Trailer snow and ice? Who you gonna call?

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Every driver is posed with a dilemma when picking up a snow-covered trailer or straight truck. How much snow or ice is on the roof? Is it going to be a hazard if it blows off. Will I get a ticket if some cop sees a flume of snow trailing me down the highway? What should I do about it, and what can I do about it?

There’s common sense and common sense, An inch or two of snow is not too serious, especially if it’s that light fluffy kind. But too much more than that makes everyone nervous. And ice is even more problematic. Of the few snow clearing machine savailable for the trucking industry, none of them, as far as I know, claims to be able to clean ice off the roof. Their ads or websites usually don’t mention it. The only way to do so is to be like UPS–put them through the wash bay before they go out on the road. UPS (I’m talking about the facility in Donwsview in Toronto at Steeles and Jane) also has a nifty spring-loaded cleaning bar available before drivers leave the yard.  But they have the advantage that all their trailers are the same height, as are the fifth wheels on the tractors. But this is usually not the case across the industry.

From the driver’s perspective, it’s hard to tell what ‘s up there when standing on the ground. Only a couple of companies that I know of actually supply a level, adjacent cleaning pad. The idea is that you pull up next to a platform, put on a harness and clean off the trailer with chippers and shovels or whatever. But most companies are not this diligent or extreme.

Some trucking companies have bought snow clearing devices, usually a mechanical device that involves a stationary clearing bar at trailer height, shaped like a plow blade or guillotine. Some machines, like the Yeti, also have an electronic component to set the height of the bar, and include giant spinning scrubbers to sweep off the encrusted snow. The various machines are varied in their effectiveness, but again, none of them will necessarily clear a layer of ice, which is the biggest concern. Some of them do very little and are not worth them money. And if they are effective, you need someone on the ground with a Bobcat to remove the accumulating mess of snow.

And cleaning machines won’t be any help to you if you’re picking up a trailer in a remote location where it’s been dropped over the weekend. Whose snow is it anyway? You could mention it to the shipper and he might give you a shovel. More than likely they’ll be nobody around and if there is they won’t care.  And what about on the road? I’ve switched with a Montreal driver who left me with a unit that had a glacier-like shelf of ice sticking off the side of the roof, (thankfully it was still there when I got to Toronto). There are companies that specialize in clearing trailer roofs, but is that the answer? You might have to wait hours and it can’t be cheap.

So the problem with roof snow isn’t going away. We fool ourselves in Southern Ontario when we have a mild winter like last year. But winter is back and so is the snow. I’d like to ask the readers, when is it OK to refuse a load because of ice or snow on the roof. Who you gonna call?

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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  • Truck drivers are responsable for their equipment. Tjey all should carry shovels and colapisable ladders and get up and shovel it off. They sit around all day/night a little excercise would be good for them.

    • This is a typical answer to someone who doesn’t have a clue as to what drivers already do for no money let alone the safety aspect of being fourteen feet off the ground in slippery conditions.This is most likely one of the no brainers that probably doesn’t even clean the roof off of his four foot high car or suv.

    • Okay. You can shovel every sidewalk on your way to work. Better yet, you drive on the streets every day. You now have to salt and ensure the roads you drive on won’t cause an accident.

      No truckers do not sit on their asses all day. Your car? Truck driver. Your food? Truck driver. Your house? Truck driver. Fuck off saying they need to do shit. They do more in one day, than you’ve done your entire miserable life.

  • Hi Harry, The only Company I ever drove for who would send a removal company out was Highland Transport, I left there in 2005 so don’t know what happens now , we used to pickup trailers in places where they had sat for days and if there was snow piled on the roof they would call a service truck to come and get it off. ( No Murray the lazy driver wasn’t expected to climb up and clear it LOL, you see we had to know a bunch of other things like, how to find the customer in NYC , keep legal and still get our 500 miles a day.)
    I picked up a trailer that was over weight by over 3000 lb because of ice on the roof it took hours at the truck stop to get it off.
    I think shippers and trucking companies should be required to have a system in place and barring that all fines for damages incurred should go to whoever sent the trailer out.
    Keep up the good work.
    Bev Plummer

  • Yes snow creates a hudge problem; there are machines made to remove that snow,BUT; they are not at all yards; then it becomes a “labour ” effort; that creates a problem because of hight;
    I believe each company w/a yard full of trailers should have one of these units (and someone that can use it)
    ANOTHER;;Problem I ran across is; LED HEAD LIGHTS; was informed “there is no adjustment !”
    They GLARE too much ! I have not drove a unit that is equipped with them; BUT realy HATE approaching
    CARS Thank You

