As much as anticipating other road users’ behavior, anticipating pitfalls inherent to operating a truck during winter can make your cold season experience behind the wheel way more comfortable.
Many components and systems that work fine during summer can be more vulnerable when the temperature drops. Checking on them to make sure everything is in order is a matter of safety as well as profitability when timely deliveries are at stake.
Here’s a list of items you should take care of before and during the snowy season.
While numerous factors can cause an engine—diesel or gasoline—to fail starting in cold weather, battery condition should be the first item on your checklist, according to Bert Downton, regional used truck/trailer sales manager at Custom Truck Sales in Regina, Saskatchewan.
“As a driver, you want to make sure they are clean and free from corrosion,” he told Truck News.
It is recommended that you purchase a special battery cleaner to clean the connectors. This will ensure a proper connection. Testing the battery should be done well before winter begins, as well.
Fleet Owner also reminds us that “Cold weather drains batteries fast” and recommends checking the age and strength of your battery before hitting the road.
Sometimes, the batteries themselves are not to blame since electricity can’t make its way to the starter because of damaged wires, faulty connections, corrosion caused by road salt or just plain dirt.
In addition to failing to carry the current to the starter, bad wiring can induce higher-than-wanted resistance in electrical circuits that could cause other problems down the road, such as lamps that won’t light.
“A regular inspection and lubrication of the connectors with sprays such as dielectric grease is the key,” says Stephane Ferland, major account manager at Centre du Camion Ste-Marie in Boucherville, Quebec. Such chemicals shouldn’t be applied anywhere near sensitive electronics, though.
A bad ground also could be the culprit, according to Mark Russell, professor and program coordinator, truck and coach technician apprentice at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. “Probably 85 percent of chassis-related problems – lighting and other – are related to chassis grounds,” he said in a Truck News feature article related to truck electrical maintenance. FUSO recommends chassis ground cables, brackets and their mating surfaces be properly cleaned of dirt and corrosion and sealed to prevent future failures.
Block heaters and glow plugs
As diesel engines are ignited by fuel compressed by heat instead of a spark, they are often equipped with devices that help raise the temperature in the oil pan or compression chamber before the engine is started, such as block heaters and glow plugs.
With block heater plug-in cords often being left unattended in the engine compartment during warmer seasons, it’s always best to check for cracks or any form of damage on them before using the block heater to make sure the current travels all the way. A blown-out fuse could also prevent the block heater from doing its job. Your local FUSO dealership can test your block heater to ensure it is functioning properly.
As with glow plugs, though they can last for years, make sure they won’t quit on you by being alert to signs of glow plug malfunction. Signs of hard starts in cold mornings for instance is an example of a malfunctioning glow plug light operation. If you are not sure or have concerns about the functionality of your glow plugs you should visit your local FUSO Dealership to have the plugs tested.
Clogged air and fuel filters also can prevent an engine from starting in cold weather because they fail to provide the optimal air/fuel mixture it needs to run smoothly.
According to Fleet Owner, special attention should be paid to water separators in cold, freezing climates. “Monitoring the truck’s water separator daily and drain it when full avoids contamination, while replacing old fuel filters also protects the engine,” the experts interviewed by the magazine suggest. In extreme cold temperatures, diesel fuel additive should be added to each fuel fill-up to prevent gelling of the diesel fuel.
Tire tread and pressure
Tires are your truck’s only point of contact with the road and this can be particular tricky if road surface is icy, covered in snow or both.
Given the fact that each tire brand – and sometimes model – has its unique rubber compound with its own grip factor, there is no golden rule on what is an acceptable tread depth for winter driving.
Yet, Tony Costa, fleet manager at Carmen Transportation in Toronto, gives very common sense advice by recommending that tread depth standards that are deemed acceptable – and legal of course – in the summer be raised during winter. “If it was June or August and I had a set of drive tires with 5/32nds, I’d be leaving them on. But I’d definitely be changing them out before the first snow fall,” he told Truck News, referring to the increased traction required on ice and snow.
