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When to Start Worrying About Freezing Gasoline

When to Start Worrying About Freezing Gasoline

There’s nothing fun about sub-freezing temperatures, which is part of why we personally spend winter in the south. Unfortunately, every year it seems like an area of the country experiences record-breaking cold temperatures. Many vehicle owners start worrying about the gasoline in their vehicle freezing and causing expensive damage. However, the freezing point of gasoline is much different than that of water.

So when should you start worrying about freezing gasoline? Grab a cup of hot cocoa, find a warm and cozy spot, and let’s dive in and see!

Can Gasoline Freeze in Your Vehicle Tank?

The odds of gasoline freezing in your vehicle’s fuel tank are incredibly low. The freezing point of gasoline is well below the temperatures typically experienced in most parts of the world. However, it’s important to remember that gasoline can contain impurities and contaminants that can freeze in the fuel system and cause issues. 

Water can accumulate in the fuel tank and freeze. We recommend using a fuel stabilizer and keeping your fuel tank as full as possible to reduce the amount of air space where moisture can accumulate. In frigid temperatures, gasoline can thicken. This makes it more difficult to pump and can clog fuel filters. 

Refilling gas tank in the snow
While it is unlikely gasoline will freeze in your gas tank, it is possible.

What Is the Freezing Point of Gasoline?

Gasoline is a mixture that contains a variety of elements. As a result, it’s unlike water because it doesn’t have a set temperature for its freezing point. For gasoline to freeze, it must be very, very cold. Temperatures must reach between -40 and -200 degrees Fahrenheit for gasoline to freeze. 

There are locations on Earth that experience frigid temperatures well within this range. However, fuel companies in these areas put special additives into the fuel to prevent it from freezing.

You’ve got bigger problems if you’re experiencing -200 degree temperatures. Most people aren’t heading out to their vehicle for a Sunday drive when temperatures are within this range. In fact, temperatures in this range should never occur on Earth’s surface but can occur at high altitudes or in space. Heres is a sci fi scene from the day after tomorrow where the fuel freezes up.

The Day After Tomorrow - Chopper's Freezing

What Happens If Gasoline Freezes in Your Tank?

While the odds of gasoline freezing in your tank are very low, it can start to crystalize. Luckily, as long as your fuel filter does its job, these crystals won’t get into your fuel system. Unfortunately, this can do a number on your fuel filter and clog it.

A clogged fuel filter can cause the fuel pressure to drop and an engine to misfire. You’ll also likely notice poor fuel economy and rough idling. Many drivers end up having a dashboard light or two come on and warn them of an issue.

Gas station in the winter
The temperature would need to be between -40 and -200 degrees Fahrenheit for gasoline to freeze.

What Are the Hazards of Freezing Temperatures in Engines

Let’s look at some of the biggest hazards of the freezing point of gasoline in engines. As you’ll see, gasoline freezing in your tanks may be the least of our worries when it gets cold.

Water Freezing in Fuel Lines

Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, water vapors can get into your fuel system. If enough vapor sits in your fuel lines and the temperatures drop, this can cause your fuel lines to freeze. If you have frozen fuel lines, your vehicle won’t be going anywhere soon.

Keep your fuel tank as full as possible to prevent moisture from getting into your fuel system. Moisture appears inside the fuel tank due to the constant temperature changes. Storing your vehicle with a full gas tank and in a climate-controlled environment, like a garage, can reduce it in your fuel lines.

Most fuel these days contains up to 10% ethanol which can actually help prevent water formation. Ethanol absorbs water in fuel and can help the vehicle burn it. In fact, HEET or ISO products have been sold over the years to rid fuel systems of water and contained pure ethanol that is now in most of our fuels natively.

Pro Tip: Time for a fuel up? We uncovered Should You Put Ethanol Free Gas in Your Tank?

What Temperature Does Diesel Fuel Freeze at?

