Cummins 53 Block Guide: What Years, Recall, Failures, Review

Don’t be surprised if Cummins is not forthcoming about the 53 block it used to build. It was a travesty from the start and who n their right mind would acknowledge this issue? It was not a pretty picture or fun time for Cummins and it is understandable that they deflect from talking about it.

The 53 block has the number 53 stamped on it. That number indicates that the block was made in Brazil and now everyone knows that it indicates a troubled engine part. To be honest, many 53 blocks are still running and not suffering from any problems their fellow 53 blocks suffered from.

To learn more about this block and its troubles, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about before you buy any vehicle with this block in it. Not all were bad but they all suffer from a bad reputation.

What is a 53 block Cummins?


If you own a vehicle with a diesel engine then you may have heard about the infamous 53 block made by Cummins. Unfortunately, this was not a one-off problem for the great diesel engine-building company.

This was supposed to be an upgrade over the 5.9 L diesel engine Cummins made between 1988 and 1998. That was the era of the great killer dowel pin era. If you haven’t heard about that issue,m you are probably lucky.

It didn’t happen often but when it did, you could expect to pay for a new engine. Cummins thought it had fixed the problem with the killer dowel pin, with the 53 model and it did.

However, what they did not realize is that in their redesign, they made a portion of the block too thin to withstand the rigors of towing. The crack that appeared in this block usually happened when the block was placed under heavy-duty hauling and towing.

When it did, you lost your coolant. This problem was not as severe as the killer dowel pin which could cost you your motor but it was a big problem anyways. The good news was that there were temporary fixes for the cracked block, but that was not the only problem with this engine.

Where Was The Cummins 53 Block Made?

Cummins makes diesel engines in two locations that are related to this block. The first location is Brazil and it is the source of the infamous 53 block. About 100,000 models were made at the Tupys plant in that country and production outnumbered the second plant by about 8 to 1.

The second plant was located in Mexico and the company that made Cummins diesel engines was named Teksid. To tell which engine came from which plant you had to look on the block. If there was a two-digit numeral stamped on the driver’s side of the block, then it was made in Brazil.

If the numeral was longer than 2 digits, then the block came from Mexico. As you can guess by now, the infamous 53 block was made in the Brazil plant. The production was not just for one year.

When you got one of those 53 blocks in your vehicle, they were not limited to Dodge Rams, you were lucky if you did not suffer from a cracked block in due time. We say due time because it usually took a few years for the crack to develop.

To find out if you have a 53 block in your diesel vehicle, you will have to crawl under the engine and look for the 53. Sometimes the 53 was placed on the passenger side so check both sides to make sure yours is not a part of this infamous family of motors.

What Years Were The 53 Block Cummins Made?

It is said that this engine was made by Cummins between 1999 and 2002 and it was a 5.9 L 24-valve model. We said this engine replaced the earlier 5.9 L engine and it did. The biggest difference between those two models was the 1988 to 98 model was only a 12-valve engine.

We do need to be fair here and not all 53 blocks suffered from the crack in the block. This problem usually occurred after years of use. It was not like it was going to happen the moment you drove off the lot with your new Dodge Ram or other diesel vehicles.

It took many years of hard work before the block cracked and usually, this took place after a lot of heavy towing or hauling uphill. Unlike the fatal killer dowel pin, your engine would not blow up once the crack started.

Instead, you would just lose coolant and you could tell it was happening because your temperature gauge would rise very quickly. The reason the crack develop was due to coolant cavitation, corrosion, coolant pressure in the block, and torque.

Just be aware that besides the Dodge Ram of those years, you can find this block in the following vehicles- medium-duty trucks from different manufacturers, mobile homes, public school buses, and mass transportation buses.

How Many Cummins 53 Blocks Were Made?


It is estimated that about 100,000 53 blocks were made between 1999 and 2002. It is hard to say how many did get made and only Cummins may have the accurate total.

Besides what was mentioned as the source of the problem in the previous section, those sources may not have taken place if one part of the block was made differently. This design only took place, that we know of, with the 53 block.

It seems that the water jacket walls were made too thin. Whether that was accidental or a design flaw, we will let Cummins answer that. With the thinner jacket wall, the coolant, etc., could take its time and corrode the metal creating the crack.

