View Full Version : Periodic idling of diesel overnight= trouble?

01-17-2011, 10:35 AM
Ok, so I have a 2004 Sprinter with the 2.7L Mercedes diesel. I live in an apartment, and until recently had been happily plugging in the block heater overnight. That is, until about 2 months ago when the apartment manager came flying out of the office, waving her hands in the air and yelling something about major insurance violation and "trip hazard". So, since I had to stop plugging-in, it was revealed that I had some electrical problems and glow plugs that, without the block heater, severely hampered my cold weather starting ability. So, I have since had the electrical and glow plug issues resolved, and the van seems to start reasonably well in the mornings, though I have been very diligent about warming it up right before sleep, and starting it by 6 am in the morning, so it never sits for more than about 9 hours.

Well, the weather's been tolerable thus far, but here in Minnesota we're heading towards a stretch of sub-zero temperatures, and I'm loath to wake up to a non-starting van again.

For awhile, before I had the electrical problems resolved, I simply let the van idle all night, which worked but was killing my fuel economy, plus it increased the risk of theft, so I can't afford to do that.

I am aware that there is a engine pre-heater on the market that burns diesel, but I don't have the funds to cover the $2,000+ cost.

So, I seem to be left with two options:
--- Run out again in the middle of the night to drive the van around and get it warmed up. Pro is it's cheap, but disrupts my sleep and I have to pay close attention to the weather.
--- OR, I can have a remote start installed that I can set to automatically start and run the van for pre-determined intervals, for instance start every three hours and run for fifteen minutes, turn off and repeat.

The pros of this are, I can simply hit a button before bed and know that the van will cycle overnight, and I won't have to worry about a non-start in the morning.

Now, I've chatted with a few Sprinter techs, and they've expressed some concern about letting the diesel idle like that, citing a build-up of soot in the system, particularly the EGR valve. Has anybody else experienced this? Is letting a small diesel motor idle for 15 minutes at a time, perhaps three times every night, harmful? Are the techs being overly cautious? Thanks for any input you may have!
Tom G

01-18-2011, 02:23 AM
I don't know about your vehicle but generally speaking, here are a few thoughts and strategies I've used with equipment:

Idling should be avoided. If you absolutely need to then you should bump the speed up just above idle...but you shouldn't need to.

Does your engine have winter fuel and the appropriate viscosity oil in it?

There are lots of ways to get a cold engine going and a lot of them can go wrong in a hurry if you're not paying attention; be careful whatever you do.

I'd try this first: Assuming your engine is otherwise working well and you just don't have the juice to get it going, how about taking your battery into your house at night? The cold effects a battery's performance and having it at room temperature for starting might make the difference for you. This is cheap, easy, and often works. If taking the battery in doesn't work, then try something more.

This is my professional opinion; my profession being welding.

01-18-2011, 05:48 AM
I'd see if your town has one of these also......

01-18-2011, 09:22 AM
Family in rural Canada use 12v magnetic block heater when needing to start a tractor or other stuff that is stored in a barn with no power. It attaches to the oil pan magnetically. You could do the motorhome deal of adding a second battery that is charged when driving, then disconnected so that you are only running the block heater off the second battery.
I've used sterno under the oil pan to get stuff going in really cold weather. I simply carried a supply of small tins and used when needed. I think the small tins are 50 grams and burn for about a half hour.

01-18-2011, 11:12 PM
Hi Tom I believe all sprinters have a heater in them called the heater booster which is behind the driver side headlight and exhausts into the wheel well.It's purpose is to produce more heat out of the diesel engine (apparently they burn cooler then gasoline engines). This heater will only run at speeds greater then 5 mph. I assume this is to prevent fumes from being drawn into the passenger compartment. It is turned on by pushing in on the center of the right climate control dial. This is a link to a sprinter forum thread that gives instructions on how to override the computer to make it run with a switch.you would have to add some relays and a switch. Apparently some people have also added the timer or you could control it with a remote. http://sprinter-source.com/forum/showthread.php?t=668 Hope this helps Donald

01-19-2011, 04:37 AM
GregBradley is onto something with the Sterno. My wife used to keep a hibachi in her car for warming her oil on nasty days....and your men could cook satay for lunch!

01-19-2011, 08:17 AM
How long was the cord that was creating the trip hazard? If not too long, I'd try to figure out a way to make it NOT a trip hazard.

Greg Di
01-19-2011, 08:23 AM
Long periods of idling are definitely not good for most diesels....that's for sure.

Aside from battery/electrical issues, your oil is probably getting gelled too. Those stick on oil pan pads work miraculously...but you have to plug in.

The fact that you can't plug in stinks. I would talk to the guy, explain the situation and get yourself plugged in.

Greg Di
01-19-2011, 08:25 AM
Also, a "better" remote start is HIGHLY programmable nowadays.

You can literally program a routine with start/kills, high idle on/offs, etc...

I have a two-way Viper that does this. Cost about $400 installed.

Al (Ca.)
01-19-2011, 10:10 AM
To anyone who has the need to leave a diesel engine running at night in the middle of a residential area.
Please, think about the residents who will be awaken by the sound of your diesel engine.
I live next to a supermarket and years past some truck drivers will leave their trucks running all night or for long periods of time, that made our life was quite miserable those days.

01-19-2011, 11:54 AM
a co worker used to have an older 2nd generation Cummins You know the old that sounds like a rock crusher. Well he lived in a Condo and needless to say the HOA made him get rid of it, due to the noise when he would wake up at 5 Am to go surfing. I would have told the HOA to pound sand but that just me. My 3rd generation Cummins is quiet but have learned that excessive idling in the morning kills my mileage too.


01-23-2011, 12:27 AM
where were you plugged in? to your personal outlet? or common area?
if you were plugged in to a common area plug, i think the manager just made up excuses cause you were using their electricity. offer to pay them.

01-23-2011, 06:57 AM
I have the '06 sprinter with the auxiliary heater as mentioned above. On my sprinter there is what looks like a digital clock just below the shifter. It is actually a dailly programable timer for the auxiliary heater. Set the time you want it to come on and how long and presto your engine coolant is at operating temp. Check your owners manual for details. The only problem I have had with it is that if you attempt to run it while low on fuel more than tree times you have to have the dealer reset the code. The Sprinter has a fairly complete cold start and running system mainly dependent on the battery which is all I have ever used during these periodsmof cold weather. Good luck.

01-23-2011, 10:38 AM
Figure out a way to run the wire above the walk way to avoid the tripping hazard. Strung up to a light poll or something and work with neighbors and building manager so their happy. The plug in heater is the way to go, my 04 sprinter fired right up (with no glow plug waiting) @ -12deg this morning.

01-30-2011, 07:50 AM
How about running the cord across the walkway in a relief cut in the concrete and using silicone or something to cover it if the cut is deep enough. I have done this after the city got on my case about me having a cord run over the sidewalk out to my vehicle parked on the street. They seemed ok with it and so did the old lady next door who complained.