Justin began working at ATS in 2016. He brought more than 20 years of experience in mechanics and leadership to the role. He started at ATS as the first mechanic trainer and now leads a team of two other trainers and an in-cab technology specialist.
He loves spending time researching to ensure that the trucks are being repaired correctly and passing that information down to improve the whole ATS maintenance team.
Winter can be a challenging time for truck drivers like you, especially if you’re an over-the-road (OTR) truck driver who has to drive across the country navigating different terrains and winter weather conditions.
Breakdowns and truck issues are never fun, but they can be particularly nasty during the winter. No one wants to be out in the elements trying to fix their truck — or worse — stranded on the side of the road for hours with no heat because the truck shut down during a blizzard.
From fuel gelling to the truck not starting to low tire pressure, there are some unique issues drivers encounter in the winter months. Preparing your semi-truck for the winter is essential to ensure your safety and the smooth operation of your vehicle all season long.
Here at the Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) shop in Minnesota, we’re in the middle of fall and already preparing for temperatures to drop below freezing in just a few short weeks. You never know what weather we’ll encounter up here in the far north, so we’re encouraging our drivers to get ready for winter now to prevent any issues that prevent them from running optimally and continuing to put money in their pockets.
In this article, we’ll discuss five key points to help you winterize your semi-truck so you can face the winter weather with confidence.
1. Get Your Truck in the Shop
Before the cold weather sets in, it's crucial to take your semi-truck to the shop for a thorough inspection and maintenance check. The shop will ensure your vehicle is in optimal condition to handle the challenges of winter. Consider preparing well in advance by getting your truck in during the fall.
While trucks are designed to function in freezing temperatures, the cold weather is harder on your truck. Because your engine oil and other drive-line fluids are cold, it takes a while for the engine to warm up and reach its most fuel-efficient temperature. Battery performance can also decrease in the winter.
When you make a shop appointment to get your truck ready for winter, among the essential tasks they’ll perform is checking your fluid levels.
One of the most critical aspects of winterizing your semi-truck is ensuring that the coolant strength is adequate. The coolant in your engine should be capable of withstanding temperatures as low as 20 to 30 degrees below freezing.
If your coolant freezes, it can lead to severe engine damage. As water freezes, it expands and can break crucial components. This is a task best left to the professionals at the shop to perform.
Keep your fluid levels topped off, including washer fluid rated for temperatures as low as 20 to 30 degrees below freezing. The shop will check this, along with making sure you have enough antifreeze.
It takes a lot to get those semi-truck engines going — especially when it’s cold outside. The shop will test your battery to make sure it’s strong enough to last the winter.
A weak battery might start your truck in warmer weather but you’ll have problems in the winter. And no driver likes to be stuck at the truck stop or on the side of the road because their truck won’t start.
2. Check Your Tire Pressure
Checking your tire pressure is another vital step in preparing your semi-truck for winter. When the cold weather hits, the air becomes denser in your tires, which causes lower tire pressure. If your tires were already running a little low, the cold will exacerbate the issue. That’s why you often see people with almost flat tires on the roads when the temperature drops significantly for the first time all season.
Low tire pressure can result in tire-related issues, which are not only inconvenient but also unsafe. Low tire pressure can make it more difficult to steer, which is particularly problematic on icy, snow-covered roads. It can hurt your fuel efficiency which can add up over time and impact your bottom dollar. Not only that but driving with low tires also increases your risk of damaging them or experiencing a blowout.
Ensuring that your tires are properly inflated can prevent such problems from occurring. You should be checking your tire pressure daily during your pre-trip inspections.
When you have your truck in the shop, they’ll make sure your tread depth meets minimum Department of Transportation (DOT) standards. It’s especially important to have good tread depth in the winter to help grip the icy roads.
