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Thread: Starting the diesel engine in winter

  1. #1
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    Question Starting the diesel engine in winter

    I have a six cylinder 135hp Ford-Lehman (~4400 hours) on my motorsailer in the Pacific Northwest - damp winters with daily lows usually just above freezing but occasionally dropping as low as -10C. The engine gets quite a bit of use from April to October but generally sits idle otherwise.

    My "common sense" has me wanting to start the engine periodically in the winter (monthly perhaps?) to get her warmed up and make sure all is well, but i have also read that the hardest time for a diesel engine is right at startup when there is little oil covering the cylinder linings and all the other moving parts. This suggests to me that i'm actually being harder on the engine by starting it up (especially in cold weather), rather than just leaving her to wait for spring.

    Comments welcome! Thanks.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Welcome to the WBF, Princess II,
    There some pretty clever engine guys/gals here with lots of advice.(even conflicting?) But in the mean time... Just my 2 cents but it is a bit of 'Hobson's Choise' isn't it? The most wear on all engines is when first started, until the oil pressure comes up. 4400 hours is a lot so it may take some time. A reading gauge helps.
    On the other hand, what happens when an engine is left idle, especially in cold and (relatively) humid areas, is condensation inside the engine that can oxidize and rust internal surfaces and make things bind up nor even seize. So starting and running to temperature for a while every week or so is wise PM.
    Lets see what the others have to say.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Merry Christmas!

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Welcome Princess II! I'm not familiar with the Ford Lehman engines, but a lot of diesels have a "Compression release" lever. If you hit the compression release and crank the engine 'til you have oil pressure (six or so turns of the engine on mine) it'll help distribute oil around before you get any load on the engine. Don't crank too much or you can wash the oil off of the cylinder walls with unburned fuel, as the injection pumps will probably still be running. Once you have pressure, start as normal. I used to do this with my old cars by pulling the spark plugs before I started them in the winter.
    Any diesel mechanic types out there with ideas? Feedback? I've often wondered myself if I was going about this the right way

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    I wouldn't start it. I'd winterize it and forget about it until the next season. If it's really cold, the fuel will gel up and the engine won't start anyway. You should get some fogging oil into the cylinders to protect against rust. You also want to take care that the raw water feed doesn't freeze up and crack anything.
    -Dave

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    If you're moored at a dock and if you have AC service, you might see if a dipstick heater can fit the engine. Not as effective as a proper block heater but not bad. Heating the engine space has special risks but there are those who do it. I used to hang a ceramic heater where it could blow hot air into Granuaile's air cooled Deutz for a few hours before attempting a below freezing start.

    Giving some spins with the decompression levers set is always helpful.

    Many engines even if not equipped with glow plugs can be retrofitted.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    There are also oil-pan heaters which are flat plates that magnetically adhere to the outside of what surface you are trying to heat. I use one on a tractor. Cheap and simple, and no fire risk. https://www.princessauto.com/en/deta...er/A-p4270100e


  8. #8
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    I usually give my engine a run up to working temperature every week or two, all year round, whether we are using the boat or not. Our winters are not as cold as yours, only down to 10C or so. But I figure it's good to keep things moving. Particularly in a salt environment. I guess people who live in really cold places and take their boat ashore for winter don't do this, but I'm interested to hear what others in similar situations do. Our boat is on a marina, so we can put it in gear and run under load once it's warmed up.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Extra wear at start is due to the oil pressure and to thermal expansion of pistons and cylinders. When starting there is no oil pressure, so engine's first revs will be poorly lubricated. Also, pistons will heat quicker than cylinders so during first 10 minutes, adjustment between pistons & cylinders will be lower than optimal, depending engine rpms & load. Very large diesels often have electric oil pumps and oil heaters to circulate and pre-heat oil before engine starts. For a small diesel I don't think that increased thermal expansion of pistons vs cylinders in winter a big issue, because woking temp is more than 250C, so if room temp is 0C instead of 20C. temp difference between engine internals & room temp will only increase 8%. Oil viscosity at low temp might be a more serious issue because it might slow pressure buildup after start. Might depend the engine. If there is a problem solutions could be oil-preheating or engine-room preheating, or using a lower viscosity oil in winter...

