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Why your emission-compliant trucks keep breaking down

semi truck breakdown

Buying a truck today is far more complicated than it was years ago. Unfortunately, there is a gap in knowledge and training between the engine manufacturers and the OEM’s. Before we talk about deficits, let’s first take a step back and review emission control technology.

The technology used by engine manufacturers to meet emission standards consists of several components within an emission control system that works together in a delicate balance. This system may include, among other things: a Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT), Diesel Oxidation Catalyst (DOC), Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF), Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR), Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), multiple sensors, and an Engine Computer Module (ECM) to control everything and provide onboard diagnostics. This technology is designed to reduce diesel emissions and improve overall efficiency.

damaged parts

A full-functioning emission control system is one that gets hot enough for long enough, to efficiently convert the exhaust pollutants into soot which are then captured by the DPF preventing them from being emitted into the environment. Staying hot long enough is essential to clean the DPF effectively during a regen. If one component of the system is not working optimally, not only will these new engines not produce the promised fuel economy, they will perform worse than a pre-emission engine. Keep in mind, “not working properly” does not necessarily mean the component or part has failed, it may mean the piece is not operating at 100% efficiency. Additionally, if one element is not working accurately, it will cause progressive damage to the other components until large-scale failure eventually occurs.

A defective emission control system is the reason so many fleets experience constant downtime and repairs. And the reality is that almost every single emission compliant truck on the road has an emission control system that is not working at its full potential.


An emission control system that is not working properly will lead to many different issues. These issues are so commonplace, they have become the accepted industry standard for operating an emission compliant truck. Common issues of faulty emission control systems:

  • Premature DPF failure (i.e. cleaning the DPF sooner than 225,000 miles/4000 hours)
  • Premature turbo failure (replacing the turbo sooner than 50000 miles)
  • EGR failure
  • Face plugged DOC
  • Excessive DEF use
  • Excessive coolant use
  • Frequent check engine lights • Loss of power • Loss of fuel economy
  • Manual regens
  • Limp/crawl mode

These issues seldom occur when an engine is optimized properly. To learn more about how to properly optimize a heavy-duty diesel engine, read about Diesel I.O. Intelligent Optimization.

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