Fuel additives are your best friend when it comes to preparing for winter. There are two types of fuel additives to consider:
Winter Fuel Additives
This is the go-to additive for drivers to use before encountering cold weather. Adding this treatment before reaching a cold climate is a proactive approach to preventing fuel-related issues. This ensures your fuel remains in a condition that won't lead to gelling, which can be a costly and inconvenient problem to resolve.
We typically don’t start seeing issues with fuel gelling until the temperature gets into the single digits, but you should start using fuel additives as early as late October if you’re driving through the cold Midwestern or Northeastern states. Even in regions where winter is unpredictable, it’s best to start treating your fuel sooner rather than later.
Cold weather can surprise you. Being prepared can save you from costly breakdowns and ensure a safer winter on the road.
Follow the directions on the bottle and treat your tank with the additive every time you fill up. You should also keep extra bottles in your truck. Some trucking companies allow you to use your fleet fuel card to purchase the additive.
The expense might be annoying to you, but consider this: If your fuel gels and you can’t get your truck to run, you’ll spend at least $1,000 getting it towed to a shop and at least another $500 getting it warmed up and fixed in the shop. Even if you had to buy fuel additives all year long, you still wouldn’t spend as much as you would if your fuel gels.
In the winter, you should also fill your tank with a winterized fuel blend. Truck stops in colder states typically switch the pumps to a winterized fuel blend sometime in December before we reach the most frigid temperatures of the year in January. However, using this winterized fuel blend doesn’t mean you should skip the additive.
Diesel 911 is exactly what it sounds like: a 911 remedy. If your truck has already gelled up in the cold, this additive can help restore the flow of fuel to your engine — whether your fuel is gelled or your fuel filters are frozen.
However, it's not a long-term solution, so be sure to either get your truck in the shop or treat your fuel with a winter additive to prevent further problems.
4. Bunk Heater Maintenance
Your bunk heater is a crucial component during the winter. It helps keep your cab warm, making long drives and sleeping in your bunk in freezing temperatures more comfortable.
To ensure it runs smoothly, run your bunk heater once a month throughout the summer. This practice prevents fuel lines from leaking and helps prime the system for winter use. If you haven’t run it in the summer, that’s okay — just get it running before you get to colder temperatures.
A bunk heater is powered by a small turbine engine. The heater grabs fuel from the tank via a small fuel line. Priming it with warm fuel is crucial for a hassle-free winter. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to warm the fuel line with cold fuel.
5. Warm Clothes
In addition to preparing your semi-truck, you should also prepare yourself for the cold winter months. We can’t predict when trucks are going to break down and we all know how unpredictable weather can be — try as meteorologists might to predict it. So you never know when your truck is going to break down and leave you stranded on the side of the road waiting for a tow.
You can find yourself stranded for hours in freezing conditions if your truck breaks down — whether you’ve blown a tire or your truck shuts off completely. If a lot of trucks are also stuck on the side of the road needing a tow or there’s a blizzard, you could be sitting on the side of the road for hours. If you have no heat source, it’s going to get cold.
Coming from Minnesota, growing up we were taught to keep cold-weather emergency supplies in our vehicles. But if you come from somewhere warm like Alabama, you wouldn’t have been taught the same thing. As a truck driver — especially an OTR driver — you’re going all over the country.
Having a supply of warm clothes in your truck can make a significant difference in your comfort and safety. Include items such as boots, gloves, hats and a jacket to stay warm in case you find yourself stuck in a blizzard.
It’s important to have non-perishable foods and a good supply of water in your truck year-round, but it’s especially important come winter.
Stay Safe All Season Long
Remember: Problems you face in the winter can be magnified, so taking these precautions can make a substantial difference.
Winterizing your semi-truck is a crucial aspect of ensuring your safety and the smooth operation of your vehicle during the winter months. By following these key tips, you can minimize the risk of fuel-related issues, ensure your truck runs smoothly and stay comfortable even in freezing temperatures.
Stay safe and warm out there on the roads, and make winter driving a little less challenging by preparing your semi-truck for the season ahead.