Help Cold Starting a Diesel NO CORDS

Hey Everybody. It’s my first time posting here and I hope you guys can help me out.

I have a 2005 Ford E-350 Turbo Diesel van with 220,000 miles on it. This van has two new cold cranking batteries installed. I use it to do small apartment moving jobs. This past summer I had the EGR valve cleaned out and the fuel filter and fuel pump replaced. I have the oil changed regularly using the recommended thickness. 10-W40 I believe.

My problem is that I live in Brooklyn, NY and have a hard time starting it up when it gets very cold out. In above freezing temperatures it starts fine, but when it gets colder out it becomes more difficult. I know that this is not a unique problem, but more an attribute of diesel engines.
I have looked at engine block heaters, dipstick heaters and oil pan heaters, but I CANNOT RUN AN EXTENSION CORD to my van. I do not have a garage, I often have to park a block or two away from my apartment and I can’t leave anything on the street unless I want it stolen. Is there any other method I can use to get the van to start easier?

I know there are diesel fuel additives for cold weather. I’ve never purchased any. Being that I buy diesel fuel locally would the cold weather additives already be in the fuel?

Right now my normal method for getting her started is to turn the key to the accessories position to let the glow plugs do their work. I’ll wait about 30 seconds until the glow plug indicator light goes off and I no longer hear any sound. I’ll repeat this three times and so far it’s been fine. I remember it being much more problematic during the coldest parts of last winter though so I want to prepare for the worst.

I could use ether, but I’m told that it’s unsafe and can cause engine damage. I’m afraid that I will cause engine damage by cranking it hard to get it started when it’s simply not warm enough.

So, is there a way I can heat up the enigine for an easier start without running an extension cord?
Is my method of letting the glow plugs run through three or more cycles smart, or is it killing my batteries?

Any help, ideas, or suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

I think they make some kind of engine heater…I think I installed one once on a toyota (ex-toyota mechanic) probably just a dipstick heater…that just connects to your battery. I would think that this would be fine. I have had friends that have ran their radios in theirs diesels (both dodge and ford) for many many hours with the engine off without any issues with discharging the batteries too much. So I think that would work for you if you can find one. Does you van run for long periods of time during the day to where the batteries can properly charge?

Hmmm…heaters use lots of power, I’d worry about a dead battery.

My van tends to run for 30-45 minutes and then sit for a while. I wouldn’t trust the run time to recharge the batteries fully. Also, the batteries on this model are below the side doors on the passenger’s side. Very difficult to access.

Only things I can think of are using the lowest viscosity oil recommended in your manual (synthetic if available), and using a diesel fuel additive designed to improve cold weather starting.

Diesels need the combustion chamber heated to get them running. Even a hair dryer blowing down the intake while cranking might be enough. But, of course, that would require a LONG extension cord it seems… You do add anti-gel to the fuel?

Use SAE 5W-40 synthetic diesel motor oil too. I do with tractors which are not near outlets and it really helps.

It won’t be cheap, but a separate deep cycle marine battery insider the van with inverter and line to the block heater. You would have to take it out and hook to a charger now and then, but it would not jeopardize your car battery. Marine catalogs have different solar powered set ups which could supply some trickle charge to battery if the expense is worth it too.

Cold weather additives should be in already, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a little more.

Lastly, because batteries also loose cranking amps in cold weather, have a cheap portable starter battery around inside where it’s warm to take with you for a little extra boost. You are right about letter glow plugs do their work…keep that up.

