the engine through even more stress, it’s important to keep it lubricated.

Three bottles of diesel engine injector fluid.
Hot Shot’s Secret’s Diesel Extreme can help clean injectors as well as raise the cetane levels. Hot Shot’s Secret

Solutions To Protect Your Diesel And Your Fun

An easy solution to combating the variable quality of fuel is to add a multi-purpose additive. There are lots of diesel fuel additives on the market, so it is important to look for one that covers a lot of shortfalls and issues that can happen to diesel. A good quality diesel fuel additive will be multifunctional and will boost cetane, improve lubricity, stabilize the fuel, inhibit rust and corrosion, protect against moisture, and effectively clean out deposits found in all fuel-related components.   

“Diesel Extreme is a fully formulated, concentrated injector cleaner that removes all internal diesel injector deposits (IDIDs), including waxy and polymeric deposits,” Trimble said. “It also boosts cetane up to seven points, adds lubricity to the fuel, protects against moisture and corrosion, and stabilizes the fuel.”

This product was formulated specifically to clean and prevent Internal Diesel Injector Deposits (IDIDs) as well as common External Diesel Injector Deposits (EDIDs). This is extremely important as not every diesel additive removes IDIDs because a specific detergent is needed. Be sure to look for this callout when choosing a diesel additive. 

A can of diesel fuel injector on a truck tailgate.
One quart of Hot Shot’s Secret Diesel Extreme treats 80 gallons of diesel fuel. Hot Shot’s Secret

“Diesel Extreme’s powerful injector cleaner and detergents will also clean all components of your fuel system, including upper cylinders, fuel tank, fuel pumps and fuel lines basically all fuel-related components,” Trimble continued. “By cleaning the fuel system and boosting cetane with Diesel Extreme, you will notice a drastic increase in power output, fuel efficiency and a smoother running engine – all making for a better time off-road or towing.”

As you plan your next off-road adventure, if you have a diesel, now is the time to deep clean your fuel system with Diesel Extreme to ensure peak performance when you hit the trails. The improved fuel economy will be icing on the cake. 

For more information on Hot Shot’s Secret or to find the right product for your vehicle, be sure to visit their website.