The average 18-wheeler goes through plenty of wear and tear during an average long-haul trip, but that can be increased exponentially in winter conditions. Unless the proper precautions are taken, this increases the likelihood of accidents, mechanical failures, and other mishaps. Not only can this cause unnecessary delays, but it also puts the truck driver (and other motorists) at risk. Sites like Truck Driver News offer valuable advice on preparing your semi truck for the winter; some of it is just common sense, but there are also several steps that an inexperienced driver may not be aware of.
Perform air dryer and air tank maintenance
This system is crucial for functioning brakes, since it helps prevent the water in your brake lines from freezing. If they aren’t maintained for wintertime use, frozen brake lines could result in a critical malfunction. The air dryer should be inspected for corrosion or leaks, ideally on a regular basis. The air tanks should also be cleaned; simply remove the drain plugs and let them dry out.
First of all, you should determine whether or not any of the tires need to be replaced. If you see signs of excessive wear, degraded rubber, cracks, or other similar indications, don’t hesitate to replace that tire.
Second, make sure the tires are correctly inflated. Cold temperatures result in lower air pressure in tires, which can be a hazard under any driving conditions (but especially wet or icy conditions). Properly inflated tires are a must, so this should be checked regularly before and during the winter.
Get tire chains
If there’s even the smallest chance that you’ll encounter icy weather – which is likely for long-haul truckers – you should obtain a full set of tire chains, and learn how to install them. It may take a little extra time, but it’s more than worth the effort to reduce the risk of serious accidents while on the road.
Prepare your wipers and wiper fluid
Weather conditions can get especially rough during the winter, which is why you should take a couple of extra steps to ensure a clear view of the road at all times. Inspect your windshield wipers to see if they need to be replaced; it’s also a good idea to have an extra pair on hand. Your windshield wiper fluid is another key player; not only should the levels be topped up, but you should also use a cold-weather formulation that won’t freeze.
Conduct a cooling system check
Cold weather can actually be harder on a truck’s cooling system, since the engine has to work extra hard to maintain appropriate operating temperatures. This taxes the cooling system beyond what it might normally experience, which is why you should make sure it’s in tip-top shape before the cold kicks in. Hose clamps should be securely fastened, hoses should be free of damage or bulges, and the radiator should have zero leaks. Also, don’t forget about flushing the cooling system, as well as replenishing the antifreeze if necessary.
Install electric block heater
Extremely frigid temperatures can cause problems for trucks that sit out in the cold overnight, which is common in many regions. If an engine block gets chilled below a certain temperature, it can have a hard time starting back up. An electric block heater will keep the engine warm, however, meaning you can start up your semi truck much more easily at the beginning of each day.
Mix in fuel additives
This should be done every time you fill up at the pump during winter, and you should hopefully have a supply of anti-gel fuel additives at all times. Why? Because chilly temperatures can cause diesel fuel to develop a gel-like texture, clogging the fuel filter and causing serious problems. An anti-gel additive will prevent this from happening, so you won’t have to deal with delays or repairs while on the road.
Inspect the water separator
Frigid conditions can cause condensation to form inside the fuel tank, effectively adding water to the gasoline. A water separator is essential to remove this water, preventing malfunction. This is why truckers should always inspect the water separator, especially during the winter, and drain it periodically so it can continue functioning normally.
Replace the fuel filter
If you’ve done this recently, this step isn’t necessary. However, if you aren’t sure how much life your fuel filter has left, it would be a great idea to replace it anyway. It’s also recommended to have a few spares on hand, just in case.
Check the electrical systems and battery
Without a functioning battery, your truck is dead in the water. Unfortunately, wintertime conditions drain truck batteries even faster than normal, so making sure that your battery can handle tough conditions is essential. Make sure there are no signs of corrosion, that it’s securely mounted, and that the connections are solid and clean.
While you’re at it, check the rest of the electrical connections as well. Modern semi trucks often have a wide array of electronic features, all of which are important to the function and safety of the vehicle. Look for frayed wires, loose connections, or other signs that repairs are needed.
Stock up on essential supplies
Your truck isn’t the only one that should be prepared for colder temperatures; you should as well! There’s always a small chance that an accident could leave you stranded in the cold, but fortunately, it’s easy to prepare for this type of event. Just make sure you have the following items on hand, and you’ll be in good shape if the worst happens.
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable food like jerky, dried fruit, granola bars, etc.
- A flashlight (and spare batteries)
- Plenty of warm clothes and extra blankets
- A sturdy, insulated pair of winter boots
- A first-aid kit
- A snow shovel
- Hand warmer packs
Preparing an 18-wheeler for the winter takes some time and attention to detail, but it’s well worth the effort. By going the extra mile to make sure your truck is in good condition, you’ll be keeping yourself and other drivers safe.