Fuel additives – before and after pumping

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Updated Jan 3, 2020
Major truck stop chains treat fuel to minimize cold-weather gelling. Over-the-counter fuel treatments can add value but should not be overdone.Major truck stop chains treat fuel to minimize cold-weather gelling. Over-the-counter fuel treatments can add value but should not be overdone.

Pilot Flying J, Love’s and TravelCenters of America are among truck stops using cold-flow broad spectrum additives to treat fuel at cold-weather locations for the winter.

“With the exception of our cold-weather stores, we blend additive only when the weather warrants,” said Bryan Stickley, PFJ’s director of supply mid-continent.

TravelCenters of America fuel treated for cold weather also offers deicing elements to help minimize fuel-filter freeze-ups, said Frank Bradley, a sales vice president.

Off-the-shelf additives remain popular, but more additive doesn’t necessarily equal better protection.

“Data typically shows that anything more than a triple treatment [for one tank] of cold flow into diesel fuel will have greatly diminished return on improving the cold filter-plugging point of diesel,” Stickley said. “Most improvement will be made in the first and second treatments.”

Because Howes products don’t contain alcohols or solvents, overtreatment is not harmful to the diesel fuel system, said Steve Sikorsky, the company’s vice president of strategic accounts. “A high-quality fuel additive should be added to the tank on every fill-up” for overall performance improvement, he said.

Brent Bergevin, Love’s vice president of transportation, said additives with a specific target – like an anti-gel or cetane boost – and fuel conditioners are fine to pour in as long as drivers are choosing one that meets their specific needs.

“Some additives are designed to help thaw out frozen fuel systems, and others are designed to prevent the fuel from freezing and gelling in the first place,” said Homer Hogg, TravelCenters of America’s director of technical service. “Is that fuel treated for the climate you are heading towards? Has it been treated properly for cold weather? If not, you’ll want to treat the fuel in your tanks in order to avoid the paraffin wax in the fuel from clouding up and gelling. This will cause the fuel to clog filters and can eventually stop the fuel from flowing altogether.”

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Sikorsky said since many additives disperse water from the fuel, it is necessary to check the water separator periodically and drain the bowl. Bergevin recommends draining filters and fuel tanks daily to get rid of condensation.

Adding too much of any additive is not advised. Hogg said the key to avoiding over-conditioning the fuel is to know its qualities. “If the fuel you’re pumping into your tanks has not been properly treated, then you should consider treating the fuel directly in the tanks on your truck,” he said. “Be certain to use the correct additive at the right time.”

Hogg said fuel additives can help with lubricity, but overdoing it can hurt fuel efficiency. He suggested checking with the engine manufacturer to see if treating fuel could void a warranty.

However, as long as the product is used as stated on its container, there’s little risk in causing problems with exhaust of the diesel particulate filter, Hogg said.

“The trick is to be sure you use the correct amount of treatment,” he said. “Some additive containers include measuring scales on the bottle. It’s also a good practice to keep a measuring container in your truck to ensure you are properly mixing the fuel in your tanks with the ratio requirements noted on the additive’s label.”

Winter diesel often is knocked for causing a reduction in miles per gallon, but Stickley said there is no significant effect with diesel treated with cold-flow improvers, which do not affect the diesel’s cetane.

Some “trucks get slightly lower MPGs during winter months,” Bergevin said. “This could be from extreme cold weather and longer idling times.”

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