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Winter Is Coming Preparation Is Key

Cold weather can cause problems for everyone, but fleet operators are often hit particularly hard. Heavy snow and ice causes havoc with delivery schedules, with accidents, road closures and breakdowns taking their toll and stretching transport operators to the limit.

But it’s not just on the road where vehicle operators have been affected; on-site maintenance staff have an extremely hard job keeping their vehicles up-and-running – and this is certainly the case when it comes to vehicle refuelling and fuel storage.

In addition to unpredictable winter weather conditions in recent years, the changeover to a new diesel specification since 2009 has given fuel users another headache to contend with, as the combination of low temperatures and a higher percentage of biofuel in the diesel increases the possibility of problems in vehicle fuel systems and filters. The same problems also often arise with the filters and pumping equipment on bulk storage tanks.

The changing fuel specification means that ‘gas oil’ (red diesel) now contains less sulphur, and may contain up to 7% Biodiesel. This low sulphur red diesel containing Biodiesel is a better solvent than diesel from around 3-4 years ago and it will loosen deposits that have built up. If not correctly filtered this can end up blocking vehicle filters and possibly cause damage to engines, resulting in more breakdowns and increased repair costs. Filters may also need changing more frequently, depending on the age and condition of the tank.

It is also worth considering having a full internal tank clean to remove build up of:

– Condensation & water from the tank sump
– Sediment & dirt from the tank sump and walls
– Possible bacterial growth

This should be carried out by a company with specialist equipment and the necessary training and expertise. This is also a good opportunity to have the rest of your fuel delivery system checked over, as they will be able to advise on improvements such as filter upgrades, overfill limiting devices, tank and bund alarms, fuel level monitoring systems and fuel management software, as well as more basic pumps, meters, hoses, reels and refuelling triggers.

Low sulphur gas oil also has the effect of making delivery hoses become rigid, and can cause seals to weep. Check that hoses and triggers are in good condition, and replace any that are old as there is a good chance that they will not be compatible with the current specification of fuel.

Water in tanks provides a breeding ground for bacterial growth, which if left unchecked can form a ‘sludge’ which commonly blocks filters and causes problems with vehicle and machine engines. In addition water can form ice crystals when the temperature is below 0°C which again lead to filter blockages and breakdowns, so good housekeeping of fuel stocks (frequent checking & draining of water etc.) is required to keep your system reliable.

The shelf life of fuel is now also considerably less than pre-2009 as it is more prone to oxidation, which as before, may lead to filter blockages. Fuel stocks should be turned over ideally no longer than 6 months. Find out when your fuel supplier changes from ‘summer’ to ‘winter’ grade fuel (usually at the end of October) and make sure you don’t end up with a tank full of ‘summer’ grade for the winter, as this will ‘wax’ if the temperature drops too low.

Avoid positioning tanks in exposed areas if possible, and make sure pipework and pumps are sheltered to reduce heat loss and waxing. Remember that an old partially blocked filter will be less tolerant to small amounts of wax crystals. A large, high capacity fuel filter fitted to your fuel delivery/storage system will mean fewer problems will occur further down the line, so consider fitting one or upgrading.

By taking a proactive approach to your fuel tank maintenance, you not only prevent these potential problems from arising but can also make significant improvements to your whole refueling operation, reducing vehicle and equipment downtime and repair costs, and also maximizing profits by ensuring their vehicles are on the move and not sat in the workshop.