Can contaminated fuel damage an engine?

What causes fuel to become dirty?

When contaminants, impurities, and undesirable elements are found in the fuel, your diesel engine's performance will suffer greatly, affecting emissions and the machine's overall efficiency. 

Here are some common causes of dirty fuel in a diesel engine:

  • Poor Fuel Quality: Impurities such as sediments, water, rust, dust, and microorganisms can reduce engine performance because of poor combustion brought on by clogged fuel filters, injectors, and other components. 
  • Water Contamination: During long periods of storage or transporting equipment, you run the risk of the diesel fuel absorbing water, which can cause corrosion in the fuel system, promote bacteria and algae growth, and lead to injector damage.
  • Particulate Matter: When particulate matter enters your diesel fuel, it will affect combustion efficiency due to clogged filters.
  • Sediment Build-up: Over time, particles and impurities can settle in fuel tanks, causing sediment build-up. When sediment gets stirred up during refueling or fuel agitation, it can be carried through the fuel system, damaging its components. 
  • Incomplete Combustion: Engine efficiencies and increased emissions are caused by a build-up of carbon deposits from dirty fuel, which affects the life of injectors, combustion chambers, and exhaust components.  
  • Fuel Additives: Some additives can be poorly mixed or contain impurities, which can lead to fuel contamination.  
  • Storage and Handling Issues: When equipment is stored in conditions that expose it to moisture, temperature fluctuations, or improper tank maintenance, it can lead to fuel degradation and contamination.
  • Cross-Contamination: Diesel fuel stored or transported in tanks that have previously contained other substances will cause cross-contamination, leading to fuel impurities.
  • Aging and Oxidation: Air, heat, and light exposure can degrade diesel fuel. This oxidation process can lead to sediments and gums forming, affecting fuel quality.

Proper fuel management practices are essential to prevent dirty fuel and its associated issues. High-quality fuel from reputable sources, regular fuel system maintenance, proper storage conditions, and additives, if recommended by the engine manufacturer, will ensure your equipment's longevity. Regularly replacing fuel filters and periodically cleaning the fuel system can help mitigate the effects of dirty fuel on diesel engines.

What can dirty fuel do to an engine?

Contaminated fuel in diesel engines can wreak havoc on its performance and longevity, leading to a cascade of detrimental effects. As core comes into CNH Reman, we see it time and time again. Dirty fuel, laden with impurities and contaminants, enters the engine, leading to overall compromised performance, sluggish acceleration, rough idling, and ultimately stalled engines. Contaminants such as sediment, water, microbial growth, and particulate matter can disrupt the precise combustion process that diesel engines rely on by obstructing fuel injectors and filters, impeding the proper atomization of fuel and air. These obstructions can result in incomplete combustion, decreased power output, reduced fuel efficiency, and increased emissions.

Moreover, the long-term effects of using dirty fuel extend beyond immediate performance issues. The longer a fuel system runs contaminants through the fuel system, the more risk there is for abrasive wear within the components. Fuel injectors are the most vulnerable to damage as they deliver fuel into the combustion chamber. As microbial growth happens in the fuel, blockages, and clogs will occur, further hampering fuel flow and compromising the precision of the injection process. If ignored, maintenance costs will increase as the life expectancy of injectors and fuel systems parts decreases, requiring more frequent cleaning or replacement. In extreme cases, the accumulation of contaminants can even cause irreversible damage to engine components, necessitating extensive and costly repairs.

CNH Reman has the mission to use remanufacturing to promote a sustainable future; therefore, we need to note that using dirty fuel can have a negative environmental impact. Elevated emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons increase due to contaminated fuel. These emissions contribute to air pollution and can result in non-compliance with emission standards set by regulatory agencies. Adopting proper fuel management practices can ensure both the engine's and the environment's health. 

How do you know if you have dirty fuel? 

If you suspect issues with the performance of your Case or New Holland equipment, it might be linked to a dirty fuel system. Being cognizant of the signs of dirty fuel early on can help you address the issue before it leads to more severe complications.

Symptoms of Dirty Fuel:

  • Reduced Power and Acceleration
  • Rough Idling
  • Stalling or Surging
  • Decreased Fuel Efficiency
  • Excessive Smoke
  • Engine Misfires
  • Unusual Engine Noise
  • Increased Emissions
  • Poor Overall Performance
  • If your equipment has any of these symptoms, addressing the problem promptly is crucial to prevent further damage. The question then arises: how to clean dirty diesel fuel?  In the next section, we dive into practical strategies for fixing dirty fuel and restoring your diesel engine's optimal performance. By understanding the symptoms, going through the proper steps to fix contaminated fuel, and implementing appropriate solutions to avoid dirty fuel in the future, you can ensure your diesel engine's longevity and efficiency.

    How do you fix dirty fuel?

