Here’s something you probably already know: It gets cold in Edmonton, really cold. In fact, a few years ago, it broke its own record by having 167 consecutive days of frozen weather. But that’s not an issue; a little bit of snow, hail, or freezing rain doesn’t stop the countless number of truckers that pass through the region every day.
That’s because they make sure that their heavy-duty engine is ready for these extreme temperatures, and so should you! Otherwise, you might find yourself breaking down on a random road in the middle of the night in -40°C temperatures. Don’t know where to start? Don’t worry; we’re covering it all on this page.
Heavy-Duty Engine Problems Caused By Cold
Your heavy-duty truck’s engine is a robust piece of machinery that can take a lot of strain and punishment over long periods of time. But that doesn’t mean that it’s indestructible. Engine components can become damaged in the best of times, let alone when you add freezing temperatures into the mix. Below are five issues that your engine can suffer from due to extreme cold:
Cracked Engine Block
Freezing temperatures can cause your engine’s coolant to freeze, expand, and crack the engine block. This can lead to coolant leaks, loss of engine coolant, and engine overheating.
Frozen Fluid Lines
Extreme cold can cause fluid to thicken and, in some cases, turn into a gel. This causes fluid line blockages and restricts fuel flow throughout the engine. Performance issues, starting problems, and damage to the fuel pumps and fuel injectors are all symptoms of frozen fluid lines.
Cold weather can damage the battery in your truck, resulting in decreased capacity and power delivery. This can lead to sluggish starts or failure to start at all. Repeated exposure to cold temperatures can permanently shorten the battery’s lifespan.
Cracked or Leaking Radiator
If you do not have the correct coolant type, anti-freeze levels, or mixture ratios, it can cause an expansion in the lines, which can cause cracks or damage to your radiator. Your truck may then experience coolant leaks and an overheating engine.
Colder temperatures can cause the oil in your engine to thicken, resulting in flow issues. Without sufficient lubrication, your engine will experience increased friction and component wear, leading to decreased performance, increased fuel consumption, and, in some cases, severe engine damage.
Tips to Keep Your Engine Healthy in Freezing Temperatures
So now you know how bad the cold can be for your heavy-duty engine, but what can you do to stay ahead of the game?
Check Your Batteries
Batteries are particularly susceptible to damage from the cold. Typically, they should last between 2-5 years, but dramatic temperature swings can cause them to seriously deteriorate. Check terminals and wires for corrosion, clean them, and tighten them if necessary. Battery blankets can also help with insulation.
If you can access a multimeter, set it to above 15 volts and connect it to the battery leads; it should read 12.6 or higher. If the engine is turned on, this will rise to 13.7 - 14.7 volts. If it drops below 10, then you need to change your battery.
Keep Your Block Heater Plugged In
Block heaters are essential for trucks operating in colder climates as they prevent a reduction in battery capacity and the thickening of engine oil. Failure to plug this in at temperatures under -15°C can cause battery stress and excessive wear on internal components.
Use Winter Fuel…
Suppliers will tend to switch to winter fuel around the fall, so by the time winter rolls around, your truck will rely solely on winter fuel. Although it has a reduced cetane value and reduces truck performance, its thinness allows it to flow easier.
...And Use Additives
Even winter fuel can freeze, which is why additives are still required. Adding the appropriate amount of anti-gel can help prevent fuel from gelling.
Keep Your Fuel Tank Full
Even without sub-zero temperatures, this should be an essential part of engine maintenance to prevent unnecessary strain. The more fuel you have in your tank, the harder it is for the fuel to freeze.
Monitor Coolant Levels and Anti-Freeze Concentration
Checking your coolant levels regularly and ensuring that your anti-freeze is suitable for the temperature.
Checking your coolant/water ratios is also essential for different temperature levels. For example, a 40:60 mix of coolant and water should be fine for temperatures down to -24°C. A 70:30 mix will allow you to drive in temperatures as low as -67°C.
Use the Right Oil
Cold starts are hard on the battery, starter, and engine. Conventional 15-weight motor oil doesn’t fair well in the cold and will quickly turn into a thick, molasses-like substance. Switching to a different oil with the appropriate viscosity for cold weather conditions or synthetic oil can help lessen component wear and tear. If you are unsure about the viscosity levels, check your owner's manual or consult the manufacturer.
Seek Routine and Preventive Maintenance
Having a trusted mechanic like those at Fireweed Heavy Truck and Equipment carry out a preventive maintenance service before embarking on a long journey in freezing temperatures can go a long way toward preserving your heavy-duty truck's engine, even in the most challenging of conditions.
Use Your Common Sense
The most beneficial of them all is putting the gray matter to good use and using your common sense. Store your truck somewhere warm (ideally 20 degrees warmer than outside). Insulate and cover exposed areas to protect them from the elements. Using warming tools like block heaters or oil heaters to keep your engine warm and giving it a few minutes to warm up before use can help spare your engine from unnecessary stress.
As we said at the start, there's no way of controlling the weather, and in Edmonton, you’re going to be faced with challenging weather conditions throughout the winter months. Putting in place the above measures, however, can go a long way toward maintaining your heavy-duty engine while operating in freezing temperatures.
Although some are easier to implement than others, none should be ignored, or you could end up in a sticky situation on the frozen Alberta roads.