Cold temperatures, snow, ice and road debris can create challenges for Class 8 tractors and trailers during the winter months, and improperly maintained trucks run a higher risk of breakdowns. Downtime can result in missed delivery windows and poor service.
Proper pre- and post-trip inspections along with regular preventive maintenance can keep equipment running and there are certain components that often require extra care. Penske takes several steps to ensure uptime as temperatures drop, including treating fuel with winter additives to maintain vehicles’ performance and having technicians check specific components.
Diesel fuel behaves differently than gasoline because it is a middle distillate containing paraffin — a wax — that causes fuel to gel as it cools.
If that occurs, it can clog up a diesel fuel line and cause the trucks not to start. Engine failure due to the fuel line and filter freezing and corrosion can be costly and time-consuming to remedy, which is why Penske pre-treats fuel at 225 of its 370 locations with additives that will prevent diesel fuel gelling.
Penske uses three levels of treatment based on the average temperatures of the regions where the fueling sites are located. Treatment starts in the Carolinas and Tennessee, and covers everything north of that.
Some locations receive a marginal or normal winter blend. In extreme winter locations, Penske uses a mixture of fuel additives and kerosene to lower the cold filter plug point — further the lowest temperature at which diesel fuel can pass through a filtration device — to -18 to -20 degrees.
Treatment typically begins on Nov. 1 and goes into March. Penske recommends carriers fuel at Penske locations to ensure they are receiving fuel that has been adequately treated. Penske tests its underground storage tanks once every two weeks during the winter months and tracks the cloud point and water point.
If drivers cannot fuel at a Penske location and are in an area where ambient temperatures are expected to drop below the CFPP of the fuel, they can treat vehicle saddle tanks. Penske recommends drivers use one bottle of Red Alert, an extreme temperature fuel de-icer, per saddle tank and allow the vehicle to run long enough for the product to circulate through the fuel system before it shuts down for the night. Red Alert will also reliquefy gelled fuel, if necessary.
As temperatures drop, Penske technicians check engine block heaters and fuel-water separators and their heating elements along with alternators, batteries, air dryers, starting systems, and auxiliary power units or diesel- fired heaters. Wiper blades should be in proper condition, and windshield washer solvent with de-icer needs to be replenished regularly to ensure drivers can keep the windshield clear.
Technicians also test the battery and clean the connections as batteries can fail under the high starting load they face in cold weather. To ensure the operation of the cab heater and defroster, the engine cooling system and belts and hoses are all examined.
Diesel exhaust fluid systems need to be examined to ensure the heating system is working. otherwise vehicles could derate in the cold weather due to poor NOx conversion.
Tire condition is also essential in icy and snowy conditions and tread thickness should be a minimum of 5/32-inches for winter driving. During pre- and post-trip inspections, drivers should check mud flaps and replace them as necessary. Drivers should also ensure tire chains are in proper condition and that they have working flares and triangles.