Common Winter Issues with Diesel Engines

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Winter can take a heavy toll on your vehicle’s engine. Startup problems aren’t uncommon, and parts seem to break more frequently than usual. Understanding some of the common winter issues with diesel engines and how to quickly and efficiently solve them can help your engine run more smoothly in this cold, unforgiving weather.

Fuel Gelling or Freezing

The composition of diesel fuel makes it prone to gelling, or freezing, in the winter. The fuel consists of hydrocarbons, which can solidify when the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When this happens, the fuel becomes gelatinous. The gelatinous fuel will have a hard time flowing through your engine’s filters, which can make startup difficult, if not impossible. To combat this common issue, you can invest in special winter-blend fuel. This fuel has a lower freezing point, which allows it to withstand temperature drops and harsher weather conditions.

Faulty Glow Plugs

Another common winter issue with diesel engines is faulty glow plugs. To properly start, your engine needs to have functioning glow plugs. These are what heat the cylinders, causing the fuel to ignite. If the glow plugs are faulty or damaged, your entire engine might refuse to start. Thankfully, glow plugs are long-lasting. You usually only need to change them every five years or every 100,000 miles. Some vehicles will alert you to faulty glow plugs by flipping on the check engine light. If not, you can use a multimeter to check their resistance. If they’re broken, you’ll need to have them replaced.

Clogged Filters

One of the most common causes of stalling and failure to start is a dirty, clogged fuel filter. The paraffin crystals that form in your fuel can get stuck in a dirty filter, causing the fuel to get cut off. This can prevent your engine from starting. The easiest way to prevent this problem is to change your fuel filter before winter or, at a minimum, inspect its cleanliness. Keeping a backup filter on hand for the cold winter season is a smart choice. This way, you’re always covered.

Still having trouble with your engine? Thankfully, there’s plenty of simple, inexpensive things you can do to help your engine start in the winter. The cold season is hard on all types of engines, gasoline- and diesel-powered alike. But with the right knowledge and some simple precautions, you can make sure your vehicle runs great no matter what the weather’s like.

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