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Cold Weather PSD Operation

Dennis Serie

This article was written to help PSD owners prepare for winter. It gives tips to prepare for, to operate in and helps with some problems that may be experienced during cold weather.

The following are recommendations that I have compiled from my own research and investigation for cold weather operation of the Power Stroke Diesel Engine, and the truck connected to it. This information has been obtained from several sources and my own personal experiences. It is intended to be used as a general guideline and not to be the absolute rule.

It would be far from untrue to say that most diesels are slightly irritated by the onset of cold weather. They are not compliant with cold weather and have some special needs when trying to get them going; they grumble, sputter when turning over, and make a heck of a racket when they finally get up and go. Sort of like a tired body leaving a warm bed on a cold day. Well we all know that when we are fit and trim, that leaving that bed is less of a problem than when we are out of shape. Well the same can be said about diesel engines and driveline components. Hence, a well-maintained truck that is ready for cold weather is the first step to problem-free winter driving experiences.


The PSD will have few cold weather problems when properly maintained and appropriate attention is paid to fuel, battery, and oil issues. When preparing for winter, the best time to perform a complete service is in the fall before the snow starts flying.

Perform the following checks:

Engine / Drivetrain:

  • All fluid levels including Axles and Transmission
  • Inspect serpentine belt and pulleys.
  • Inspect cooling system
    • Hoses
    • Water pump Weep Hole and Shaft Play.
    • FW-16/ DCA-4 Levels should be checked with test strips
    • Antifreeze: Make sure you check the freeze point and adjust your antifreeze level to the lowest temps expected.
    • Antifreeze should be topped off to the appropriate level
    • If you will be using a cold front now is the time to install and insure it works properly.
  • Inspect the block heater, cord, and plug. Make necessary repairs.
  • Test block heater by plugging it in. Wait an hour or two and feel the engine block for warmth.
  • Test Glow Plugs and Relay: (Reference these articles:) Glow Plug Test with Ammeter Article and Glow Plug Replacement Article.
  • Change Oil to SAE Grade consistent with lowest expected temperatures.
  • Replace/clean air filter, if necessary.
  • Drain fuel bowl and change filter, if necessary.


  • Clean the top of the battery of all grit, grime, dirt, and liquids.
  • Clean battery terminals and replace any terminals that are in poor repair.
  • Also, check the positive cable attachment at the starter. This has a tendency to become corroded over time. Corroded cable or connectors will result in starting problems.
  • If possible, check battery charge. AutoZone will usually load test your batteries for free, if you ask them to.

Body/ Chassis:

Windshield wipers, replace if older than 6 months or unsure of age. Lube all linkage, door hinges, and hood latch.

  • Consider dry graphite lube or silicon spray for all locks

Tires (Fall is the best time to change to snow tires.)

  • Check spare and insure you can remove it from its mounting without any problems. If the spare cannot be removed, now is the time to find out and repair it.
  • Insure all tires can be removed from vehicle with minimal effort. Tires with rims that are stuck to the hub should be freed. Clean hub and rim with a wire brush and apply never seize to the interface. Re-mount rim and tire.


  • Emergency brake function should be checked. Insure the cable does not hang up or become stuck. Bad cables should be replaced as necessary.
  • Insure Disc Brake Sliders are lubricated and free.

Put together a cold weather survival kit and place it in the truck. The following items are highly recommended for any cold weather kit:

Survival kit:
Truck winter supplies: Check or Have these supplies on hand in the truck:
1 large candle
Coffee can
Matches or lighter
Blanket or sleeping bag
Snowmobile suit with hood or extra hat.
Arctic PAC boots
Water 1 gallon
Food (caution in bear country)
Cell phone/CB
Tire Chains (link type).
Ice scraper.
Tow strap.
Jumper Cables.
Anti gel.
Gel fix.
Windshield washer fluid.
Sand in waterproof bags.
Fuel filter
Lock deicer


Diesel fuel is not like other automotive fuels. Straight Number 2 diesel without additives or blending will start to cloud at around 20 degrees*, and will start to gel-up at 15 degrees*. Gelling is a process where the waxes inherent in diesel fuel become cold enough that they freeze, come out of solution, and bind together. Once the fuel becomes gelled, it will clog the fuel system components and fuel flow will be impaired. There are two ways to combat this problem.

Blending Fuels: Using a blend of number 1 diesel fuel with number 2 diesel helps prevent gelling. In areas where temperatures routinely drop below freezing, fuel stations will blend diesel fuel for the anticipated temperatures. If the station sells #1 and #2 from separate pumps, fuel can be custom blended. The cloud point of No. 2-D is lowered by about 3°F for every 10% volume of No. 1-D blended. For example: To lower the cloud point by 10°F it requires the addition of more than 30% 1-D to the original volume of 2-D. Blending fuel is a good way to prevent gelling but you must either trust that the station has blended it correctly, or that you blended it correctly. Unfortunately, blending fuel has some consequences. Number 1 diesel does not produce as much power per unit as number 2 will; lower mileage and lack of power will likely be noticeable. Furthermore, number 1 diesel has lower lubricity for fuel system components.

