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Winter Maintenance for Diesel Engines

The extreme temperatures and weather conditions associated with winter can negatively affect your diesel engine’s ability to function at peak performance. To safeguard your engine from the colder temperatures, rain, snow, and everything else that comes with the season, you’ll have to be proactive in maintaining it. This guide to winter maintenance for diesel engines covers some of the basic precautions you can take, such as completing your regular maintenance and checking the parts that are essential for keeping your engine warm in the cold. These precautions will help your engine run more smoothly in harsh, unforgiving conditions, whether you’re driving in subzero temperatures or trapped in the middle of a relentless snowstorm.

Test Your Batteries

Diesel-powered engines require a lot of power to start. They’re usually equipped with two batteries, which you should replace at the same time. The average battery can last anywhere from two to five years. If your batteries are in good condition, your engine is good to go—but if not, be wary. Colder temperatures are prone to destroying weak batteries. If your batteries abruptly fail, you could be unable to start your vehicle.

To get the most out of your batteries, you’ll want to regularly test their health. By following some simple maintenance tips, you can effectively extend your batteries’ life span. Your batteries have an expiration date, but it’s not the only factor that influences the best time to replace them. Other factors include how often you start your engine and the duration of its run time. If you start your engine often but only run it for shorter periods of time, your batteries can wear out faster. Temperature is another major factor. Your batteries’ output is significantly reduced in cooler weather, which puts them under heavier strain. In the winter, people tend to use their headlights, windshield wipers, front and rear defrosters, and seat heaters more often; these can increase your alternators load resulting in a discharged battery.

Cleanliness is important, too. Dirt can act as a conductor, draining your batteries’ life. Keeping your batteries’ terminals and cables clean will make them last longer. Lastly, you’ll want to make sure your batteries are properly fastened. Using a proper hold-down clamp can cut down on excessive vibration.

Don’t Forget the Block Heater

Most diesel engines are equipped with block heaters, which are essential tools for warming your engine before you start it. Not sure if you have a block heater? You’ll need to do a quick inspection. Check the area behind the front bumper and grille or under the hood for the cord to see if you have one. If not, we recommend visiting a licensed facility to get one installed.

Before cold winter months arrive, you’ll want to make sure your block heater is functional. If you suspect your block heater is not working, the first thing you’ll want to do is inspect your block heater’s cords. Sometimes, wires can get pulled out of the plug. Rewiring them is a quick and simple solution to your problems. If you are still having problems with the block heater it should be inspected by a licensed technician.

Do Some Basic Maintenance

You’ll need to routinely maintain a few components of your vehicle, including the filters, oil, and other fluids such as the coolant. You need to replace your fuel filters as per manufacturer specifications. Most diesel engines have two fuel filters—a primary and secondary. For optimal cleaning, you should replace these at the same time. Clogged fuel filters can lead to issues with gelling. Replacing them isn’t guaranteed to eliminate your problems with gelling, but it can reduce the likelihood of these problems occurring. Just like your fuel filters, you should inspect and replace your air filters as needed.

Upgrading your filters can lead to improved maintenance intervals and efficiency. For improved filtration, water separation, and air and vapor removal, you can opt for aftermarket lift pump and fuel filtration systems. A cold air intake kit can come with washable, reusable filters that will function better than your regular stock air filters.

Changing the oil is another crucial part of your engine’s recommended maintenance schedule. You should change your oil every 3,000 miles if you’re using standard oil and every 5,000 to 6,000 miles if you’re using full synthetic oil. Don’t forget the rest of your fluids, either. You need to flush and change your engine’s transmission fluid and coolant every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. The above intervals are just guidelines but it is always recommended to follow manufacturer specifications.

Check Your Tires

Another essential part of winter maintenance for diesel engines is checking your tires. Ice-covered roads are slippery. If your tires don’t provide enough traction, they could contribute to an accident. More than one factor can contribute to tire wear, including driving style, alignment, worn suspension, and tire pressure. If your tires are looking worn, replacing them before the colder weather sets in is a good safety precaution. Investing in sturdy, high-quality snow tires will make it easier for you to travel across thin sheets of ice and through unplowed snow.

Examine the Glow Plugs

Glow plugs play a unique role in warming the vehicle’s cylinders during cold starts. They’re incredibly long-lasting, and you usually only need to replace them every five years or every 100,000 miles. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you might want to consider replacing your glow plugs:

  • Engine misfire
  • Decrease in power and acceleration
  • Difficult starting in cold weather
  • Black smoke from the exhaust

Ideally, you should replace your glow plugs as a full set.

Don’t Leave Out the Additives

When exposed to freezing, subzero temperatures, your engine’s fuel can reach its cloud point and experience gelling. The waxy fuel can lead to plugged-up fuel filters or severe damage to your engine. Anti-gel additives can provide protection against cold weather and gelling, disperse water without the use of alcohol, improve the combustibility of your fuel, and prevent corrosion. They’re also compatible with ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD).

Canadian Diesel Online carries effective and practical solutions for your Chevy, Nissan, Ford, or Dodge. You can use our positive air intake shutoff valves for emergency overspeed shutdown protection or upgrade your vehicle with some of our high-quality aftermarket diesel parts.

Winter Maintenance for Diesel Engines

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