Handling Extreme Driving Conditions – Part II

Knowing how to drive well in adverse conditions can’t be covered in just one installment. As yet another terribly freezing snow storm bears down on the Northeast, we need to know how to keep our vehicle’s humming.

In our last installment, we took a look at the rubber on the road: Your tires. This week we are going to journey under the hood and address what you need to do if you experience cold weather starting issues, as well as how to avoid them.

Avoiding Cold Weather Starting

The fact is, the colder it is, the harder of a time your engine is going to have getting cranked up. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can ensure your engine turns over, no matter the temperature.

The first, is ether and ether-based fluids. One thing to note is that if used improperly, these types of fluids could potentially damage your engine. It is also highly volatile, so make sure to handle with care.

Ether and ether-based fluids comes in a variety of forms:

  • Aerosol sprays;
  • Pressurized cylinders;
  • Driver-controlled or automatic injection systems.

If you are using an aerosol spray or pressurized cylinder, this will require manual placement of ether into your air intake. Automatic injection systems are activated by the driver either through a switch or other in-cab implementation method.

Another item to consider would be a glow plug, which are essentially electric heating elements that warm the air coming into the engine from the air intake manifold.

But probably the most widely used device is a preheater. Preheaters keep the engine warm while your vehicle is parked for extended periods of time. Most CMVs use an in-block type of heater.

In-block heaters can usually be fit into the freeze plug holes or lower water jacket, then plugged into an electrical outlet. The coolant is then heated to 160 degress Fahrenheit and circulated throughout the engine block.

For severely cold climates, preheaters are usually supplemented with battery box, oil sump or fuel heaters.

Addressing Non-Starters

But what if you don’t have any ancillary equipment and you are stuck in a situation where your engine won’t start? First, if you are using heating aids and the engine still won’t start, you may want to check your fuel or electrical systems.

Watch the exhaust stack as you are cranking the engine. If you do not see any vapor or smoke, your engine may not be getting the fuel it needs to turn over. Discontinue cranking the engine because you don’t want to run down the battery. Then check the fuel tank or lines for any ice blockage. Also verify there is no blockage around the fuel tank vent.

Remember to never crank the engine for more than 15 seconds. If the engine is getting fuel, but still isn’t starting, you may need to turn your diagnostic eye to the electrical system. Double check your battery terminal for corrosion, loose connections, cable cracks or excessive moisture on the cables.

If your vehicle utilizes an air starter, make sure there is sufficient air supply for it to function properly. If there is no air, you will need to resupply it, either from an air compressor or another vehicle of similar type.

Above all, don’t spend too much time in unsafe areas if you are having problems starting in cold weather. Furthermore, always make sure to handle different aspects of checking your engine, fuel and electrical system with great care. Many of these components can be volatile or come with great risk if handled improperly.

So as you prepare your vehicle for extreme weather conditions, always endeavor to be prepared ahead of time. Then, join us next week when we get into Part III of our series and take a deeper look at driving hazards, skidding and jackknifing.