The Fechino Files: Starting Fluid

Words: Steven Fechino

Steven Fechino

Many of us who have the time to read this article are typically not the same individuals that turn wrenches on our mixers and lifts but are in charge of the projects that the equipment supports. It is now the time of year when cool temperatures change morning routines.

Every morning we need to get the equipment started, some equipment is new, and some have seen a job or two. The older company-owned equipment is what I want to discuss. Four-stroke gasoline engines typically run our mixers and scaffolds. Many of us use regular gasoline with a percentage of ethanol in these engines. A theory is that since I burn the fuel every day, I do not keep the fuel long enough for fuel phasing (separation of water), which is ok. That is tough to argue, and these will be the only pieces of equipment with a gasoline engine. It would be ok to run fuel with ethanol, as long as you top off the fuel at the end of every workday. 

As the workday ends, the temperatures drop, and the dew settles, allowing for condensation to form on our warm metal equipment. Keeping a full tank of fuel will reduce many problems, but it is not the only step you should be taking. Fuel filters, which are probably the last thing on your mind, are important to keep clean. The clean filter will assist the engine in running smoothly and allowing the fuel to burn at its maximum efficiency. Still, it can also save you money in troubleshooting symptoms by preventing a poorly running unit. 

Fuel delivery is typically easy to identify. Yup, it is getting fuel. Then you check the spark, and yup got that as well. The fuel filter keeps your fuel clean and running by removing the condensate (water from everyday weather cycles) and trash in the fuel tank that is creating poor ignition performance, even when you just put clean gasoline in the tank. It keeps you from chasing a rabbit down the hole. 

Two-stroke engines are a bit more sensitive to fuel. I recommend using what the manufacturer recommends, but some equipment is old, and who knows what was recommended when you bought it. So, in this case, I recommend 100 percent gasoline (does not contain ethanol). It is available in many rural areas at the filling station, typically with a separate pump. 

It costs about a dollar more per gallon, but it will save you in diaphragm repairs, carburetor rebuilds, downtime, and frustration trying to start a fouled carburetor; believe me, I think this is something you should do to reduce engine issues. Engineered fuel is also a strong option, but it can run about $20.00 per gallon. Therefore, if you can find 100 percent gasoline at the pump, it may save you some cash. 

Older diesel engines are known for hard starting in cooler weather, or as anyone who has ever tried, they can be a downright pain when things are not all working properly. A fouled glow plug is usually the problem and can be why the diesel engine does not start. White puffing of smoke indicates that the heat generated from the heat of the glow plug is not vaporizing the fuel and therefore not allowing the fuel to combust and move the cylinders, which would allow the air and exhaust process to begin.  

Not all, but many diesel engines that have glow plugs (some older Perkins engines do not have glow plugs) are wired in series, so when one goes out, they all stop functioning. Glow plugs are typically easy to change on diesel engines that operate our equipment. Glow plugs are inexpensive compared to many other parts and can be installed with a little anti-seize on the threads and dielectric grease on the electrical connection. 

You can check the resistance of a glow plug and change out the one that has fouled, but when one goes, another is soon to follow (kind of like old truck headlights, they go a month apart), so you should just change them all at the same time. The glow plug indicator is also typically wired within the series. Still, if it is an older machine, this can be bypassed and will not allow you to diagnose the problem efficiently. 

We are discussing this because a hard start can lead to some real country boy engine doctoring. Do Not do it. Ok, (Sound like Jerry Painter when I say OK) here is where you do not admit it, but I will say, some people spray just a little ether in the intake, and she fires up (nobody ever uses just a little), well then, some folks say that the engine gets used to the ether. No and no! Ether in a diesel engine is all bad; sure, you can get away with it till the day you suddenly cannot. Ether and any form of starting fluid, for that matter, should be avoided. 

Change your glow plugs! No person on a jobsite has ever just used a little bit of ether, me included, but it will destroy the engine.  Some of you reading this will say nonsense, but here is why. First, the ether will evaporate all oil found in the piston-cylinder and create a dry start condition that will prematurely wear the rings and potentially scar the cylinder on a warm and, worse, a cold start. 

Second, if you have a turbo, it will evaporate the oil in the turbo and destroy the bearings because not only does it spin the turbo when you engage the starter, it spins it at an incredible speed far greater than it was ever designed for. The ether can also quickly contribute to throwing a rod because the engine turns over so fast that it is like redlining an engine that is not even running.

There are starting fluids approved for a diesel engine, I tried it, and no…again, just change the glow plugs. The engine revs so fast it is amazing. I am lucky that I did not blow my diesel engine up in my shop when I did it. WD-40 is another product that people use. The oil of WD-40 is not what starts the combustion process. It is the butane carrier for the oil from the can to the atmosphere. 

If you are really in a pinch and need to start a diesel when it is cool, you can use a heat gun. It is not the most productive, but it will heat the cylinder when placed into the intake and assist the piston compression in vaporizing the fuel for combustion. The starter must not be engaged for long periods when you engage it; short 20 second bursts are the safest but hard to follow. You will want to run the starter longer.

Let the heat gun do the work, and white smoke will be abundant during the starting and heating process. Just before the engine begins to run on its own, it will begin to turn gray before it disappears upon starting, it is not the best, but it is better than ether.

Good luck and be safe. Weare in for a crazy winter. Hope to see everyone at the World of Concrete.

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