New Year Revolution

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Thinking about a new truck this year? Despite the downturn, some folks really are in the market for new wheels. And some of them plan to buy before October when the next round of emissions rules will bring us some pretty different engines. Is that necessary? Are diesels compliant with the 2002 limits really that undesirable? The simple answer is… well, there’s no simple answer.

Among the only things truly clear about heavy-duty ’02 engines is that all but one of them will use a technology called cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and they’ll cost quite a bit more — likely by $3000 to $5000 US. They’ll also require a different lubricating oil, and a new category — called CI-4 — has been established to deal with this. Most will also weigh more, by as much as 100 pounds, partly because they may need more oil in the sump and more coolant in the larger cooling systems that EGR will demand.

During a panel session at the recent annual meeting of the Technology and Maintenance Council in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., engine-maker representatives also confirmed other changes, though many aren’t exactly cast in stone because so little testing time has been available. Chuck Blake, senior applications engineer at Detroit Diesel, said his company has only six ’02 engines on the road in fleet tests, for example. One of the problems here is that today’s engines last so long that to do reliability and durability testing in real-world situations takes more time than the engineers have had.

Blake and most of the others on the panel said their EGR engines could suffer a fuel-economy penalty ranging from 1% to 5%. One of them, Steve Heffner from Mack, said that figure could be down to 0% for the E-7 engine by October if the feverish testing and re-engineering they’re doing reaps benefits. We’ve gone through the engine makers’ comments one by one in the accompanying sidebar. Now, let’s briefly review how we got to this point.

It began a couple of years back when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Dept. of Justice coerced the five key heavy-duty diesel manufacturers into paying some mighty big fines and agreeing to accelerate the next round of emissions limits to October of this year, up from January 2004.

Washington claimed that the engine folks had been cheating on emissions prior to 1999, that engines were actually producing excess nitrous oxides (NOx) through use of ‘defeat devices’ built into the electronic control units that essentially ‘opened them up’ on the highway while leaving them compliant in urban cycles.

Trouble was, in some cases the engines didn’t return to compliant fuel settings when the trucks left the open road.

Only one engine manufacturer actually used such a device, as we understand it, and its legality can be argued strenuously. But we’re told the Justice Department nonetheless threatened jail time against the president and CEO of this particular company. That led to a circling of the engine-maker wagons and they stood as one to take an undeserved but unavoidable beating: Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Mack, and Volvo.

What followed was a truly mad scramble to get engines ready for 10/02, with a gazillion dollars spent in the process. And no guarantee of success, given the much reduced timeline. As things stand now, Cummins seems most ready of all to meet the challenge, and its ’02 ISX engines have just now been EPA-certified. The others say they’ll be there too, though we heard at press time that one engine maker had formally asked for an extension on the October deadline.

Others are appealing or preparing to appeal various aspects of the EPA’s demands.
Only Caterpillar chose to go without EGR, but at the cost of being unable to meet the deadline and facing per-engine fines as a result. They’ve been very guarded about the nature of the technology they’ll be using because pending patents are involved, but it’s called “ACERT” and involves new injection and combustion technologies plus exhaust aftertreatment by way of a catalytic converter. Cat’s C10 will apparently make the deadline, but at last word its other models would not be ready until some time in 2003. The EPA fines have been set at between $8940 and $14,790 US per non-compliant heavy-duty engine sold after October, which could amount to some serious change in theory.

If all of this gets you riled, especially the price hikes, don’t blame the engine makers. The development costs have been astronomical, with each manufacturer spending many millions of dollars a day — a day — to meet the harsh EPA October limits.

And they’ve only barely started to work on the next round of emissions rules set to take effect in 2007. Nobody knows what costs — or what engines — that will bring to the trucking industry.

In fact, ’02 engines are enough of a question mark for now, and some fleet buyers say they simply won’t buy them. That faction is led by Don Schneider, who runs the biggest fleet of all — Schneider National, with 16,000 power units and his 4000-a-year tractor purchase — who has said publicly that he may just avoid buying new trucks for a while or buy used machinery to escape the ’02 downside.

He calls the emissions situation “the single biggest issue trucking has faced in 10 years,” and decries the lack of time engine makers and fleets have had or will have to test the new engines on the road. “The wisest thing would be for EPA to back off until we have reliably tested engines,” he says.

Schneider and others claim that EGR diesels will not only cost too much and burn too much fuel, but they also present a question mark in terms of reliability and durability and demand different maintenance practices. The new engines do indeed sport a lot of new technology, and there really has been precious little testing time, so the reliability point may or may not be valid.

Many truck owners are planning to buy new this year, but before October. It’s become known as the “pre-buy” phenomenon, and it appears to be gaining ground. Most truck makers report rising sales as a result.

All heavy-duty engine makers except Caterpillar decided to depend on cooled EGR for 2002. The system captures some exhaust air — 15% to 30% depending on load and throttle — and routes it through a cooler and then back into the system. It replaces the same percentage of oxygen in the cylinder and thus lowers peak flame temperatures, in turn reducing the NOx formed by the combustion explosion. Lowered nitrous oxides, by almost half, are the specific goal of the EPA’s 2002 rules.

However, this also has other effects: substantially more heat rejection and higher operating temperatures, which demand bigger cooling systems, and far more soot and corrosive acids in the cylinder which must be dealt with by the oil. Oils meeting the new CI-4 standard have to neutralize those acids to prevent liner, ring, and bearing wear while also keeping the soot in suspension so that it doesn’t gum up the works.

It’s a big job, and in fact some engines will need bigger oil sumps because they’ll need more oil to do the work of protecting engines from themselves.

Mack’s EGR project leader Steve Heffner says E-7 EGR engines require an extra eight quarts in the pan to stay with the current recommended 50,000-mile drain interval. Mack engines are the long-drain leaders today and require the least amount of oil amongst big-bore diesels. The fact that these engines will require a 25% increase in oil capacity for ’02 speaks volumes about the challenge engine lubes must meet generally.

Other engine makers will likely be more conservative than ever in recommending extended drains, though most have yet to firm this up. Cummins says drains should be at 25,000 miles for normal duty, 35,000 miles in lighter applications with its EGR products.

All major oil suppliers have announced new CI-4 oils, and we’ll delve into the detail of those offerings in a later issue. For now, the thing to remember is that EGR engines will self-destruct without these lubes, though they’re backwards-compatible — meaning they can be used in older engines to good effect.

Indeed, they’re the best engine oils we’ve ever had.

So should you buy your new truck before October, or are you safe to wait and put an EGR engine under your hood? There’s really no good answer, though the price hike and slightly inferior fuel economy may decide for you. While the Don Schneiders of this world also see reason to question the reliability and durability of ’02 engines, there’s no proof to justify that stance.

Not surprisingly, engine builders say their EGR engines do work. Cummins has been most vocal in this, and unlike some of the others it has millions of fleet-test miles to show that the new engines are at least as reliable as the current ones.

Time will tell.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

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