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Should You Clean Your Diesel Filter Yourself?

If you've recently upgraded an older diesel truck for one manufactured after 2009, you may be a bit concerned about the diesel particulate filter (DPF) attached to your exhaust system, particularly if you've been regaled with stories of friends who neglected maintenance of their DPFs, causing expensive engine repairs. How do you know when it's time to clean your DPF, and can you perform this process yourself if you've done other vehicle repairs in the past? Read more to learn more about the maintenance and repair of your DPF, as well as when it's time to enlist professional assistance.

How do you know when it's time for your DPF to be cleaned or replaced?

Your DPF is a type of filter that helps collect the potentially carcinogenic exhaust particles that are created through the combustion of diesel fuel. DPFs are designed to be self-cleaning -- much like a self-cleaning oven uses high temperatures to burn off grease and old food, your DPF will periodically heat itself to ultra-high temperatures to burn off any tar or soot build-up. This debris is then reduced to ash, which can be harmlessly vented as you drive down the road. 

However, over the course of hundreds of thousands of miles, this build-up may eventually reach levels that the filter's own cleaning system can't handle. In other cases, multiple short trips combined with ignoring the warning lights that indicate you need to drive a few more miles to give the DPF time to recharge itself can cause rapid build-up which restricts your engine's performance. If the vehicle continues to be driven with a DPF that is partially or fully blocked, exhaust will have nowhere to vent and can cause major damage to your engine, transmission, and other expensive components.

Fortunately, your vehicle's own system should give you plenty of warning that your DPF needs to be serviced before a clogged DPF causes engine damage. Warning lights and chimes will come on as soon as your DPF is partially blocked, and as you continue driving your vehicle will lower its own speeds to help extend the amount of time before the DPF becomes fully clogged. Be sure to check your owner's manual to ensure you're aware of what each of your new vehicle's warning lights can indicate.

Can you clean your DPF at home with a kit?

Once your warning light comes on, you may be tempted to simply remove your DPF to allow your exhaust to flow freely -- however, this is an illegal modification. You may then look to do-it-yourself kits or cleaners that promise to leave your DPF in like-new condition. While these cleaners are generally much less expensive than a professional cleaning or DPF replacement, there is little evidence that they're effective, especially when dealing with a filter that has major blockage. 

How much will it cost to have your DPF professionally cleaned?

Having your DPF cleaned professionally involves the use of a special stove that heats your DPF to temperatures high enough to remove any remaining soot particles. Because these machines are expensive, not all repair shops have them, and the ones that do can charge $350 to $500 per cleaning. However, this professional cleaning is the most effective (and cost-effective) way to return your DPF to factory condition, and you should only need to have this cleaning performed every few years (or even less frequently if you don't put many miles on your vehicle). 

Alternatively, you may want to replace your DPF with a brand new filter. Doing so should cost between $1,000 to $1,700. While this process isn't usually covered by your warranty, you may be able to purchase an aftermarket warranty from your dealer that will help shoulder some of this expense.