Winter is a season of worry for drivers. Challenges and hazards caused by weather and freezing temperatures do not make for ‘ideal conditions’
When the thermostat drops, one question may occur to drivers: is it cold enough for my gasoline to freeze?
This is an important question that deserves an answer – even if it is only for your peace of mind! So whether you’re a veteran of many freezing winters, a recent transplant from warmer climates, or experiencing freak weather in your typically balmy locale, keep reading to find out more about freezing gasoline.
Before we nail down the freezing point of gasoline, let’s build a knowledge base of gasoline at the chemical level.
Gasoline is a liquid, but it’s obviously different from water. For instance, it will not freeze into a solid mass in the same way that water freezes into solid ice.
To become a solid, any liquid must have its molecules rearranged into a new, orderly shape in layers. It is this new structure that turns a liquid into a solid.
Gasoline is made of hydrocarbons – primarily alkane molecules which are the simplest and least reactive of the hydrocarbons – that retain their original structure in spite of temperature changes.
If subjected to a cold enough temperature for long enough, you may find that some hydrocarbon chains do ‘harden’. The whole volume of gasoline, however, is not going to form one solid mass.
Freezing Point Of Gasoline
As gasoline won’t freeze into one solid mass in the way that water freezes to ice, it is difficult to specify an exact temperature that will freeze gasoline. To complicate things further, different types of gasoline freeze at different temperatures.
It is, therefore, best to think of gasoline freezing on a spectrum rather than a definitive number. Gasoline can freeze anywhere from -40°F to -200°F (-40°C to -130°C). Most types of gasoline will undergo a bit of freezing around the -100°F (-75°C).
So, while gasoline can freeze, it will only freeze if the temperature gets quite cold! Unless you live around the Arctic Circle or Antarctica you are probably going to be ok.
Freezing Point Of Diesel
Diesel is more sensitive to the cold than gasoline due to its high paraffin content.
At about 32°F (0°C) diesel will become cloudy and thicken. This is caused by the paraffin stiffening in the cold. Once it gets too thick, the diesel will not flow through the engine and is completely unusable.
Like gasoline, diesel will not form a rock-solid mass. Frozen diesel is a waxy goo and can be described as ‘gelled.’ The engine will run as normal when the diesel warms up, the paraffin will loosen, and it will turn back into a liquid.
Gasoline In A Car Tank Vs Jerry Can
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter if your gasoline is in a car tank or a jerry can. If it’s exposed to temperatures between -40°F and -200°F (-40°C and -130°C) gasoline will partially freeze.
Keep in mind that gasoline will not turn into a solid even when exposed to these temperatures. It may begin to crystallize or coagulate at the extreme end of the spectrum but, realistically, when will you ever be exposed to temperatures below -200°F (-130°C) in your car? Perhaps it’s a dilemna that Elon Musk or NASA engineers will have to confront on Mars.
As diesel does become solid as the paraffins solidify in the cold, it is a good idea to keep your car warmer than 32°F (0°C) as much as possible. This can be accomplished in a heated garage or shed, or close to your house to catch some radiated warmth.
In extreme cases, it may be necessary to leave your engine idly running so that the engine never has a chance to cool down. However, the anti-freezing products available for diesel engines are often enough to keep any temperature associated problems at bay.
However, you need to keep in mind that freezing fuel is not the only issue associated with cars and cold weather.
Other Cold Weather Problems
Some types of car fuel may not tolerate the cold weather well. This is primarily because the cold increases the viscosity of a liquid. The more viscous, the thicker it will be and your engine may not be able to use it.
Cold weather causes viscous gasoline which makes the fuel pump work harder. A fuel pump that regularly has to work harder to compensate for thick liquids will have a shorter lifespan.
Increased viscosity of fuel has been shown to trick fuel gauges into registering more fuel than there is in the tank. This increases the likelihood of a driver being ‘caught short’ and ending up stranded. This can be dangerous during the winter – especially in a sparsely populated or isolated area – so it’s important to keep this in mind if you are not filling up regularly.
Remember that gasoline is not the only liquid in your car. Water will freeze at -32°F (0°C) and will turn to solid ice. Water in the engine does not need to be in liquid form to cause issues. Any condensation or water vapour anywhere in the engine may cause difficulties in the cold.
As anyone who has left a beer can in the freezer too long knows, water expands as it freezes which can cause a fuel line breakage or blockage, limiting the volume of gas that can get into the combustion chambers and preventing the engine from working properly.
Blocked Fuel Line Signs
Keep an eye out for these signs in the cold weather to detect a blocked fuel line:
- The Engine won’t start
- The engine will start, but not turn over
- The engine will cut out while driving
- The Car sputters while driving
Get your car, tractor, vehicle, etc warmed up quickly. The engine will eventually warm up the liquids in the engine and improve viscosity or get the ice to melt away, removing the blockage.
While a blocked fuel line can sound and seem scary, keep in mind that it is almost impossible to get a fuel line completely blocked up. This is due to the low volume of water or water vapour in your engine at any one time and the fact that gasoline will not freeze completely solid.
Gasoline could freeze between -40°F and -200°F (-40°C and -130°C) which is extremely cold and rarely occurs in urban areas.
Prevent any issues by keeping your car in a heated garage overnight. If you don’t have access to a garage, parking your car close to your house may be warm enough to keep your engine liquids from coagulating.