The acronym HEUI refers to the hydraulically activated, electronically controlled, unit injector (HEUI) fuel system found on the 7.3L and 6.0L Powerstroke engines used in Ford diesel trucks. This system was created by Caterpillar and Navistar in 1993. It was known as the first fuel injector where injection timing and fuel pressurization were independent from the speed of the engine. With a mechanical diesel fuel injector, the timing and pressure of the fuel are determined by the number of rotations per minute (RPMs) of the engine. With a HEUI injector, injection pressure and timing can be varied, regardless of engine speed.
It’s important to note that both Caterpillar and Navistar no longer use the acronym “HEUI” so you won’t find this term in your owner’s manual. They now use the term electro-hydraulic but it essentially means the same thing.
Both the 7.3L and 6.0L have their fair share of flaws, but the HEUI system still has merits. When properly configured, the electronically controlled system can lead to better injection timing, cleaner emissions, and more power and torque compared to the mechanically injected fuel systems found in other types of diesel engines.
So, how does a HEUI system work? Learn more about this technology and its pros and cons.
How Does a HEUI Injector System Work?
The HEUI system uses a high-pressure oil pump (HPOP) to facilitate the injection process. However, instead of creating pressure, it generates a large volume of oil for the injectors to use. The entire process is controlled by the powertrain control module (PCM), which sets pressure based on the information it receives from the ICP sensor, manifold absolute pressure sensor, engine oil temperature sensor, camshaft position sensor, and several other engine performance monitors.
During the firing process, the electronic solenoid pulls the poppet valve off its seat, which closes the drain pathway and thus allows oil pressure to build. The high-pressure oil then transfers the pressure to the poppet valve, which sits on the intensifier piston. As pressure builds, the piston forces the plunger down, which then forces the nozzle needle to lift, which then pressurizes the fuel inside the firing cylinder. This pushes the fuel into the combustion chamber, thus completing the duty cycle. With both the piston and plunger positioned down, more high-pressure oil enters the HPOP to restart the process.
Benefits of the HEUI Injector System
While many in the diesel community consider HEUI to be obsolete, this technology has been shown to be just as — if not more — effective as the fuel injector systems used in other types of diesel engines.
HEUI systems are known for their impeccable timing and precision when it comes to fuel injection, which improves fuel efficiency and engine performance.
They don’t rely on cam position or speed like mechanical fuel injection systems, which reduces wear and tear on the camshaft lobe. HEUI injectors are also known for their durability. Expect them to last 200,000 miles or more. Other than that, the HEUI system doesn’t wear down diesel parts any more than other types of engines.
Some diesel owners like to say HEUI injection systems make it virtually impossible to run out of oil. That’s because the system constantly replenishes the supply of oil by running the same oil through the HPOP. This will keep your diesel parts lubricated, but your oil will start to get dirty over time.
Downsides of the HEUI Injector System
HEUI injector systems require more maintenance than those found on other engines. They rely on a complicated system of sensors and inputs while managing the flow of both oil and fuel. Many of these sensors will need to be replaced over time, including the injection pressure regulator (IPR) valve, which communicates with the PCM when setting oil pressure. The IPR valve has been known to be faulty on the 6.0L Powerstroke engine. You will need to replace your 6.0 IPR valve on a regular basis to maintain proper oil pressure — or your injectors won’t fire properly.
The HEUI system forces your oil to work harder than you may be used to. Instead of changing your oil every 7,500 miles, expect to drain it out every 3,000 to 4,000 miles to keep your oil as clean as possible.
If you don’t change your oil as often, all that debris could spread to other parts of your engine. It will also make your oil less effective when it comes to lubrication. Be sure to replace your diesel parts sooner rather than later if they have been exposed to dirty oil.
HEUI systems are also known to leak, which can cause problems under the hood. A malfunctioning system can also contaminate your fuel, especially if some of the fuel doesn’t burn in the combustion chamber. This can leave debris in your fuel system so you’ll need to replace your diesel particulate filters more often than you may be used to if you want to keep your fuel system clean.
Tips for Maintaining Your HEUI System
Owning a diesel engine that still uses an electro-hydraulic injection system comes with a lot of responsibility, so make sure you have the time and expertise to maintain your engine as the years go on.
Now is a great time to commit to a regular maintenance schedule. Change your oil at the interval mentioned above by keeping track of when you last changed the oil and how many miles you’ve racked up since. Even a slight delay in the oil change can lead to small problems that can turn into major headaches down the line.
Choose a high-quality oil that’s compatible with a HEUI diesel engine. You can use a standard 15W-40 oil on the earlier 7.3L Powerstroke engine, but consider going with a low weight, fully synthetic, low ash engine oil if you're driving the later 6.0L models.
HEUI systems make it impossible to run out of oil because the fuel injectors will fail to fire once the oil level drops below a certain threshold, therefore protecting the engine from catastrophic failure should you forget to change your oil at the recommended intervals.
These safeguards can bring you some peace of mind on the road, especially if bad weather or unexpected delays make it tough to maintain a regular maintenance schedule. However, it’s important to remember that the HEUI system has no effect on the other components in the engine. They will continue to degrade at the normal rate.
Watch out for leaks in the engine’s oil supply. HEUI systems are just as vulnerable to oil leaks, considering the high PSI. They tend to be more common on the 6.0L models. The injection control pressure sensor can usually detect the leak, so be sure to fix the problem right away.
If you have a 7.3L or 6.0L Powerstroke engine, using the HEUI system may take some getting used to. Adjust your maintenance habits to improve engine performance.