    Dealing with dirty fuel in your diesel engine requires a systematic approach to cleanse the fuel system and restore optimal performance effectively. Ignoring the issue can worsen engine performance, increase emissions, and potentially damage critical components. Of course, if you do not feel comfortable performing any of the following suggestions yourself, visit your local Case or New Holland Dealership, and they can help you with your contaminated fuel and fix any damage it may have caused. If you do feel comfortable servicing your equipment, here are several strategies to consider when addressing dirty fuel:

    • Fuel Filter Replacement: Regularly replacing clogged or saturated fuel filters is often the first line of defense against dirty fuel. Not replacing your fuel filter can cause engine debris and prevent proper fuel flow. After replacing the fuel filter, monitor for performance improvements.
    • Fuel System Cleaning Additives: Specialized fuel system cleaning additives are available that break down and remove deposits, carbon build-up, and impurities from the fuel system. They are usually poured into the fuel tank and mixed with the fuel, allowing them to clean the fuel lines, injectors, and combustion chambers as you drive. Check your owner's manual or with your local dealership to find the best additive for your specific equipment.
    • Professional Fuel System Cleaning: For more severe cases of fuel system contamination, seeking professional fuel system cleaning services from your local Cae or New Holland dealership is the best route to take. Your local dealership will have access to specialized equipment that can thoroughly clean injectors, fuel lines, and other components, restoring proper fuel delivery and combustion.
    • Fuel Tank Cleaning: If you suspect dirty fuel in your tank due to poor-quality or contaminated fuel, draining and cleaning the fuel tank is the best defense before it can cause damage to your engine or fuel components.
    • Injector Cleaning and Testing: Contaminated fuel can often lead to clogged injectors. You will need to clean and test the injectors to restore proper function. Ultrasonic or specialized injector cleaning kits can help remove deposits and improve fuel atomization.
    • Addressing Water Contamination: Consider using a dirty fuel water separator if water is a primary concern. These devices help separate water from the fuel, preventing it from entering the engine.
      Pro Tip: Regularly drain any water collected in fuel filters and separators to maintain your equipment longer and combat water in your fuel.
    • Prevention and Maintenance: To avoid future instances of dirty fuel, adopt preventive measures, which we address below.  
    • Consult the Manufacturer: Always refer to your local Case or New Holland dealership for guidance on fuel quality recommendations, additives, and maintenance schedules. The manufacturer's guidelines can provide valuable insights into keeping your diesel engine running smoothly.
    • Regardless of whether your engine is new, old, or remanufactured, our goal is to save you from costly repairs and help maintain your diesel engine's performance and longevity.  

      What preventative measures can you take to ensure you don't damage your engine? 

      A study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that contaminated fuel contributes to an estimated 10,000 tractor failures yearly in the United States. At CNH Reman, we understand the importance of having clean fuel for combustion engines.  We remanufacture thousands of engines for Case and New Holland equipment each year - many are used to replace engines damaged by dirty fuel.  

      That is why we believe taking some preventative measures will increase the longevity and performance of your engine and engine components. Here are some key steps you can take to prevent engine damage:

      • Use High-Quality Fuel: Always opt for high-quality fuel from reputable sources. Using fuel with minimal impurities will prevent build-up in the engine, and using a proper octane or cetane rating helps maintain proper combustion.
      • Keep the Fuel Tank Clean: Sediment build-up will lead to major problems down the road. Cleaning your tank when you suspect your equipment has been exposed to water or contaminants will extend the life of your machine. 
      • Regular Maintenance: Whether you do it yourself or take it to your local dealership, adhering to the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule for oil changes, filter replacements, and overall inspections helps identify and address potential issues before they escalate.
      • Proper Lubrication: Only use the recommended type and grade of engine oil to reduce friction. This ensures proper lubrication, minimizes wear and tear and helps maintain engine efficiency.
      • Cooling System Care: Watch for overheating, which can lead to engine damage. Keep an eye on the engine's temperature gauge and ensure the cooling system is functioning correctly.  
      • Avoid Overloading: Stay within the equipment's maximum load capacity; otherwise, it will put unnecessary stress on the engine, transmission, and suspension components.
      • Use Additives Wisely: Follow the manufacturer's recommendations if using fuel additives. Some additives can help clean the fuel system, while others may not be necessary and could potentially harm the engine.
      • Regular Inspection: For early detection of any problems, periodically inspect the engine for leaks, unusual noises, and warning lights on the dashboard. At the end of your busy season, check all components for wear and tear, replacing anything that may have been damaged from the season of hard work. 
      • Fuel Quality: Poor quality fuel can lead to engine knocking, poor combustion, dirty fuel, and overall problems. Ensure your fuel meets the manufacturer's octane or cetane rating recommendations.  
      • Protect Against Environmental Factors: If your equipment is parked outdoors for extended periods, be aware that contaminates can form in the fuel. Do regular inspections to ensure fuel contamination has not occurred.
      • Proper Storage: If you're storing your equipment for an extended period, follow proper storage procedures, such as using a fuel stabilizer, disconnecting the battery, and keeping the tires properly inflated.
      • By following these preventative measures and staying proactive in your engine's care, you can minimize the risk of engine damage and ensure that your equipment remains reliable and efficient over its lifespan.