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High Performance Diesel Engines

By Bruce Mallinson

July, 2017

Summer is here once again, and now the diesel engine that makes the lives possible for people that live in North America must work harder to tolerate the heat and humidity. Rudolf Diesel of Germany and Clessie Cummins of Columbus, Indiana, certainly improved our lives by inventing the diesel engine and making the engine is able to power farm and logging equipment, and move a semi-truck across our highways. The governments of the entire world keep making the emissions requirements stricter for the manufacturers of diesel fuel and diesel engines, however next to water and oxygen, the diesel engine along with the fuel is the most important manufactured item in the lives of the people of the world. We all know the saying “if you own it, a truck brought it”. However, let’s add to that by saying that “a diesel engine along with the diesel fuel made possible the food you eat and the wood your house is made of.” The population of North America today can’t even change a tire on their car let along change the oil and filter. Do you think they could grow their own food, purify the water for drinking, and raise cattle and chickens for food? If it’s not plug and play, most of the people are useless today when it comes down to providing for the basics of life.

Let’s talk about the summer heat and your diesel engine that makes your life possible. I have said for years, “if it’s too hot outside for your body to work, 90 degrees and 95% humidity, it’s also too hot for your engine to work also.” Don’t push it; be willing to drop another gear on the mountains. The engine will tell you that it’s not comfortable with the temperatures; read the gauges, watch the turbo boost gauge, the exhaust gas temperature, and by all means the coolant temperature gauge. The engine multiplies the ambient temperature by a factor of 3. A 60-degree day as opposed to a 90-degree day is not a 30-degree difference; to a diesel engine it’s a 90-degree difference. Road salt and magnesium chloride used on the roads during the winter accumulates between the fins of the radiator and eats away at the copper fins. Have you ever taken the time to remove the engine fan and the radiator shroud to be able to pressure wash the radiator? You can’t do a good cleaning job with the shroud on the radiator. The shroud must be there to encompass the fan to pull the air through the radiator, however is also collects the salt and mag chloride and deteriorates the fins, which carry the heat away from the tubes in the radiator. As an owner-operator you tilt the hood at least every other day, you look at the radiator and say to yourself, it looks good, however until the shroud is removed you can see 50% of the tubes and fins. Even during an in-chassis rebuild, the fan shroud is NOT removed and the mechanic, like you, can’t see the damage to the radiator. Many times each week we get the phone calls, “I just had my engine rebuilt and now it’s running hot”. Guess what, during an in-chassis rebuild radiator caps and thermostats usually don’t get changed and neither does the radiator. As your truck approaches the 1 million mile mark, and it’s time for a rebuild, you just might want to think about the radiator, cap and thermostat. I’m old school, I still like the 180-degree thermostats, and during my 40 years of building diesel engines nobody has been able to prove to me that the newer engines of today are made to run hotter. Today there are more cracked heads, burned exhaust manifolds, and burned out turbine housings on turbochargers than we had prior to electronic engines. Back in the 1970’s, 1980’s and early 1990’s it was very rare to crack a head, burn an exhaust manifold or turbocharger, and there was no computer to tell the driver the engine was too hot or to shut it down. Back then we had to drive a truck and pay attention.

One day while snowmobiling with Sherman Zeeman, a retired 52-year heavy haul owner-operator from Payson, Utah, I asked him “What kind of music do you listen to when driving your truck?” He said, “When the truck is loaded I don’t listen to music, I listen to the truck”. This man went 52 years accident free, had the second double bunk Kenworth conventional, which was a glider kit, and installed a KTA 19 liter Cummins Engine in it. His first couple of trucks was gasoline powered, and it took all day to climb one mountain on Route 6 at 4 miles per hour. Sherman is a farmer, mechanic, welder and fabricator, and a Bishop in the Mormon Church.

Listen to the truck, it will talk to you, pay attention to the gauges, and by all means think about the radiator. Nobody likes to spend money on something that you can’t see, it doesn’t make the engine more powerful, doesn’t improve fuel mileage and it certainly doesn’t make the truck better looking. However, the radiator makes the truck drivable and keeps the engine alive.

I was in Utah going northbound on Interstate 15 during a 113-degree day in my Kenworth grossing only 48,000 pounds on one of the long pulls I boiled over my engine. I was staring at the coolant temperature gauge, which was sitting on 210 degrees; all of a sudden it shot to over 220 degrees, the engine shut down, leaving me on the highway, and coolant blowing out of the radiator. I felt sick to the stomach, I cooked the engine that was making my life possible. I was down an extra gear because of the heat, and was paying attention to the coolant temperature and it still happened. When I got back to Pittsburgh I called the radiator engineers to have a meeting and I told them what had happened to me and the type of radiator I wanted to build. They said, “That is going to be expensive”. I asked them if they have ever sat alongside the road after cooking their engine that makes their life possible. Of course, their answer was no.

The result of this was the high flow high volume Pittsburgh Power radiators. Let me give you an example of the radiator we have for the 379 Peterbilt. A stock rad for a 500 HP Detroit has 177 tubes, straight through, and 14 fins per inch. A 550 Caterpillar has 234 tubes, straight through and 14 fins per inch. The Pittsburgh radiator has 400 tubes, dimples to slow down the flow slightly and make the coolant touch the sides of the tubes, and 16 fins per inch. That is double the cooling of the stock radiator, however it costs about $800 dollars more than a radiator from the Peterbilt dealership. By the way, 4 rows is the maximum for cooling. On 5 row radiators the engineers said the 5th row doesn’t get enough air to cool it so those tubes add nothing to cooling capacity. These radiators are NOT available for all trucks, so if you are in need of a new radiator, please call our parts department and they can tell you which trucks we have high flow radiators for.

Keep your engine cool and listen to it, it will talk to you, Happy Motoring!

Written by: Bruce Mallinson, Pittsburgh Power Inc.,

3600 S. Noah Dr., Saxonburg, PA 16056

Website: Pittsburghpower.com

Phone 724-360-4080