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Operating Natural Gas Engines in Extreme Cold

The recent cold winter weather experienced throughout North America, together with the growing population of natural gas-powered vehicles, has brought about many questions about the need for – and use of – cold-weather operating aids with natural gas engines.

In general, the same type of operating tips that apply to diesel engines are valid for natural gas engines as well, but because of the different fueling and ignition systems, it is even more critical that operators follow the cold-weather operating guidelines in their Owners Manual and Operation and Maintenance Manual.

Coolant and oil pan heaters help engines start faster, putting less stress on the battery. Warm oil provides a better flow of protective lubrication at startup. Warm coolant helps with natural gas fuel pressure regulator operation.

Maintaining the proper level of additives in antifreeze/coolant is important, as well as periodic checks of cooling system components. A 50/50 mixture of ethylene glycol and water is required when temperatures are between -23 and -32 degrees Celsius (-10 to -26 degrees Fahrenheit), with a 60/40 mixture needed when temperatures reach -32 to -54 degrees Celsius (-25 to -65 degrees Fahrenheit).

It is required that natural gas vehicles be equipped with winterfronts/engine enclosures when operating in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 degrees Celsius on vehicles equipped with charge air cooling. There must be a sufficient amount of surface area exposed in order to allow the charge air cooler to operate properly.

While most water is already removed from natural gas fuel by the dryer at the fueling station, it’s still imperative that any accumulated water and/or oil within the fuel filter be drained off on a daily basis. There are fuel filter(s) on the low-pressure side near the engine, and within the fuel system on the high-pressure side. Consult your Owners Manual and Operation and Maintenance Manual for details. If there is not a dryer at the fuel station, consult your fuel provider.

When temperatures go below 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius), operators may need to consider switching from 15W40 natural gas engine oil to a 10W30 oil or lighter weight oil. The difference in viscosity allows better flow, better protection and faster startups at below freezing temperature conditions.

The air intake system on most vehicles is designed to pull in outside air at ambient temperatures. Equipping the engine with an underhood air switching system, so that intake air is drawn from the warmer engine compartment, is recommended and can prevent potential problems from occurring.

Ether or other chemical starting aids should never be used on Natural Gas engines.

To learn more about recommended procedures and the use of cold-weather operating aids with natural gas engines, please see Cummins Service Bulletin 4332709, available at QuickServe® Online (QSOL).

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