Mid-Winter Diesel Prep: Use These Simple Tips to Keep from Getting Stranded in the Cold
In the Midwest, winter has reared its ugly head twice in the form of a pair of brutal snow storms, each dumping about a foot of the white stuff on America’s heartland. Couple that with ice in the upper South, nor’easters in the New York and New England region and a record 60-inches of snowfall outside of Pinecrest, California and the 2021-2022 winter season has been nothing short of eventful. Aside from a few breaks in the cold with unseasonably warm weather, cold spells have wreaked havoc on outdoor equipment and fleet vehicles. These are the kinds of fuel-gelling, battery-killing cold waves that can destroy the will of a diesel owner—but not you.
Believe it or not, you’ve almost got Old Man Winter beat, don’t give up on cold-weather maintenance now! Below, we’ll give you the ammunition you need to win the war against the cold. From carrying on with your current cold-weather regimen to optimizing your cold-start vitals to performing a few subtle hardware check-ups, there is no reason your Ford, GM or Ram won’t persevere through the last couple months of winter’s wrath.
Tire Inflation Checks Are (Arguably) Most Important During Winter
As basic as basic gets, make regular checks of your tire's inflation pressure. Even in milder weather, permeation (where air leaves the tire even though no puncture or leak exists) is known to cost a tire roughly 1-psi per month. During winter, extreme cold can increase permeation, and often does, which means keeping tabs on proper inflation should be done more frequently. Remember that under-inflated tires wear unevenly on the outer edges, not to mention that low pressure translates into reduced load carrying capacity. One final note: always check inflation pressure when your tires are cold.
Public (Roadway) Enemy #1: Road Salt
In the Midwest and Northeast, where road salt is frequently applied to public roadways, it behooves you to wash your vehicle any time the weather breaks—or any time you can get inside a heated car wash bay. While one winter of battling road salt won’t destroy a vehicle, keeping your frame, axles, body, brake lines, fittings, fasteners and electrical sensors free of sodium chloride will work wonders for you in the long-haul. Remember that nothing accelerates rust and corrosion quicker than road salt (i.e. sodium chloride).
Ensure Your Batteries Are Still Up To The Challenge
Although this should’ve been done at the outset of winter, it never hurts to check up on battery voltage midway through the winter melee. Prior to turning the engine over, voltage should read at least 12.6 volts or higher—and shouldn’t drop below 10 volts while cranking. If either reading is low, you may have a battery (or two) on its way out. With the engine idling—and the glow plugs or grid heater cycled off—voltage should check in between 13.7 and 14.7 volts. Battery tenders and even solar battery chargers (such as the one shown here) can help keep your batteries in tip-top shape during even the most frigid conditions. The latter product, a 5-watt solar battery charger, has kept the 3-year-old, outdoor-dwelling, deep-cycle battery in this author’s Jetta TDI alive all winter so far. The battery in this 19.5:1 compression diesel used to have to be replaced every 13 months (just outside of warranty—of course).
The 6.0L Blues
Cold-weather issues plague many diesel engines across all brand lines, but to this day no other diesel seems to be as negatively affected by winter as the 6.0L Power Stroke is. This engine flat-out hates cold weather and a myriad of issues can arise by ignoring the health of its batteries. Most importantly, weak or dying batteries slowly kill the fuel injection control module (FICM), the module that’s responsible for sending adequate voltage to fire the fuel injectors. But in addition to making sure a 6.0L’s batteries are always in tip-top shape, stiction is commonly experienced—a condition where the spool valve within each injector fails to function optimally due to friction. Stiction can be alleviated (if not completely solved) by switching to a lower viscosity (and synthetic) engine oil and running an oil additive such as the products offered by Rev-X or Hot Shot’s Secret (specifically, Hot Shot’s Stiction Eliminator).
Run A Proven Anti-Gel Fuel Additive
Hopefully you’ve been doing this already, so keep it up if that’s the case. If you’re just getting started, buy an anti-gel fuel additive that’s specifically formulated for winter. Even though diesel fuel is specially formulated for winter (i.e. “winter blend”), it can reach its cloud point as early as 20 degrees F. When this happens, solid wax crystals begin to form a haze within the fuel which in time can gel up fuel lines, fuel filters and fuel pumps. A winterizer or anti-gel fuel additive added at each fill up is best for preventing gel ups, while products such as Power Service’s Diesel 911 and Amsoil’s Diesel Recovery (shown) can be used in emergency situations to thaw out fuel filters and fuel lines.
Keep A Spare Fuel Filter In The Cab
For a little added insurance, it always pays to keep an extra fuel filter or two in the cab with you. Trying to drive with a partially plugged fuel system can cause injection system damage. And while no one wants to swap fuel filters on the side of the road, it can mean the difference between getting where you need to be or waiting around in the frigid cold for a tow truck—and being stranded without heat.
Use Your Block Heater!
This is a no-brainer for most, but surprisingly a block heater goes unused by many diesel owners. By electrically heating engine coolant, a block heater also keeps engine oil warm, which makes startups much less taxing on the batteries and starter. Many block heaters call for 1,000 watts and are more than capable of either maintaining EOT (and ECT) at 100-plus degrees or bringing EOT or ECT up from freezing at roughly 10 degrees per hour. An outdoor-rated timer is highly recommended for engines that spend a lot of time plugged in.
Take 5 Minutes To Eliminate Potential Boost Leaks
Especially in late-model diesels, where more horsepower and boost pressure is on tap than ever before, it pays to check the security of intercooler pipes and boots. In extreme cold things contract (i.e. shrink) and intercooler clamps can lose some of their grip—which can be a big problem for a component that’s forced to handle 30-psi of boost or more regularly. A quick and simple check of all intercooler boot and pipe clamps will help rule out any unexpected and inopportune blown boot scenarios. Just make sure not to over tighten anything here, but rather “snug up” any clamps that appear in need of tightening.
More From Driving Line
- While it’s always best to install new tires before winter hits, the saying “better late than never” certainly applies. Find out how well our test set of Nitto Ridge Grapplers performed in snow right here.