Protecting Your Engine

JulyPZpic2Summer is here once again, and now the diesel engine that makes the lives possible for truckers 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, which was able to power farming implements, logging equipment, and move a semi-truck across the highway. 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.

Let’s talk about the summer heat and your diesel engine, which makes your life possible. I have said for years, “If it’s too hot outside for your body to work, like when it’s 90 degrees with 95% humidity, it’s also too hot for your engine to work.” 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 temperature – read the gauges, watch the turbo boost gauge, the exhaust gas temperature gauge, and (of course) the coolant temperature gauge. The engine multiplies the ambient temperature by a factor of three. 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. 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, it 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 only 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 – nor 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 replacing the radiator, cap and thermostat, too. 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 the electronic engines. Back in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, 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 without an accident, 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 were gas powered, and it took all day to climb one mountain on Route 6 at 4 mph. Sherman is a farmer, mechanic, welder and fabricator – and a Bishop in the Mormon Church. His advice is spot-on and his record proves it: listen to the truck and pay attention to the gauges – and, by all means, don’t neglect the radiator.

I was in Utah going northbound on Interstate 15 on 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, when all the sudden it shot to over 220 degrees. At that point, the engine shut down, leaving me on the highway with coolant blowing out of the radiator. I felt sick to my 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 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 had ever sat alongside the road after cooking their engine. Of course, their answer was no.

The result of this mishap on Interstate 15 in Utah 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 radiator for a 500-hp Detroit has 177 straight-through tubes, and 14 fins-per-inch. A 550 Cat has 234 straight-through tubes and 14 fins-per-inch. Our radiator has 400 dimpled tubes (which 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 a stock radiator, however, it costs about $800 dollars more than a stock radiator from the dealership. By the way, four rows is the maximum for cooling. On five-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 need a new radiator, please call our parts department and they can tell you which trucks we have these high-flow radiators for.

Keep your engine cool and listen to it – it will talk to you. Protect what provides for you, and it will continue to do its job. If you have any comments or questions, I can be reached through Pittsburgh Power in Saxonburg, PA at (724) 360-4080. Visit to see all our available parts and services. Happy Motoring!

About Bruce C. Mallinson

Bruce Mallinson has been a pioneer in the high performance diesel industry for over 30 years. Bruce is also the owner and founder of Pittsburgh Power Incorporated, a company based in Saxonburg, PA that specializes in high performance diesel engines and parts. Bruce has been writing informative articles for 10-4 Magazine’s “gear head” readers since February of 2002.