First Upgrades

A guide to planning your first build

September 2014 Feature Jeffrey V. Shirts Web Exclusive

Nothing is quite like the day you drive home in your first new truck purchase. For months you saved, and finally traded in your old beat-up car you have driven since high school. Now you finally own a vehicle in which you feel comfortable, and more importantly feel like yourself.

Shortly after purchasing your truck you look around and notice there is a thriving diesel truck sports and performance community, where people, much like yourself, modify and upgrade their rig turning out record breaking horsepower and torque, winning drag competitions, and sled pulls. Alternatively, perhaps you have always known about these events and sports, waiting for the day that you first owned your own diesel to enter into that world.

Now that you have your truck and are ready and willing to upgrade it, it is time to ask yourself, “What first?” With a plethora of different products available on the market, it is important to have a clear plan and direction before heading down that path.

At Diesel Tech we understand your situation and with that in mind have complied a list of what we believe should be some of the first options to consider when planning your build and upgrading your dream machine.

The first question you will need to answer, though, before making any changes will be to determine if you start under the hood, or if you focus on outward appearances. To help you along in your build, we have included both for your consideration. 

Under the Hood

Let's start under the hood and determine what you can immediately do to increase the performance of your new diesel.

1. High Flow Exhaust System

It is important to remember that one of the primary differences between a gasoline and a diesel engine is that in a diesel engine the entire combustion process of the fuel is enclosed. This is important as it heavily restricts the flow of air in the engine, and places a larger emphasis on the injection of the fuel into the combustion chamber. After the fuel combusts, the exhaust, which propels the vehicle, pushes through the rest of the system.

The old axiom stands, the more air injected into the engine, the greater the output. A stock exhaust restricts the airflow and, in turn, reduces the performance of the engine. By installing a high flow, exhaust system it is possible to increase the performance of the truck without having to tear under the hood.

2. Performance Tuner

After adding a high flow exhaust system it is time to look under the hood and to prepare the truck for the increased performance. Before adding a new intake, or doubling up on the turbos, you should install a performance tuner.

When truck manufacturers sell stock diesel trucks, a lot of untapped—and unavailable—performance lies locked within the engine. Before selling a truck, it has to meet certain safety and performance milestones while maintaining value and consistent performance. With a performance tuner, it is possible to unleash the number one lock on your diesel’s performance, the electronic control module (ECM). Unlocking the ECM grants you the power to rewrite your truck’s computer and to tap into the unused and previously unavailable power. More importantly, as you continue to modify and upgrade your truck, a performance tuner will become essential to relieving stress on the transmission that the added horsepower and torque will inevitable extort.

3. Cold Air Intake

A cold air intake typically costs $300+ depending on the make and model of the intake. Cold air intakes are essential for increased performance as cold air is easily compressed which increases the oxygen injected into the combustion chambers of the engine. As always, more oxygen equals greater performance from the engine.

Cold air intakes are essential to increase the power and output of any engine, regardless whether or not the engine runs diesel or gas. In addition, regardless of the purposes for increasing the output of the engine, be it to increase towing capacity or to post monstrously large dyno numbers, a cold air intake will satisfy both desires.

For Appearances Only

Not all modifications to your truck need to serve the demand of increased performance. Trucks should not only be rocking a powerful engine under the hood, but should have an equally fierce and independent stance. With that in mind, your first modification might not be anything designed to increase performance; rather, it might be geared toward showing off your truck.

1. Lift and Leveling Kits

Any performance diesel needs to have a lift and leveling kit installed. No one will take your truck seriously, even if you are able to post amazing numbers on the dyno, if your truck is lacking the proper support. If you want your truck to look the part of the sport or performance diesel, it is necessary—yes, necessary—to install a lift and leveling kit.

2. Wheels

With lift and leveling kits installed, you will need to buy new wheels. However, don’t worry; you will want to, anyway. You don’t want your truck to be lifted resting on factory rims. No. You want to add rims and wheels that are extension of your truck and personality. The right wheels really make the truck and give it that je ne sais quoi you want and demand from your investment.

3. Tires

Finally, with your truck lifted and leveled atop custom wheels it is imperative to have a nice set of tires for the truck to rest upon. Most importantly, though, is that without quality tires your truck will lack that important finishing touch that ties your build together.

Future Modification

Looking forward you can look to adding performance and monitoring gauges, upgrading to twin turbos for increased performance without increased turbo lag, and a new transmission. Remember, though, increased horsepower adds considerable strain to the engine, and without mitigating and controlling the effects of the performance on the transmission, you will have a problem down the road.

Now, with your first modifications complete, you are ready to roll in style. 

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