Preparing for trucking in winter

Now’s the time to prepare while the weather is favorable. Don’t wait until it’s too late—you can’t always stay below I-40 when it’s below 40°. We talked to experienced drivers about the best way to prepare for winter conditions. Here’s what we heard. 

Preparing Yourself 

Let’s start with survival in freezing temperatures. In the event your engine fails, the most important thing to do is make sure you are protected from the cold:

  • Ensure your first-aid kit is fully stocked.
  • Carry plenty of warm clothes and layer up! Layering is an effective way to protect yourself from the cold and you can add or remove, depending on the conditions
  • Insulated gloves and boots. Beanies are essential
  • Even a snowsuit in the event you breakdown for an extended period of time
  • Make sure you have plenty of food and water – you never know how long help will take to reach you
  • Carry extra blankets and a cold weather sleeping bag
  • Clip-on ice studs for your work boots are also a great idea as they help prevent slipping in icy conditions
  • Winter means more time driving and inspecting your equipment after dark. Keep your headlamp and cell phone charged, your safety vest within reach, and your road triangles and flares handy.

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Preparing Your Truck 
As far as equipment is concerned, DAT drivers recommend that you: 

  • Carry a strong tow strap in the event you get stuck
  • Add winter wiper fluid that can handle freezing temperatures
  • Treat your windshield with a water repellant formula 
  • Carry a few extra sets of wiper blades
  • Add anti-gel additives to your fuel if the fuel hasn’t been already treated by your diesel supplier
    • This is particularly relevant to those truckers who fuel in the south and then head north with a load
  • Carry extra emergency de-ice products to reliquefy gelled fuel and de-ice frozen fuel filters
  • Carry extra fuel filters in case they ice up – you can never have enough
  • A container with make-up fuel to fill fuel filters when you change them
  • Carry an aerosol can of de-ice fluid
  • Buy a powerful flashlight with plenty of spare batteries
    • Even have a few candles on hand when all else fails
  • Carry a heavy hammer in case your brakes freeze up, especially for those drop and hook trailers that have been sitting for a while
  • Test your batteries to make sure they’re capable of handling cold starts
    • Disconnecting and cleaning battery terminals is also a great idea
  • Carry jumper cables in case you need a jump start
  • If you have an APU it’s a great time to service it and make sure it’s working properly
  • Always carry tire chains and tension cables and if you haven’t chained-up before, get in some reps so you’re ready – rarely are the weather conditions ideal for chaining up
    • Also check chains for damaged links
    • Chain laws vary from one jurisdiction to another, and no one can afford extra fines or delays. Know before you go!
  • Drain your air tanks daily
  • Consider adding air brake antifreeze and conditioner, which is formulated to prevent moisture and icing in the braking system. Be careful not to use too much as it can dry out rubber components
  • Replace your air dryer cartridge
  • Re-torque lug nuts on all wheels
  • Check water and heater hoses and replace any that are worn or cracked
  • Include an A/C check at your next oil change or pre-winter service. Your defrost system uses the air conditioner to pull moisture out of the cab. If you think your system is losing its charge, have a qualified A/C technician take a look. Avoid the do-it-yourself canisters and charging kits, which have oil and “stop-leak” chemicals in them and can do more harm than good

Preparing Your Trailer

  • Check your 7-pin trailer plug to make sure it’s working correctly
  • Service your 5th wheel and make sure the jaws are working properly, free of dirt and grime and lubricated with lubricants suited for the operating temperatures
  • Keep load straps under your sleeper or in a dry place under the trailer so they don’t freeze
  • Carry a small bag of salt for the deck of your trailer in cases it freezes up before loading and unloading
  • Re-torque lug nuts on all wheels.

Outside the Vehicle

  • Carry some kitty litter to throw under tires at loading docks when there’s ice around
  • When parking in snow overnight – roll forward and back a few feet to do two things. Firstly, it pushes away the snow in front and behind the tires to prevent them freezing in place overnight, and secondly, it helps cool the tires down to reduce snow melt around the tires.
  • Make a snow-check part of your pre-trip inspection.
    • Snow and ice can build up around LED lights, making you harder to see
    • Snow and road grime can become packed in structural beams under the trailer, adding weight that will show up at the scales and affect how your vehicle handles on the road
    • And of course snow on top of the trailer is a hazard to other drivers 

This list is not exhaustive, so if you have other suggestions we’d love to hear them. 

As always, read the instructions carefully before using any product, and check with your equipment manufacturer or fleet manager to make sure you don’t void your warranty and/or fleet maintenance policy.