While there may be a low freezing point for gasoline, diesel fuel can’t say the same. Diesel’s solid freezing point is near that of gasoline however, it starts to stiffen much warmer. Once temperatures dip below 32 degrees, the diesel fuel will begin to thicken because the waxes in the fuel solidify. The further below freezing the temperature drops, the thicker the fluid becomes.

Once temperatures dip to 10 degrees, it’s not uncommon for untreated diesel fuel to start crystalizing and gelling. This can clog the fuel system and leave you stranded. Using fuel additives and storing your vehicle in a garage during extreme weather can reduce the chances of diesel fuel crystallization or gelling.

Cars driving in the snow
Untreated diesel can start to crystalize and freeze if temperatures drop below ten degrees.

Can Oil Freeze?

Most drivers know to change the oil in their vehicle according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule. However, they forget to consider how freezing temperatures can impact the oil in their vehicle. Unfortunately, frigid temperatures can hugely impact the oil in your engine long before your gas starts to freeze.

While oil can freeze up to a solid brittle state, like gasoline, it should never occur in natural earth temperatures. However, as the temperature drops oil begins to thicken, and the point at which most oil becomes too thick to protect the engine is around -20 degrees. However, once it gets below 50 degrees, the viscosity changes. The colder it gets, the thicker it is, which can be problematic.

As a result, it’s a good idea to switch to synthetic oil with a freeze point depressant if you experience extreme cold. These oils can safely operate down to around -50F

Poor Combustion

When temperatures reach the freezing point, it is harder for gasoline to ignite and might require a long crank time, or the engine may not start at all. Many extreme cold locations use block heaters on their vehicles to keep the engine warmer and help the start ignition occur.

This poor combustion will also effect your MPGs when driving in cold weather. If you make short trips and your engine does not wamr according to the Department of Energy, drivers can expect 15% less gas mileage at 20 degrees compared to 77 degrees. While you may be warm and toasty thanks to the heater inside your vehicle, you’ll be using more fuel from point A to point B.

Ice frozen on car
Keeping your gas tank as full as possible in the winter is always a good idea.

Should You Store Gasoline in Your Garage During the Winter?

Storing gasoline in a warmer location will not hurt or harm the fuel. We never recommend storing fuel in attached garage structures because of the increased fire risk. Store gasoline in a shed or other structure unattached to your home. It can be hazardous, and you never know when a stray spark could cause it to ignite.

If you are storing gasoline in a shed for several months, you must use a quality fuel stabilizer. Add the fuel stabilizer to the gas can before filling it up. A fuel stabilizer reduces the chances of moisture building up inside the gas can as it sits all winter, waiting for you to use it in the spring.

Pro Tip: Want to save money at the gas pump? Find out Does Cruise Control Really Save Gas?

Is It Helpful to Keep Your Gas Tank Full in the Winter?

People likely recommend keeping your gas tank full throughout the winter. Some make this recommendation for safety. You never know when you might get stranded and what the weather will be like. If you’re stuck in cold weather, having a full gas tank can allow you to run your engine and heater to stay warm.

Additionally, keeping your tank as full as possible reduces the chances of condensation forming inside your tank. Condensation can lead to water vapor getting into your gas and causing your fuel lines to freeze. In addition, it can cause the inside of your fuel tank to rust over time. This can clog your fuel system, which can be a frustrating and expensive repair. This is especially important if you are using ethanol-free fuel.

The Best RV Winter Setup: How to RV in Winter and the Gear That Will Keep You Cozy Warm!

Protect Your Vehicle in Cold Climates in the Winter Months

If you live in a colder climate, you need to protect more than just your fingers and toes from the cold. Don’t overlook the importance of protecting your vehicle from frigid temperatures and the freezing point of gasoline during the winter. If you do, you could find that your vehicle spends more time at the repair shop. While your mechanic might love your business, your bank account isn’t going to enjoy it.

What other winter weather vehicle tips do you have? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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