October Theme: Winter Running Class 5-8
Preparing Your Heavy Duty Truck for a Cold & Snowy Winter
By Marek Krasuski
There is much that can be done to prepare big rigs for running smoothly and safely during the unpredictable weather patterns that lie just ahead. Much – to be sure! But even the best preparation is not a foolproof defence against the perils Mother Nature brings in the wake of storms. One such peril is the accumulation of ice and snow on trailer roofs. Serious accidents have been caused by the build up of snow and the lifting of ice sheets from trailer roofs that hit vehicles following behind. Short of electric heaters in roofs that melt ice and snow, the risks remain. Even due diligence practices, like the removal of snow and ice buildup with extended scrapers and cleaners when trailers are in terminals, will fall short. Ice frozen onto roof tops makes removal impractical, until that is, warmer temperatures in late afternoon lift ice sheets onto roads, possibly smashing against other vehicles. Add to this the potential for driver injury during on-site cleaning and the efforts at removal are outweighed by the potential damage to life and limb. The best that can be done is to attempt snow removal using common sense practices within the limits of safe parameters.
Winter weather plays havoc with driving, rendering road surfaces slippery and dangerous. Drivers may not be able to control the weather or remove surface ice and snow, but precautions can be taken. Bridges are likely to freeze first due to their proximity to water, so it’s best to slow down well in advance of a bridge approach. A safe following distance is a quarter mile for Class 5-8 trucks. To be sure, driving behaviour should be modified according to conditions. Best to avoid sudden moves during bad weather as these can lead to loss of vehicle control, and do not hard brake or accelerate suddenly, kneejerk reactions which can cause skidding. In the event of loss of control due to slippery conditions, try moving the wheel to the right and left. This may help in regaining control of the vehicle.
Winter driving calls for greater attention to fuel. Filling tanks in Florida, for example, will not likely have anti-gel additives in the fuel. But heading into northern climes will require anti gelling products. (Note that water-removing additives should be used first since ice forms quicker than fuel gels. High performance fuel additives can provide excellent cold start performance, increase cetane counts, improve fuel combustion, add lubricity and fuel economy.)
Operators, too, are advised to switch to lower viscosity engine oils in winter to withstand cooler temperatures. These oils are more malleable and will assist in adequate distribution and flow of oil to protect key engine components.
Crucial to a well running engine, low viscosity oils by themselves are not sufficient to ensure problem- free starting while running in sub-zero temperatures. Coolant heaters are extremely helpful in minimizing cold weather engine stress. Coolant heaters, also known as pre-heaters, help ensure cold weather starts by preheating the engine, usually 60 to 90 minutes before departure. These reduce engine wear, prevent service calls and improve driver satisfaction, knowing their vehicle will warm up quickly and a problem-free start will put them on the road at the appointed time. Moreover, warmer engine start-ups help reduce viscosity of the oil through enhanced initial lubrication of the engine, resulting in reduced wear and tear of components. Finally, research has shown that cold weather starts, in the absence of coolant heaters, produce dirtier exhaust and a quicker accumulation of soot in the diesel particulate filter (DPF) since the DPF has not warmed to the degree required to burn off the soot. The net result is a shorter life cycle for the DPF and greater costs to the operator. Also consider the benefit to any operator of the fuel savings accrued from shorter idling cycles.
Anti-gel and de-icing products, beyond the benefits previously mentioned, provide multiple benefits. For example, filter plugs function normally down to temperatures around – 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Anti-gel products will reduce the cold filter plug point to about -36 degrees. As well, fuel de-icers for cold weather temperatures are must haves for the savvy driver. If fuel starts to gel, pour the de-icer into the tank before filling. This ensures the de-icing agent spreads more evenly into the tank and through the engine. De-icers also come in handy for door locks and trailer locks that may freeze. Freezing also causes problems to many truck components. Drums, for example, can freeze to brake shoes when left in frigid temperatures overnight. Before resuming a road trip, drivers are advised to roll the truck forward then stop and check for skid marks – telling signs that drums are frozen to shoes. If frozen, use a hammer to bang on brake drums to release them from the shoes.
Freezing can also play havoc with 5th wheels. When hooking up the trailer make sure the 5th wheel plate is free from ice and snow. After attachment to the trailer is complete, experts advise drivers to check from under the trailer to confirm the 5th wheel jaw is completely wrapped around the kingpin.
In winter, more than any other time, trucks require good traction to avoid slippage. Unlike 3/4 tonne or one tonne trucks which can use all-season tires throughout the year, heavy duty trucks typically require heavy duty load rated tires to match their size and loading capacity. One option for maximum traction is the use of studded tires with aggressive directional tread patterns. In lieu of studs, some tire makers provide a special tube multi-cell compound that promises performance equal to studs. Operators and fleets may be put off by the cost of new winter tires, but some comfort can be taken in sourcing retreads as an alternative to pricey alternatives. Retreads are a significant cost saving to operators. According to the Retread Tire Association, tires that have worn treads still have about 80 percent of their material – and investment – still intact. Prematurely discarding worn tires is equivalent to throwing away two or three tires, the Association says, insisting that the widely held notion that retreads undermine quality and safety is a far outdated belief. Back in the day quality retreads did perform poorly, but today’s retread process, with better casings and superior retreading capabilities, tell a different story. “Top quality retread dependability has been on par with comparable new tires for many years. In fact, today’s top quality retreads often have a better safety record than comparable new tires,” says the Tire Retread Association, adding that if they are good enough for all major commercial and military airlines who regularly use retreads, then they are good enough for most applications.
Minimizing the effects of salt, sand and other surface chemicals during winter can begin with more frequent washing. The barrage of road salt pellets against chassis and truck bodies can accelerate corrosion. Salt draws and holds moisture, so the less chance salt has to adhere to vehicle surfaces through regular washing the better. The addition of rust inhibiting spray-on products will assist in prolonging the truck body’s life cycle. A number of protective products are available. Choose those which are sure to separate moisture from metal.
At the risk of echoing cautionary notes that drivers have heard before, in the interest of safety first these bear repeating: Drive slower and according to conditions so as to react in time to unforeseen events, increase following distance, pump brakes lightly in the event of hitting slippery surfaces, avoid quick stops, and exercise patience with other drivers. Beyond anything else, getting home safely overrides all other considerations.☚