    PS in my opinion it is a good practice to run the engine for 10 mn or so at low-rev & no load every 6 week or so in winter provided oil pressure buildup is reasonably quick (an oil pressure gauge might help), but I don't think you generally need to start it every week.
    Last edited by Laurent2; 12-22-2017 at 05:31 PM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by Woxbox View Post
    I wouldn't start it. I'd winterize it and forget about it until the next season. If it's really cold, the fuel will gel up and the engine won't start anyway. You should get some fogging oil into the cylinders to protect against rust. You also want to take care that the raw water feed doesn't freeze up and crack anything.
    The problem with fogging oil in a diesel is it will run, and may well run away on it. Diesel fuel itself is a lube. Make sure the cooling system is winterized, cover the exhaust and just let her sleep a few months. When you go to wake her up, hold the shut off in no fuel position while cranking for 15-30 seconds to builds oil pressure.
    Ratus ratus bilgeous snipeous!

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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by Woxbox View Post
    I wouldn't start it. I'd winterize it and forget about it until the next season. If it's really cold, the fuel will gel up and the engine won't start anyway. You should get some fogging oil into the cylinders to protect against rust. You also want to take care that the raw water feed doesn't freeze up and crack anything.
    It doesn't get really cold here.
    Elect a clown expect a circus

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobcat View Post
    It doesn't get really cold here.
    I don't know where the boat is kept, but the OP says -10 C. That will freeze salt water easily and hits the region where diesel starts to gel. Now it's certainly true that if you see a temperature like that for a few hours on the coldest night, the engine compartment and tanks may be fine. But it would be an expensive gamble if lost.
    -Dave

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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by Woxbox View Post
    I don't know where the boat is kept, but the OP says -10 C. That will freeze salt water easily and hits the region where diesel starts to gel. Now it's certainly true that if you see a temperature like that for a few hours on the coldest night, the engine compartment and tanks may be fine. But it would be an expensive gamble if lost.
    In Puget Sound, we rarely see those temps. I run my boat in the winter, but I don't do so when there's ice around. The Port of Everett forbids boat movement when there is ice. The marina is in brackish water and so we do get ice now and then.
    Elect a clown expect a circus

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    I'd say it depends on whether you can heat up the engine block before starting. My experience with our small diesel here in winter (today it's -10 Celsius) is that if the engine oil can be warmed the diesel will start quickly and run well. Changing the oil and filters before layup otherwise is important and I'd do it anyway given the infrequency with which you mention running the engine over the winter.

    Is the boat at a marina with AC power? If so, engine room, dipstick and oil pan heaters are ways to go as mentioned but around here there are occasional power outages so I have a small propane heater on standby. I fill the raw water and bilge pump systems with antifreeze anyway to protect against extended temperature drops. Cheap insurance and it's easy to start up the engine and use the boat again.

    There's also the Blackstone Company that will test your oil samples for wear and contamination: https://www.blackstone-labs.com/marine.php

    I'd be interested to know how someone with a Lehman/Ford tractor deals with the same situation if he doesn't use it much in winter.
    Last edited by rbgarr; 12-22-2017 at 07:16 PM.
    "... and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago."

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    I would recommend VCI oil. (Volitile Corrosion Inhibitor)
    I keep lots of large machines (engines, gearboxes, fuel,tanks etc) in "long term" storage (over 90 days) with no issues. I certainly wouldn't run them for a short period as that would only promote condensation. Engines need to run for several hours to evaporate any condensate that might be incured from even a slight warm up, gearboxes need longer than that. When you are ready to resume use, just start it... up the stuff is oil based and will just evaporate.

