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Old 01-20-2019, 06:20 PM   #1
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Do I Need To Start My Bus Every Day?

Ok. Could be a dumb question, but i don't know the answer so I'm asking anyway.

We got significant snow last night, and I don't really have the urge or need to go anywhere, so rather than dig the bus out, I just... didn't. I usually drive every day but generally I have a reason, and today I don't.

The thing is, I've always been told to start a vehicle every day when it's cold, especially an old one. My father used to say it was something to do with the battery but my father was definitely NOT a car person. More logical to me would be that driving it a little would evaporate any condensation or whatever but in that case you'd really have to go somewhere, not just fire it up, right?

I also feel pretty strongly that my cold start issues are related to the glow plug relay still not really functioning right, a problem I will hopefully be able to correct this week as the part is under warranty. So, does it really make sense to make the glow plug system go through all that to start up for no reason, just for the sake of starting it, when I don't even have anywhere to go? I'm not talking about letting it sit for a week, just a day.

My bus always runs great once it's going; starting up is nearly always fraught with stress now that it's winter. So do I really want to put the bus (and me) through that on days when there's nowhere to go? And if the answer is yes, how much do I need to drive it for this to be beneficial? I can't imagine idling is going to do much - though my father swore by 10 minutes of idle time before driving, I'm thinking the engine isn't getting up to temperature unless it's actually working, so if I do start it up I always make sure to at least drive around for 10 or 15 minutes. Then again, I know nothing. Am I wrong about this?

P.S. Bear in mind this is my only vehicle.
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Old 01-20-2019, 06:37 PM   #2
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Cold weather strains your battery, so starting it during cold weather is to have the alternator top off the battery. Some alternators don't charge at idle. So it isn't a concern with the vehicle so much as the battery. If you have good batteries in your bus, no need to start it everyday. Worse thing is you may have to put the charger on. You might hook the trickle charger up if expecting cold weather.
Cold temps alone will effect the battery, add on top of that how thick all the fluids are you are trying to move in 30°- when starting and it adds just that more strain to the battery.
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Old 01-20-2019, 07:04 PM   #3
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Cold weather strains your battery, so starting it during cold weather is to have the alternator top off the battery. Some alternators don't charge at idle. So it isn't a concern with the vehicle so much as the battery. If you have good batteries in your bus, no need to start it everyday. Worse thing is you may have to put the charger on. You might hook the trickle charger up if expecting cold weather.
Cold temps alone will effect the battery, add on top of that how thick all the fluids are you are trying to move in 30°- when starting and it adds just that more strain to the battery.
I do have good batteries but my thought was that the amount of cranking required to get going in the cold would strain them even more than the temperature simply being low. I will definitely put the charger on.

I just saw on the news the temperature for tomorrow is predicted at 6 degrees. I'm guessing that when I'm out there shoveling in 6 degree weather (with -11 wind chill) that I'l be wishing I'd just done it today.

Since I still only have the stupid oil pan heater and not a real block heater (hoping to rectify THAT this week, too) I don't have high hopes about starting up tomorrow at all. Is there a temperature at which diesel gels to the point of just not being able to start at all?
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Old 01-20-2019, 07:14 PM   #4
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I just did a search that said that diesel gels at 10 to 15 degrees. I have been using an anti-gelling additive in there but I don't have a clue how effective that is. It's my first diesel winter.

If I go out and start the bus right now (it's 24 degrees), that's not really going to save me from the temperature tomorrow, is it? If my fuel gels, what do I do? Wait for the temperature to rise? How will I know if it's gelled? I haven't really found a definitive answer to either of these in my googling.
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Old 01-20-2019, 07:19 PM   #5
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​“Modern diesel engines start in cold weather with very little effort.” The problem is that diesel jells at low temperatures. Below about 40°F, certain hydrocarbons in diesel turn gelatinous. ​“Since an engine depends on aerosolizing fuel, you don't want goopy fuel." Quote from Argonne National Laboratories

Do block heaters heat the block enough to warm the oil? The pan heaters keep the oil warm and thin. Is the block heater designed to keep the top end warm, or just the coolant inside it.
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Old 01-20-2019, 07:22 PM   #6
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One indicator of gelling is that your engine won't start. Or...it may barely start but not be throttle responsive and run up & down erratically.



