Winterizing your truck is a smart investment
By Paul Abelson
A good preventive maintenance (PM) program is more than just a regular lube-oil change-filter replacement (LOF). As the name implies, it is designed to prevent more costly problems that can take and keep your truck off the road for days or even weeks at a time.
PM heads off catastrophic failures, but it also helps you extend the life of your truck. Drivers with newer trucks who follow manufacturers’ service recommendations often go a million miles without needing an overhaul, and those who add low-micron bypass filters like the Black Gold, Gulf Coast or Harvard, coupled with regular oil analysis, often achieve that life with half the oil changes.
Oil drain is the cornerstone of a good PM program, but some trucks, especially older ones, need chassis greasing between LOF intervals. And at least twice a year trucks should get specialized maintenance. Summerizing in the spring and winterizing in the fall are when the extras should be done. Follow these tips to get through the harshest winter weather.
Start with LOF, choosing the right viscosity oil for the climate you’ll be running in. For most of the U.S. and for general operations, 15W-40 is fine. If you run the northern tier of states or drive into Canada regularly, you might want to try 10W-30 oil. It will stand up to the rigors of a modern diesel and offer occasional warm weather performance almost as good as 15W-40. For engines left out in below zero temperatures, fully synthetic 5W-40 oil will flow easily on start-up, better than any mineral-based oil. It also gives year round protection better than any mineral oil.
Coolant in season
Winterizing includes checking and, if needed, changing the antifreeze coolant. Modern glycol coolants are mixed with water, generally in a 50/50 ratio. For extreme cold temperatures, increase glycol to 60 percent.
Water is an outstanding cooling medium, but it has major drawbacks. Tap water contains minerals that form scale that insulates, causing uneven cooling. Buy pre-mixed coolant or mix using de-ionized water. Water is prone to cavitation on cylinder liners, leading to implosions that, over time, punch holes in liners. Special supplemental coolant additives (SCAs) coat and protect liners. Organic acid technology long-life coolants generally do not need SCAs. They are good for five years, longer if fortified with boosters. Check the label for instructions.
Non-aqueous coolants, as made by Evans, are quite a bit pricier than other coolants, but avoid water problems. They have a much lower freezing point and a higher boiling point. And without water, there is no cavitation and liner pitting.
Check the radiator cap for proper pressure. Each one-pound increase raises coolant’s boiling point three degrees. A 50/50 mix boils at 223 degrees. With a 15 psi radiator cap, it stays liquid to 268 degrees, continuing to provide cooling.
Your favorite truck service center should be able to pressure test your radiator cap and cooling system. If you need a new cap, have it pressure tested too. There are too many counterfeit parts circulating in the industry. Radiator caps and thermostats are among the most popular knock-offs. Test your thermostat with a pot of water and a thermometer. Make sure it opens when it should. Check your fan clutch for proper operation. Fans consume up to 55 hp, so you want yours off as much as possible.
Strong batteries are critical to cold weather starts and operations. Check fan belts and belt tensioners. Tensioners can drag and glaze belts, limiting alternator speed. Many a battery has been replaced when it only needed a good charge, and many an alternator replaced when it only needed to be driven at full speed.
Batteries can be drained by short circuits caused by damaged wire. Snow and ice control chemicals are the arch enemy of truck electrical systems. With winter coming up, be sure all wire is protected, especially at connections. Use shrink-tube over splices and paint open connections with vinyl “liquid electrical tape.”
You’ll need heat and air conditioning to dehumidify air for defrosters. Clean any debris from cab heat exchangers and make sure the HVAC system is working well. Clean the truck’s heat exchangers too, including the radiator, oil cooler and air conditioner condenser.
In winter, eliminate moisture from brake lines and tanks so it doesn’t freeze. Ice can block air lines and crack brake valves. Winterizing is the ideal time to change desiccant cartridge in your compressed air system.
These special seasonal tasks take time and may cost extra money, but the time is minimal compared to downtime for repairs, and the cost is insignificant compared to the cost of repairs.