As we have also stated, this process took years and did not happen 6 months down the road. Plus, it may not happen if you are not doing a lot of heavy towing or hauling. If it is just a daily driver, then you may have escaped dealing with this problem.

It is just hard to say and even if you escaped this problem, the 53 block had other parts attached to it that failed on you more often.

What's Wrong With a 53 Block Cummins?

We have already discussed the major problem the 53 is known for. Unfortunately, Cummins had a lot of problems with the 53 block engines during the same time period. Here are some of the more common problems that took this engine down the wrong road:

1. Bad injection pump- the main part that failed in this component was the rotor as it seized up in the distribution section of the pump. This was caused by low fuel pressure and ultra-low sulfur fuel.

2. Dead pedal syndrome- this was caused by the accelerator pedal position sensor. When you pushed down on the throttle you would get no response. Hence the name dead pedal. Since it is exposed to the heat of the engine, this part would fail frequently.

3. Transmission trouble- this time it is Dodge’s fault and not Cummins's as their 47 RE and 47 RH. The 43 RE could not handle the power and torque the 53 block produced. This developed into a shifting problem

If you did not get a cracked block, chances are you experienced one of these three problems during your ownership of that vehicle.

How Bad Are 53 Block Cummins?

This will depend on who you talk to. If the owner never had a problem, and there were quite a few of those, then they will tell you that the 53 block was a great engine. It was not bad at all.

If you talked to someone who did not suffer from a cracked block but one of the other common problems associated with this engine, then you may get mixed reviews. Everyone knows that component issues are part of owning any engine.

But if you talked to an owner who suffered a cracked block and paid between $5000 and $10,000 for the repair, then you may hear that it is a very bad engine and you should stay away from it.

While you can do a temporary block stitch to the crack, this just postponed the inevitable. Eventually, you would have to replace the engine and that was not going to be cheap.

Those owners may even swear off owning any vehicle that comes with a Cummins engine under the hood. The problem was that bad and it hurt Cummins's reputation for a while.

If the crack has not happened by now, chances are it may never develop but still be cautious when looking at any vehicle with this motor in it.

Are All 53 Cummins Block Bad?


No, they are not all bad. There are many owners reporting on the different discussion forums that their 53 block has traveled over 300,000 miles with no problem. Or they went over 200,000 miles with minor issues unrelated to the block.

You will find that most owners are not having any problems with their 53 block. Whether they are completely honest or not is another story. You will find that there will be other problems with the engine unrelated to the block.

The 47RE transmission was not up to the task of handling the power and torque so that is not the block’s fault. Then if the fuel injection pump goes, that too is not the fault of the block.

But the block will take a lot of blame because it has the reputation for being bad. Unless the block does crack, most engine problems are sourced elsewhere. The weak spot in the 53 block was the water jacket wall.

Even if you do a stitch fix, that fix may only last a year or so before other cracks in the same area will form. The stitch won’t crack again, but that doesn’t mean the other parts of the jacket wall won’t crack.

Cummins 53 Block Failure Rate

There is no official tally on this topic that we can find. Most people talking about the 53 block are on different discussion forums and any word on the failure rate is second hand at best.

The owners usually do not have access to official records and may only be repeating something they have heard or read about. Suffice it to say that the failure rate may not be as great as the 53 block reputation indicates.

Many owners may not have reported this failure to anyone. They just live with the problem and keep an eye on their temperature gauge. So the official records may not indicate an accurate record either.

A slightly cracked block is not a death sentence like the killer dowel pin. That pin may be small but if it lands in the wrong spot, it will kill the engine so that it is irreparable.

The killer dowel pin had 3 result options. It could fall harmlessly into your oil pan and never move again. The number two option is that it may hit one of the timing gears and be sent out through the side of the timing case.

This scenario created a giant oil leak for you to fix. The final but rare result is that the pin is jammed between the gears and causes a giant chain reaction that killed the engine.

Cummins 53 Block Recall

We have not come across any official recall notice for the 53 block by Cummins. This problem only affected about 100,000 vehicles and as reported earlier, many owners simply lived with the problem.

Or they got the block stitch done and ran the truck like normal for a few more years. However, we did come across a notice for a class action lawsuit that Cummins settled in 2012.