But...the way to be 100% certain is to just pull a fuel filter off and take a look. "Gelled" diesel looks just like it sounds. Like really thick Vaseline instead of fluid. Nasty.
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Old 01-20-2019, 07:24 PM   #7
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​“Modern diesel engines start in cold weather with very little effort.” The problem is that diesel jells at low temperatures. Below about 40°F, certain hydrocarbons in diesel turn gelatinous. ​“Since an engine depends on aerosolizing fuel, you don't want goopy fuel."

Do block heaters heat the block enough to warm the oil? The pan heaters keep the oil warm and thin. Is the block heater designed to keep the top end warm, or just the coolant inside it.
I'm assuming by "modern diesel engines" nobody is referring to my 1991 IDI.

As to the block heater question - I don't know for sure, never having had one, but don't they heat the coolant and circulate it throughout to keep everything warm? I do know that a standard block heater is 1000W of heat that is going SOMEWHERE - as opposed to the 200W on my oil pan. It has made a minute difference, if any, in my ability to start in the cold.
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Old 01-20-2019, 07:28 PM   #8
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I'm assuming by "modern diesel engines" nobody is referring to my 1991 IDI.

As to the block heater question - I don't know for sure, never having had one, but don't they heat the coolant and circulate it throughout to keep everything warm? I do know that a standard block heater is 1000W of heat that is going SOMEWHERE - as opposed to the 200W on my oil pan. It has made a minute difference, if any, in my ability to start in the cold.
I'm not familiar with block heaters. My experience with heaters was back before 1975 in Ct. where dipstick heaters were a norm and worked well.
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Old 01-20-2019, 07:30 PM   #9
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Quote:
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I just did a search that said that diesel gels at 10 to 15 degrees. I have been using an anti-gelling additive in there but I don't have a clue how effective that is. It's my first diesel winter.

If I go out and start the bus right now (it's 24 degrees), that's not really going to save me from the temperature tomorrow, is it? If my fuel gels, what do I do? Wait for the temperature to rise? How will I know if it's gelled? I haven't really found a definitive answer to either of these in my googling.

Your diesel additive for your fuel should be fine for the temps you have mentioned.
To be sure, use your oil pan heater overnight and probably a slow charge in the morning to war those batteries up nice and toasty. That will give you power enough for starting tomorrow.
Snow does not always relate to cold. And sometimes it does.
We got our first snow, about 12" but drifted in to 3 and 4 ft drifts here. Temp dropped to -31F windchill so not particularly nice. Very hazardous driving even though the roads got plowed well, whiteout conditions.


To check for gelling, the old clean dowel trick down the filler pipe if it will go down. Wipe with a clean rag first.

Insert and remove and see what comes up on the surface of the stick. If the consistency of honey, you are gelling. If just wet, stained, you are good to try starting.


I doubt very much you will see the low sub zero temps where you are living.
Watch the back shoveling, slow and easy, take breaks.


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Old 01-20-2019, 07:32 PM   #10
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"Block Heaters" warm the coolant in the engines' water jacket but there is no circulation. They are just glorified versions of those little heater thingies you plug in the wall and stick in a cup of coffee or soup. But...they actually work fairly well down to around 20 degrees or so. More intense cold requires more heat and preferably some kind of circulation.
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Old 01-20-2019, 07:48 PM   #11
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"Block Heaters" warm the coolant in the engines' water jacket but there is no circulation. They are just glorified versions of those little heater thingies you plug in the wall and stick in a cup of coffee or soup. But...they actually work fairly well down to around 20 degrees or so. More intense cold requires more heat and preferably some kind of circulation.
Wow, I thought they circulated. But either way I just don't think the heater I have on the oil pan could possibly be delivering much heat at only 200 watts, and I've experienced such a small difference since getting it that I can't help thinking the more powerful unit would serve me better.

