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Have you heard this myth before: “Diesel trucks perform poorly in cold weather?” The truth is that millions of people, in climates all over the world depend on diesel-powered vehicles all winter. But here’s another truth: Ensuring that your diesel pickup truck performs well this winter will require some planning and preparation.

  • Diesel engines can start on even the coldest days
  • Gelling diesel fuel doesn’t have to stop you
  • You must plan ahead to drive your diesel truck all winter

Myth: Diesel engines won’t start in the cold

Yellow Chevrolet pickup truck covered in a snow bank, wintery pine trees in the background.
Chevrolet pickup truck | Randy Pench/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images

This myth is far from true, but based in a real phenomenon. Diesel engines are easier to start when they are warm.

If you own a diesel truck, you’ll want to do some basic maintenance every fall. Worn-out batteries, grid heater, and glow plugs (if your engine has them) may have kept you going all summer, but could fail during the dead of winter. Scheduling your yearly maintenance in the fall gives your engine the best possible chance of starting right up all winter.

During this maintenance, you can also prep your truck for winter. Most engines call for a thinner oil in cold weather. In addition, many diesel truck owners cover part of their grille–and thus block off airflow to part of the radiator–for the winter. This keeps engine coolant temperatures optimal.

Diesel truck owners also use an engine block heater when temperatures drop below 10 or 15 degrees Fahrenheit. This requires running an extension cord to your parking spot and plugging your heater in overnight. If you plan to park in a more remote place overnight, you can install an Espar coolant heater. This device burns a small amount of diesel fuel to warm your coolant enough that your truck can start without issues.

Myth: Cold diesel fuel gels up and will keep your truck from starting

Silver diesel truck starting in the cold winter snow, a house visible in the background.
Chevrolet pickup truck | Gordon Chibroski/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

This myth also contains some truth: in certain cold temperatures, liquid diesel fuel can transform into gel. This can cause problems for unprepared diesel truck owners.

In cold climates, gas stations swap their regular diesel out for a winter mixture that won’t gel up. The most important thing you can do is burn through any fuel you bought last summer before cold temperatures hit.

It is also wise to swap out your fuel filter during your fall maintenance. A new, clean filter is less likely to clog if your fuel begins to gel up.

While you are changing your fuel filter, make certain to empty the water out of your truck’s water/fuel separator. Unrelated to gelling, water condensation builds up in your diesel tank as winter temperatures cycle between warm and cold. Your truck already has a water/fuel separator, but it is smart to make sure it never overflows.

Finally, you can pour anti-gelling fuel additives into your tank during the winter. You can also carry an emergency gel dissolving additive in case your tank clogs up.

Myth: Driving a diesel pickup truck during the winter is just like driving a gasoline truck

A Ford Super Duty diesel pickup truck plows the snow off of a town's main street in the winter.
Ford plow truck | Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Some pickup truck fans may be too hesitant to drive diesels all winter. But on the other end of the spectrum, some folks don’t take enough care of their diesel during the winter. To keep your engine lasting as long as possible, ensure your engine coolant warms up to at least 140 degrees before driving your truck. If your cabin is warm, your engine should be warm enough, too.

Driving a diesel truck during the winter is different from driving a gasoline truck. But again, millions of folks who plan ahead have no issue driving their diesel all winter long.

Next, read our tips for starting your diesel truck in cold weather, or watch how Kyle of Dark Iron Diesel prepares his truck for the winters in Saskatchewan, Canada, in the video below: