As the temperatures drop and colder weather moves in, your diesel truck might need a little bit more TLC. Unlike gassers, diesel engines can fall prey to a different range of mechanical issues during the winter months. Let’s look at some of the common winter challenges for diesel trucks and how you can help prevent them from happening to your truck.
Fuel Gelling: Fuel Filter Killer
While most manufacturers install better fuel filters on newer diesel engines, fuel gelling can still be a problem during the winter months. Unlike gasoline, diesel fuel contains a naturally occurring wax. When the temperatures drop, this wax crystallizes and causes the fuel to “gel.”
These tiny bits of solid wax can make it difficult (and not so much fun) to start your diesel truck in the winter. Plus, if there’s enough gelling, it can plug your fuel filter altogether – which means you won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. No fuel, no go.
There are a few different ways to prevent this from happening. In some places, diesel fuel makers will produce a different mix during the winter months to help prevent gelling. You can also add an anti-gelling additive. Many additives are double duty and can help clean buildup in your engine and injectors.
Cold Starts: Let Her Idle
While cold starts may not cause any issues during the warmer summer months, it can be a real pain to get your diesel engine going from a cold start in the winter. This is one of the most common diesel truck problems during the winter months.
But why, you ask?
Diesel engines are significantly different from gas engines. Instead of using spark plugs to ignite the diesel fuel, they rely on compression to create enough heat to ignite the fuel (here’s a good explanation of the physics of it).
As temperatures drop, the whole engine gets colder. This includes all the mechanicals inside, like the pistons and the cylinder walls. In winter, your engine has to work even harder to get those temps high enough to ignite the fuel and keep your truck running.
One way to help your truck out is by installing a block heater. This will keep the engine (a.k.a block) warm enough to prevent any cold start issues. Or, if you find that your oil is solidifying, you can also install a heated dipstick if you live in a particularly frosty region.
Remember to let your truck warm up before you take off. Letting your truck idle for five to ten minutes makes your truck’s job a heck of a lot easier.
Check Those Glow Plugs!
Glow plugs are there to start the ignition process, even if your engine is cold. Glow plugs are critical to a well-functioning diesel engine, particularly during the winter.
If you’re having trouble getting your truck started, you should check your glow plugs. The good news is that many newer trucks will let you know if one of your glow plugs isn’t working. However, if your truck doesn’t have this modern feature, you can also check your glow plugs manually with one of the many DIY tutorials available (like this).
It’s best to check your glow plugs before the temperatures start to plunge. That way, you’ll be prepared for winter driving and won’t have to fiddle around with them when they inevitably stop working in the wee morning hours and freezing temps.
Winter driving with diesel can come with a few different challenges. From fuel gelling to faulty glow plugs, cold temps can wreak havoc and bring your truck to a screeching halt. With a little preparation, your diesel truck will be ready to run smoothly all winter long.