Just as the vehicles on the road are different than they were twenty years ago, or even last year, so is the fuel you use in them. To think you can go on running the same blend of winter fuel cannot only be costly, but it can be dangerous. It's one thing to have a vehicle stranded in the middle of a blizzard and it's another to be stranded with it. This does not even take into account the down time or cost of towing and thawing out. Lets do some thinking and come to a solution. Be sure to check out our Diesel Update for additional information
The amount of #1 fuel you need to blend with your #2 has not only changed, it may not be your best bet for running in the cold. This can be attributed to many changes in the fuel.
One of these changes is the increased use of cracked fuel. This is when a heavier fuel like #3 is super heated and refined into a #2 fuel. Although it's now #2 fuel it may still retain some of the characteristics of the number # 3 such as retaining more water and being more viscous (thicker). The test used to evaluate a fuels viscosity is ASTM Test D445. This test is conducted at 40 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem with this is that a cracked #2 fuel may give the same viscosity as a genuine #2 at the standard 104 degrees Fahrenheit but as the fuel temperature drops the fuel may regain some of it's #3 viscosity, one of the biggest cold weather problems we deal with today.
Whenever fuel problems occur during cold weather it is automatically assumed to be gel. Although this may sometimes be true, in many cases it is simply the result of a viscosity problem. When your fuel becomes thick you may not be able to pull it from the tank through your fuel lines and to the filter. The longer the distance between your tank and your filter, the harder the pump has to work to move the fuel. Even if you can pull it to the filter you now have to pull it through the filter. If your using a standard 30 micron filter the fuel flows through it much easier than if your using a 10 micron or smaller. These super filters are so tight that they can be almost impossible to pull cold fuel through without a fuel preheater. A filter that is partially dirty, will also restrict the fuels ability to flow through it properly. Although there may be no wax in your filter, your vehicle is still starved for fuel and won't run. A good way to tell if you are having a viscosity problem is to remove you filter and look inside. A viscosity problem will result in a filter that is about half full or almost empty. Dump the fuel out. If your filter is heavy, it is probably full of wax. If it is light, it is more than likely a viscosity problem. You can cut your filter apart to be sure. If it's wax you will see it.
Winterizing Your Diesel
If you use any type of fuel heater you have probably found they can be very helpful for running in the cold, however when your equipment sets out in the cold and isn't running, you need additional protection. Fuel heaters also create some undesirable problems such as excess condensation. Warm fuel also burns poorly resulting in carbon build up, loss of efficiency, loss of power and increased soot levels in your oil. Don't shy away from fuel heaters, just turn them on only when you absolutely need them.
Adding #1 fuel is very good at thinning out your #2, helping it to flow easily. However, contrary to popular belief, #1 does nothing to keep the wax from solidifying, it just has less of it. I test fuel blends for Cold Filter Plug Point (CFPP) every year and the average drop in CFPP with a 50/50 blend is only about 8 degrees Fahrenheit. A good antigel can be far more effective than #1 in reducing wax but neither #1 nor an antigel can guarantee that you will run. Even if a blend can keep your fuel thin, wax still forms. Your vehicle is going down. If you are using #2 with an antigel that keeps fuel from gelling to 500 degrees below zero (if it were possible), but at 10 below it gets too thick and heavy to pull through your fuel system, you are going down. An though the wax did not congeal, you may have only gained a usable 10 degree drop due to the fuels poor viscosity. The best way to ensure you will continue to run when it’s cold is to use a combination of both blend and quality antigel. The use of an antigel will complement a blended fuel and vise versa. If you gain 10 degrees with a blend and 20 degrees with an antigel, the combination of the two may gain you not 30, but possibly 35 degrees. Each fuel is going to be different in how it reacts. A winter #2 is usually safe to run between 0 and 10 above Fahrenheit. If you drop 8 degrees with a 50/50 blend you have not gained much. With a quality antigel you may drop your pour point by 40 degrees and CFPP by thirty degrees, but due to viscosity problems you may still reduce your pour point the 40 degrees but the CFPP buy only 10 degrees. Another thing to consider when blending your own fuel is the order in which you mix it. You should always add the #1 first. It is lighter and will filter up through the # 2 on top. If you put the #1 on top that is where it wants to stay. Warm fuel and cold fuel also will have a tendency to stay separated. This is more of a problem than you may think. For those who have bulk fuel storage, these steps are even more critical than with just filling your truck. Bulk storage has little agitation and it could be weeks before you get a proper mixture. To avoid this problem you can purchase a fuel that has already been blended but you can take the chance that the mix ratios are not what they are said to be. Its possible to knock 2 cents off a gallon of fuel if you are selling a 30% #1 blend but advertising it as a 50\50, especially if your competition is selling a true 50/50. If you are putting your fuel out on bid to the lowest price you may be susceptible to a problem. The key is to tell you have been cheated before it’s to late and your 100 miles from nowhere and freezing your bumper off.
