Launched in 2003, the 6.0 Powerstroke was the first emissions-era diesel produced by Ford. New technology such as EGR systems lead to a number of engine problems and ultimately gave the 6.0 Powerstroke a bad rap for reliability. Despite its poor reputation, the 6.0 can be a perfectly reliable diesel with a handful of upgrades. We won’t go into details here but wrote an article previously on how to “bulletproof” the 6.0 Powerstroke. Before throwing additional power on the 6.0 I’d recommend giving that a read to address any potential failure points that the
From the factory, the 6.0 Powerstroke came with 325hp and 560-570lb-ft. of torque. While these numbers were great back in 2003, they are dwarfed by the numbers today’s 6.7 Powerstroke puts out. For those looking for some additional power, here are some great budget and entry level modifications for the 6.0 Powerstroke.
For a few thousand bucks you can have a 450rwhp and 800lb-ft. torque 6.0 Powerstroke.
- Intake / cold air intake
- Turbo-back exhaust system
- Flash tuner
Recommended Supporting Modifications
- Fuel injectors (155cc/175cc/190cc)
- ARP Head studs
- Upgraded lift pump
1. 6.0 Powerstroke Intake Upgrade
An upgraded intake is our first recommendation on any turbo-diesel. Even if you aren’t looking for crazy power we still recommend an intake system. Performance intake systems, or cold air intakes as they are commonly referred to, increase airflow to the engine.
Increased airflow improves also increases the pressure of the air within the engine. Thus improving turbocharger efficiency which frees up power and takes stress off of the turbocharger itself. Additionally, an upgraded intake is extremely important if you plan to add a tune to your 6.0 Powerstroke and increase the turbocharger boost levels. When boost levels increase, the engine has to suck more air in.
Without an upgraded intake the turbocharger has to work overtime to compress enough air to reach the target boost levels. Without an intake the turbos reliability will drastically decrease.
Check out our more in-depth 6.0 Powerstroke Intake Upgrade Guide.
6.0 Powerstroke Performance Intake Benefits
- Improved airflow and less restriction
- Cool engine sounds
- Faster turbo spool
- Better throttle response
- 5-12hp gains
- 15-25tq gains
Best 6.0 Powerstroke Intakes
2. Turbo-Back Exhaust System
Generally speaking, less restriction = more power. More power requires more airflow hence our recommendation for an upgraded intake. Now that you are bringing more air into the engine, you need to efficiently get that air out of the engine. With additional power and airflow, the stock 6.0 powerstroke exhaust system is restrictive and creates turbo back-pressure.
Upgrading your exhaust system will reduce back-pressure which reduces restriction, increases power, and improves turbo efficiency and spool time.
The two options for turbo-back systems are (1) catless, or (2) high-flow catted. Catless systems remove the catalytic converters which will cause your 6.0 to fail emissions and is technically illegal. High-flow options are legal and will pass inspection. Unless you are trying to push insane power (800rwhp+) then a high-flow system will work just fine, although catless will offer more performance benefits even on a lightly modified 6.0 powerstroke.
A 4-inch system is great for 500-600hp goals. Anything higher than that we recommend 5-inch and going catless.
Turbo-Back Exhaust Benefits
- Less restriction, reduced back-pressure
- Faster turbo spool
- Louder exhaust note
- 5-15hp gains
- 10-30tq gains
Best 6.0 Powerstroke Exhaust Systems
- Banks Power
Both MBRP and Banks have multiple options for upgraded exhaust systems. They will range from $250-$700 depending on whether you want stainless steel, catless vs catted, etc. Overall, pick an exhaust system that fits within your budget and preference for catless vs. catted. All of these options will be adequate for the power levels we are discussing in this article.
3. 6.0 Powerstroke Flash Tune
On turbocharged diesel, flash tuners are the best bang for the buck mod. We refer to them as tunes or tuners but they are also frequently called chips or programmers. Using a tune in combination with additional mods like an exhaust and intake will amplify the performance benefits of these other mods.
While a tuner can be run standalone with no additional modifications, we usually recommend at least combining it with an intake. There are a number of different pre-set flashes or “maps” you can run with these tunes; some buy them to run fuel mileage maps for better MPGs while some run them for performance maps to increase power. If you are adding a tuner for the latter, get an intake too to help your turbo out.
Flash tuners are simple plug-and-play mods that plug into your OBDII port and change various ECM/PCM parameters. They come with multiple built-in maps that change PCM parameters based on your goals: power, fuel efficiency, towing, etc. Maps designed for more power will usually accomplish this by increasing the amount of turbo boost or psi. More boost = more power.
These tuners can be used in conjunction with a custom tune. However, custom tunes will run you an extra $300-$500. The built-in maps work perfectly for most folks – we recommed a custom tune once you decide to upgrade your turbo, but it’s not necessary prior to that.
Flash Tune Benefits
- Plug-and-play flexibility
- Multiple maps for power, fuel economy, towing, etc.