Fuel Additives: Additives are usually purchased in bottles and are combined with number 2 diesel at fill-up. Nearly all diesel additives have the ability to lower the gel point. The additive uses a chemical formula that dissolves the wax bonds in the fuel, which prevents the gelling. The amount of additive required usually goes hand in hand with the amount of fuel it is added to, but sometimes the quantity of additive is more dependent on the anticipated low temperature. Furthermore, additives have a benefit that is not present with fuel blending; they utilize a lubricity package that helps lubricate fuel components. Lubricating fuel components is claimed to improve injector life and extend the lifespan of the components. There are many diesel additives available in today’s market. Purchase one that is alcohol free and works for you. I highly recommend Stanadyne Performance Formula, as it is the only additive currently recommended by Ford.

Mechanical Means of Gelling Prevention: The PSD is equipped with an all in one fuel filter/heater/water/separator. One of its main duties is to keep the fuel warm. This device heats the fuel before delivery to the injectors. The PSD also has a bypass relief valve located on the in-tank fuel-sending unit. This is a redundancy put in place in case the fuel pickup was to become clogged. There is also a retrofit kit available, which can be added to the top of the fuel filter. It utilizes heated coolant from the cooling system to keep the fuel warm.

In case of gelling: Lets say you ignored all good advice, the weather turned colder than expected, or you went to an unfamiliar fuel source and received pure number 2. Your fuel lines gel up…what can you do… You can try the following options:

  • Open the fuel bowl and see if you can place some Stanadyne performance formula inside. Wait a few minutes and try to start.
  • Keep a can of POWER SERVICE 9-1-1 or similar additive on hand and hope it works.
  • Warm the Truck: Have the truck towed to a warm garage and wait until it has warmed up enough to start and run, or just leave it sit where it is until weather improves. Plug in Block heater.
  • Adding gasoline to your diesel fuel to prevent jelling is not recommended. If that is all you have in an emergency, it should work. This was recommended on early VW diesels, but not on the PSD.


Your battery will lose power as the temperatures become colder. At –30 degrees your battery may only have 10-20 % of its rated power. This will still turn over the engine but only for a short time. To decrease the workload on the starter you should plug in your block heater in cold weather or park the truck in a warmer space.

If the truck must be left out at –30 or colder and you have no electric battery blanket or block heater consider removing the batteries for the night and putting them in a heated space. I have also taken cold batteries that would not turn an engine over and put them in a sink of hot water to warm them and regain power. If you have a battery charger and access to power that is the best way to recharge batteries. Also, never leave a fully discharged battery in severe cold it could freeze and destroy the battery.

Jumping Batteries:The proper procedure for battery Jumping can be found in the owner’s manual for your truck. Always back in to parking spaces during the wintertime, this way you have easy access to the battery if you were to need a jump.


A well-maintained glow plug system should allow any diesel engine to start unassisted. Depending on the temperature, easier starting may be arrived at if you cycle the glow plugs twice. The best way to gain easy starts is to plug in the block heater two hours before anticipated use of the truck. Starting Fluid: In an emergency, WD-40 will work in a pinch as a starting fluid for diesels. DO NOT USE STARTING FLUID. The glow plugs and air intake heater can cause it to ignite early and engine damage can result.

Block heater:

Most trucks are equipped standard with a block heater. To find it, look under the left front bumper for the plug. Pull it out, inspect it for damage or corrosion, and hook it up to an extension cord. Once you are sure it works, plug it in for at least two hours before any anticipated truck use. Using it for less time is better than no use but understand that the significant benefits of its use may not be realized. Disconnect the cord before starting the engine and secure it so it is easy to get to for next time. Insure that the cord will not drag on ground or become caught in any moving parts.

One of the best ways of utilizing the block heater is to use an automatic timer. Use a timer that is rated for15 amps and has three prongs. The block heater only needs two or three hours to do its thing. Since it pulls 1000 watts, you don’t want it on all night unless someone else is paying the electric bill.

The truck should start without plugging in the block heater, but the colder the temperatures go the greater your chance of the truck having trouble starting. The block heater also has a side benefit. Since it heats the coolant, it allows the engine to warm up much faster. I recommend always plugging in when colder than 0 degrees and see no harm in doing it at 30 degrees.


