It’s that time of year again. The trees have lost their leaves, snow falls at the most inopportune times, and below freezing temperatures will soon become the norm. During these cold winter months, it’s extremely common for diesel engines to experience problems starting properly. Unfortunately, it is during this very time we rely on diesel engines to accommodate our busy traveling schedules and transportation of consumer goods for the holidays — which is why regular maintenance in the winter is a must. That includes routinely changing the fuel filter, using fuel additives, and having oil change services done at correct intervals.
Remember to Change Diesel Fuel Filters
The most critical element of maintaining a diesel engine during the winter months is to ensure it has a clean and useable fuel filter. A common cause of engine stalls during the winter can be attributed to a clogged diesel fuel filter. Diesel fuel starts to gel below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and can easily clog the filter. A simple way to avoid this problem is to replace diesel fuel filters at the beginning of every winter season. Most diesel fuel filters have a recommended change interval of every 10,000 miles—so once a year should be plenty for the average driver.
Use Anti-Gel Diesel Fuel Additive
As we mentioned earlier, diesel fuel can solidify into a gel-like substance when temperatures drop. Diesel fuel is made up of hydrocarbons (primarily paraffins) which can solidify when temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This gel-like substance can then prevent the vehicle from starting as it may clog the fuel filter. While the most common symptom of fuel gelling is not being able to start the engine, it can also present itself in the form of decreased engine performance. Truck drivers may not notice a difference in engine performance when operating at cruising speeds but when they accelerate, they notice a marked decrease in power. To prevent both clogging and reduced performance, an anti-gel additive should be mixed in with the engine’s fuel. While many additives are marketed as all-season and can be used, there are additives designed to specifically out-perform in cold climates.
Some Diesel Engines Require Diesel Exhaust Fluid
Almost all diesel-powered passenger cars and trucks built since 2010 require diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) due to their engines being equipped with selective catalytic reduction (SCR). DEF is used as a consumable in SCR to lower NOx concentration in diesel engines which therefore will produce cleaner exhaust emissions. DEF, being a water-based solution, will freeze solid when its temperature reaches 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Many vehicles have the option of having a DEF tank heater that thaws the fluid during normal vehicle operations, but this isn’t standard. Making sure you have both proper amounts of DEF and a tank heater is something to keep in mind during these cold winter months.
Timely Oil Changes Help Keep Your Diesel Engine Running Strong
If the engine is the heart of a vehicle, the oil is its lifeblood. During the cold winter months, a vehicle’s oil may flow too slowly (or not at all), which can dramatically impact engine health and start-up reliability. Neglecting to change the oil regularly can exacerbate these symptoms. While most diesel engine owners change oils according to the service manual (which usually recommends 5,000 miles), the owner’s manual tells a different story and actually recommends oil be changed according to a different interval — engine hours. It is recommended to change oil approximately every 200 engine hours. 5,000 miles on a highway is a lot different than 5,000 in a city, so using engine hours as a metric paints a much more accurate picture. Take the number of road hours since your last oil change and multiply it by 25 to get the theoretical engine miles between oil changes (200 hours x 25 = 5,000 theoretical engine miles). It is crucial to stick to this schedule if you don’t plan on spending thousands on easily preventable repairs.
We rely on diesel vehicles to transport basic necessities like food and water, retail goods for the upcoming holiday season, and to get us from point A to point B. Regardless of the multiple challenges facing diesel vehicles in the winter, they must still be able to operate under the most extreme conditions. Diesel fuel filters must be changed, anti-gel additive must be mixed into the fuel, and oil changes need to be done regularly. It’s crucial to educate your customers on the potential issue’s diesel engines may face in these winter months and how they can preemptively prevent them.