Freezing temperatures and harsh conditions can wreak havoc on your truck’s components, systems, and fluids. Ensuring you’ve prepared to handle the toughest climates will serve you well in icy environments. The best time to prepare for the cold winter months ahead is well before the drop in temperature can cause costly downtime and repair costs. Using a set winter checklist to prepare your commercial trucks for colder months is the best way to boost uptime and efficiency while lowering maintenance and repair costs. Whether your own maintenance personnel handles your winterization or you hand your fleet off to the trained technicians at your dealer, you can rest assured your trucks will stay on the road and out of the shop. Schedule these preventive steps now to protect your drivers and your investment and deliver trouble-free winter operations.
Winterize your emergency kit
In addition to the emergency preparedness items you’ll already have in the rig, such as tools and first-aid items, include cold-weather emergency supplies: extreme, cold weather clothing and blankets; additional bottled water and canned food; extra coolant, washer fluid, and engine oil; an extra fuel filter; and tire chains. Cold temperatures can cause gelled fuel or frozen fuel filters, so always stock the emergency product: Winter Rescue Formula of Diesel 911 to restore the flow of diesel fuel to your engine.
Check your tires
Examine truck tires for tread thickness and tread pattern. The thickness should be suitable for winter road conditions. Chunking, spin damage, tearing, and circumferential cutting are signs of weather-related low traction. Trucks that will be on the road in areas with consistent heavy winter conditions may need tires with a tread pattern suited to those conditions. Always keep high-quality, correctly sized tire chains in the vehicle. Remember, cold weather can lead to underinflated tires, so ensure tire pressure is checked and adjusted as needed, as underinflated tires reduce fuel economy and wear faster.
Replace worn items and test unused features
This is an excellent time to replace items that will become vital during winter weather. Wipers and freeze-free washer fluid, for example, are necessary for keeping windshields free of snow and slush. Check your windshield for chips that could become cracks during a freeze. Test the heater and the defroster, both of which likely have not been used since last winter, to ensure they are working correctly.
Check engine heaters
Engine-block and oil-pan heaters are useful when diesel trucks — which need higher cylinder temperatures than gasoline engines — are parked for long periods of time. In temps lower than -10° Fahrenheit, heaters make starting diesel engines easier. Check the heaters for proper operation if the trucks will be operating in climates below 11°F for extended periods. Easier starting saves wear and tear on the engine.
Check your coolant system
How old is your coolant? Most coolant product life is 24 months, so if it’s been in the truck longer than two years, flush the system and replace it. Even if the coolant doesn’t need replacing, use a refractor or hydrometer to test for an adequate freeze point and to ensure the coolant prevents aeration, corrosion, and cavitation. Remember, damage and wear only worsen over time, particularly during harsh winter months, and can lead to engine damage. Check the radiator, thermostat, seal, hoses, belts, and clamps. Pay particular attention to clamps and Prep your truck's hoses, and take note if the coolant level doesn’t reach the full mark. You’ll need to pressurize the system to locate leaks.
Consider a lighter-weight oil
Cold seasons need lighter-weight oil than warm weather. Make the switch to a product that meets OEM specifications but is suited for chillier temps, such as 10W-30. Dealing with extreme climates? Consider lower-viscosity 5W-40 oil. Using the appropriate oil for the climate ensures proper flow during starting.
Check your battery and connections
Freezing temperatures can drain a battery, causing it to fail. If a battery is three years old or is already nearing the end of its life cycle prior to the onset of cold weather, go ahead and replace it before winter arrives. If not, ensure the battery is properly mounted, perform a load test, and check that the connections are clean and tightened.
Safeguard your electrical system
Wiring and connections can loosen or fray over time, and salt water and ice generated during winter weather compound the problem. Saltwater enters the harness through frayed wiring, and ice can accumulate on hanging wires, causing loose or severed connections and eventual failure. Check to ensure connections form tight closures, splice and seal any frayed wires, and tie all wires into their proper place.
Inspect the brakes, air dryer, and filter
Check your brake lining and look for leaking wheel seals. Test brake operation at each wheel and make sure the antilock braking system is functioning as it should. The air dryer collects and removes water and contaminants before they enter the brake system, so it’s critical the air dryer is operating properly — particularly in cold weather — when liquid can freeze and cause the brakes to malfunction. Replace the filter if needed, and drain the air reservoirs periodically. If your air dryer has a heater, make sure it is working.
Keep a close eye on the fuel filter and water separator
Ice can block fuel flow and condensation, and other contaminants can impact your engine’s service life. As the temperature outside drops, condensation will form inside warm tanks, creating additional water to contaminate your diesel fuel. Before cold temperatures come your way, use a product like Power Service Clear Diesel Fuel and Tank Cleaner to dissolve and remove excess water in diesel fuel saddle tanks. If microbial contamination or algae is present in the fuel tanks, a biocide like Power Service Bio Kleen should be used to kill existing contaminants and help prevent new colonies from forming.
Get on board with fuel additives
Diesel fuel contains both paraffin and moisture, which crystallize and freeze when temperatures drop below 30 F. This crystallization will cause the fuel to gel and plug fuel filters, preventing the vehicle from starting or gaining power. When temperatures drop below 30°F, use a product like Power Service Diesel Fuel Supplement + Cetane Boost, which’s endorsed by Cummins to improve cold-starting, prevent fuel gelling, and protect against fuel filter icing. It will also provide the necessary lubricity to protect pumps and injectors. When temperatures are above 30°F, add Power Service Diesel Kleen + Cetane Boost, also endorsed by Cummins, to clean injectors, boost power, lubricate pumps and injectors, and restore lost fuel economy. “Diesel Additives should be designed to address the specific issues diesel engine operators experience today.