Ten Maintenance and Driver Tips to Improve Safety as Temperatures Drop
Battery maintenance is paramount for those who will be starting a diesel engine in extremely cold conditions. When parking the vehicle for long periods of time in cold weather, a block heater or some kind of self-contained engine coolant heater will make starting the engine much easier.
Drivers also need to ensure they have good visibility. Because ice and snow send slush and water onto the windshield, drivers should check the condition of the wiper blades and ensure they operate properly. They should also check the windshield washer fluid level and keep an ample supply inside the truck. Not only is a clear windshield a safety issue, law enforcement officers in certain states, including Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska, may issue citations if a vehicle is considered a danger.
While tire care is always important, tire traction takes on even more importance as road conditions degrade with ice and snow. To ensure safety, drivers should check their tires before every run.
Air brakes have unique needs in winter weather. When an air brake vehicle is parked in cold temperatures, it is common for the brake shoes to freeze to the brake drums. Drivers should make sure all wheels are turning freely. Maintenance technicians and drivers will want to confirm that the brakes are releasing and that wheels are turning freely. If needed, techs drain the moisture from air reservoirs to prevent air brake valves from freezing up, and, if they use methyl hydrate, they should use it sparingly.
As part of their snow removal process before taking to the road, drivers should brush snow off their lights to ensure they are visible. A growing number of equipment manufacturers are utilizing LED lights, which aren't always warm enough to melt accumulating ice and snow, so drivers may need to brush lights off periodically during their trip.
When temperatures drop, HVAC systems' heat and defrost functions are critical. Drivers should check the HVAC as part of their daily inspections. Additionally, technicians check HVAC operations during their scheduled preventative maintenance.
Fuel condition is also important during extreme cold. Using a winterblend fuel can help prevent issues in cold temperatures.
SNOW AND ICE REMOVAL
Not only are the roads covered in snow and ice in the winter, tractors and trailers can become covered in it as well. Ice accumulation on the roof of the trailer can dislodge at highway speed and large pieces have been known to go airborne, causing damage to other vehicles. Plus, several states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, mandate snow removal. However, drivers need to use caution when finding solutions to snow buildup.
Drivers cannot be required to climb on top of their rigs to remove snow without violating worker-safety provisions. Some drivers have reported using truck washes to loosen and remove snow and ice, and some rest areas and truck stops offer snow thrower—devices that use an H-frame and tines to remove snow. In addition to snow and ice on top of the vehicle, ice can accumulate behind the tires on the mud flaps/wheel wells of the tractor. It collects from the spray on the road and can form a large ball.
Slowdown for Safety
Sometimes simply slowing down is the best way to improve safety in severe weather. This is especially true as drivers approach bridges or overpasses, which usually freeze first. To account for decreased speeds, dispatchers may need to build in time or accommodate drivers that need to make a change to their schedule.
Some states have shifted away from traditional rock salt toward liquid de-icers, including magnesium chloride, potassium chloride and calcium chloride, which are applied to the roads ahead of winter weather. As soon as the chemicals come into contact with any kind of liquid, they activate and get thrown onto vehicles. The chemicals, while great for keeping roads clear, can wreak havoc on equipment. Maintenance technicians and drivers will want to regularly inspect equipment for even minor indications of corrosion.
During the winter, some mountain passes require chains, which drivers should have with them. Drivers can also stock up on certain supplies in case they become stranded if interstate highways shut down due to extreme weather or if they break down and are stranded while waiting for a tow truck. As a best practice, drivers should keep a flashlight, extra blankets and some pre-packaged food in the cab. Drivers should also keep slip-resistant footwear with them, which can prevent slips and falls when walking around in snow and ice, and an extra set of warm clothing and a coat in the cab. Warm clothing can be particularly important for drivers since they can see wide temperature swings when traveling.
Code Blue Winter Prep Tips:
- When starting the vehicle, please turn the key 3/4 and allow the gauges to "sweep" prior to starting the engine up. This helps initialize the electronics and computers, and will help the truck run much more efficiently.
- Avoid over-revving the engine when it is cold.
- If the truck has a block heater, plug units in overnight and on the weekends. This will help avoid hard starts and no starts in the morning.
- Untreated diesel will begin to gel at 17.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 8.1 degrees Celsius.
- DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) will crystalize at 12 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 11 degrees Celsius.