Water separators can be a great asset to avoid freezing up and should be mounted after the fuel heater so that it gets warm fuel. Water separators can be beneficial but can also cause the same problems as the tight tolerance filters discussed earlier, making it hard to pull fuel through or creating a week spot for air to be suck into the line instead of fuel. Some bypass their water separators during the winter and although this can be beneficial for one problem they are taking the chance of another problem, water
When it comes to picking an antigel there are several things to look for. Because a label claims something, it doesn't make it so. One of the only ways to truly know how well an antigel works is to see the test results for CFPP. Avoid products that claim you need more during the cold and less when it warms up. They usually claim to treat a significant amount of fuel on the front label, but when you read the fine print, they treat a lot less than you thought. Buying an additive can be complicated enough without these companies confusing us even more while trying to make a fast buck. You should also avoid products that contain alcohol's. They can cause many negative side effects. Because of all the bad press alcohol has gotten recently, many additive manufacturers are trying to hide the fact if they contain alcohol. Alcohol is usually very easy to spot just by the smell. A label that says flammable may be a good indicator but this is not 100% accurate. Alcohol is used in the majority of additives not because they work so well, but because they are cheap to manufacture.
You may consider an antigel that contains other properties such as a water dispersant, cleaning agents and a lubricant. But again, ask to see documentation of these claims. If suppliers cannot provide you with independent test results, don't buy their product.
Understanding all of the different cold weather terminology can be difficult as well as misleading. One common term is winterized #2. Many people think this is a blended fuel and it is not. Winterized #2 is just that, #2. It has a few different qualities than summer #2 that help cold weather operation but it is still #2. Other terms used are Cloud Point, Pour Point, Cold Filter Plug Point (CFPP) Wax Appearance Point.
Cloud point is the temperature at which your fuel starts looking cloudy due to wax crystals bonding together. Cloud Point usually occurs around 2 above zero F in winter #2 and 10 above in summer #2. This is generally a point at which you can run safely without gelling (if you are not using an antigel) however, there are some who disagree and claim that Wax Appearance Point is the safe temperature at which to operate. Wax Appearance Point is when wax begins to form and is not readily visible to the naked eye. This usually occurs about 10 degrees above zero in winter #2 fuel. I do give some credence to this stand.
Pour Point probably is the most widely used and misunderstood phrase when it comes to winter fuel. To establish Pour Point the fuel is dropped in temperature to the point at which it becomes a solid mass of wax with no liquid remaining. Add five degrees to this and you have Pour Point. This is not the point at which you can run safely regardless of what some might imply. Because an antigel can reduce your pour point by say 25 degrees does not mean it has dropped your ability to run safely the same 25 degrees. You may have only gained 10 usable degrees.
The best test for evaluating a fuels ability to run in the cold is also the best test for evaluating the quality of an antigel. This is the CFPP Test (Cold Filter Plug Point). This is when a determined amount of fuel is pulled through a filter in a given amount of time. The temperature is dropped in small increments and when it fails to pull the required amount of fuel through in the acceptable amount of time it is a fail. This gives you the temperature at which will should be able to run safely. CAUTION!!! This does not take into account other things that may make you run better such as a fuel heater, a partially plugged fuel filter, etc.
The CFPP test is designed to simulate a fuel system in a laboratory environment. It has proven to be very effective in determining the quality of an antigel. When you are looking to purchase an antigel ask that company to see the test results for CFPP with several different fuels. The results may vary, which is natural due to the difference in fuels. With a quality antigel, you should always see a reduction in CFPP, usually between a 20 to 40 degree drop.
As a Philosopher once said, It is unwise to pay too much, but it is worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money - that is all. When you pay too little you sometimes lose everything. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot - it cannot be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better. John Ruskin, 1819-1900
If you wish to have your fuel tested with or without antigel, you can send it to Cleveland Technical Center, 18419 Euclid Ave, Cleveland Ohio 44112. The cost is $28.75 per test. Just write a note asking for a Cold Filter Plug Point test. Use the same container you would use for an oil sample. Be sure to properly identify your samples to avoid confusion.