Problems With Series 60 Detroit Diesel Engine

by Richard Rowe
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Image by, courtesy of John Martinez Pavliga

Almost by definition, truckers have always been practically obsessed with engine reliability fuel mileage. To meet the demand for a new type of engine that would help usher turbo-diesels into this millennium, Detroit Diesel (a subsidiary of Chrysler AG) introduced the Series 60 as its industry trump car. Though the millions of 60s produced since 1987 have generally delivered on Chrysler's promise, many are beginning to show their age in some rather unseemly ways.

Coolant Leakage

Older Detroit engines are prone to coolant leakage in the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) system. Though the problem is not necessarily severe, it can lead to white tail pipe smoke, mild overheating and coolant loss over time. Coolant loss will eventually become severe enough to cause serious overheating and shut-down, so fixing the EGR leak should be considered a priority.

Throttle Problems

The Series 60 was one of the first in the industry to be offered with a drive-by-wire system. This configuration does not utilize any mechanical connection between the throttle pedal and engine, relying instead on the truck's computer to modulate air delivery by demand. These systems are generally reliable, but some owners with aftermarket engine brakes have found that the engine brake requires different computer programming. Glitches in this system can lead to complete loss of throttle control.

Starting Issues

The factory starter cables on some Detroit 60 engines have been known to weather badly. While the 4-gauge wires the engine came with were sufficient from the factory, time can reduce the cable's ability to transfer current to the starter. This lack of power leads to a no-start condition that closely mimics a dying battery, and can be recognized by battery cables that run much warmer while starting the truck than they should.

Spun Bearings

In a bid to save fuel, the engineers at Detroit designed the 60 to idle at very low speed. However, it took Detroit about 10 years to realize that the engine's idle speed was not fast enough to operate the oil pump. As such, many older (pre-1997) engines have had lower engine bearings replaced more than once due to oil starvation.

Bad Fuel Economy

When it comes to power, the Series 60 tends to favor the higher end of the RPM band. While this works well on paper, the 60's high RPM horsepower and low RPM fuel economy tuning have given some lead-footed drivers the impression that these engines get bad fuel economy. The truth is quite the opposite: Detroit 60s get excellent fuel mileage, just not when they're driven at 4000 RPM.

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