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Prepare your equipment long before the snow flies

The realities of winter driving conditions can appear quicker than some fleet managers might expect. The same driver who enjoys a warm fall day when picking up a load in Southern Ontario could face ice and blowing snow by the time the truck...


The realities of winter driving conditions can appear quicker than some fleet managers might expect. The same driver who enjoys a warm fall day when picking up a load in Southern Ontario could face ice and blowing snow by the time the truck reaches a northern community like Wawa or Sault Ste Marie.
Equipment obviously needs to be prepared for that cold blast of reality before it arrives.

Seasonal preventive maintenance projects involve everything from fluids to batteries and tire choices, but those who complete the work will be better prepared for the winter to come. Consider the difference that can be made with an added focus on the following:

Fluids
Even in the days of long-life coolant formulas, maintenance teams might want to inspect the condition of existing fluids – especially if the truck’s cooling system was serviced during the summer months. Most Canadian fleets will want a formula that can withstand temperatures as low as -45 C.

It isn’t the only fluid that deserves attention. Those who plan to travel between Canada and the southern US, for example, will need to supply trucks with bottles of diesel conditioner. Otherwise, the fuel bought in the warmer climate may begin to gel once exposed to colder weather.

Airline anti-freeze, meanwhile, may play a key role when trying to release any frozen brakes. Users simply need to be aware that there are differences in the formulas. A standard methyl hydrate will tend to dry out seals and attack the pistons in brake valves, leading to bigger brake problems to come.

HVAC systems
HVAC systems will also require some attention as temperatures begin to plunge, and the work is not limited to checking bunk heaters.

Air conditioners deliver the dry air needed to defrost windows, but the cables that control them have been known to stretch, stick and seize over time. A careful inspection will make sure the air can be controlled when it’s needed.

When it comes to heating systems, older equipment can also include a valve in the heater hose that keeps hot water out of the heater core in the summer months. These valves need to be re-opened every fall.

Batteries
A close look at the batteries can help to ensure that a truck will start on the coldest mornings, but the inspection is not limited to the work of a battery tester. Disconnecting cables, cleaning terminals, adding a corrosion inhibitor and retightening every connection will help to ensure that any current is delivered when it’s needed.

Tires and chains
When it comes to ensuring traction, tire choices obviously play a role in keeping trucks under control. The low treads that might be acceptable on summer pavement could become a safety hazard in slick conditions, and any treads should be deep enough to handle the worst conditions in a journey.

Some areas present bigger challenges than others. Fleets in Thunder Bay, Ont., for example, have been known to install lug tires on every position, even though the softer compounds might require new treads on the steer axle before the season comes to an end. It is an added cost, but that still pales in comparison to the price of a roadside service call.

The chains that wrap around the tires deserve a close look of their own. A set of chains that has been sitting under a bunk since last winter may actually have a broken link or bent clasp. If there is too much wear in the metal, drivers may spin their tires and break a link the first time they rely on the added traction.

Winter supplies

Stranded drivers will certainly appreciate a bag of sand that can offer some added traction on an icy surface. The sand should just be stored somewhere other than a rear deck plate, where the bags have been prone to rip open and dump their contents on the highway. Some fleets are even storing a few four-litre plastic jugs of ice-melter in their trucks.

Of course, the preparations are not limited to the equipment. A survival kit in the form of winter clothing, food and water can make a difference if a truck is stranded. Just ask the drivers who had to sit through a 36-hour closure of Ontario’s Hwy. 402 last winter.

Collectively, they are all steps that can put any truck on a safer path, no matter what challenges the cold weather might offer.


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