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Drivers who stay in a regional operation where the climate is fairly consistent — like in San Diego, for example — don’t have to think much about how the changing seasons impact their trucks. But the majority of truckers do need to prepare their rigs to operate in colder weather. Even South Florida has been known to get frost, and any driver moving freight in the wintertime along the East Coast, heading west or running north can find themselves in some challenging climates.
You want to get your truck ready for winter before the cold weather arrives. The three main areas for winterization are the cranking/charging system, the cooling system and tires.
Cranking/charging system maintenance
No driver wants to wake up one morning when it’s zero degrees outside, slide behind the wheel and then find that the engine won’t start. I once read somewhere that the best time to fix your roof is when the sun is shining. It’s the same for a truck’s electrical system — check it when the truck is operating properly.
You start at the battery, because that is the heart and soul of your cranking/charging system. Get your batteries tested before cold weather settles in. With today’s electronics on the chassis and the engine, we are really taxing the electrical system just through normal operations. Cold weather adds to that, so your battery needs to be operating at 100 percent.
But other components of the cranking/charging system need to be checked out too. All the connectors and conductors should go through a voltage drop test. There should be very little voltage drop across the cables, which are not designed to do that work. If there is a significant drop at the cable, it means that there’s a problem, and the starter does not have what is required to start the engine, especially if the engine is cold.
Electrical systems should always be professionally maintained. And that is true for auxiliary power units (APU) too. The battery and electrical system of any APU needs to get checked for winter use. The components are the same ones that you have in your truck, and winter weather will affect them too.
Cooling system maintenance
A truck’s cooling system must be maintained properly to help ensure your truck runs without a costly breakdown. Before winter comes, you need to check your truck’s belts. Belts drive your alternator, which keeps the electrical system charged, but also drive the fan to keep the engine cool. So you want to be sure that belts are not slipping because you need to get maximum performance out of the engine fan and water pump, which is key to keeping water circulating through the cooling system.
When you’re talking about winterization, you are concerned about the freeze protection level of the coolant in your system. It needs to be at a sufficient level based on the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) recommendation for that particular vehicle. Chemicals are added to the cooling system to protect and maximize the life of seals and metal components in the engine.
You also need to have your radiator cap and cooling system pressure tested. If you don’t have the right pressure, the engine will overheat.
You really need to pay attention to tires throughout the year. You don’t want to wait until you’re in the middle of a snowstorm to think about whether you have enough rubber on your drive tires to get good traction on the road.
So you need to rotate those drive tires. The back drive tires move forward, the forward drive tires move rearward. That will maximize life on the tread. Be sure your tires are evenly matched across your axles on the rear to maintain balanced traction across your drives.
Now is also the time to inspect snow chains. Look for damaged or bent links and excessive rust. Make sure all the hooks are there. Check snow chain racks to be sure they are mounted properly, with no danger of the racks becoming disconnected going down the highway.
And of course you need to keep up on tire pressure, making sure you have the proper air based on load and rating of your tires. Not only will that give you optimum traction, it will give you optimum fuel mileage.
September and October are the best time of year to get your truck winterized. Preparing your truck for harsh weather will help you avoid costly breakdowns and expensive repairs.
Hear Homer Hogg talk about truck maintenance on the Dave Nemo Show (Sirius/XM 106), the first Thursday of every month.