I do have a question about additives. The one I have been using had contradictory info on it: it said in the directions to add the whole bottle, but it also said it was effective up to 250 gallons, so adding that to my little tank made no sense to me. I have been rationing it out based on that tank size, assuming the entire contents would be effective for 250 gallons. I'm assuming that's right, right?
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Old 01-20-2019, 08:25 PM   #12
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You are right in rationing the additive, an amount for 250 gallons in your tank would be even more problems.


On block heating. They all don't circulate via a pump. Some do.
They heat and if that heat reaches or exceeds your thermostat temp, then your thermostat opens and a natural flow occurs, very similar to home hot water heating principles.

Circulating costs more so is more to screw up imho.
There is hardly a bus up here in school service that doesn't use them. They just have to go everyday.
It was mentioned not much use under 20f and that is debatable. They seem fine at -30f or more getting everything fired up every morning.


To say one just heats the block is not wrong but those of higher wattages will open the thermostat, thus starting to warm the rad and tranny lines.
There is also heat transferred from the block coolant and metal to the surrounding fuel lines and pump. When underway the diesel engine running, will heat it's own fuel as it makes a circuit from the tanks to the engine and back again.

When the bus driver goes out at 5am he fires it up and with block heating, he gets instant defrost heat and a start on cabin heat.

My engine fires off as if it is 80f when plugged in.
This is probably a one time expense and well worth the money, if not peace of mind, for anyone.


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Old 01-20-2019, 08:26 PM   #13
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As far as fuel additive - I've always rationed mine based on the 250 gallon treatment. If I drop in 125 gallons, I'll put about 1/4 the bottle in each tank (thus using about half of it). If I dropped in 200 gallons, I'd go ahead and use the whole thing. If I was filling my bus which has a 30 gallon tank, I'd use about 1/8 the bottle. You get the idea.
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Old 01-20-2019, 09:26 PM   #14
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You are right in rationing the additive, an amount for 250 gallons in your tank would be even more problems.

My engine fires off as if it is 80f when plugged in.
This is probably a one time expense and well worth the money, if not peace of mind, for anyone.


John
Thank you for the detailed explanation, that really helps! I agree, that consistency would be well worth the money for me. I'm going to find a way to do it this week.
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Old 01-20-2019, 09:54 PM   #15
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We park our bus from november to april so I check the starting and house batteries every few weeks and give them a good charge when battery voltage gets down to 12.3 volts or so. If you're using yours fairly often for anything other than short hops the batteries should stay charged enough to avoid freezing in cold weather.

When I run mine it takes about 15 miles of driving to get the batts up to a full charge. A good drive also burns off condensation in the oil and exhaust system after a cold start.
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Old 01-20-2019, 09:55 PM   #16
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As far as fuel additive - I've always rationed mine based on the 250 gallon treatment. If I drop in 125 gallons, I'll put about 1/4 the bottle in each tank (thus using about half of it). If I dropped in 200 gallons, I'd go ahead and use the whole thing. If I was filling my bus which has a 30 gallon tank, I'd use about 1/8 the bottle. You get the idea.
Thanks for confirming, that's what I've been doing!
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Old 01-20-2019, 10:17 PM   #17
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If your not planning on driving anywhere it is best to NOT start your bus. Most engine wear occurs during startup when there is low or no oil pressure. This is worse when it's cold because cold thick oil does not flow as well as warm or hot oil. Your oil heater will help with this by keeping the oil warm as it will flow more easily and the engine will crank over more easily when starting. The oil heater will not help as much as coolant heater for starting the engine.

The purpose of glow plugs, grid heaters, or coolant heaters are to warm cold combustion air. In a cold engine the temperature of the air during the compression stroke may not get hot enough to ignite the fuel. Glow plugs warm the head which warms the air. Grids heater warm the air before it enters the cylinder. Coolant heaters heat the cylinder wall which heats the air.

