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Can Diesel Gel While Driving?

The diesel pump at a gas station.

When you use your diesel vehicle during the cold season, you may wonder: Can diesel gel while driving?

As you may know, one of the challenges of diesel fuel is that it doesn’t like cold weather. If it gets cold enough, diesel can turn from a liquid that flows easily into a goopy mess that isn’t good for your engine.

Here’s what to know about gelling and how you can avoid this problem when the temperature drops.

What Causes Diesel Fuel Gelling?Diesel Fuel Cap

It’s all about the temperature. Just like motor oil or other viscous fluids, diesel fuel thickens as the temperature goes down. Specifically, the waxy substance called paraffin in diesel starts to crystallize, leading to sludgy, cloudy fuel in your tank. This starts to become a problem once the temperature drops to 32°F, and around 10 or 15ºF, diesel becomes a gel that won’t flow well through your fuel pump, fuel lines, filters and injectors.

Can Diesel Gel While Driving?

Yes. Just because the engine is on and the vehicle is running smoothly doesn’t mean that the fuel won’t gel. Although the engine warms up as you drive, the fuel tank is located far away from the engine, and it remains cold. This can lead to diesel fuel gelling, even while you’re driving down the road.

Symptoms of Diesel Fuel Gelling

If it’s too cold, then you may not be able to start the engine. Even if your vehicle does eventually start, it might have had some trouble turning over. Once you’re driving, gelling diesel fuel can cause sluggish performance and slow acceleration, so if it’s cold and you’re noticing these issues, then there’s a chance your diesel fuel is gelling as you drive.

How Do you Prevent Diesel Fuel Gelling?

Luckily, it’s not hard to prevent diesel fuel from gelling. There are anti-gel additives that can be added each time you fuel up to prevent gelling. It’s an easy and inexpensive fix to an inconvenient and potentially expensive problem. If your diesel does gel, then getting your vehicle someplace warm can fix the issue, but since your vehicle’s engine isn’t meant to run without a steady flow of fuel to the engine, there’s always the chance that components within your fuel system could be damaged.

If you drive a diesel vehicle anywhere the temps drop below freezing, then your best bet is to keep the fuel from gelling in the first place by using an anti-gel additive every time you fill the tank.

Check out all the diesel care products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information about how to prevent diesel fuel gelling, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy Flickr.

Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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