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AUTO ADVICE: Should oil filter have its own heating system?

89225205_l motor oil 123RF Stock Photo
- 123RF Stock Photo

Q: I have a question about my Dodge Cummins engine. I use 10w-30 engine oil and sometimes the temperature drops to -30C where I have to go, but I run an oil pan heater which heats the oil quite warm. What happens if the oil filter is exposed and very cold? Does the oil pump still try to push the cold oil through with the warm oil, or does it bypass? Shouldn't the oil filter have its own heating system to be perfect?

A: Almost all automotive engines, including the Dodge Cummins use a full flow oil filter with a bypass valve. All the oil flows through the filter element unless there is too much restriction in the filter. Then the bypass valve is pushed open by the oil pressure and unfiltered oil flows through the engine. The filter can be restricted by excessive dirt, sludge or cold thick oil.

When any cold engine is first started, the bypass valve will open from a few seconds to nearly a minute, depending upon oil temperatures and oil viscosity. Then the oil starts to flow through the filter and the bypass valve closes. Using an oil pan heater to heat the oil would shorten the time the bypass valve is open, because of two reasons.

First, the warm oil will start to flow through the filter sooner and push the cold oil out. Secondly, heat from the warm oil pan will transfer through the engine compartment and warm other components including the oil filter. The filter will not be as warm as the oil in the pan, but it will be warmed enough to shorten the time the bypass opens. Using a heater that heats the oil filter too would be a better system, but I haven’t seen one yet.

Q: We have a 2000 Chevy Venture. Approximately six months ago while driving down the highway at night, the instrument panel went through start-up mode. This happened repeatedly until we turned off the vehicle.

Originally, this happened only at night. Since then the problem had become more frequent. Now when we start the vehicle when it is cold, we have no dash display — odometer, gas, gauges, radio, information centre or warning lights.

After driving a while, anywhere from one to 10 minutes, the needles will flicker, displays will flash and then eventually stay on. All will work correctly until approximately half an hour of travel then it will go back to doing just as it did at start-up. The needles will fall and all the lights will flash on and off. In all other ways the van functions well. It starts, runs and drives without problem.

Even while the gauges are flickering, the cruise control, indicators, front and rear wipers, front and rear heaters and all lights function normally. The radio does not lose its memory neither does the clock.

We feel this problem is related to having the lights on/night time operation. It has been in the shop three times. The third time we had the ignition replaced as part of troubleshooting but with no effect. We don't know where to turn now because apparently no one around here has ever heard of such a problem. Should we trade off this vehicle to get rid of the annoyance?

A: The instrument panel cluster is actually a computerized module that has the ability to diagnose and store trouble codes. It also communicated via data line with other modules. At first, I thought this was a problem with power or ground connections, but the radio has separate circuits and it is affected too. Therefore, I suspect the problem is with data communications.

If the data lines to the gauges or radio are broken or grounded, then the symptoms you describe would occur and no codes are set. The only part of the data line both the radio and gauges have in common is a spice pack #205 taped to the wiring harness at the bottom of the steering column. The data wires at this spice connection are fragile and can easily break, so that is the best place to start your diagnosis. I suspect you will find the problem there.

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