TSTC diesel engine winter maintenance

(ROSENBERG, Texas) – When the temperature dips down to freezing, are you sure that your diesel engine is going to start — and that your vehicle is going to perform like you expect it to?

“With the fleet that I used to work for, we would start watching out at 32 degrees,” said Jose Reyna, a Texas State Technical College Diesel Equipment Technology instructor.

While Fort Bend County and the surrounding area usually enjoy mild winters, recent cold fronts have given the region a taste of the season.

Diesel experts like Reyna plan ahead to ensure that vehicles perform as expected ahead of the cold. After all, it is better to prevent a problem than solve an issue created by a lack of preparation.

“Be proactive instead of reactive,” he said.

Avoid hard starting and other issues this winter with a few maintenance tips:

Check under the hood

One common culprit of wintertime diesel engine issues is a clogged fuel filter. Naturally occurring paraffin wax in diesel fuel can gel in low temperatures. Ahead of plummeting temperatures, remove the filter, drain the fuel and replace the filter.

To stay ahead of gelling issues, you can treat your vehicle’s diesel fuel with a winterizing fuel additive. Be sure to maintain the proper proportions as specified by the product — one ounce to 10 gallons, for example.

Cold weather also tends to shrink rubber. Reyna recommends checking that the belts and hoses in the coolant system are tight — and that they are not brittle or cracked.

“Just like with dry lips, if you put any stress on them, they start to crack some more,” Reyna said.

Stay on top off your fluids

Keep your windshield washer fluid topped off — and be sure the formula of the fluid can withstand cold temperatures.

For long, cold winters, diesel specialists change out the oil, swapping in a thinner formula to reduce the stress on the engine.

Be in charge

“You don’t want to get in a vehicle and it doesn’t start because of lack of preventive maintenance,” Reyna said.

To that end, take the opportunity to maintain your vehicle’s battery at the change of the season. Ensure that it stays charged — and that its terminals are clean and tightly connected.

Rise under pressure

Tire pressure can decrease in cold weather, Reyna said. Be sure to check the air pressure in tires before setting off on a cold morning, and add more air as needed for proper inflation.

Watch for wildlife

Diesel engines maintain their warmth long after they have been turned off. Stray cats, dogs and other creatures may see a toasty engine bay or wheel well as the perfect respite from blustery weather.

Reyna recommends that drivers knock on the cab to try to clear out any overnight guests before they start the engine. He has witnessed the disastrous results of failing to do so.

“When the driver went to fire it up, it caused catastrophic damage to the fan, the belts — and the animal,” Reyna recalled.

Keep it tidy inside and out

Keeping the exterior of a vehicle clean is more important than just appearances. Snow and sleet will slide off a clean windshield, while dirt and grime will hold on to the moisture to make a low-visibility mess.

A fresh layer of wax will also protect the exterior of a vehicle from accumulating salt and other materials used to address slick roads.

When winterizing a vehicle to store until warm weather returns, make sure that the interior is free from food, trash and other debris. Otherwise, you might attract unwanted seasonal tenants in the form of vermin.

“Don’t give it a heat source and a food source as well,” Reyna said.

The Diesel Equipment Technology program at TSTC’s Fort Bend County campus offers an Associate of Applied Science degree and two certificates of completion, all with heavy-truck specializations.

Diesel engine specialists in Texas can earn an average annual salary of $49,810, according to onetonline.org, which forecasts those positions to grow by 14% in the state through 2028.

Texas employs the highest number of diesel engine specialists in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan area has the fourth-highest employment level of these positions out of all other metropolitan areas in the country.

Because of the opportunities available for diesel specialists, TSTC’s Diesel Equipment Technology program is part of the college’s Money-Back Guarantee. If a program graduate does not get hired in their field within six months of earning their degree, TSTC will refund their tuition.

Learn more at tstc.edu.

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