5 Best Diesel Mods to Improve Your Truck’s Performance for Less Than $1,000

We get it, diesel trucks aren’t performance vehicles. At least, they’re not performance vehicles like a Corvette is. But they are performance vehicles because you’re not going to tow two tons with your ‘Vette. So what can you do to improve your diesel’s performance? Here are five of the best diesel mods that can help and won’t break the bank whether you have a Cummins, a Power Stroke, or a Duramax.

Diesel performance mods make more horsepower, but they can be expensive

Ford put every mod it could on this truck for the SEMA show in 2017. These mods cost a lot more than $1,000.
Ford’s 2017 SEMA F-250 | Ford

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Diesels are great for towing and hauling out of the box, but they’re expensive to modify. We’d love to recommend you spring for a new giant turbo. Who doesn’t want more boost? But a good turbo is a LOT more than $1,000 and most forget that when they put on a new turbo, other parts of the engine need to be (expensively) beefed up, too. There are dozens of other expensive parts, too, you can buy that may or may not improve your diesel’s performance or fuel economy.

Get an air intake

This is an intake from K&N installed on a Dodge Charger, but they look similar for your diesel truck.
Cold air intake installed on a Dodge Charger Hemi V-8 | Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Get more air in. An engine is like a giant air pump, so getting more air in it helps it run better. For diesel trucks, there are several types, like snorkels that help you take in air when the rest of the truck is underwater, ram-air intakes that funnel air in through the grill, and wide-opening filters that simply breathe better. An intake is one of the best diesel mods. There are dozens if not hundreds of options from companies like K&N and AFE that are built for your truck for less than $300.

A tuned exhaust is one of the best diesel mods

A larger-diameter exhaust will likely sound better and provide better fuel economy, as well as more horsepower.
Ditch your small pipes for a more efficient system | Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Get more air out. One of the tried-and-true ways to help any vehicle is to get a tuned exhaust system. They’re not cheap, however, and the dollars-to-horsepower ratio is not great for most kits. Look for a larger diameter pipe with fewer twists and turns than your stock pipes.

A kit from Banks or AFE that fits after the catalytic converter is a great way to add some power and make your truck sound better for less than $1,000. A full system that includes a new manifold or catalytic converter can cost thousands. However, a cat-back system is not a difficult mod to install yourself.

Clean your injectors or get new ones

Modern diesel engines are injected and it takes a lot of pressure to force all of that fuel through their tiny pinholes. A set of new injectors (or clean ones) can wake up a tired diesel truck. Every manufacturer makes replacement injectors, and there are several companies that make higher-flowing injectors, too, that make one of the best diesel mods. Again, the dollar-to-horsepower ratio isn’t great on new performance injectors, but if your truck is getting bad mileage, stumbling on startup, or just doesn’t seem to pull like it once did, have your injectors inspected and ultrasonically cleaned.

An aftermarket fuel programmer can help

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Companies program diesels for efficiency. Numerous companies make little aftermarket computers OBD2, for on-board diagnostics, readers that you can use to adjust your air/fuel ratio and other aspects of the engine, from full off-road race modes to even fuel-sipping city modes that improve your mileage. With most modern tuners you can save multiple engine maps so you can pick the one that’s best for what you’re doing or find fault codes you can fix.

Maintain it!

Braden Carlson of Motorbiscuit pouring UV leak detecting oil dye into his Volvo 740 SE station wagon.
Pouring UV Oil Dye into engine | Braden Carlson, Motorbiscuit

While maintaining your truck isn’t really a diesel performance modification, the best way to make sure your truck is pulling all the power it can is to make sure your filters are clean and your oil is fresh. But in a diesel you’re often putting a lot of stress on your transmission, so make sure its fluid, too, is changed and flushed and that the torque converter isn’t slipping. The same goes for your cooling system. Also, since a diesel engine is heavy, do yourself a favor and check all other little bits that are easy to forget about that ruin performance, like wheel bearings, shocks, steering, and of course, tires.

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