Proper Maintenance, Treated Fuel Improve Uptime in Winter Months

A snow-covered empty road.

Snow, ice and freezing temperatures can increase the risk of downtime for all diesel vehicles if the equipment and fuel that power them 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, 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 nitrogen oxide (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. 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 with extreme winter weather 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 — from -18° to -20°F.

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 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. In 2016, American Trucking Associations published a summary of the snow removal laws in place at that time. More states have added snow removal requirements since then.

Pennsylvania, for example, passed Act 90 on July 11, 2022. Pennsylvania’s previous statute only penalized a driver when a serious accident was caused by snow or ice flying off their vehicle. However, Act 90 requires drivers to remove snow within 24 hours or face fines. It also allows police officers to pull over a vehicle if the ice and snow buildup on it poses a potential hazard.

Other existing laws include those in New Jersey, which require drivers to clear their vehicles of “dangerous accumulation” of snow and ice before taking to the roadways, and New Hampshire, where a driver can be cited for driving a vehicle in a manner that “endangers” or is “likely to endanger” any person or property.

In June 2023, Maine passed a law requiring drivers of vehicles with a registered weight below 10,000 pounds to remove snow or ice from their vehicles or face fines if falling debris causes damage. Larger vehicles and trucks are not included in the requirement due to the challenges of removing snow and ice.

Those in the trucking industry have acknowledged the difficulties professional drivers face. In written testimony regarding the Maine law, the Maine Motor Transport Association Vice President Tim Doyle said there is no easy solution to the issue. “Clearing the snow and ice from passenger vehicles is relatively easy and safe to accomplish,” he said. “Clearing the snow and ice from commercial trucks, however, is not easy, safe and sometimes not even possible.”

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 (ATRI). There are several types of equipment that can help drivers remove snow while staying on the ground, such as brushes or snow rakes.

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.