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4 most common diesel truck electrical problems and how to prevent them

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If you own or drive a diesel truck, you’re bound to run into electrical problems from time to time. We don’t usually think about the electrical components in our diesel vehicles, but these parts are playing an increasingly important role in the industry. Smart sensors and other electronic diesel parts can lose their ability to automate certain functions over time, which lead to a range of problems behind the wheel. Learn about the most common diesel truck electrical problems and how to solve them.

Diesel Trucks and Electricity 

Diesel trucks have come a long way in recent years. Automakers are incorporating more technology into their vehicles to improve engine performance. 

It all starts with the battery, which powers the various electrical components in the vehicle. Diesel engines use hot, highly pressurized air to convert diesel fuel into mechanical energy. The battery send power to the glow plugs, which heat the pressurized air to ensure that it will combust when it mixes with the fuel. For this reason, diesel engines require more stored energy to start up than traditional gas-powered vehicles. Many diesel vehicles come with two batteries, while others come with a single battery that’s 50% larger than those found on gas-powered vehicles. 

Other than the battery, diesel trucks have many of the same electrical parts as traditional automobiles, including alternators, solenoids, and starters, and the electronic control module (ECM), which controls the fuel mixture, ignition timing, and emissions system; monitors engine performance, while protecting it from abuse; and detects and troubleshoots problems.

diesel truck electrical problems 2Diesel engines also have aftercooling mechanisms that reduce harmful emissions that pollute the environment, including selective catalytic reducer (SCR) systems that inject a special fluid into the exhaust, which converts these toxins into parts of the atmosphere that we breathe normally. Other diesel engines use exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems. The EGR cooler reduces the temperature of the exhaust gas to reduce NOx emissions. 

Diesel engines also use turbochargers to increase the amount of pressurized air going into the combustion chamber, which gives the engine a boost. Many diesel engines use variable geometry turbos that automatically adjust exhaust pressure based on driving conditions. 

Common Electrical Problems in Diesel Trucks

Dead Battery

Your engine won’t start if you have a dead battery. The battery sends power to the glow plugs to start the engine. The battery can die for all sorts of reasons. Using a diesel-electric starter will only strain your battery over time, shortening its lifespan. Consider having the starter removed or repaired by a professional to resolve the issue. You should also keep your battery clean and consider replacing it after two to three years. 

diesel truck electrical problems 3

Bad Glow Plugs

The glow plugs keep the engine warm. Specifically, they heat up the cylinders when it’s cold outside so that the fuel can combust. If you’re having trouble starting your engine, test your glow plugs to see if they’re still working. Do your best to protect your battery from the cold, so your glow plugs don’t have to work as hard in the winter. You can install an engine warmer, keep your vehicle covered, or bring your battery inside at night.

Malfunctioning EGR Cooler

The EGR is designed to stop your engine from polluting the environment, but problems can arise from time to time. If coolant leaks into the fuel, you will notice black or blue smoke coming out of your exhaust. Combustion will also be uneven as the engine consumes more fuel than necessary to produce the same amount of power with knocking sounds coming from the engine.

The cooler uses a sensor to automatically deploy coolant to lower the temperature of the exhaust gas. Replace your EGR coolers according to the manufacturer’s recommendations to improve engine performance. 

Malfunctioning VGT Actuator

The turbocharger also needs electricity to run properly. VGT use an actuator, or electric positional motor, to adjust the angle of the vanes that control the exhaust flow on the turbine blades. VGTs can help improve engine performance but they can also malfunction from time to time. If the actuator isn’t working properly, it won’t be able to adjust the flow of exhaust as needed. You may notice a sudden loss of power behind the wheel as well as little to no boost. 

The actuator on the Ford 6.0L Power Stroke engine has been known to be particularly problematic. You will need to replace your 6.0 VGT actuator to improve turbo performance. 

These electrical components optimize engine performance. You will likely burn through more fuel than normal if any of these parts aren’t working – assuming you can get your engine started. If you ignore the issue, the problem will only get worse as excess heat and friction damage internal parts and components. 

Fixing electrical parts isn’t the same as fixing mechanical parts. These sensors and actuators can be incredibly complex and intimidating to some drivers, so consider leaving it to the professionals. You can always purchase replacement parts online ahead of time to save money. Watch out for subtle changes behind the wheel to fix the underlying problem as soon as possible.

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