    The real thing to worry about is freezing of coolant/water in the engine or heat exchangers.

    Look here for VCI oil. (I buy it in larger quantities (5gals) and am not familiar with this exact brand, but it reads to be the same stuff) It should come with an instruction sheet, stating something like "Add the VCI oil, tape the air intake, exhaust outlet, and breathers closed" same with fuel, hydraulic tanks, and gear boxes.
    http://www.aircraftspruce.com/catalo...yABEgIVGPD_BwE

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Winterize it properly and forget it.
    A small block heater on a rheostat/dimmer would be helpful in saving some on the electric bill.
    If it's a 600 watt heater you only need about 1/6 of that but turn it up for a couple of hours before start up in the spring.
    Ventilate and circulate the air well in the engine room through the winter.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    I don’t turn mine over in winter. I have a small heater I place in the bilge that doesn’t kick on until the temperature drops below 2 degrees C. Seems to work. We don’t have many nights here where it drops below minus 6.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by Princess II View Post
    I have a six cylinder 135hp Ford-Lehman (~4400 hours) on my motorsailer in the Pacific Northwest - damp winters with daily lows usually just above freezing but occasionally dropping as low as -10C. The engine gets quite a bit of use from April to October but generally sits idle otherwise.

    My "common sense" has me wanting to start the engine periodically in the winter (monthly perhaps?) to get her warmed up and make sure all is well, but i have also read that the hardest time for a diesel engine is right at startup when there is little oil covering the cylinder linings and all the other moving parts. This suggests to me that i'm actually being harder on the engine by starting it up (especially in cold weather), rather than just leaving her to wait for spring.

    Comments welcome! Thanks.
    You're doing fine, a month is not enough for the oil film to disappear, give it half an hour once a month with the engine in gear to provide some load, diesels dont like being run for any length of time without some load.

    John Welsford
    An expert is but a beginner with experience.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Lots of good advice, though there is a difference in climates and engine rooms.
    I take care of several larger twin engine boats with modern high speed diesels. These engines will not warm up at the dock, even in the summer, because they pump such a large volume of water. These engine rooms are best kept warm with block or electric heaters and the engines put to bed with clean oil. Older style engines like the Lehman’s are easier to warm up, but still having clean oil in the engine is far more important than any warm up routine.
    A smaller sailboat auxiliary might get up to temp, in gear, and the small compartments can be kept warm with an oil pan heater, or the connecting type rods or heaters.
    But the best of all is to take the boat out for a spin, some coffee or drinks, and excercise the whole boat. Of course, we are lucky enough to be able to do that in the PNW, as opposed to New England and even the Cheasapeake where real winter puts the whole fleet on the hard for the winter.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    I'm in the "run the engine every so often" camp. The suggestion I'd like to make is to spin your engine before you start it so it will be up to full oil pressure. Every engine is different but here is what I do. Put the engine into a no start mode by engaging the decompressors and pulling the fuel shut off or engine stop lever. This shuts off the supply of diesel fuel. If your boat is in the water and you use outside cooling water, not keel cooled, then turn off the water intake. Spinning the engine also spins the raw water pump. Since the exhaust gas will not push the cooling water out the exhaust pipe it will collect in the exhaust system and backfill the engine. Don't use the starter more than 20 seconds at a time and let it cool down between starts.

    Make a checklist so you can remember to reverse to start the engine

    1) engage decompressors
    2) pull engine shut off lever
    3) turn off raw water intake
    4) starter in short (30 second) bursts and allow to cool

    The raw water impeller can be a concern when you spin the engine. Running it dry is certainly a concern but this is a wear item and I like to change them on a regular basis. It is advisable to change your engine oil before storage rather than at the start of the next season. John's suggestion to run you engine under load is excellent advice, it warms up quicker and the combustion gas is cooler. Diesels like to work.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    My diesel in cold weather starts ( -10F to 15F ) required some external source to warm the engine to ensure a easy start. I switch from regular 10-30w to full synthetic oil and it's like starting the engine in summer, even though it was -15F outside. Could not believe the difference!

