How-To Build a 450whp 6.0 Powerstroke With 4 Performance Upgrades
Just a tuner, intake, and exhaust upgrade can push the 6.0 Powerstroke into the 425whp range, all of which will only run you around $1,500. However, these engines are plagued by a few problems that we need to address before adding that amount of power. Furthermore, there are a handful of additional smaller but worthwhile supporting mods to help ensure reliability once tuned.
In this guide we're going to teach you how to build a reliable 400-450whp 6.0 Powerstroke. We will cover some basic power limits, bulletproofing or reliability upgrades, and then talk about the four mods we recommend to reach these power levels: a tuner, cold air intake, intake elbow, and exhaust system.
Factory Power Limits
425whp is a good target for those looking for some additional power without breaking the bank. Once you start pushing beyond this you are going to need a lot more supporting modifications and things start to get really expensive. These are the power limits of all the major engine components that you should be aware of:
- Fueling: the factory injectors and nozzles cap out around, or just shy of, 450whp, you will also need a stronger lift pump beyond 500whp
- Turbo: the stock turbo is running full steam around 475whp and will lose some reliability at 450+
- Transmission: the 5R110 is one of the stronger components, good for a bit more than 500whp before needing trans upgrades
- Block & Internals: these are good up to around 700rwhp
- Head & Head Gasket: pulling the heads is a given once tuned so head studs and keeping EGTs down are important
Bulletproofing: Supporting Mods Before Adding Power
The 6.0 Powerstroke has a lot of common problems. The oil cooler and EGR cooler are two common failure items and in addition to that these engines are known to pull heads and blow head gaskets when tuned. A few of these come from inherent flaws that we can try to prevent, and the others come from high EGTs which we will address with the mods a bit further down.
Before jumping into tuning and additional power mods, there are two, and potentially more, modifications that will help prevent oil cooler and EGR cooler failure, and head gasket issues.
The best option is to fully bulletproof the 6.0 Powerstroke, but this is very expensive as well. Since we're talking about building power on a budget, here is the budget route to maintain some degree of reliability and prevent expensive repairs:
Coolant Filtration Kit
A common reason these engines overheat and pull heads is because of the oil cooler. The oil cooler clogs which takes out the EGR cooler which causes overheating, leading to blown head gaskets. Now some oil coolers are bound to fail naturally, but a big cause is from dirty coolant.
Adding a coolant filtration kit will pull all the junk and debris out of the cooling system which in turn will significantly improve the likelihood of oil cooler failure, which will then improve the chance of EGR cooler failure, which comes full circle also reducing blown head gaskets.
Cost: $160 | Buy Here
ARP Head Studs
Even without overheating the 6.0 Powerstroke is still prone to lifting heads. This is especially true once you add a tuner and turn up the boost levels. The head is also known to crack around the valve seats which is not fun nor cheap to fix. So in addition to doing all things we can to reduce EGTs we also highly recommend ARP head studs.
The 250-4202 head studs are what we recommend. It doesn't make sense to not add in the M8 inner head bolts since they're like $37 so we include this together in our head stud kit.
Cost: $600 | Buy Here
6.0 Powerstroke Upgrades for 425whp
With a coolant filtration system and head studs we aren't completely safe of problems, but we have patched enough of the weak points to start adding some power to these engines. The four basic bolt-ons that you will need to hit these power levels are:
- Cold Air Intake
- Exhaust System
- Intake Elbow
Tuning alone can get you to 450whp. But overheating and high EGTs are a problem and reliability will decrease a lot when you just slap a tuner on it and run an aggressive tune without any other mods to help support airflow and the turbocharger.
1. Tuning: SCT Livewire TS+ Tuner
The two best tuning devices for the 6.0 Powerstroke are the Livewire TS+ and its mini version, the SCT X4. Performance mods without tuning just don't make sense. This is where all of your power gains are going to come from and at the price point, it's the best hp per dollar of any other modification.
Everything else on this list of upgrades is to support tuning and help lower EGTs and improve reliability when tuned. So tuning is a must and on these engines the TS+ is hands down the best tuner and the one most support by custom tuners. The X4 works just as well, it just doesn't come with the nice touch screen interface and all the monitoring options that the TS+ does, and since EGTs are an issue you will want some nice monitoring functionality to keep an eye on them.
2. Intake: Boosted Performance 4" Cold Air Intake
Tuning puts a lot of stress on the turbocharger, which isn't great for turbo reliability. The best way to reduce stress is by supplying it with more airflow. More airflow helps improve efficiency which results in power gains, lower temps, fuel economy gains, and a more reliable turbo.
Combined with tuning an intake will add around 10whp and 25wtq power gains while also adding 1-2mpg of increased fuel economy. The improved airflow and increased efficiency result in less heat production leading to lower EGTs and engine temps. And you'll also notice better throttle response and faster turbo spool.
Ultimately, an intake is a must have with tuning. Our Boosted Performance 4" intake offers the best performance benefits on the market at the most affordable price.
Price: $299 | Buy Here
3. Exhaust System: MBRP 4" Turbo-Back
The second upgrade to help support tuning is the exhaust system. Higher boost and more airflow via the intake means we have more exhaust gases to get rid of. When we don't get rid of them quickly enough, we create backpressure. This works against the turbo, reducing spool and causing excess heat creation and higher EGTs.
A larger 4" turbo-back exhaust system will drastically reduce EGTs and exhaust backpressure. Not only will this improve turbo efficiency creating some power gains it will also improve engine health significantly through heat and EGT reduction. Overall, it's a must have to keep temps down to prevent head gasket issues.
For the biggest gains (and most budget friendly route) you'll want the muffler-less option, but if you don't want too much extra noise the muffler option. You don't need a 5" exhaust with these mods and the stainless steel exhausts, while more durable, have a lot more drone sound wise.
Price: $469.99 for no muffler, $539.99 with muffler
4. Intake Elbow: Boosted Performance
Now, an intake elbow is going to be the smallest upgrade when it comes to performance benefits. It will help improve airflow marginally but you likely won't see too too much in the way of power gains.
However, it will help reduce EGTs by about 50-100 degrees, so at just $99 it's something we think is completely worth it to help keep temps down and add a bit of extra reliability. We can't stress the important of temperature maintenace? on the 6.0 Powerstroke so doing every little thing that helps is important.
Price: $99 | Buy Here
With a tuner, intake, elbow, and exhaust system you're in just under $1,500 in upgrades - all of which can easily get you to around the 450whp mark on the 6.0 Powerstroke. At these power levels the only thing in question is the injectors, so backing off a little bit and keeping things in the 400-425whp range will minimize upgrades required and maximize reliability.
The 6.0 is no stranger to problems, so before jumping into these modifications it's important to address the failure points. To do so, the best budget route is a coolant filtration kit and ARP head studs. The filtration kit will help prevent oil cooler and EGR cooler failures, which in turn prevents overheating, which saves the heads from blowing. However, when tuned the heads can blow regardless, so locking things down with some ARP head studs is highly recommended.
All-in-all, about $2,200 of mods later and you have a decently reliable 425whp 6.0 Powerstroke. Fully bulletproofing the engine and taking things a bit further is worth it for reliability, but also expensive so weigh those options carefully.