This segment of the Praxis Series is fairly specific in its scope, and focus. I will not cover repair, or maintenance of all-mechanical Diesels. Nor will I cover lift kits, Diesel tuning, or high-speed go-fast stuff. That said, I will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about maintenance and care of your Diesel in the comment section. There are myriad reasons I have chosen to go with an older diesel for my SHTF truck, and I will try and articulate them to you so you can see the value these older trucks hold.
The big three truck manufacturers all made all-mechanical Diesels. Some of them were manufactured up until the late 1990’s. Many readers of this blog are military, or former military, and they will recall the old O.D green K5 Chevy Blazers the Military used to use. The Diesel version of that truck was all-mechanical. It is incumbent upon the reader to choose the right truck based on the condition of the truck on the used market, budget, manufacturer and aestethic preference. For myself, I have chosen a 1989 to 1998.5 Dodge Ram Diesel. I’m a Cummins guy, and I think the Cummins engine is superior to any engine that is comparable to it in the context of older Diesels. Cummins engines can be found in many more places than just under a hood of a Dodge. That’s just one of the many reasons I chose Dodge. Parts will be widely available in a post-collapse world, but this is besides the point of this essay.
Reason #1 – Automatic Transmission Fluid = Fuel
It is common knowledge in the diesel community that using ATF as an additive to diesel fuel in older Diesel engines can clean up sticking injectors, and remove carbon deposits from the engine. But, it’s also becoming common knowledge that you can just ditch the Diesel fuel altogether, and run all ATF as your fuel in your all-mechanical Diesel Pickup. There are other alternative fuels that one could use in their Diesel Pickups, and they’ll work too, and if cooking oils are easier for you to acquire, then by all means, stock up. However, if the situation in this country turns dire, a Diesel owner needs to keep in mind that just about every vehicle that is on the road now is a potential fuel source. Let’s examine the scenario where an EMP was detonated a couple of hundred miles over the United States. Suppose a vast majority of the vehicles that were perfectly operable before the EMP are now two ton paper weights. These vehicles are dead, and will take thousands of dollars to fix. However, the ATF that sits in the transmission pans of these vehicles is perfectly fine, and is perfectly combustible in your all-mechanical Diesel. Try it out for yourself if you don’t believe me. First try a slight mixture of Diesel fuel and ATF. Start with an 80/20 mix. 80% being Diesel fuel, and 20% ATF. Gradually increase the mix as you feel more comfortable. All-mechanical diesels will run on 100% ATF. So will pre-common rail Diesels.
I cannot stress this enough. However you get your ATF, it needs to be strained through a micron filter before you use it. In a nightmare scenario, you’ll be ok to just puncture a trans pan or trans case, and pour the ATF in your tank, if it ever came to that, but I would not recommend that for extended use.
Another benefit of ATF is that is appears to have no documented shelf-life. It will keep for a very long time. So will Diesel, 12-15 years if stored properly, but it appears that ATF will keep for much longer than that. Start to lay in a stock now. Go around to the repair facilities in your area, and ask them if they have any used ATF they want to get rid of. You MUST make sure it’s pure ATF, and not mixed with oil. Also make sure it’s not mixed with coolant or water. Internal combustion engines do not like water at all. Even a couple of tablespoons of water can hydro-lock an engine. It’s impossible to compress water, therefore when the pistons are on their compression stroke, things will break on the inside. Metal will always give before water will.
It shouldn’t take a nightmare scenario for you to start taking proactive steps on your fuel. Start doing it now, so you can get a feel on how your truck will run on ATF. Certain Diesels take to it well, some will exhibit loss of power, and fuel mileage depending on model, and atmospheric conditions. People from the north already know that getting a Diesel going in frigidly cold temps can be a bitch sometimes. Well, it’s even harder using ATF. The hydrocarbon chain is much longer in ATF, therefore the engine can have a real hard time breaking that chain down to ignite it. This will add to increased soot and smoke. That’s why I say don’t wait, experiment now. People in colder climates will need to use an engine heater, but that’s something that should already be in place for Diesel owners in colder climates.
ATF is a good way to supplement fuel costs if you can find it cheap, or for free. Let’s imagine a severe uptick in inflation. If you’re able to find ATF for free, and you add only 50% ATF to your Diesel fuel, you’ve just cut your fuel expense in half. This approach is doubly good, because you can save money on fuel, and you’re depriving the Tax Man of “his” money. In the event of all-out hyperinflation, used ATF should still be relatively easy to find, and cheap if you have to barter for it since I can imagine that hardly anyone will be able to afford to drive their vehicles. A family would gladly trade their the trans fluid they have in their vehicles for food or ammunition, or even a ride somewhere.
Reason #2 – All-Mechanical Diesels are just about EMP proof
Any vehicle that was made in the last 25 years are highly vulnerable to an EMP attack. This includes diesels too. These vehicles are full of solid-state components, and these components have the potential to be fried in the event of an EMP attack. However, all-mechanical diesels are not so susceptible to an EMP blast. An all-mechanical Diesel does not use a computer to control the engine. An all-mechanical Diesel engine uses mechanical fuel injection, not electronic fuel injection. The fuel pump, and injectors are mechanical, therefore there’s nothing to be cooked in the event of an EMP. There are no electronic sensors on an all-mechanical Diesel, because there’s no engine computer to interpret the data. There are some things to be considered when dealing with an EMP blast, and an all-mechanical Diesel, however. There are diodes in the alternator that can be fried, and since the alternator is chassis ground, the potential is there that the battery would be drained if the problem is not caught in time. There’s a very easy work around for this problem. You can simply disconnect the negative battery cable from the battery, or you can mount a ground-side switch in the cab of the truck, and route the negative cable to the switch, and then back to the battery. You can simply flip the switch whenever you get out of the truck. This will only protect you from a drained battery, it will not save your alternator, but you will have enough battery power to start your truck, and since your truck is an all-mechanical Diesel, no electricity is required to keep it running. Electricity will only be required to run the lights, and other accessory electrical systems that were not fried by the EMP, but these systems are not vital to engine operation. I would recommend that you keep a spare alternator in a Faraday cage, so it can be replaced. You’ll need to recharge your battery somehow.
Not every transmission is hydraulically controlled in an all-mechanical Diesel. This means that some of these transmissions are controlled electronically, and they are controlled by a TCM, or transmission control module. These computers are vulnerable to an EMP attack, but if you have an all-mechanical Diesel now with an electronically controlled trans, don’t worry about it. Even if an EMP takes out your TCM, you still have direct drive(3rd gear). Your truck will not shift, but it will still move. If you wanted to be clever, you could bypass the TCM, and wire your own switches in line with the electronic shift solenoids. Shift solenoids are the components that allow the trans to shift when given the signal from the TCM. If your TCM is fried, these switches would allow you to shift an automatic trans yourself. Simply mount the switches in a convenient spot in the cab, wire the switches into the solenoid circuits, and label the switches to whatever gear corresponds to the shift solenoid. You have now successfully bypassed the TCM. You now have full control of your auto trans. You may be wondering why the solenoids would not be fried in the event of an EMP. Well, the solenoids are nothing more than coiled copper, and if those components are severely damaged in an EMP, you’ve got bigger problems….like cardiac arrest. Of course, a manual transmission will not require any modification, and that is the ideal trans to have.
If you feel that some of my instruction was vague, or if you want specific instruction on wiring, or any other questions, I can answer any of your concerns in the comments. I hope this was helpful to you. An all-mechanical Diesel owner need not worry about fuel in a post-collapse scenario, fuel will be very abundant.