Tire pressure can also be affected by cold weather and temperature variations. We agree with information provided by Fleet Owner in that tires can lose up to 2 psi (pounds per square inch) in pressure for any 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5-6 degrees Celsius) increment, up or down.
It means you could be losing 4 psi or more if the temperature shifted from 41 degrees to 23 degrees Fahrenheit (5o Celsius to - 5o), potentially leading to tire failure. And while tire pressure should be diligently checked at any time of the year, in extreme cold you might want to evaluate the lesser of two evils before inflating a tire.
Most inflation installations at regular service stations aren’t equipped with an air dryer and even if they are, the moisture in ambient air could make a valve stem freeze and let your tire air out, totally deflating the tire you wanted to inflate in the first place.
Unless there’s a safety issue with the deflated tire in extreme cold, it could be best to wait until you’re in a warm space before manipulating the valve and risk delaying deliveries because of an unexpected flat tire.
Though many FUSO trucks are operated in urban settings, you might want to keep a set of tire chains with you if you are to drive in remote areas.
Headlamps and bulbs
It’s important to keep the headlights clean as that very same heat can cause them to burn out if the lenses are dirty because of dried winter road projections.
LED lights are found more commonly on the body of the truck. This means you should ensure marker lights and brake lights are free from snow and ice.
Whatever the type, keep a couple replacement bulbs and fuses in the glove compartment. They’re relatively cheap, don’t take a lot of space and could help you stay out of trouble.
Glasses and mirrors
A clean windshield will obviously help with winter driving visibility but wiper blades—winter models are preferred—need to be in good condition to do their job correctly. You want to keep replacement blades in your truck just in case, along with plenty of washing fluid that’s cold-weather grade.
Make sure to have a good quality ice scraper and snow brush to sweep the windshield and truck itself before you start driving. Also consider keeping a small telescopic shovel in the cab for occasional help. Remember it’s illegal in many jurisdictions to drive a truck with a box roof full of ice patches that can detach while driving and strike other vehicles around you.
Also, take the habit to clean your side windows and mirrors before hitting the road in the winter. If they’re covered in calcium, it will only increase the blind spots you need to deal with and could impact safety.
Keep a dry cloth handy for a quick mirror cleaning at a stop light. If your truck is equipped with power windows, ask your FUSO dealership if you should apply a special lubricant to help prevent them from blocking because of ice. You can’t clean a mirror from the driver’s seat if the window won’t come down.
Though it may seem contradictory, maintaining your truck’s cooling system is just as important during wintertime, especially that the coolant also acts as an antifreeze, to prevent the engine head from cracking when the vehicle sits idle for extended periods of time below the freezing point.
“A comprehensive winterization check should include inspections of the radiator, belts and hoses for potential failures. Also, check the coolant to see if it’s at the optimum freeze point,” Fleet Owner advises.
DEF heating system
Make sure that the system preventing your truck’s diesel exhaust fluid (DEF, also sometimes referred to as urea) from freezing is in good working order. Should DEF be prevented from circulating from the tank to the aftertreament system, not only could you be in violation of emission control regulations, but your truck engine could suffer damage from an out-of-order aftertreament system. This advice doesn’t apply to gasoline-powered FUSO models, as they don’t require DEF systems.
Last, but not least, protect yourself from hazards and unforeseen problems by keeping some basic personal gear inside your truck. Gloves are a must, as well as warm changing clothes. Remember to keep the latter clean. Beyond hygiene considerations, it’s been proven that dirty socks and clothes won’t protect you as well from the cold. Having an emergency blanket is helpful in extreme climates.
A supply of bottled water and granola bars or other snacks that can be kept a long time are welcome if you ever get stuck in the middle of nowhere and need to wait for a service unit to help you.
A flashlight also could be helpful, as well as ice cleats that attach to your winter boots to make deliveries safer or assist with your own traction power if you need to perform tasks around the truck on an icy surface.
Winter is also a great time to double check the safety equipment in your truck, including a first aid kit, road reflectors and road flares.