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Diesel particulate filters reduce pollution

Diesels produce lots of soot (particulate matter) that can cause respiratory problems and contribute to the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Modern diesel cars (since 2009) have to be fitted with a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) in the exhaust to stop this soot passing into the atmosphere.

The aim is an 80% cut in particle emissions but the technology’s not without problems and our patrols are often called to cars with a blocked DPF.

To maintain performance a DPF has to be emptied regularly. This is usually done passively in a process called ‘regeneration’: when the exhaust temperature’s high enough, on motorways or fast A-roads.

  • The collected soot is burnt off, leaving only a tiny ash residue.
  • The ash can’t be removed – unless the DPF is removed from the vehicle and sent away for specialist cleaning – but a DPF in a car used correctly should be good for well over 100,000 miles.

Active regeneration

Many cars don’t get the right sort of use for passive regeneration to work so car manufacturers build in ‘active’ regeneration where the engine control software senses that the filter’s getting blocked and injects extra fuel into the engine to raise the exhaust temperature and trigger regeneration.

Active regeneration will be initiated every 300 miles or so depending on how you use your car and will take 5 to 10 minutes to complete. But it’s a problem if your journey’s too short and the regeneration doesn’t finish.

During active regeneration you may notice:

  • Vehicle stuck in “Limp” Mode
  • Premature Engine & Turbo Failure
  • Reduced Engine Power
  • Continuous Regeneration Failure
  • Strong Diesel Smell
  • Excessive Smoke from Exhaust

Don’t ignore a warning light

If you get a warning light showing that the filter’s blocked, it should be possible to complete an active regeneration cycle and clear the warning light by driving for 10 minutes or so at speeds over 40mph.

If you ignore a DPF warning light and keep driving in a relatively slow, stop/start pattern, soot will build up in the filter until your car goes into ‘restricted performance mode’ to prevent damage.

If you let it get this bad:

  • Driving at speed alone won’t be enough.
  • You’ll have to get a dealer to do a manual or ‘forced’ filter regeneration.
  • In extreme cases they may have to replace the filter which can cost at least £1000 plus labour.

    In most cases there’s only a short time between the DPF being partially blocked and it getting so blocked it needs a manual regeneration.

What prevents normal regeneration?

  • Frequent short journeys where the engine doesn’t get hot
  • The wrong type of engine oil – check your handbook
  • A problem with the fuel system or Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) causing excess soot.
  • A warning light on the dashboard or a diagnostic trouble code stored in the engine management system.
  • Going over the recommended service interval
  • If the vehicle uses Eolys™ additive, a low level in the tank can prevent regeneration.
  • Low fuel level – generally less than a quarter of a tank – will prevent active regeneration taking place.

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Premier Vehicle Care Limited – Registered in England & Wales 05441017 – Incorporated on 3 May 2005. Premier House, Benfield Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE6 5XA