Maybe I’m a little goofy for suggesting this method . . . but here goes: I have one of those jump-start battery pack things in my trunk all Winter. I charge it every week or so, rarely ever used it. Couldn’t you charge one of these overnight in your nice warm apartment and then (on very cold mornings) bring the battery pack and a hair dryer (like Rod Knox suggested above) down to your truck and warm the combustion chamber a bit and then try and start it? I think that the battery pack would run down in 10-15 minutes using a hair dryer, but even more quickly with say . . a block or dipstick heater. Seems like you need portable heat once in a while . . this is what I can come up with. This is AFTER you have changed the motor oil to the lowest viscosity you can and after you have added an additive to the fuel. Good luck! Rocketman

DO use a synthetic oil. 10W-40 and even 10W-30 regular oil does not permit your starter to spin the engine fast enough. That is our experience with a diesel car that was parked outside all day during an upper midwest winter.

Big ol pan of charcoal under the oil pan.
Keep an eye on it so you dont start a fire and keep fire extinguisher handy

Your best bet might be to kludge together a solution that allows you to remotely activate your engine block heater, but doesn’t leave any evidence to thieving passers by that there’s something worth stealing on your truck.

As mentioned by another poster, what you want to look for is one of those portable battery jump packs, but that also has a 110 volt outlet built into it. Charge this up during the day, and leave it in the truck at night.

Combine in a block heater. If your van doesn’t have one already, get one installed.

Finally, buy a timer outlet plug in.
You know, one of those things that you plug into an outlet that turns on and off a light in your house at predetermined times that you set.

You plug in the timer into the battery pack, and plug the block heater into the timer, and set it to turn on about an hour or half an hour before you normally head to your truck. If you can keep everything under the hood of your truck, or in the passenger compartment of your truck, then you don’t have to worry about opportunist thieves walking away with your stuff.


A butane heater carefully located on the ground under the engine would likely get things going but if not careful the heat could do some serious damage.

Has anyone checked the glow plugs? Are they functioning? Are you allowing them time to function?

A HEATER… is exactly what you need but being in NY SEVERELY complicates things…back in the day we if we needed power we used to park near Light poles…(know why? I’m all growned up now tho)

The ONLY other method of getting her started is ETHER…if you don’t use heat…it is not harmful when used correctly…and I mean a small little bit of it usually does the trick…you need to remember diesels usually have a wide open throttle area…they only run from what amount of fuel was given to them…so the more you give the more rpms it will try to produce…so if you spray a shite ton of ether then it will try to jump immediately to 4K rpms…which is very bad…

Trucks have used ether for almost since they were invented. I believe they even have a “sneaky Pete” ether spray mechanism u can do from the cab…(don’t quote me on that)…A tiny burst of it gets utilized…and u just replace the can of ether when it runs out…but you control it from the cab…My Dad had one on his 18 wheeler…dunno if they still have those things…OR IF it was commercial and not rigged…LOL


What is the lowest viscosity oil you can use? 10W-40 can be pretty thick in very cold weather and that makes it harder for the starting motor to turn over. I’d check the owners manual and use 0W-30 or 0W-40 if this is available in a diesel formulation.

Waiting for the glow plugs is warm up is great. Your fuel is likely OK but there might be a “winter” additive that would help. In days of old diesel fuel could “gel” when it got really cold, but I don’t think Brooklyn cold is the same as Int. National Falls MN cold. I think current diesel fuel sold in your area should be fine for winter.

I would be thinking along lines similar to what has been suggested re: the jumper box to run some heat source. I was thinking a deep cycle battery with an inverter and some easy heat source - e.g. a 100watt lightbulb would probably do fine. It would take some rigging.

Your battery cannot will not support any heating type of device that is hooked directly to your vehicles battery…so forget that route. Oh…an external batt…I see… Still that setup would be struggling if you ask me…and this would require a trip to the vehicle every single day to deal with it…No?

I agree, HB, a jumper battery pack would need to be switched on at just the right time to have any impact. Even then, it’ll be limited. The BTUs needed to heat up a cold block/oil/coolant is high, especially if the wind’s blowing.

wind chill doesnt effect metal texases

Of course not, but wind blowing will cool it off faster as one tries to heat it up with a block heater. Much harder to heat something up when the wind’s blowing, don’t you think?