Snow, ice and freezing temperatures can increase the risk of downtime for Class 8 tractors and trailers if the equipment and the fuel that powers it aren’t properly maintained. Breakdowns can result in delayed drivers, missed deliveries and poor customer service.
Some components require extra care, and Penske Truck Leasing takes several steps to ensure uptime as temperatures drop, including conducting specific preventive maintenance procedures and treating fuel with winter additives to ensure vehicles’ performance.
Conducting Winter Maintenance
Preventive maintenance is essential throughout the year, but some items need additional attention.
Batteries can fail under the high starting load they face in cold weather, so technicians test the battery and clean the connections. To ensure the operation of the cab heater and defroster, the engine cooling system and belts and hoses are all examined.
When temperatures begin to drop, Penske technicians check engine block heaters and fuel-water separators and their heating elements. They also pay special attention to alternators, batteries, air dryers, starting systems, and auxiliary power units or diesel-fired heaters.
Diesel exhaust fluid systems are examined to ensure the heating system is working correctly. If it isn’t, drivers could face potential derate issues in the cold weather due to poor NOx conversion.
Rain, snow and slush from the roads mean wiper blades can see greater use, so they should be in proper condition. Windshield washer solvent with deicer needs to be replenished regularly to ensure drivers can keep the windshield clear.
Tire condition is 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.
Treating Diesel Fuel
Diesel fuel 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 prevent trucks from starting, and high-pressure fuel pump failure due to the fuel line and filter freezing can be costly and time-consuming to repair.
Penske pretreats fuel at the majority of its locations with additives that will prevent diesel fuel gelling. There are three levels of treatment based on the average temperatures of the regions where the fueling sites are located. Some locations receive a marginal or normal winter blend. Locations in extreme winter locations utilize a mixture of fuel additives and kerosene to lower the cold filter plug point—the lowest temperature at which diesel fuel can pass through a filtration device—to -18 to -20 degrees.
Treatment typically starts in November and lasts through March. Penske customers can ensure their fuel has been adequately treated by fueling at Penske locations. 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 cold filter plug point (CFPP) of the fuel, they can treat vehicle saddle tanks with one bottle per saddle tank of Red Alert. The driver should allow the vehicle to run long enough for the product to circulate through the fuel system before being shut down for the night. Red Alert will also re-liquefy gelled fuel, if necessary.
Removing Snow and Ice
Drivers are legally required to clear trucks before they take to the roads in several states and should inspect their vehicles before each trip to check for snow and ice sheets. New Jersey requires drivers to clear their vehicles of “dangerous accumulation” of snow and ice before taking to the roadways, and drivers in Pennsylvania face fines up to $1,000 if the snow or ice they failed to clear from their vehicle causes injury or death to another person.
However, removing snow and ice from the top of a trailer can be a challenge for drivers. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require drivers to utilize personal protective equipment if they climb to remove snow and ice. Without fall protection, the trucking company or the distribution center can be cited for violating the “General Duty Clause” of protecting workers from workplace hazards, according to the American Transportation Research Institute.
Although OSHA guidelines are not enforceable on public roadways, weigh stations or public rest areas because they are not considered workplaces, carriers typically discourage employees from climbing on tractor-trailers “due to worker/driver safety concerns,” ATRI noted in a report on snow and ice.
There are several types of equipment that can help drivers remove snow while staying on the ground, such as brushes or snow rakes.