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Know what you are getting when it comes to fuel

In the upcoming winter months, we will see temperatures start to dip below zero in certain parts of the country. Certain trucks may die or not start. At the center of the board is proper fuel, maintenance and experience.

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Fuels and lubes column

In the upcoming winter months, we will see temperatures start to dip below zero in certain parts of the country. This will have an effect on your fleet: Certain trucks may die or not start.

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When this happens, we tend to look around for blame, like throwing darts at a dartboard. At the center of the board is proper fuel, maintenance and experience. The first inner ring is the driver, the next ring is maintenance, the next temperature, and then the granddaddy of them all: the ring representing fuel gelling.

The filters are where most gelling happens, usually after a cold weekend when the truck has not run enough to send warm return fuel from the engine to warm the fuel in the tanks. All of this can be attributed to maintenance of the vehicle: storage tank maintenance, truck fuel tank maintenance and maintaining dialogue with the fuel supplier. There may come a point when you need kerosene, as additives only work up to a certain point. However, kerosene is perceived to be expensive and most fuel stops and mobile refuelers do not blend.

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It is amazing that some people way up in the Northern U.S. and Canada do not have any issues with fuel, as they have figured out how to maintain their fuel below ground, above ground and, most importantly, on the ground. Plus, the suppliers refine it differently.

So, when gelling is named as the reason for the engine to quit running, you should dig and make sure that’s true, since it is rare that gelling happens. There may be a buildup of sludge, wax, water and/or asphaltenes, which is not gelling. The filters should be doing their job: filtering.

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One questions you should ask yourself: Do you understand fuel? Does the owner of your company understand fuel? Does your fuel salesman understand fuel?

Chances are you are not talking to the product refiner. Does the person you are talking to have fuel knowledge, or are they just taking orders?

This is a true story. I asked a client to check on what fuel he was getting. His sales contact sent him a data sheet and temperature chart. So, the director of maintenance was satisfied until we had a deeper conversation. I told him he should ask what “winter blend” means. The sales rep’s answer, two days later, was “you need to refer to the chart.” The director replied to me the same. I then suggested he ask again, and he got the same answer. The salesperson continued to express their lack of fuel knowledge of fleet operations during cold weather. I continued to badger my client to find out what do they do for cold weather. Days and a few weeks went by; he gave up but I did not. I wanted him to understand. They finally commented that our fuel is good for what the chart says. The same dialogues happened with the truck stops and mobile refueler to understand those providers as well. It was their only way to answer.

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This continued for a month, with numerous conversations, and he spread the conversations to multiple suppliers. The director was getting an education and accepted that he did not know much about fuel and what he was getting, and his now numerous contacts did not know what they were selling and providing.

Finally, the contacts said that they use an additive. The same questions start all over again asking for more details, with all the same dialogue repeating the unknown or choosing not to commit on when and what percentage and how do they control it. They don’t and will not commit. If you read the fine print at the bottom of the chart, it says that the customer agrees to accept these stats.

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It deserved a deeper understanding and explanation to serve asset management and ensure what you are buying, what you are getting and when it starts. My opinion is as stated above: Understand fuel, determine what you need and control your own fleet’s destiny.

It continues to amaze me that Canada has so few fuel issues, and in most cases no fuel heaters. They do good fuel maintenance and Canada blends/cuts with kerosene. The suppliers in Canada have their act together.

Ask all of these questions. Know when to start following the weather, when to question a winter blend and when to switch to kerosene. Tell them what you want and what percentage. You do it, do not let the system control your world. This is one of the few areas for maintenance insurance predictions.

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This article was contributed by Darry Stuart of DWS Fleet Management Services. For more information, visit darrystuart.com or email comments or questions to Darry at: [email protected].

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