- 20-175hp gains
- 50-200tq gains
The power gains with a tune come in a vast range because it heavily depends on what map you are running and what modifications you have. Getting the upper 175hp and 200tq gains is not going to happen without an upgraded turbocharger. However, for a 6.0 powerstroke with an intake, exhaust, and tune, you can expect to be somewhere in the ballpark of 400-450whp and 700-800lb-ft. of torque
Best 6.0 Powerstroke Tuners
- SCT X4 (with pre-programmed custom tunes)
- Banks Power
- Bully Dog
4. 6.0 Powerstroke Upgraded Turbocharger
Before upgrading your turbocharger, here is what we recommend doing:
- Turbo-back exhaust
- ARP head studs / head gasket
- Fuel injectors (155-175cc for ~500rwhp goals, 190cc for anything above this)
- Regulated return fuel system
Now, onto turbo upgrades. For $1,000-$2,000 you can drop a tune, intake, and exhaust on your 6.0 powerstroke and get 120hp+ and 150tq+ without the need for many supplemental upgrades. Upgraded turbochargers are entering a new era where you will need to start upgrading your fueling system: lift pumps, fuel injectors, regulated return systems, etc.
This should be for the performance folks looking for 500rwhp+. There are a ton of options for upgraded turbos from a modest 500rwhp setup to a crazy 800rwhp setup. We are going to write a separate guide in the future on turbo setup options so we will just scratch the surface here.
The stock turbocharger is capable of handling approximately 475rwhp.
Best 6.0 Powerstroke Turbo Upgrades
I will lay out a few popular options. Please do your research and homework as there are dozens of available options.
- Garrett GT3788VA/PowerMax – 500rwhp capable
- Fleece Cheetah Turbo Street – 600rwhp capable
- Fleece Cheetah Turbo Race – 700rwhp capable
One smart recommendation: if your goal is 600rwhp, I’d recommend using a turbocharger that is capable of producing more than 600rwhp. You don’t want to be running your turbo at 100% just to hit your power goals. This will crush reliability and put a ton of stress on the turbo. Considering they are pretty much the same price, I’d suggest getting an a turbo capable of handling approx. 100rwhp more than your power goals.
As mentioned above, if you just want 400-450rwhp you can get away with just a tune, intake, and exhaust. At these power levels I 100% recommend upgraded head studs, but fuel injectors and other fueling upgrades aren’t quite necessary.
Some other supporting mods that I’m not discussing below include:
- Fuel supply return system
- EGR cooler upgrade
- Oil cooler upgrade
These are more so reliability mods and not 100% required so I decided to not cover them in detail. Additionally, a number of these supporting mods mentioned are included in the recommended replacement items for bulletproofing your 6.0, which I would recommend considering before adding a ton of power.
1. 6.0 Powerstroke Fuel Injectors (155/175/190cc)
Added power requires added fuel. The stock fuel injectors are 135cc injectors and are only capable of handling around 425rwhp before they are maxed out. As with running anything at 100% capacity, reliability of the stock injectors will diminish at these levels.
With an aggressive tune and an intake and exhaust, you can pretty easily max out the stock injectors. Here are some good guidelines:
Injectors for 400rwhp: stock or 155cc injectors; stocks will die eventually so 155c is a good upgrade. Approx. $1,500 upgrade
Injectors for 450rwhp: 155cc required, reliable up to 500rwhp. Approx. $1,500
Injectors for 500rwhp:175cc recommended, reliable up to 550rwhp. Approx. $2,000
Injectors for 550rwhp+: 190cc required. Approx. $2,500
2. ARP Head Studs
One of the common 6.0 problems is the head lifting and head gasket failing. This problem is caused by a chain reaction of the oil cooler failing which leads to the EGR cooler failing or clogging. There is also some belief that the stock bolts stretch which can cause head lifting too. Regardless of what the cause is, this is extremely common on tuned 6.0 powerstrokes.
Ultimately, if you are just running a tune and exhaust you are probably okay not replacing these. However, this issue still can arise on stock engines. Once you decide to add a tuner to your powerstroke is when we recommend definitely replacing the stock studs with ARP studs.
Cost: $500 for the studs, DIY is for experienced DIY’ers and labor can be expensive
3. Upgraded Lift Pump
Fortunately the 6.0 Powerstroke came stock with a lift pump. The stock electric lift pump is actually a fantastically strong pump. However, 155cc injectors tend to be the max that the stock lift pump can handle.
Once you upgrade to 175cc or 190cc injectors we recommend upgrading with a FASS lift pump. The 140gph pump linked to is capable of handling up to 700rwhp. Any power goals above that should look into upgrading to a 220gph pump. Additionally, a 75psi regulator spring should be used as well.
6.0 Powerstroke Performance Mods Summary
Despite its poor reputation for reliability, the 6.0 powerstroke can be reliable and can be reliable at high power levels. The stock block, rods, pistons, etc. are all good for around 700rwhp which is quite stout.
The best introduction to tuning and performance mods is an intake, exhaust, and tune. From there you will want to move into turbocharger upgrades which is where the game gets taken to the next level and the investment $$ drastically increases. For those targeting over 450rwhp you will need to look into an upgraded turbo, fueling system mods, oil and EGR cooler upgrades, and so on.
With the 3 basic bolt-on mods you can expect to be making 400-450whp and 700-800tq. Unlike the 7.3 Powerstroke, at these power levels you shouldn’t have any transmission issues. The 5R110 transmission is known to be reliable even at the 500rwhp mark. For these 3 basic bolt-ons however, we do recommend ARP head studs, and injectors are something to consider if you plan on daily driving in the 400rwhp+ range.