Prepare for Winter Running
By Marek Krasuski
For all of us September is a wakeup call. Cooler temperatures and the changing colours and smells of foliage remind us that winter lies ahead. We have the choice to ignore the inevitable warning signs and forge ahead into the first winter storm completely unprepared, or take measures beforehand to mitigate risk to vehicles and drivers. Truckers, especially, can ill afford to ignore the warning signs. Preparing for winter running is a priority for safety, on-time deliveries, and for avoiding CVOR penalties for unsafe vehicles.
Winter preparation requires a braided approach so that all elements of safety work in tandem. Tires, brakes, lubricants, heating systems are just some of the targeted areas that require attention in the face of unpredictable and potentially dangerous winter conditions.
Fuel additives play a role in this multi-pronged approach, partly for their improvements to cold weather start ups and for their promise to conserve fuel. Additives can help to ensure that the five principal properties in diesel fuel are more consistent. High cetane levels account for improvements to starting and idling engines as well as faster warm-ups and less smoke in cold temperatures. Additives will raise the cetane count in sub-standard fuels.
Further, gelling is always a risk when temperatures dip below the specifications indicated for the fuel – usually around -25 degrees. A number of diesel supplements contain effective anti-gel additives. Experts advise that water-removing additives should be used first since ice forms quicker than fuel gels. If anti-gel additives are not used in frigid temperatures and fuel lines clog, there are products which will un-gel fuel in lines and in filters. High performance fuel additives can provide excellent cold start performance, increase cetane counts, improve fuel combustion, add lubricity and fuel economy.
Engine exposure to cold weather conditions threatens the viscosity of lubricants. If temperatures plummet, lubricants can start to thicken. Engines work harder and may cause equipment to seize. Brian Humphrey, a Petro-Canada expert in the field and columnist for this magazine, discusses the merits of replacing oils with alternatives suited to cooler temperatures. “A lower viscosity lubricant is better able to move around machinery at a quicker pace, keeping the components cool and running. A colder climate necessitates the need for a lower viscosity engine oil to ensure proper and adequate flow of oil to protect key critical engine components. In addition, the entire vehicle powertrain and hydraulic system can experience improved operating efficiency by utilizing the lowest viscosity grades allowed by the component Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) ambient temperature requirements,” he says.
Kevin Ferrick is Manager for Engine Oil Licensing at the American Petroleum Institute (API). He confirms Humphrey’s assessment on the merits of lower viscosity oils while drawing attention to fuel savings as well. “According to the Fuel Efficiency Confidence Report,” he says, “Class 8 over-the-road fleets can realistically expect fuel savings in the range of 0.5% to 1.5% by switching from 15W-40 to 5W- and 10W-30 CJ-4 or CK-4 engine oil. The savings from switching to the fuel-efficient FA-4 oil can be expected to add a further 0.4–0.7% of increased fuel efficiency.”
Ferrick went on to explain why in recent years the API has pushed for full integration of new engine oils, citing new designs as the reason. “New engine oil specifications were needed for heavy-duty diesel engines as diesel engines have changed significantly since API introduced its last diesel engine oil specification, CJ-4, in 2006. Today’s engines run more efficiently, generate more power, and feature different hardware. For example, many use high pressure, common-rail injection systems that are now widely used to improve combustion efficiency; advanced turbocharger technology to increase power output; and the use of diesel particulate filters and selective catalytic reduction to decrease or prevent emissions of harmful oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter,” he said.
A discussion of winter running wouldn’t be complete without addressing heating systems. There are world leading providers of air heaters and coolant heaters, among them Webasto and Espar. Air heaters are used to warm interior spaces like the bunk area of a sleeper cab while coolant heaters are used to warm engine coolant and pre-heat the engine. The ideal solution is using both heaters. Coolant heaters preheat engines and keep them warm in frigid temperatures. Experts caution that trucks running in cold climates without the benefit of coolant heaters will see an escalated deterioration of the vehicle. Coolant heaters also reduce fuel consumption associated with cold engine starts. In a case study by the city of Portland, results showed that diesel engines equipped with coolant heaters used 0.2 gallons of fuel to start the engine; this compared to 1-3 gallons of fuel per hour of warm up idling without them. Diesel engines without coolant heaters required 30 to 60 minutes of idle time to warm up. Coolant heaters eliminate unnecessary idling as they allow the engine to warm prior to starting, thereby significantly reducing engine wear and tear. And given today’s fuel prices anti-idling coolant heat solutions reportedly yield a return on investment in 12 weeks for the average over-the-road truck.
In addition to the use of lower viscosity oils and the installation of coolant heaters, reducing risk during hazardous winter conditions can be augmented by following a few simple rules. First, check your vehicle by making sure windshield washer fluid is full, wipers are working properly, and fuel treatment is being used to prevent gelling. Plan your route, check for truck stops and weather conditions before leaving. Stay focused on the road and surrounding vehicles and keep an eye out for reflections on road surfaces as these indicate potential icy spots. Bridges are likely to freeze first, so take precautions and slow down. Avoid sudden moves as these can lead to loss of vehicle control. As well, hard braking and acceleration can cause skidding. Be sure to maintain a safe following distance from vehicles ahead. Recommended distance for big rigs is about a quarter mile.
Pre-winter planning is a good time to think about rust control products in anticipation of road salt and anti-icing sprayed on road surfaces. Corrosion costs about $50 Billion a year according to the Technology and Maintenance Council. Surprisingly, corrosion is actually worst today than in yesteryear. Rock salt, also known as sodium chloride, traditionally did a good job of melting snow and ice, but several years ago transport authorities in Canadian provinces and snow-prone American states realized that instead of salt, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride, if applied in liquid form, would accelerate the de-icing process on roadways. They could also be applied before the onset of snow and ice which eliminated the need to put road crews on call where trucks idled, fuel was wasted, and maintenance costs climbed.
The best defence against corrosion is a robust offence, beginning with regular washing of vehicles and trailers. Corrosion is caused by the adherence of moisture to metal surfaces. Salt draws and holds moisture, so it stands to reason that the quicker this moisture-absorbing substance (salt) is removed the less damage it causes.
As for protective under coatings, experts caution against the perception that a thick and heavy wax or tar coating is the best method of protection. If moisture, which is the principal cause of corrosion and is trapped by an impenetrable coating, the result is condensation without evaporation. Water is locked between metal surfaces and a thick under coating, a condition that accelerates the rusting process. Instead, the better option is to opt for a lighter product capable of penetrating and protecting metal surfaces most susceptible to corrosion. Corrosion industry experts agree on at least one crucial point: The key to any rust inhibiting material is its ability to separate moisture from metal. In summary, slowing corrosion makes good financial sense as it reduces maintenance costs over the long term. Less money spent on repairs to rusting trucks leaves more funds available for other repairs.
Finally, a word about when the proverbial rubber meets the road – or snow or ice as the case may be. Selection of seasonal-ready tires should be based on payload capacity, maximum traction with tread design aggressive enough to handle slippery surfaces. In measuring tread depth the use of a depth gauge in one random location is a mistake, according to an article published by Pressure Systems International. Instead, PSI suggests, “tread depth should be taken at each major groove across the tread at point A and then take the same measurements 180 degrees away from Point A.” Steer tires with some tread wear can be rotated to trailer positions for maximum use. Tire inspections should also include checking for signs of irregular wear, repairing identifiable punctures, and confirming casing age to determine remaining tire life.
It may only be September, but given the multiple tasks, winter preparation requires as much time as possible.☚