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Why DEF is the trucking acronym that gets my blood boiling

DEF. I don't think there is a more hated acronym in all of trucking. DOT even pales in comparison.

Would you rather a CRA audit, or DEF issues? "Alex, I'll take CRA audits for £1,000 please." DEF, of course, stands for diesel exhaust fluid.

Unfortunately, North American governments have been "DEF" to the problems it has created. Manufacturers, dealers, trucking companies large and small, and drivers have all been affected. Those who know me know environmental concerns are high on my priority list.

Emissions systems requiring DEF have largely eliminated black soot from our exhaust pipes. That's great, but it has created many other environmental problems. The one segment of the industry who are not negatively impacted by DEF are the fueling companies.

I know they'll jump up and down and scream about this, but look at what happens every winter. As soon as temperatures drop, off go the DEF pumps. I lumped all of the fueling companies together, which isn't really fair, because some of them actually have pumps that work fairly well in cold weather.

Most notable is Petro Canada. The ones they use are in cabinets and tend to be reliable. At least as reliable as anything can be in our northern winters.

I spent some winters on the ice roads and you can produce diesel that stays fluid, but the seals and switches are still a problem. DEF is basically water with urea. Its freeze point is lower than water because of the urea, somewhere around -15 C.

The amount that we use as we're hauling freight is fairly minimal. In the winter we can run a few days before we need to top up DEF, and even longer in the summer. Here's where the problem comes in.

We rock up to the DEF pump and guess what? The pump is disabled. Not broken.

Not frozen. Disabled! If you're in desperate need of DEF you will be buying it in jugs.

Single-use plastic jugs. Didn't some places ban plastic straws because they end up choking aquatic species? I was at a major fueling station the other day when the temperature was 0 C.

DEF will not freeze at that temp but, yup, the DEF pumps were disabled. Want to know what happens when my DEF doesn't pump as I'm pounding the pavement? I will be gently coasting along under limp mode.

At highway speeds our governments have decreed that no matter the temperature DEF must remain operational. This is why DEF is the most hated acronym in trucking. A sensor glitched briefly?

Limp mode. The DEF line froze? Limp mode.

All systems not 100%? Limp mode.

(Photo: iStock)

These issues took effect immediately when the DEF requirement came out a decade or so ago. It was horrible.

Manufacturers were scrambling. Companies went bankrupt, unable to meet their deliveries. The last truck I owned had a 2013 DD15 under the hood.

If a sensor could cost me around £1,000 (downtime, tow, sensor) for a glitch, I wasn't interested in owning my own trucks anymore. I had been owning and running my own for years, including having my own authority for a few years. I started carrying sensors so I didn't have to rely on a dealer.

There was no legal way to get around this issue. That prompted another business to crop up. Emission system deleters.

This proved to popular anywhere it got cold outside. In other words, all of Canada and the northern states. Can you blame drivers and companies for doing this?

Go bankrupt or delete? If a snowplow or fire engine could get an exemption, why were we being held hostage? In the meantime, the manufacturers were scrambling, trying to fix the issues.

In the decade plus, they have done an admirable job. I rarely have an issue these days with my DEF system with one main caveat. I am very strict about idle time which is a killer of DEF systems.

So, if the manufacturers had to provide an engine that used this and cleaned up the exhaust. And if the trucks had to be working correctly, no matter the conditions, why aren't fuel companies required to provide bulk DEF year-round?  It is the industry standard to use DEF. Everyone else is held accountable except the fuel companies.

Why? Sure, you can buy DEF in single-use containers. How many straws does that equal?

Fuel companies are in business to make money but so are we. Jug DEF is several times higher in cost per liter. I guess it's easier to shut your pumps off and sell a product that will help your bottom line, but we don't have that option.

Shame on all those fuel companies who haven't come up with a year-round solution to provide bulk DEF. In over a decade. I try not to just write about problems.

If I don't have a solution, I try to figure one out. Here's a simple solution. Hold fuel companies to our standards.

If you sell diesel, you must provide bulk DEF. DEF in jugs is so wrong environmentally and is far too expensive. Prices fluctuate but I calculated one time that jug DEF costs an extra £20 per day.

It is shameful that over a decade later there are scores of empty plastic jugs littering our truck stops.

This is one mandate I could get behind.