  • I drive a schedule run 5 days a week Tues through Sat. My switch partner rolled into the yard & I saw frozen ice & snow hanging onto the side of the roof & sticking up above it about 3 inches. I mentioned to my switch partner, he just shrugged & said “So what. I brought it all the way from my switch point & my switch partner brought it all the way out of Montreal without any problem. It’s no big deal.” I drove around to the shop & they refused to do it. I said “I refuse to take the load.” They reluctantly said “Back ‘er inside.” As they cleaned the roof, they were shocked at how much ice & snow was actually up there. They guy had to come down & take his jacket off as it was too hot up on the roof close to the lights in the ceiling. They shop guys ended up being glad I took it in. The only regret they now say is that they wished I’d weighed it first & after the job on the new set of scales installed in the yard here to see exactly how much the total weight of the ice & snow was that they took off. They figure roughly 3,000 lbs.

  • As stated by Harry, it is the ice that will smash a windshield or even kill some one. I have a picture of a piece of ice that came off of a trailer and went through the drivers radiator. The ice was 2 inches thick 4 inches by 5 inches in length when he took the picture. The snow will turn to ice when the trailer’s doors are open and the trailer is in the dock waiting to be loaded or unloaded. One of the best, and time consuming is the idea that Robert Transport has devised. A dead trailer with steps going to the top of the trailer. The trailer top has three rails around it, according to CLC, so no need for Fall Arrest training. The driver has a 10 ft scrapper and can remove the ice and snow from the top of his trailer. As stated earlier, the others only remove the snow. However this will not help when picking up a trailer from a customers lot.

  • Great article. I’m not a trucker but consider myself a ‘friend of truckers’ i.e. flashing my lights when they want to change lanes and not cutting them off just to get in front of them. Last week I was following one of those trailers with the ‘flume of snow’ trailing behind while thinking to myself I hope its only the light snow and there won’t be any ice falling off the roof. As I got closer and passed I accelerated so that I could get by quickly without being hit by falling snow or ice. Just as I got beside the trailer a chunk of snow? flew off the roof and headed straight toward my windshield. When it hit it was clear that it wasn’t snow. It was ice and scared the living daylights out of me. Thank goodness the windshield didn’t break. I was upset and angry for a moment. But then I thought to myself who’s at fault? Who is responsible for making sure that this doesn’t happen? Should I have not tried to pass? Does that mean I have to follow every truck & trailer with snow on it’s roof until it all blows off or I get to my destination whichever comes first? How do the police and the insurance companies handle this. I am sure tickets and claims have been issued and paid in the past. I believe it is the responsibility of the trucking company pulling the trailer and I commend those companies that clean their trailers. Every company/driver should be so cautious and considerate.

  • The way the new laws that are being implemented in the U.S., it take the responsibility and puts it on to where ever the trailer has been parked over night. A grey area is truck stops for some reason. We at my company have heard many of these concerns, and opinions on how it got there and who is responsible and the old “god put it there he will take it off” or ‘we never had to do that in the 70’s ” to them I say you are right! god put it there and he created us to be intelligent and creative and we have to solve the problem. to the back in the day people, also you are right but we sadly life in a world where you will get sued for dropping a penny on the side walk now a days it seems. And with the sheer number of trucks growing on the road and then add in the other drivers we are seeing numbers a lot larger than ever before. Just a quick search yielded numbers from the era from 1965-1975 registration of commercial vehicle almost doubled from 352,924 to 615,659. unfortunately I didn’t find currant numbers with out getting sucked in to the web for hours! I will be honest I sell a stationary system and we have a large customer base so I am biased but I do believe it is our job as human being to make this place we call home better, see a problem fix it.

  • What if it was your parents, wife,kids or grandkids following the trailer that loss the 2″ ice hunk and 12″ snow mound. Thru the windshield or the car beside that swerves to miss crashing into them!
    Go to truckwash or call service company or a window washing company.
    For every problem there is a solution.

  • We have the answer to this inevitable problem… fact be know we have applied for a Patent and will be issuing press release in 2017…
    I would love to tell more but confidentiality does not allow.

    Happy Holidays!!

  • The answer to accumulated snow on trailers has already been created. There are several options actually from several different manufacturers. We offer 2 solutions depending on the type of trailers or buses etc. You can find our system all over Canada and the northern United States. Feel free to check out our website.