Winter is here and with it comes frosty weather. Driving on snow-covered or icy roads is challenging and dangerous enough. The last thing you want is for your truck to break down and leave you stranded. If you’re an OTR driver, you want to prepare for all possibilities. Your day could begin in a warm climate and end in a cold one.
Prepare for colder months ahead. Follow these tips to winterize your truck and navigate the roads safely.
The Golden Rule of Winter Weather Driving
The most important recommendation for driving in winter weather is to reduce your speed for the conditions ahead. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that 25% of speeding-related fatalities with large trucks occur during adverse weather conditions.
When driving on snow-covered roads, you should reduce your speed by half. Drivers should go slow and give other vehicles plenty of space. Loaded trailers need 20 to 40% more braking distance to come to a complete stop in ideal conditions. They need even more distance to stop in bad conditions.
Prepare for Each Trip
Preparedness will save you time, money and stress. Before you hit the road, make sure you’ve checked the weather and discussed any storms in the forecast with your fleet manager. Try The Weather Channel for reports on any city across the United States and Canada.
Drivers should carry an emergency kit at all times. Once you pack one, keep it in your truck. Your emergency kit should include items needed to make quick equipment fixes or keep you comfortable if stranded in frigid temperatures.
What to Pack in Your Emergency Kit
- Extra blankets
- First aid kit
- Snow shovel
- Gloves, hats and snow boots
- Canned food
- Bottled water
For your truck:
- Tire chains
- Washer fluid
- Engine oil
- Spare fuel filter
- Anti-gel fuel additives
How to Winterize Trucks: What Drivers Need to Do
Cold weather isn’t kind to engines and equipment. Winterizing your truck includes checking for worn, corroded or broken parts. If you find anything amiss, you should replace the items before you travel. Inspecting your semi-truck helps prevent breakdowns or further damage to your equipment.
1. Check Fuel Filters & the Water Separator
Condensation can form inside your fuel tank in cold weather. As temperatures fall, you should check your water separator daily and drain it of any water collected. Doing this helps extend the life of your engine. Always keep an additional fuel filter with you in case the one in use fills with water.
2. Use Fuel Additives
Diesel fuel becomes slushy or gel-like at extremely low temperatures. Gelled fuel will not run through your fuel lines. When this happens, fuel gets caught in the tank, lines and filter, preventing you from getting on your way.
Diesel fuel contains water and paraffin, a hydrocarbon that becomes solid at temperatures below 10° Fahrenheit. As paraffin crystallizes, the water in the fuel emulsifies, turning the fuel from liquid to slush.
Cloud point is the term used to describe when paraffin begins to become a solid. As it starts to crystalize, the fuel looks cloudy. Pour point refers to when paraffin turns into gel and no longer allows the fuel to flow.
Most fuel stations and truck stops in colder climates offer winterized diesel. They offer fuel treated for the climate they are in. You can check the fuel’s cetane rating at the pump. The higher the cetane rating, the better for cold temperatures.
When you fill up, remember to think about where you are going. Some drivers may refuel in a warmer climate but end up driving through a cold one. For extra peace of mind, you can purchase fuel additives and add them to your tank each time you fuel up. Check with your engine manufacturer on the proper way to add fuel treatments.
3. Consider Your Engine
Engines work twice as hard in the cold. Diesel engines require a higher cylinder temperature to run, making them more difficult to start in cold weather. Owner-operators can install engine block heaters to keep the engine warm while the truck is off. Maintaining the engine’s warmth ensures that you’ll be able to start your truck after a cold winter’s night.
4. Examine Your Battery
Freezing temperatures drain your battery life quickly. This winter, pay attention to your battery. Before you head out, check the battery mount and connections to ensure everything is attached properly and that there are no signs of corrosion. If you have an older battery, the beginning of winter is the perfect time to replace it.
5. Inspect Air Dryers
Air dryers keep water from icing over your brake lines. You should check that the air dryer is working properly. Any corrosion or leaks could cause trouble down the line. You can drain the air tank by removing the plugs and letting it dry out.
6. Winterize Your Windshield
Snow, sleet and freezing rain don’t only impact traction on the roads. Precipitation also affects your ability to see while driving. Ensure your windshield is ready for wintry weather with working wipers and fluid. Always carry extra washer fluid with you. During winter months, you can switch to a cold temperature blend washer fluid.
Winter Tire Tips for Truckers
Your tires play an important role in getting you where you need to go safely. Make sure you monitor them this winter.
- Know that temperature affects tire pressure. As the weather cools, the pressure in your tires drops. For every 10° Fahrenheit the temperature falls, tire pressure falls about two to three psi.
- Don’t drive with tires below 20% of the recommended pressure. At that point, you should consider your tire flat.
- Take a closer look at tread depths. Winter is the time to inspect your tread depths and look for signs of wear. You want to make sure your tires provide the maximum amount of traction. Any irregularities or cracks should be addressed.
- Carry tire chains with you. You never know when you might drive into heavy snow. Always keep snow chains with you. Before you take off, confirm that you have the correct size and number of tire chains.
How to Put on Semi-truck Tire Chains
Tire chains help you get more traction on wet and snow-covered roads. When it’s time to put tire chains on, follow these general directions. Remember, you only need to put chains on the drive wheels.
- Park somewhere safe and out of traffic.
- Lay the tire chains on the ground with the hooks facing up.
- Drape the chains over the tire. Put half of the chain on the left side and the other half on the right. You want the chains to fall evenly over the tire.
- Connect the chains on the outside. Check that the hooks are facing out so they don’t rub against the sidewall of the tire.
- Move your truck forward a few feet. Then connect the chains on the inside of the tire. Make sure you have the same number of links on the outside chain and the inside chain.
- Tighten the chains with a tensioning or cam tool. There shouldn’t be any slack. The chain shouldn’t hit the truck when in motion. You should be able to fit one finger between the chain and the tire.
Additional Winter Weather Protection
These semi-truck accessories can help you fight off the effects of winter. Add these items to your truck or cab for even more winter protection.
- Heated headlights. Owner-operators can install heated headlights to prevent snow and ice from sticking to their headlights and reducing visibility.
- Bunk warmers. Make sure your cab is toasty. Bunk warmers add extra heat for a good night’s sleep.
- Grille guards. Protect your engine from cold airflow with grille guards.
- WD-40. It never hurts to have WD-40 around! WD-40 can help open frozen padlocks.
Truck drivers are bound to run into winter weather. At Prime, you are the captain of the ship. You make the call. If you feel unsafe driving, find a safe place to park and inform your fleet manager. Your safety is more important than any load.
If you’re ready to become a driver, apply to Prime’s Driver Training Program. Our CDL trainers help you ace your Class A CDL test and start your career. Experienced drivers are encouraged to apply for our OTR and regional truck driving jobs.
Apply today to drive for Prime. Questions? Reach out to our Recruiting Department at 866-290-1568 to learn more about our driver opportunities.