Seasonal Preparedness Checklist: Winterized Fuel

Anyone who drives in northern states understands the importance of proper seasonal maintenance. Safe driving isn’t just about adapting to changing conditions—it’s also about having the right equipment for the weather, in all of its unpredictability.

While visibility and road conditions may involve guesswork—and a bit of hope—some driving needs are easier to anticipate. Diesel fuel, for example, behaves differently in colder temperatures than in the heat. That’s why, among other important winter preparations, treating fuel is essential in winter months. Across the colder parts of the United States and Canada, winter diesel is always treated with the appropriate additives.

The Need: Why Treat Diesel?

Like all fluids, diesel fuel becomes more viscous in colder temperatures. This effect is exacerbated by the fact that diesel often contains paraffin, which precipitates out of the fuel at lower temperatures. As a result, winter conditions can cause diesel to thicken (or gel) to the point where it no longer flows through the fuel lines, or filter. This causes the engine to stall or fail. It can also prevent the engine from properly heating the cab, which compounds the danger for drivers stranded in colder weather. To prevent this from happening, diesel is treated with additives when the temperature drops.

The Process: How Does It Happen?

In order to prevent diesel fuel from gelling, additives that alter the characteristics of the fuel are added. Additives can lower the gel point by preventing wax particles from coagulating and forming larger chunks that clog the engine lines. Other additives help “dry” the fuel by reducing the moisture content, thus diminishing the effect of freezing temperatures. Either way, fuel sold in northern areas comes pre-mixed for the consumer, so no additional steps are necessary on the part of the driver.

The Importance: Safety and Reliability

As noted, the consequences of diesel gelling are significant. While there are additives that may be helpful in “thawing” or “dissolving” gelled fuel, it can take time to get them to stranded vehicles if the driver doesn’t have them on-hand. It is obviously far preferable to prevent such issues by switching to winterized fuel by late October, or whenever the weather starts to get cold in the local area, to ensure that trucks have the fuel they need when the mercury dips.

Switching to winterized fuel at the appropriate time of year is a relatively simple step that can prevent a long list of mechanical and safety challenges. It is a crucially important aspect of winter preparedness.

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Dave Bardwell

Dave Bardwell

As the Maintenance Operations Supervisor at Wadhams Enterprises, Dave develops programs for monitoring financial results, training technicians, enforcing safety programs, maintaining standards of service, and developing a parts and material procurement program. He is responsible for multiple company-owned heavy duty vehicle service facilities.