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Avoid Bitter-Cold Disappointment

By on November 1, 2017
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6 Tips to Help You Prepare for Sub-Freezing Temps

As winter’s bitter cold arrives, the possibility of a no-start condition increases significantly. Not only can a no-start cause huge delays and the accompanying revenue loss, but the expense to have your truck repaired on the road typically exceeds what should have been a routine maintenance cost. Now is the time to insure your vehicle will crank on those upcoming brutally cold, even subzero mornings. If you focus on batteries, cables, connections, grounds, alternators, starters, belts, engine heaters and fuel systems, you’ll be able to turn the key and get your diesel humming.

1. Start with Batteries – Over the years and for good reason, I’ve written more than 100 technical documents related to batteries. A 15-liter diesel requires at least 1800 cold-cranking amps with all cables and connections in good working order. If you have three 900-amp batteries and one of those batteries does not produce the correct amount of amperage, your truck may not crank on a normal day. If the temperature is extremely cold and you have a weak battery, you can usually count on your truck not starting.

We must focus heavily on the batteries in order to have a chance of getting that huge engine turning. Cold weather causes the oil to thicken, which causes resistance in the engine, so the starter must work harder and will demand more amps from the batteries. Get your batteries tested to be sure they’re able to produce their rated cold-cranking amps. Modern battery testers have the ability to determine a battery’s usable capacitance. Not only do these testers identify a good or bad battery, the test results tell us exactly how good or how bad each battery is. One weak battery can shut you down.

2. Power & Ground Circuits – Cables and connectors are two of the most overlooked parts of the cranking system. Though a visual inspection of battery cables, connections and grounds is a great place to start, it’s only a superficial diagnostic. Anytime electricity traveling through a circuit meets resistance, voltage must be used to get the electricity past the resistance such as loose cables or connections. Any voltage required to deliver the amps to the starter is lost, and less voltage will be available to turn the starter. Although some voltage is required to deliver the needed amount of amps to the starter, this voltage drop must be minimized.

This means that added resistance as a result of loose connections, corrosion and/or burnt wires must be identified and corrected. Proper test equipment is the only way to measure the amount of voltage that is being used by the circuit before it arrives at the starter. You’ll never visually see corrosion inside the insulation of a wire, but proper testing will locate it every time. The ground circuit is just as important as the power circuit, because the amps must return to the batteries. If corrosion or loose connections exist in the ground circuit, the starter will never turn at the required speed, or with the required power.

3. Non-Starting Starters – A starter that is not receiving the correct amount of voltage, but is still able to crank an engine, will ultimately fail. In fact, this is the number one reason that starters fail. What you’ll notice is that the engine is sluggish or the starter solenoid just clicks. This is a very serious problem. Sometimes the starter will stick during this slow or sluggish cranking mode, which could result in cables overheating, creating the possibility of a fire. Obviously, this is not something that anyone wants, so if you notice that your engine is experiencing these types of symptoms, get your cranking system analyzed. You likely have a low-voltage situation.

4. Harmful Overcharging – If you notice a pungent odor coming from your batteries, your alternator is likely overcharging. Some trucks have a remote-sensing circuit, which is simply an additional wire from the alternator to the batteries. This circuit allows the alternator to electrically see
what the batteries need, instead of using the circuit from the starter. This is a great way to keep your batteries charged. However, one challenge with this type of remote-sense circuit is, if the remote sense wire is broken, disconnected or the fuse in the circuit blows, the alternator typically defaults to a full charging state and will overcharge and destroy your batteries. If your alternator is not charging, a technician must check not only alternator output, but also the alternator’s power and ground circuits. Not only will loose, corroded or damaged circuits cause your alternator to not charge properly, it could damage the alternator.

5. Belt Wearing – Your alternator belt must be checked as well. Manufactured from ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM), today’s belts use material similar to 30-year roofing for homes. As these belts age, they gradually lose rubber material similar to the way a truck’s tires wear out (TMC RP320C). Over a period of 100,000 miles, a belt can lose up to 10% of its rib material. A worn belt will slip, causing the alternator to loose rpm and
not charge properly. Just 5% wear can begin to negatively impact alternator performance. A belt gauge provides the only sure way to properly identify wear. Previously, technicians could easily detect the cracks and chunking associated with neoprene belts.

6. Fuel Gelling – Finally, let’s talk a little about fuel gelling. Once your cranking and charging circuits are up-to-par, it’s time to be sure the engine will start when it turns over properly. Today’s ultra-low sulphur fuel, that may have some mixture of bio, is prone to attracting water. This is problematic when the temperature
drops to sub-freezing levels. Many fueling stations blend their fuel, which dramatically helps the fuel stay liquid, but may not be enough. If you run in the northern tier of states, you may want to consider block heaters and/or intake heaters. Also, many fuel supplements can be safely added, but be sure to check with your engine manufacturer for warranty requirements. If you have some type of block and/or intake heater, be sure to get it checked before extreme cold weather hits. You don’t want to learn that your block heater is not working at 5 a.m. when you have a delivery deadline staring you in the face and it’s 8° below.

If you haven’t already done so, now is a great time to make sure your cranking, charging and fuel systems are ready for the bitter cold ahead. The next time you’re at a TA or Petro, ask the experienced TA Truck Service technicians to help you prepare for winter’s worst. Many times, these preventive checks can be run while you’re enjoying a hot meal, a nice hot shower or some time in the driver’s lounge. If you need a new battery, cables, connectors, belts, alternators, starters, fuel additives or related products, you can count on TA Truck Service for that, too.

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