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    I love it, all the folk-lore comes out and the science takes a back seat.

    Merry Christmas everyone.

    Tom

  23. #23
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Christie View Post
    I love it, all the folk-lore comes out and the science takes a back seat.

    Merry Christmas everyone.

    Tom
    Wow! A shot and a 'cheers' !!

    Happy Holidays to you, too!

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemsteraak View Post
    .... John's suggestion to run you engine under load is excellent advice, it warms up quicker and the combustion gas is cooler. Diesels like to work.
    point is you should never load diesel engines before they are warm because of metal thermal expansion of pistons vs. cylinders. Under load, combustion create way much heat than at low-rev with no load, and pistons will expand quicker than cylinders, creating a low or insufficient diameter difference between pistons and cylinders, which will create accelerated cylinder wear. Point is running diesels only at low-rev no load for some time will accumulate dirt inside cyl. heads. So you might have to choose between wear and dirt. One solution might be to run engines for 20 minutes, 18 at low-rev no load and 2 minutes at higher rev with load. Another solution is to run them 10 minutes at low-rev no load 3 or 4 times during the winter and consider this won't accumulate enough dirt to create problems.

  25. #25
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Ford Lehman,..... basic traditional direct injection diesel. Winterize it and forget it.

  26. #26
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter


  27. #27
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by nedL View Post
    Ford Lehman,..... basic traditional direct injection diesel. Winterize it and forget it.
    That's basically what I was trying to say. Folks are really overthinking this.
    Ratus ratus bilgeous snipeous!

    You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
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  28. #28
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by Laurent2 View Post
    pistons will expand quicker than cylinders, creating a low or insufficient diameter difference between pistons and cylinders, which will create accelerated cylinder wear.
    Won't the cylinder rings take care of that? At least 2mm either side on my engines.

  29. #29
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Quote Originally Posted by lupussonic View Post
    Won't the cylinder rings take care of that? At least 2mm either side on my engines.
    Generally speaking, people who don't let diesels warm at idle before loading them generally get premature cylinder wear and reduced life-time because of thermal expansion of pistons vs. cylinders. Plus it is a very common advice from diesel mechanics & manufacturers to let diesel warm up before loading them of fully loading them. I guess actual mileage might vary depending engine and manufacturer, but as I know it is a commonly accepted rule

  30. #30
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Every cold start is a stressfactor for startermotor, engine and all attached components. My advise is winterize, don`t heat (risk of causing condenstation by short-term heating) until dewinterizing and let it be till Spring.

    Happy Xmas to you all,

    Alan.

  31. #31
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Guess it it easier to run engine 4 times 10 minutes in winter than to winterize it fully according to the rules. Best solution might depend the location and the engine.

  32. #32
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    I usually start the engine and let it idle while I untie and stow the shore power cord. That's about 10 minutes (I take my time to allow the engine to warm up.) Then it's out of the slip idling along until I am out of the marina. The trip down the river to open water is another 10 to 20 minutes depending on the current.

    I don't winterize the engine because we use it during the winter. Not as much as the rest of the year, but the boat gets away from the dock.
    Elect a clown expect a circus

  33. #33
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Thanks to all of you for your detailed and considerate replies - over the Christmas holidays no less!

    Even though there's no consensus of whether to start or not to start, I've learned quite a bit from your comments and suggestions. I've never started the engine below about 5C and she has always started up very quickly, so my main interest was in whether it's good or bad to start up just for the sake of starting up.

    I'm inclined to go with the winterize it and forget it line of reasoning and make an effort to get out on the water periodically during the 'slow' season, thereby getting her under some load when i do start her up. Being in the southern Gulf Islands of BC i have the luxury of being able to do that.

    Thanks again to each of you, and Happy New Year!

  34. #34
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    Default Re: Starting the diesel engine in winter

    Closing thread.

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