Winter Truck Safety and Maintenance
The Most Essential Things to Bear in Mind Next Time You Head Out This Winter.
Getting around safely during the winter comes down to making sure your commercial truck is properly maintained and ensuring that you’re up-to-date on the best practices to follow when you’re out on the road.
Maintaining your truck during the winter requires a few extra steps, and you will want to bring your truck in for service regularly throughout the season to make sure everything is performing okay. After all, breaking down anytime is a headache, but cold and icy weather makes it that much more of a hassle and hazard.
Before you set out for your next route, take your truck in to your shop and make sure to have the following aspects checked to ensure your vehicle is safe for the road:
- Your tires’ tread will need to be checked and replaced as necessary (minimum of 5/32-inches for winter). If you are anticipating bad road conditions, you should swap out to snow tires for better grip and traction in the weather. You may also need to have chains on hand to put on in case you need them. Make sure your tires are properly inflated.
- The DEF System. The DEF freezing point is 12 degrees F, meaning it is likely to freeze in many northern regions. However, it should thaw after about 45 minutes of operation. Most emission systems are designed to accommodate this, but you should periodically check for leaks through the winter.
- Engine Heaters. Whether you have a block heater or oil-pan heater in your rig to help keep the engine warm, you will want to check and maintain your heater for the best performance throughout the cold season.
- You should check your coolant throughout the season and maintain proper levels. Most manufacturers will tell you to flush the system every 24 months.
- If you have a diesel engine, be sure you follow the special recommendations for areas where the temperature is expected to drop below 10 degrees F. Also be sure to check your filter and drain the water separator so it doesn’t freeze.
- Battery check. The last thing you want is to be stranded because of a dead battery. Test your battery and clean off all connections prior often during winter. Although batteries degrade faster during hot weather, the cold weather puts it under a high starting load that can lead to it failing.
- Always test your wipers before you need them. Replace them as needed and clean them off regularly so they can do their job.
- Check your ABS systems and monitor your brake fluid levels, parking brakes, and other essential factors that will affect traction.
- Exhaust. Make sure your exhaust system is free of leaks. Slow winter driving could increase the likelihood of cabin leaks.
Your Winter Routine
The checklist above will put you on the right track to being safe this winter, but your regular routine will also need to be modified to ensure your winter driving goes smoothly. Check your defrost system and get in the habit of letting your cold engine warmup before you take off anywhere.
Keep an ice scraper, chains, and other winter essentials on hand in your truck. It is also helpful to bring a flashlight, emergency flasher, blanket, and extra flares as you might be needing them if your battery fails or something goes wrong. Don’t get stranded in winter without any tools!
You should do a thorough circle check before you ever take off in the cold season. Check your defroster, heater, tire pressure, and windshield wipers. Don’t get on the road until you know your truck is warmed up and ready. Never forget to ensure your lights are clean, working, and visible to cars around you.
Driving in icy weather is dangerous, and it requires common sense, patience, and caution in order to navigate through it safely. Here are some tips to help make sure you stay safe throughout the winter season:
- Look out for black ice. Black ice is, as the name implies, impossible to see on the pavement. It is an extremely thin layer of ice that is also very dangerous. Being so thin, it is actually less likely to break up due to car tires and will be extremely slick.
- Watch the weather. If the weather conditions do not allow you to safely navigate to your destination, find a safe spot to pull off until you can get back on the road again. No job is worth risking your life, or the lives of others.
- Look out for white outs. If you are going into a storm, stop driving. Driving in a white out is incredibly dangerous as you will not be able to see the road enough or see hazards ahead. Pull over, turn on your flashers, and keep warm until it passes.
- Use your radio to warn others in the area of any hazards you see on the road. Simply picking up your radio and taking a few seconds to do so can stop hard braking that could lead to a crash. It will also remind your fellow truckers to drive with caution.
- Get some rest. Driving tired is never safe, but during winter when there are plenty of added hazards on the road, you need to be certain you are extra well rested. About 18% of truckers involved in accidents are fatigued.
- Stop ahead of time. Even if you absolutely know for sure you can wait another few seconds to start breaking, start breaking early. All sorts of things could happen, especially at intersections. Even if you can stop safely, there could be someone crossing in front of you who can’t. Stop sooner and stay safer.
- Go slower. In addition to making sure that you stop soon enough, be sure you go slow enough. There is no minimum speed limit. In unsafe conditions, you are expected to drive at a speed that is safe and reasonable. Never feel pressured to go faster than safe. Around 23% or truckers involved in accidents are going too fast.
- Increase your following distance as you never know when the driver in front of you decides they need to stop. If you can see their tail lights in bad conditions, you’re probably too close. Give plenty of room in front of you and the car ahead. If a person passes in front of you, it is your job to slow down and create distance again.
- Leave the pack. Due to stoplights and other things that break up traffic, most cars travel in “packs”. Avoid riding with all the other cars. Find a way to fall back into the large open road where it isn’t crowded. This is much safer all year-round.
- Don’t stop on the shoulder. Stopping on the shoulder can throw off the view of the people behind you who likely aren’t experienced of drivers and are struggling through low-visibility conditions. They may mistake your taillights as being on the road and will end up being confused and even crashing. Find a safe pull-off.
- Drive with a full tank. This not only will prevent you from running low if you have to take a detour or pull off with the heater on for some time, it will also put more wait on the drive tires and improve traction.
Your driving skills will be tested in any bad storm, and considering your truck weighs around 40 tons (compared to the average passenger car at 1.72 tons), you have to be extra safe and cautious on the road this season. Check your vehicle and never drive if you don’t feel it’s safe to. If you end up getting in an accident because you are rushing to meet a deadline or trying to complete the job faster than you safely can, you are going to end up having an accident–and you will be found at fault.
It is simply not worth risking your life, or anyone else’s, just to meet a time slot on a calendar. Delays happen, especially during winter, and you should never feel pressured into driving when the conditions simply aren’t safe. Pull over often, get lots of rest, and always use your common sense. As the professional in the driver’s seat, it’s up to you to stay safe and keep others on the road safe, too.
Here are a few final tips to keep you safe out there:
- If you find yourself feeling drowsy or fatigued, don’t try the coffee trick. Find a safe spot to pull over and get some rest before you continue on your route. You need to be fully awake and alert to drive safely during winter.
- If a road is closed and you need to take a detour, plan it out before you start. The last thing you want is to end up on a passenger-car only detour route where you have to turn around in bad weather. Figure out the best option before you get behind the wheel again.
- Always, always be listening to the weather ahead and plan accordingly. Don’t drive until the last minute–plan your pull-off location and wait it out.
Above All, Safety First.
Above all, remember what really matters. With deadlines and increased pressure, you might feel like you’re letting someone down. But meeting an appointment is never as important as staying safe. This winter, be sure to go the extra mile to avoid a disaster–even if that means pulling off and taking a break until the weather clears.