Engine serial numbers are specific numbers assigned to every individual engine. No engine that exists has the same serial number as another engine. If you know you engine serial number, you can find out the exact parts your engine was built with when it was first made.
How to Find Your Diesel Engine Serial Number
Sometimes it can be hard to find an ESN. Below we’ve collected the general formats your ESNs will have and where you can find them on your engine.
Caterpillar Engine Serial Number Location
Most engine serial numbers can be found on the dataplate. As you’ll see later in this article, the dataplates for a certain type of engine can be found in various places depending on the model. However, Caterpillar is pretty consistent, and the dataplate on a Caterpillar engine can be found on the driver’s side of the valve cover.
Caterpillar Engine Serial Number Identification
All Caterpillar ESN’s have a similar format. They all begin with a three number/letter prefix, which is then followed by 7 digits. The prefixes will correspond to a particular model. For example, prefixes of 1LW, 2WS, 5DS, 5EK, and 6TS indicate that the engine is a 3406E. For the more popular prefixes, people will refer to their engine by the prefix rather than the model. You may have heard someone say, “Oh, yeah, my 6NZ runs like a champ.” A 6NZ is a common prefix for a single-turbo C15. Some prefixes even have reputations. For example, a C15 with a prefix of MBN is known as a Bridge motor (because it was the bridge engine from the mechanical C15 to the electronic C15 ACERT), and is often critiqued heavily.
Caterpillar ESN Prefixes By Model
C15 and C15 ACERT:
Cummins Engine Serial Number Location
Cummins engine will have the engine serial number on the dataplate, however the dataplate will be in different locations based on the model of the engine. The location of the dataplate for your engine will be in your owner’s manual. If you’ve long since lost the physical owner’s manual, but can access Cummins Quickserve, you can see a digital copy of the owner’s manual there.
If you don’t have your owner’s manual and don’t have access to Quickserve, we have the locations for the dataplate on some of the more popular engine models.
Unable to find the dataplate or don’t see your engine model listed? It’s okay. Cummins also stamps the engine serial number into the passenger side of the engine block for all models.
Cummins Engine Serial Number Identification
Cummins engine serial numbers look more like a classic serial number than Caterpillar ESN’s do. They are eight digits long and are composed only of numbers. They go in a numerical sequence, based on which engine came first off the assembly line. There is no special designation for particular models.
Cummins engines do have something a little unique, called a CPL. “CPL” stands for “Critical Parts List” and is a list of the critical parts of the engine. There are fewer CPL’s than ESN’s because multiple engines can have the same CPL’s. For most major parts of an engine, giving us a CPL will work just as well as giving us an ESN.
Detroit Diesel Engine Serial Number Location
We could (and did) write an entire blog on where you can find your Detroit Diesel engine serial number. Detroit is notoriously inconsistent when it comes to ESN placement. While the locations you can find your ESN are often consistent across a model, they aren’t always, so don’t panic if you go to look in the spot listed below and don’t find it. It’s gotta be on the engine somewhere, so just keep checking.
Detroit Diesel Engine Serial Number Identification
Thankfully, the format of Detroit engine serial numbers is more consistent than their location. It can still get rather complicated though. For the sake of keeping this guide simple, we’re just going to go over the highlights.
Navistar Engine Serial Number Location
The engine serial number for Navistar engines can be found stamped on a pad on the block. Navistar keeps the location pretty simple. For engines that were built before the year 2000, that pad can be found on the left side of the block, just under the head to block parting line. For engines newer than that, the pad is on the right side of the block, between the oil cooler and the top of the block.
For most Navistar engines that were built after 1993, you will need more than just the engine serial number as well. You will also need the engine model, model year, horsepower rating, and torque rating, which can all be found on the emission label. The emission label can be found on the top of the rocker cover or intake manifold.
Navistar Engine Serial Number Identification
Navistar engine serial numbers are probably the most informative of all the ESN’s for the major OEM’s. They have a specific format that will provide the engine model, configuration, application, country of origin, and unit number.
The Importance of Diesel Engine Serial Numbers
Long, long ago in a time before electric cars were even conceived, heavy duty diesel engines were first made. These engines were not like mass-produced automotive vehicle engines. There was no standard Make-Model-Year formula that magically gave all engines with the same model name the exact same parts. No, they were special; each individual engine was different as it came down the conveyor belt.
And apparently the manufacturers didn’t think about what a pain in the butt it would be in the future when repairs needed to be done and parts ordered.
Because of the lack of foresight, finding parts that correctly fit an engine can be incredibly complicated. Engine serial numbers are important because they are the only guaranteed way to find the exact parts that an engine was built with. Usually if you’re buying a single part, providing the part number off the old part will also work. However, if you’re looking to get an engine rebuild kit, we will always ask you for an engine serial number. This might seem excessive, but when it comes to an expensive kit with a lot of parts, we want to absolutely make sure you’re getting the right thing. So whether you’re calling us or using our online quoting tool, be sure to provide your engine serial number.
When calling to order parts, we get some people that want to give us VIN’s (Vehicle Identification Numbers) instead of ESN’s. Unfortunately, a VIN is different from an ESN. We are able to look up some VIN’s to find their coordinating ESN’s, but this is not a guarantee. Depending on your vehicle, you can always use our VIN Decoder Resource Guide.
Anything this didn’t answer for you? Our experienced techs are on hand to answer your questions. Give us a call at 844-215-3406 to get your questions answered!Edited September 12, 2019