Refer to the owner’s manual for oil recommendation. If you are always able to plug in the block heater or will have very few cold starts then 15-40 has been reported by some to work fine. If you will have lots of cold starts 0 degree or lower without a block heater, I would recommend a lighter wt oil or synthetic. Once the engine is at operating temperature heavier oil is fine; starting a cold engine with higher viscosity oil is the problem.


I prefer link type. Put them on in the summer and drive around the block to make sure you did it right. Cut off extra links so they don’t damage brake lines etc. Use elastic chain tighteners

DO NOT put chains on front axle only. Use on rear axle or both. The reason for this is although the weight of the engine will help with traction you have nothing to keep the back in from coming around when breaking. Trucks with DRW can use chains on the outer wheel only or both outer and inner. It is easier to get them on the outer wheel but remember if you are loaded, you will want them on the inner one as well. Trailer tires should also be chained when pulling them with a chained vehicle.

Warm up time:

The engine will warm up quicker if driven; just go easy until you have reached normal operating temperatures. Remember that engines that are warmed up from idling will not have warmed up the transmission or axles. It is very easy to break cold parts with an engine that is warmed up and ready to go. I highly recommend that you warm up the engine for no longer than 2 minutes and then drive easy.

Wind chill factor:

Wind chill factor is really a non-issue to your truck. A –40-degree wind chill factor means absolutely nothing. If the temperature is 10 degrees with a –40 wind chill factor than you should take cold weather preparation for a 10 degree day. Wind chill tells you that things that are warmer than outside temperature will lose their heat faster due to the wind, but the air temperature is the factor when considering how low temperatures affect the truck.

Emergency Brake:

Care must be taken to properly maintain the covered emergency brake cables. Once moisture and road salt find their way into the cables, the cables have the tendency to rust and eventually seize. This problem can be compounded in the cold due to moisture freezing and seizing the cables. Some recommend never using the Emergency Brake in the winter because of the freezing and seizing problems. I would either use it daily or not at all. I feel intermittent use will lead to the most problems. I use mine daily and check the cables frequently to insure they are in good shape.

Studded tires:

Many states do not allow or restrict the use of studded tires to winter months. I have not used them myself but have heard great reports of their improved traction capabilities.

Siping tires:

This is a process where additional grooves are added or are originally designed into the tire. These grooves are placed or manufactured perpendicular to the long grooves that go around the tire.

Sipes have many advantages... They allow for additional diversion of water to the sides of the tire rather than just to the front and rear of the tire. They also permit the tire to remain cooler due to increased cooling surface area. The benefit I found that impressed me most is the way they perform in winter conditions.

Tests conducted by the National Safety Council on the performance of siped vs. unsiped tires on ice resulted in a 64% increase in breakaway traction and an increase of 28% spinning traction. In stopping distance tests, the reduction was from 200 feet to 155.6 feet—a 22% improvement.


Many people recommend putting extra weight in the bed of the truck for traction. I have done this with my 2WD trucks and it does help. One point that I believe needs to be understood though is that any weight added to the truck will increase the mass of the truck, which may make stopping or sudden lane changes harder. If you do add weight, you will want to secure it so it will not shift in the bed. Many people use sandbags or bags of salt. These items have a dual use as they can be employed to the roadbed when slippery conditions are encountered.

Frozen door locks:

A hair dryer is a handy little tool that will work to free frozen locks. Be careful not to get the paint too hot. I have also heard of heating the key with a lighter. Lock de-icer spray into the lock is another good alternative. In a pinch, your body has about a pint of warm liquid stored up but I haven’t tried that one myself. I just put my palm on the lock until it thaws out. This could lead to frostbite so be careful.

Grill covers:

They will help with decreasing the amount of time needed for warm up and reducing the amount of heat lost to the outside air, which can prevent the engine from retaining enough heat for normal operation. Covers can be as simple as cardboard placed in front of radiator or if you like aftermarket covers are available in all sorts of designs and colors. Note, that covers will decrease the efficiency of the intercooler.


Fuel: Fuel is still the number one issue and must be carefully tended to under these conditions. There are aftermarket fuel heaters and Ford has a tsb out for a retrofit heater on the 99 and later PSD. TSB 01-04-04.


There are also aftermarket heaters like the Espar heater, which uses diesel fuel to warm the engine in areas where you cannot plug it in. There are also aftermarket systems that will start and run the vehicle on time or temperature intervals. Transmission, battery, fuel tank, and oil pan heaters are also used at extreme temperatures. Consider removal of the battery to warm space if you are unable to keep them warm. If the vehicle is to be left idling for extended periods than some sort to idle control system should be installed. I have not tried them but they can be made rather inexpensively.


I would consider total synthetic oil use in all parts of truck when temperatures of this extreme are experienced.

*All temperatures are given in Fahrenheit.

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