Van drivers urged to be aware of DPF problems

If you are a builder, delivery driver or fleet manager looking for a new or nearly new van then it's quite likely that you’ll be considering a diesel.

After all, a diesel engine ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to buying a new CV, with good fuel economy and high torque being among its two chief attributes. Indeed, the once smoky and dirty diesel van has cleaned up its act over the past few years and become a much cleaner and leaner machine.

Take the Ford Transit Connect for example; it's comfortable, spacious and returns an official 70mpg when fitted with an optional fuel economy package. What's more, its 1.5 TDCi diesel engine emits 105g/km of CO2, which makes it cleaner than most family cars. So, what's the problem?

Well, the issue lies with a small device that's fitted to the exhaust of many modern diesel vans - a diesel particulate filter (DPF). In theory, the DPF is a wonderful thing; it sits in the pipe, traps harmful particulates and prevents them from being released into the atmosphere, which is good news because diesel exhaust fumes are related to a number of diseases, including cancer.

The issue lies with a small device that's fitted to the exhaust of many modern diesel vans...

Once trapped in the DPF system, these absorbed particulates are then superheated and burned off during the DPF's regeneration cycle. However, this regeneration cycle needs about 15 miles to complete and if it doesn't get enough miles it eventually gets clogged up and stops working.

Quite simply, a modern diesel with a DPF cannot be repeatedly started from cold and driven short distances. It needs to do at least 15 motorway miles before it starts to regenerate and burn off all of those nasty particulates. Failure to do this could cause the filter becoming clogged up and failing, which will result in expensive bills for cleaning or replacing the DPF.

So, what can you do? One method of avoiding this problem was to pay someone to remove the DPF altogether, but VOSA has clamped down on this by making a DPF check a mandatory part of the MoT. Since February 2014, any van found to be missing its standard filter (one that was fitted by its manufacturer) will automatically fail the test.

What are the other options? Well, to be blunt, there aren't any. If you are a city-based builder or delivery driver - or cover short distances on a daily basis - you will probably not be able to run a modern diesel without risking huge DPF repair bills.

The only advice for builders who drive just a few miles each day is to find a van without a DPF, buy a petrol or investigate electric options. Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of good petrol vans available. Electric vans are also becoming increasingly prevalent. Not only will you avoid any DPF nightmares, but you could also save in the long run with improved economy and reduced fuel bills, with an electric van costing around 3p per mile.