This settlement gave roughly $500 to all the owners who had the 53 block and it cracked but with special conditions that had to be met first before the owners would get the money.

You can read about that settlement at this link. When you read the letter, you will see the line where Cummins admits to no wrong doing. If they issued a recall, that would counter that statement and probably make Cummins liable for larger payouts.

But as we stated we did not find any recall notice so Cummins is probably going to blame the plant in Brazil and say they messed up on the casting of the block.

The deadline to receive any money for your 53 cracked block passed 10 years ago. You had until January 26th, 2013 to file a claim.

53 Cummins Block Repair


There were two basic repairs that could be made to the cracked block. One is not leaving it until it got worse. Some drivers have done that and have had to fill their coolant tanks up more frequently.

The most common repair was the block or lock stitch. If done properly, the repair would hold for a year or two. On rare occasions, it lasted longer than 2 years. But this was just delaying the inevitable repair.

The inevitable repair was to replace the engine block. This could get expensive. While the stitch repair could cost you anywhere between $500 and $1000 depending on who is doing it, the replacement would cost anywhere between $5000 and $10,000.

There may be other repair options but these are the two that are mentioned most often. The stitch repair will help keep your coolant inside the engine where it belongs but there was no guarantee that another part of the water jacket wall would not crack later on.

If it does you are then faced with the same decision again.

Cummins 53 Block vs 55

Here is the deal, many people throughout the years have told other members on their discussion forums to run away from any vehicle with a 53 block under the hood. They do not say the same thing for the 54 or even the 54.

The reason they don’t is that the 54 and the 55 were made with improvements to correct the problem found on the 53. While the 53 is still a good engine block, you will always shave the crack block issue in the back of your mind

That may be enough of a distraction that you may have an accident as you drive. In our research, we found nothing bad said about the 55 or even the 54. While these are not perfect engine blocks, they are better than the 53.

What all this means is that you will have a better driving experience if you avoid the 53. If your block has a long series of numbers on the lock and it is made in the same years as the 53, you are still safe.

Those blocks came from Mexico and did not have the casting problem the Brazilian 53 blocks had. Don’t let anyone tell you that those Mexican engine blocks are as bad or the same as the 53.

How To Find a Cummins 53 Block

This is to going to be hard to do. You can go to eBay as there may be an engine or two for sale with this block. Just be careful as the seller may not mention that it is a 53 block. Ask to make sure.

Then you can go to the many classified ads found online or in your local area. There may be a lot of owners looking to upgrade their older vehicles and want to sell the one with the 53 block in it.

Finally, you can go to the many Dodge and Cummins forums and see which owners have listed their 53 block vehicle for sale. Those would be your best places other than any engine repair or rebuild company that may be selling a refurbished 53 block.

The key to buying a 53 is to check to see if any repairs have been made to the block. If so, it would be advisable to find another engine for sale. There is no guarantee that the weaker water jacket wall will not crack again after a repair.

The one crack is not going to be the end of the problem as the wall is much bigger than the crack. If you buy a repaired 53 block it is possible you are throwing your money away.

Buying a 53 Block Cummins


The experts say for everyone to stay away from any vehicle that has the 53 block inside. But if that block does not scare you, then they are saying to negotiate the price down a few thousand dollars.

The value of the vehicle is not as strong with the 53 as it is with another block inside. Keep in mind that there are good 53 blocks out there that will continue to perform well.

The problem is you do not know which one that is and you do not know if it will crack after you buy it. So be wary of the 53 block vehicle and look for a non-53 block truck, etc., if you can.

As for the killer dowel pin blocks, 88 to 98 vehicles, if it hasn’t killed the engine or caused any other problems, get it fixed as soon as possible after your purchase.

Avoid the problem altogether and repair it even if it isn’t broken. This is a time bomb waiting to happen

Some Final Words

Most engine blocks are great. They are strong, reliable, and do not crack unless under extreme duress or pressure. However not every block made is perfect as the 53 block attests.

To save yourself some headaches and future problems it may be best to avoid buying any vehicle with the 53 block under the hood. It is a gamble if it will crack or not. And since it is getting older, that crack may come sooner than later.

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