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How dirt and dust damage heavy equipment engines and air filters

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Dirt and dust are heavy equipment air filters’ worst enemies. The havoc these tiny particles wreak on engines is well-known.

As they’re built today, diesel engines need clean air to operate at full power and efficiency. Without clean air, engines can very quickly fall into disrepair. This is almost always followed by expensive repair bills from the mechanic.

To avoid these costly bills - and even more costly downtime - heavy equipment and machinery operators need to keep their engines clean. But that’s a tall task to tackle on dirty construction sites and dusty farm fields, or wherever else large diesel engines need to get the job done.

Silica: Dust’s secret ingredient that engines hate

Dust is able to take down diesel engines thanks to an ingredient called silica. When silica finds its way to an engine, it becomes a sort of lapping compound with its abrasiveness. From there, once mixed with oil, engines become dusted and blown turbocharges can also be a result.

Silica is actually a compound of silicon that has been combined with oxygen. Silicon is the second-most common element in the earth’s crust. Oxygen is the most abundant.

Silica particles are found among airborne particles of sand and dust, which obviously makes it a common contaminant and problem on work sites. The sand and dust, containing silica, enter an engine through the equipment’s air intake.

Hopefully, that’s where the air filter removes the dust. An air filter that’s working efficiently can handle and remove 99 percent of the dust that enters the engine’s air intake.

Problems occur when dust gets past air filters

Most of today’s newer heavy equipment and trucks have what’s known as a two-stage filter system. This system is comprised of two elements: an inner element and an outer element. The inner element is more of a final barrier meant to prevent the engine from being damaged beyond repair if the outer element fails.

It is the second air filter that needs to be cleaned to prevent dust and dirt from reaching the engine - or replaced if the air filter is too dirty or beyond its usefulness. But if too much dust gets past the outer element, that is when problems are bound to happen.

Once beyond an engine’s air filter, the dust finds its way between the piston, rings and cylinder. Then, the dust is suspended in the engine’s lubricating oil. At this point, it’s the very small particles that can cause the most damage. It can cause more wear on the engine, which will also cause the engine to use up more oil while it is in operation.

Thankfully, oil samples that are taken regularly and correctly can help catch any dust problems before severe damage is done to the equipment. Once identified, the dust problem can be addressed and maintenance costs down the road will decrease.

Don’t clean or change air filters too soon

Dirt and dust can also take down an engine if the air filters are cleaned or changed too soon. Air filters are not like oil filters. There is not really a schedule to stick to. Heavy equipment and machinery operators will be able to tell when an air filter needs to be cleaned.

Air filters are actually more effective when they have some dirt on them. That first layer of dust caked on the surface media acts as another filter layer, plugging up the air filter’s holes even better than when the filter is new.

Wait until the visual indicator on the housing or filter itself shows that the filter has reached its maximum restriction level before cleaning or changing the filter. In some equipment or machinery, the operator may even receive a notification inside the cab that the filter is too dirty. Again, though, there’s no set schedule, so wait for the indicator to give the go-ahead.

You can also rely on the restriction gauges that come with most air filters nowadays to tell you something is up with the filter or that it is simply too clogged with dirt and dust. If your equipment’s air filter does not have a restriction gauge, then you can probably find an aftermarket part to install yourself.

Here is what happens if the air filter isn’t cleaned

If you leave your air filter too dirty for too long of a time period, then you will very likely begin to notice a few performance issues that suggest there is an issue that needs resolved as soon as possible.

First, the engine will likely begin to derate, or limit the amount of speed and power. After that, the engine could make you crawl or limp the equipment or machinery back to the shop. This is the engine’s way of going into a self-preservation mode, limiting how much more damage can be done to the engine.

However, it should go without saying that it is best not to let these performance issues remind you to clean or change your heavy equipment engine air filter.

Yes, you can clean your air filters

Many heavy equipment and air filter manufacturers advise you to have your air filters changed, not cleaned and placed back in the equipment. They will cite the possibility of damaging the air filter itself as the reason why they advise against cleaning.

However, with our Filter Blaster, you can safely clean heavy equipment diesel engine air filters without worrying about causing potential damage. How? It all comes down to the design. Filter Blaster allows for a maximum air pressure of about 48 psi out of any one air jacket.

Ready to increase your heavy equipment engine performance?

We have also tested our product and can claim with confidence that cleaning your air filters will improve engine performance and fuel savings.

Our tests show that annual savings can total more than $10,000 per vehicle when using Filter Blaster. There is also less stress on the engine, which increases its performance, reduces how much maintenance needs to be conducted over time and increases the life of the engine.

If you are ready to increase your heavy equipment engine performance, browse our products today.

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