The Cold Hard Truth on Truck Emission Deletes and Tunes
Every single day we receive emails, phone calls, and live chats with clients who want to perform emission deletes on their trucks. All these clients have the same problem – repetitive, costly repairs on their vehicles, and they are tired of it. I genuinely sympathize with them; a lot of these people have had horrible experiences and are just looking for a solution. However, before we get more into the weeds, we first must cover a couple of myths that we frequently run across.
Myth #1 – Deleting or Tuning a Truck is Legal
There is no way around this; it is 100% illegal to tamper with or modify the emission system on your truck in any way. It isn’t a state or local law (although those exist, as well), but Federal law. When we mention this, the first thing customers say is that “it’s for off-highway use only” or “it’s for tractor pulls.” They have the idea in their head that this will allow them to skirt around any laws, and that's hardly the case.
Yes, you can legally have your emission system removed from your vehicle, but it requires recertification by the manufacturer and a new emission label and certification issued.
Yes, you can legally have your emission system removed from your vehicle, but it requires recertification by the manufacturer and a new emission label and certification issued. You can’t just sign a piece of paper and proclaim you’ve re-certified your engine. You would need to go through the costly process of having your engine re-certified by the original equipment manufacturer.
Myth #2 – There are no EPA Police
Technically, this is true. However, any state or local officials can upload a federal emission law. This myth is the equivalent of a person saying, “There is no IRS police,” yet the IRS can collect and enforce laws from an office building thousands of miles away. Depending on your State and County, the level of testing and upholding will vary.
Myth #3 - The EPA doesn’t go after the little guys
Another common misconception among clients is that the EPA doesn't go after small businesses. For reference, the EPA provides a list, by year, of every single resolution that is brought up against the Clean Air Act for vehicles. You will find cases ranging from providers of tuning equipment being charged over $4 million to a single owner performing a DPF delete on one vehicle.
If you believe that you are “too small” to be caught or cared about, we can assure you that you are not. It just takes one employee or service provider to report the matter, and you’ll find yourself in hot water very quickly. The cases can also be civil and criminal matters if the removal/tuning has been done often enough or on a large enough scale.
The fines can quickly get out of hand, as the EPA has the right to assess civil penalties of $37,500 per day for significant issues and up to $7,500 per day for minor ones.
Myth #4 - Only California Cares about Emissions
We receive calls regularly from county and state agencies looking for a software solution to detect emission tampering on commercial trucks. We don’t have an answer, but I can promise you someone is working on one today. It’s a huge market out there for a product such as this. The reason is the fines are so hefty that a government agency could literally pay tens of thousands of dollars per month for that software and still come out money ahead.
California isn’t the only state. Texas has numerous counties that require emission testing on commercial trucks now, and states like Minnesota are getting in on the action, along with New York. If there is money to be had in fines, they’ll find a way to collect!
Myth #5 – Deleting my emissions will solve all my problems
This one isn’t even close to reality. Your first challenge will be finding a competent “tuner” to help you out, and from our experience, there are more incompetent ones out in the market. Honestly, the genuinely excellent tuners know what they are doing and aren’t advertising. The ones that do advertise are typically on the low end of the totem pole in terms of technical knowledge and capability. They are often just copying one ECM program to another without really looking at all the details.
So, what does this mean? It means if you have a poor tuner doing your engine, you are going to have severe problems. It can range anywhere from poor engine performance to your engine throwing a rod through the block. For example, on the PACCAR MX engine, you’ll find that inexperienced tuners will delete the EGR. However, the EGR cools down the combustion chamber. With the EGR deleted, it will cause your head to crack, and now you have a much larger problem on your hands. These modern engines are designed to work in unison with all components, and once you start modifying one thing, it can lead to more significant problems. If you think it is just MX engines, here is a user from Facebook that had an ISX deleted:
Beyond these myths, there are other considerations you need to think about, as well.
Finding a Shop to Help You
Once you’ve deleted your emissions, you will be hard-pressed to find a franchised dealership to assist you. They don’t want the liability of working on removed emission equipment, and they have no way to warranty the work. That means you are now on your own to find a qualified independent facility that will work with you. As most of you know, seeing these on the open road can be difficult at best, even if the engine problem you are having has nothing to do with your tune or delete.
Reselling Your Truck
If you are ever thinking about selling or trading your truck in, you will more than likely run into issues. If you do sell it with deleted components, the person that purchases your vehicle or takes it on trade has a legal case against you. You performed an illegal modification and didn’t notify the buyer; you are opening yourself up to lawful (and costly) matters. You will more than likely need to restore all deleted components to their original configuration at your expense. Even bringing your truck to an auction doesn’t take you off the hook, as the person below noted in a forum. You’ll often find law enforcement showing up at public auctions to ensure no shenanigans are happening. Note:
If you are still hell-bent on having your emission system deleted, we can give a general overview of the process. Keep in mind that Diesel Laptops does not condone nor recommend, deleting, or tuning your emission systems. We don’t sell or support hardware or software made for deleting emissions.
The way the “economy” of emission tuning has gone is that there are two main methods. Option one is to save money and learn how to do it yourself. If you go this route, you better have a background in computer science and how diesel engines operate because it involves downloading ECM information to your laptop/computer, modifying the software, and pushing it back. That is what the true “tuners” are doing, and they are subject matter experts.
However, these people also know the risks mentioned above and are typically hard to find. They make their money a different way – they sell the “tunes” to repair facilities. You know that guy advertising on Facebook and Craigslist that will do a tune for $1,000? That guy has no clue what he is doing. He is buying the tuning files from the real experts, marking it up, pushing it onto your ECM, and then walking away from you forever.
So, there you have it, everything we know about deleting and tuning your engine. Our advice is to stay away from it and work with a local, knowledgeable repair facility that has access to proper diagnostic tools and repair information. If your engine is maintained correctly and you can find a knowledgeable repair facility that accurately troubleshoots emission failures, you’ll be fine. If you can’t find one, we’d suggest taking advantage of our hands-on training class for aftertreatment diagnostics.
Tyler Robertson is the Founder, Owner, and President of www.DieselLaptops.com. Started in 2010, DieselLaptops.com has become the premiere source of diesel diagnostic equipment for commercial trucks, off-highway equipment, marine, motorcycle, automobile, agriculture, and more.