3 Tips And Advice To Maintain Your Car’s Aftertreatment System

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the millions of cars, trucks, and buses plying America’s roads account for over a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Passenger cars make up more than half of the transportation sector’s total GHG emissions, with cargo trucks in second.

It’s no surprise that car companies, transport services, and everyday motorists want to cut their carbon footprint. Every pound of GHG released by their exhaust pipes affects everyone on Earth in various ways, from causing health problems to making hurricanes stronger. If they don’t do it, driving will become much harder in several years.

Fortunately, modern cars have the necessary tech to help out. One example is an aftertreatment system, which converts much of the engine’s exhaust into less dangerous gases. But as with all car parts, this one requires adequate maintenance to keep it functional.

1. Mind The Warning Lights

The dozens of warning lights on a car’s dashboard don’t exist to be ignored by drivers. If they light up, they signify an issue with a specific part that requires immediate attention. Ignoring them risks blowing up a reasonable repair to a financially crippling one.

Because an aftertreatment system is connected to the engine, the Check Engine light will light up as soon as it detects critical issues. Be it an engine icon or a sign that literally says ‘Check Engine,’ the light will either remain steady or blink. A steady light doesn’t usually indicate a severe issue.

However, a blinking light is a signal of incomplete combustion. A problem with the engine may be dumping raw, unburned fuel along with the exhaust gases. The aftertreatment system and the catalytic converter further down the exhaust line are only designed to process exhaust gases, so raw fuel can hamper their functions.

While a Check Engine light signifies a problem, it doesn’t specify where said problem lies. That requires an onboard diagnostic (OBD) scanner, which most mechanics use to pinpoint the issue. For instance, an OBD scanner can check exhaust temperature by linking with QC tested sensors. For this reason, bringing the car to a mechanic at the onset of the Check Engine light is a must.

2. Top Up With The Right Oil

Motor oil coats every moving part of the engine, including the pistons and cylinders. As a result, some oil residue may mix in with the exhaust as it passes through the aftertreatment system. The good news is that the device can catch most of these residues through the diesel or gas particulate filter (DPF/GPF), the first line of aftertreatment.

That being the case, experts say a lubricant formula that doesn’t produce too much residue helps. In recent years, fuel companies have introduced low-ash lubricants that generate less ash than regular formulations. It can lessen the burden on the aftertreatment system, reducing the frequency of maintenance, if not eliminating it.

If such lubricants aren’t available, choosing the right one and sticking to the oil change schedule will suffice. It pays to weigh the pros and cons of organic, semi-synthetic, and fully synthetic motor oils, more so to be wary about the last one. Some additives in fully synthetic lubricants may do more harm than good to the DPF/GPF.

3. Leave Filter Cleaning To The Pros

A brand new DPF/GPF, while not among the top 10 costliest parts to replace in a car, is costly nonetheless. Estimates wildly vary depending on the filter’s quality and the type of vehicle it will be installed in, but the ballpark range is between USD$3,000 and USD$10,000.

Experts advise against do-it-yourself filter cleaning, as it’s easy to damage the filter during the process. Bringing it to a local mechanic or dedicated cleaning service is a safer choice, as they have the equipment and expertise.

The cleaning process varies by mechanic or service as much as the cost. Some employ one of several methods, while others use multiple methods as part of a complete cleanup. Here are some examples:

  • Thermal: The filter is placed in a special oven that heats it to 1,200oF for up to 12 hours. At this temperature, much of the soot burns up.
  • Aqueous: The filter gets sprayed with medium to high-pressure water for two hours to remove the soot. This method is more delicate on the filter’s metallic parts.
  • Compressed Air: The filter is blown with compressed air and nontoxic aerosol. The process only takes around 10 minutes but requires hours of drying.
  • Ultrasonic: The filter is submerged in a water or chemical base agitated by ultrasonic sound frequency.


One aftertreatment system might not make much difference amid climate change, but millions of them will. Their ability to trap particulates and convert dangerous GHGs into safer ones gives motorists peace of mind, knowing that every mile driven doesn’t equate to an environmental crisis. It’s all the more reason to ensure the system’s in working order.

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