In you situation you need either a frost plug block heater or a circulating coolant heater. The frost plug heater would take the most time to install as you would have to drain most of your coolant before knocking out the frost plug. The circulating coolant heater plumbs into your heater lines which may have two valves to shut them off or they can be clamped to avoid draining the coolant. The circulating type will heat the engine faster as it will set up a thermosiphon. Cold coolant enters the bottom of the heater and is heated. It then travels up the heater hose into the engine and more cold coolant is drawn into the heater.

For your batteries get a battery maintainer. There are models that should fit in your battery box and be wired to your battery cable clamps. Leave the battery maintainer plugged in all the time.

If it's cold plug in your oil heater and coolant heater a few hours before you plan on starting your bus. If it's really cold plug it in overnight.

When it's cold let the engine idle a few minutes after starting until the coolant temperature gets up to around 130 f. You can then drive with the engine at low rpm and light load until the engine reaches operating temp which is around 180f. This will also warm up your transmission and differential oil. After the engine reaches operating temp drive normally. It's best to not idle the engine for long periods of time because at idle the fuel may not burn completely and will end up diluting you engine oil.

Ted
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Old 01-20-2019, 10:18 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad_SwiftFur View Post
As far as fuel additive - I've always rationed mine based on the 250 gallon treatment. If I drop in 125 gallons, I'll put about 1/4 the bottle in each tank (thus using about half of it). If I dropped in 200 gallons, I'd go ahead and use the whole thing. If I was filling my bus which has a 30 gallon tank, I'd use about 1/8 the bottle. You get the idea.
Thanks for confirming, that's what I've been doing!
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Old 01-20-2019, 10:24 PM   #19
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Don't start it unless you plan on driving somewhere.

Fuel gel issues depends on fuel used. They blend it differently year round between #1 and #2 diesel fuel. If you've bought fuel within the last couple months you likely have winter blend which will have a gel point around 0 or lower. If you use power service you don't need to worry about it as the gel point lowers to like -30° when mixed right.

Your coolant heater will warm the block and cylinder heads, which helps light off the fuel in cold weather.
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Old 01-20-2019, 10:35 PM   #20
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If your not planning on driving anywhere it is best to NOT start your bus.

The frost plug heater would take the most time to install as you would have to drain most of your coolant before knocking out the frost plug.

For your batteries get a battery maintainer. There are models that should fit in your battery box and be wired to your battery cable clamps. Leave the battery maintainer plugged in all the time.

If it's cold plug in your oil heater and coolant heater a few hours before you plan on starting your bus. If it's really cold plug it in overnight.

When it's cold let the engine idle a few minutes after starting until the coolant temperature gets up to around 130 f.

It's best to not idle the engine for long periods of time because at idle the fuel may not burn completely and will end up diluting you engine oil.

Ted
Thank you, the reasons you state are why I was thinking that starting it up with nowhere to go wasn't all that helpful.

Your explanation of how the frost plug heater is installed pretty much explains why the mechanic I went to chose to stick an oil pan heater on there instead: he knew I was hurting for cash and figured he'd save me the money for the labor. I found the part and it's not that expensive, so I wondered, but since you're saying it's labor intensive that must be it. While I appreciate his frugality on my part I also feel like I'm wearing out the batteries and glow plugs every time it takes a long time to get started, so in the long run it would have been cheaper to just install the heater I asked for. Now I have to get it done anyway, I think. I am going to try to get the Ford dealership that put gas in my tanks to do it for free as payback but they are resisting pretty hard. I know the two problems are not related but I am still over a thousand dollars out of pocket thanks to them, so if I really turn the screws I can probably get them to do it: I'm just not great with conflict. Doing it myself isn't an option, it's just not something I feel comfortable or competent with. I will look into the battery maintainer, it can't hurt for sure.
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