Starting a diesel engine in cold weather...

mister_hOctober 10, 2006

1960? Ford 2000 tractor, 3-cyl diesel.

I posted a question in a tractor forum but didn't get any good response. So, I'm trying here. I've been helped a lot here in the past...

I just bought this tractor and am having a trouble starting the engine when cold, like first time trying to start in morning. It just cranks, cranks until the battery goes low or dead. The engine seems to start OK when the engine is warm or hot. Someone says, leave the key to ignition ON position and just count up to 10 or 20 to warm up the glow plugs, then crank. Does this make a sense to you? If you have any good idea or suggestion on starting a old diesel engine in cold weather, please help... Also, how old diesel fuel is considered old (not usable) and should be discarded?

Thanks in advance.

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I wasn't totally sure these had glow plugs. Here's what to do. First make sure the glow plugs are getting powered up. Second, test the current flowing through the glow plugs. Each glow plug should be able to light a headlight, brightly at first and then slightly dim after ten to twenty seconds. (If this is a 6v, use a 6v headlight!) What you do is connect the headlight to Bat+, and then connect to each glow plug individually. Any that do not allow the headlight to turn on are bad. The reason you use a headlight is it takes a lot of current to heat these up. Today's cars and trucks actually use 6v glow plugs even though we have 12v cars. They just use electronics to control how long they are turned on to keep from melting them down.

Of course with diesels there are other considerations as well. Compression is critical and may need to be checked. Fuel quality, as well as injection timing are also important to get these started. Ether helps, but should be only a last choice temporary solution until proper repairs are done.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 5:24PM
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And if your tractor has glow plugs do not use ether. It is very likely to cause a fire or explosion. It works well on diesels that do not have glow plugs but if you read an owners manual for a newer diesel it will clearly state not to use ether to prevent a fire. If there are glow plugs the information about waiting 10 seconds will be a big help in trying to start. Diesel does not get old in the same way as gasoline but does attract water and can even grow algae if left long enough.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 8:29PM
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Diesel Cold Starting

How cold is it?

Have you got a compression release?

If its VERY cold drastic measures are needed.

Run your overhead and check the valves and injector clearances.

Are you dead sure the air cleaner is free? If its paper it could be plugd tight. ie too tight to start and pull hard but not too tight to just run. Try starting w/o the cleaner once.

Disconnect the glow plugs and use either:

Oil bath air cleaner: soak a rag with either and hold it against the intake while cranking then pull it away right quick when it starts. Usually takes 2 people.

Paper air filter: Squirt the either onto the filter - it will take the place of the rag. Sneak up on it with not too much first time. You'll soon (3rd try) get the feel for how much to shoot. The further the intake is from the manifold the more either required.

If you use a compression release to get it cranking let it in super slow, don't just let it snap in. That way you might coax one cylinder to fire and then ease it all the way in. This in conjunction with either. 2 people.

Last if its cold like zero ºF (+ or -) I have pulled a plug from the intake manifold and shot either straight into the manifold. Takes 2 people. One on the starter and compression release tuther on the either. Then you have to keep shooting either if the engine starts to die etc nursing it along till it holds its own. Not a technique for a rooky.
I spect this will net me a butt chewing...just got a feeling.......:-):-)

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 11:14PM
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This is what I do with a diesel Peugeot :

After waiting for the glowplug light to go out (takes ages), I put the accelerator to the floor and crank over the engine until it starts and runs properly (without stalling when you release the key).

If the engine is warm, or in warm weather it doesn't need this.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2006 at 1:19AM
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As for disposing of the diesel fuel, it may be collected locally by your city or county, the same way as old gasoline is collected. As another poster mentioned, diesel does not get old in the way gasoline does, but it could be full of water or algae. It's also possible in this case that the fuel you have in the tank now is gelling in the cold weather (you don't say how cold "cold" is); you might try going to a place that repairs diesels, an auto-parts store, or a farm-and-fleet kind of place and buy some diesel-fuel anti-gel. Even if your fuel isn't gelled, it should boost the cetane, which could make the engine easier to start.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2006 at 12:09PM
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Hello folks... I'm the original poster of this thread. First, thanks for all your suggestions and ideas to help me out.
Honestly I don't know what I have on my old Ford tractor which I just bought last weekend for my acrage ranch. I am assuming it has glow plugs because the seller says I need to warm up the plugs before cranking. But not sure if the seller knows what he's saying. He didn't even know what model it was. I found out by checking the serial number in a website. I just bought it because it was cheap ($1000 w/ PTO driven 1996 New Holland frail mower, worth a couple of grand) and was running. Comression release? I don't know if it has one. The seller didn't have a manual for this tractor. When I said "cold", I meant to say in the range of 40~50 F ambient temperature (it is considered cold in So. Calif standard :). Sorry for the misunderstanding. I was barely able to start a few times the day I brought to my property (wasn't easy) but next morning I could not start AT ALL. Here is an interesting suggestion from another person:

Soak up a rag with gasoline and gently squeeze out excess liquid gasoline, then remove the air filter and place the gasoline soaked rag in the air intake pipe opening securing with a rubber band. Then try cranking the engine. The fuel rich intake air is supposed to help firing it up.

It seems little too dramatic/adventurous to me. What do you think of this idea? By the way, where do I get ether as some folks mentioned? I am a city folk who just moved to a country side acrage ranch... no experience on diesel engine or farm tractor. But I have some experiences on small gas engines like replacing detonated pistons on motorcycles and replacing crank on lawn mowers...

