Winter is right around the corner, and many of us will be contending with more snow and ice than we’d like in a few months. Addressing preventative maintenance now can help avoid major problems once the weather turns cold. With a chilly forecast in mind, here is a reminder of what to look for and what to do to get your trucks ready for winter.
Undercarriage: Because ice tends to collect on just about any surface under the truck, it’s necessary to conduct a thorough inspection of the underside of the truck, looking for wires, hoses or brackets that aren’t firmly secured.
Although a loose wire might look fine right now, it easily can be ripped off once ice accumulates and becomes attached to it. Tighten any loose brackets and zip-tie any unsupported wires or hoses to the appropriate location.
Brake and clutch adjustment: “Self-adjusting” is a concept that should be checked out from time to time. Many of today’s brake-and-clutch systems benefit from self-adjusting features.
Before it gets too cold, it’s a good time to make sure that the self-adjusting mechanisms still are working. Contaminated or dried out lubricants in the adjuster mechanism can harden when temperatures drop, so a thorough cleaning, lubrication and inspection is in order before winter arrives.
Battery: Cold weather puts extra demands on a truck’s batteries and can reduce output. As much as a truck relies on its batteries, it pays to check up on them before winter hits.
Today’s truck cabs feature numerous electrical accessories that can place extra demands on the batteries as well. A thorough electrical check, including a battery load test, can help to avoid a jump-start call.
Engine fan: Because many engine fan drives are designed to fail-safe into an always-on condition, it’s important to inspect and test the fan clutch as part of your pre-winter checkup.
If the fan is continuously running, it needlessly robs horsepower, and, in the winter, it can prevent the engine from reaching the proper operating temperature.
Coolant: If any water was added to a truck’s engine cooling system during the summer, it might have affected the coolant’s anti-freeze protection.
Follow the truck manufacturer’s recom-mendations regarding the freeze-protection temperature of the engine coolant (generally -30 degrees Fahrenheit or lower).
If the coolant is near the end of its lifespan, around 200,000 miles for standard coolant or 600,000 miles for long-life coolant, change it before the winter rush. Even if it’s not time to replace the coolant, it might be necessary to add a corrosion-protection additive between coolant changes.
Glass clean-up: During the humid summer months, all sorts of residue will build up a film on the inside of the windshield.
Left alone, this film will make it tougher to de-fog the windshield and see clearly. Now is the time to thoroughly wash the inside of the windshield and other windows. On a related note, now also is a good time to put ice scrapers back in the trucks.
No-idle heating: Rather than using the truck’s engine as a 200-horsepower heating system, consider installing fuel-fired heaters in your trucks. These units are available for heating the engine coolant and/or the cab air. The fuel consumption is about one-tenth of that required to idle the engine, and in cold climates, the heaters usually can keep drivers warmer than idling the truck’s engine.
Air conditioner: Yes, even during the cold winter months, it’s important to make sure your truck’s air conditioner is in proper working order.
Cold weather is coming, check your air conditioner
Who runs the A/C in the middle of winter? You do, if your truck has a defroster. In modern HVAC systems, the air conditioner activates when you use the defroster. It removes excess moisture from the air, so it has a big effect on how quickly and effectively the defroster can clear the windshield.
"If you want to improve the performance of your defroster and increase forward visibility for your drivers, make sure an A/C inspection is part of your pre-winter inspection checklist,” says Gary Hansen, vice president of Seattle-based Red Dot Corp., a designer and manufacturer of heating and air-conditioning systems, components and replacement parts for commercial trucks.
Hansen recommends that a qualified A/C technician check for refrigerant leaks and other conditions that might affect HVAC performance. The following are items that should be checked:
1. Filters: Dirty filters can restrict air flow and allow dirt, carpet fibers, hair and dust to interfere with the evaporator core. Most manufacturers recommend checking the filter every three months and replacing it with a filter that meets the original-equipment specifications.
2. Ducts: Leaks can prevent proper air flow, so fill holes in the ducts with a compound or tape that is designed for HVAC systems.
3. Valves: Check the heater’s water valves to make sure that they open and close completely and that the actuator cables aren’t stretched. Remind drivers that valves might be sticky after a season of not being used. If you try to force the valve to open or close, you risk stretching the cable and damaging the valve.
4. Blower motors: Blower motors get a workout in the winter. “On a cold morning, the motor goes from zero to full-speed in one swift turn of the knob,” Hansen says. “Have it checked out at the first sign of trouble.”
5. Receiver dryer: The receiver dryer contains desiccant, a chemical that attracts and traps moisture. When desiccant becomes saturated, moisture in the system is free to combine with refrigerant and turn into corrosive hydrofluoric acid. The receiver-drier should be replaced once a year and the sight glass on the moisture indicator should be checked every time you change the oil or perform scheduled maintenance. A blue dot means the refrigerant is dry; pink, white, or grey indicates acid or moisture in the system.
“It may seem odd that the air conditioner is so critical in cold weather, but it reinforces the need to have a qualified A/C service technician inspect the system at regular intervals during the year, not just during hot weather,” Hansen says.