Common Diesel Problems in the Winter (And How to Avoid Them)

Across the country every single day, diesel trucks carry products from one location to the next, while buses take people where they need to be. Diesel trucks and vehicles in many ways form the backbone of the American transportation industry, but winter can be a deadly game for these trucks. Fleet managers, drivers and truck owners who work with diesel vehicles need to understand the potential diesel problems in the winter that these trucks can face.

Build up of Deposits

While not necessarily a problem unique to winter, diesel engines can suffer when deposits build up in the combustion chamber over time. This can lessen fuel economy, which detracts from one of the main reasons large vehicles use diesel fuel to begin with – its overall efficiency.

Diesel fuel is less refined than gasoline. This means that it allows more carbon buildup in the engine. If the carbon is not removed, the diesel vehicle will not run as efficiently as possible. In winter and other seasons, it’s crucial to keep the combustion chamber clean for the truck to run at its best.

Fuel Gelling

In the winter, it’s common for diesel trucks to have start up problems. While newer trucks have features designed to limit this problem, it is still going to be a problem. The very nature of diesel fuel and its composition can create this problem.

Diesel is made up of hydrocarbons that can solidify when the temperature drops to 40 degrees below Fahrenheit. When this happens in the winter, the fuel becomes gelatinous, and the truck will not start properly. The gel-like fuel cannot flow through filters and properly start the engine. This problem is common to both petro diesel and biodiesel.

In order to help combat this problem, fuel companies offer a winter blend during cold months. Winter diesel has a blend of hydrocarbons that have a lower freeze point. It is more costly, but it keeps trucks running in most winter weather. However, this does not help if the weather is unseasonably cold and the fuel suppliers have not made the switch to the winter diesel.

If you are caught in an unseasonably cold weather situation, you can add a bit of kerosene into your diesel to limit gelling. While this is not recommended by most vehicle manufacturers if alternatives are present, it can work. Keep in mind that this could cause engine damage, so alternative options are preferred when available.

Another option is to leave the engine idling. While this will limit your fuel efficiency, because idling does burn fuel, it will keep the fuel warm and prevents it from gelling.

Additives and fuel treatments can be added to the fuel for the express purpose of preventing gelling. This is a better option, when possible, than idling and using kerosene, because these additives were designed specifically for this purpose.

Dirty Fuel Filters

A new glow plug ready for actionWhen your fuel is at risk of gelling, a dirty fuel filter can be your worst enemy. The paraffin crystals that begin to form in your fuel can easily get stuck in a dirty fuel filter. This can cause the fuel to get cut off and prevent starting. To avoid this problem, be certain to change the fuel filter at the beginning of the winter season.

Faulty Glow Plugs

Glow plugs are essential for a diesel truck to properly start, as they heat the cylinders so the fuel will ignite. Just one or two glow plugs that go bad can cause the truck not to start in cold weather. Have these tested at the start of the cold weather season.

Winter can be a great time to own a diesel truck. Demand for heavy-duty vehicles can be high during cold weather, so you need to know that your truck is going to perform well. With these tips, you can keep it running in very cold weather, without fear of common winter diesel problems.

Photo credit: KingTyrone / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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