Do glow plugs and injectors, generally, need cleaing on diesel engines? I'm wondering what kind of maintenance I should do to help start the engine easier.
Thanks in advance to all.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2006 at 12:49PM
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mister h, the first thing you need to do is figure out what you have and what the starting proceedure is. Does it have glow plugs or not, do they work off the key or does it have a separate button, if so, how long are you supposed to press it, does it have a primer, compresion release, ect. It's entirely possible that it doesn't have glow plugs or anything else at all.

Is the battery in good shape? Will it spin the engine fast for at least 10-15 seconds? My gut says this sucker ought to start at 40-50* ambient temperature if the starter works well no matter what, just might blow a little extra smoke at start up is all. Another thing, does it puke black smoke as you're cranking it? If it doesn't, there's no fuel.

Ether is just the active ingredient in starting fluid which is available just about everywhere. Not a good idea to use if you have working glow plugs. Use very sparingly anyway on a diesel. It's hard on them...ignites way too easy.

There are tractor forums, I think garden web even has one. I bet if you try one of those someone will chime in that knows all about your Ford. I got some answers regarding a D-2 cat from the 1940's there one time. Your tractor has got to be more common than one of those.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2006 at 8:27PM
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>>"place the gasoline soaked rag in the air intake pipe opening securing with a rubber band."Totally ridiculous!

It'd suck the rag right into your engine!!!!!

I dunno. Started diesels for 40 years. Never tried gasoline.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2006 at 8:28AM
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Stay away from the gasoline. It will have a solvent effect on whatever diesel you're getting into the cylinders and may damage other engine components.

Gary offers good advice -- first you have to find out what you have. Try searching for the tractor model number on Google or Yahoo!, look for owner's manuals on eBay or tractor-lover sites. Once you know how to do it right, you can figure out which part is not working properly.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2006 at 9:05AM
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Try the site below to locate manuals for Ford diesel tractors.

If you don't find anything here to your liking, try as a search engine to find other internet locations.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ford Tractor Manuals

    Bookmark   October 13, 2006 at 2:12AM
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Hello folks... I'm the original poster.
Last weekend I followed your advices and the tractor started up within 3~4 seconds of first cranking. I made sure:
1). the 1000 cca battery is FULLY charged (12.8+)
2). Warmed up glow plugs (10~15 seconds) before cranking.
3). Fuel is getting into the combustion chamber - smoke puffing out at the tail pipe while cranking.
By following above steps, it was a piece of cake to start this sucker! I finally found the Model/Serial # which was burried below minimum 3 coats of thick paint. My tractor is a 1973 Ford 2000 diesel...
Thank you all.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2006 at 1:55PM
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The only problem with old diesel is it might have water in it and purging the filter "requires a degree of mechanical aptitude".

    Bookmark   October 16, 2006 at 9:48PM
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Diesels need three elements to operate:fuel, air, and compression. Make sure that your fuel is clean, the filter is not clogged/dirty, and that it isn't too old-after two months, it's old.
Make sure your air filter is clean and there are no obstructions in the mainifold/hose.
Compression is a matter of the engine-if the valves are timed properly to the position if the pistons, you will have compression.
One thing you might do is bleed the fuel lines. I don't know the brand of your tractor, but I work on 4-6 cyl john deere engines. They are typically bled at the electric fuel pump, the filter and the injectors. With a manual you can see where these points are and bleeding is a simple job.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2006 at 1:47AM
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mike your just the person I wanted to see I have a john deere 550G and I can't get it to run I came along one mourning started it up ran for a while and died out I turning it over no sign of starting back up I left the machine siting for a month if it helps.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 9:43PM
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You should try priming the injectors (complicated - see a manual), there should be a bleed line on the side of each.

Can you see any water in the filter bowl ? It would be under the diesel.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 10:56PM
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Resurrecting this thread to update. I had occasion to buy a "winter front" for my car at a good price. This is the canvas/vinyl flap that covers the grille of a diesel vehicle. It's not that it's been very cold yet this winter. But I did want to note that the car does warm up faster with the cover in place. It does not warm up dramatically faster, but it does seem to be faster based on when I hit normal temp after starting.

Where it really shines, however, is in starting after the car has been off for a while. It seems to retain engine heat much faster, so the car returns to operating temperature sooner.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 10:27AM
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I don't know about tractors but for diesel cars:

Does it have a block heater? Those work great. Some cars come with a plug under the hood.
Just keep it plugged in at night.

Also when it is really cold, make sure you have anti-gel fuel additive in it.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2007 at 3:03PM
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Hi,as a diesel mechanic in New Zealand we still have a lot of the old Ford 2000. Your problem is it does NOT have glow plugs as they are what they call (direct injection) your problem is low compression, warn engine rings. You can get around it by carefully using ether spray in the air intake while starting, other than that wauld be a costly re ring engine.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 5:06PM
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You did not state what altitude you are at. Using normal starting procedures, it should fire up in the 40 to 50 F range. However, move the tractor to 6000 ft altitude and you may encounter starting problems.

Diesel engines without glow plugs may have a provision for inserting a measured amount of ether into the fuel. Engines with glow plugs do not need ether.

A strong battery is needed to spin the engine up to an effective speed.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 4:45AM
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