For Paul Ringuette, cool autumn breezes and shorter days are a chilly reminder.
“Around here, if it’s not winter, it’s time to get ready for winter,” he says. “The cold weather doesn’t wait.”
Ringuette co-ordinates specialized hauls at Ashton Transport, a 35-truck
operation based in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. The carrier moves flatdeck and
B-train loads throughout western Canada and the western United States, and
its drivers encounter all types of winter weather, from soaking rains in British Columbia to wind-whipped Prairie chillers.
“Mechanically, trucks today are built to work well regardless of the temperature, provided you look after them properly,” he explains. “Your maintenance program in February shouldn’t be too different from what you do in June.” Still, some
systems beg special attention before the first deep freeze, especially the cab and systems for cooling, cranking, electrical charging, and compressed air.
“We look at each of these things and reinforce it where necessary,” Ringuette explains. That might entail adding insulation to the cab, sealing up wiring harnesses, or spec’ing the best auxiliary heaters he can find.
Taking Ringuette’s advice, let’s run down a checklist of winter-oriented specs:
The Cab: Auxiliary-powered heaters keep the driver and engine snug. There are
two basic types: air heaters, which warm the air inside the vehicle; and coolant heaters, which heat the engine when it’s not running. Many coolant heaters can also heat the cab.
Typically fired by diesel fuel, heater output is shown in BTUs per hour. A
6000-BTU/hour air heater should adequately heat a single bunk; for engine
pre-heating, a 17,000-BTU/hour coolant heater will be able to raise the engine
temperature to 100* F above the outside temperature in about an hour. The better
units will shut down automatically if they overheat, spike in voltage, or fail to ignite.
When you’re using energy to heat the cab, take whatever measures you can to keep the air warm, says Simon Selbie, new-truck sales rep at GreatWest Kenworth in Edmonton. Some truck makers offer “arctic” packages-extra
insulation in the walls and other areas.
If your cab has lots of glass, thermal curtains provide additional insulation, Selbie says. “You can also buy an insulated cushion that fits into the window recess, keeping the driver an inch away from the cold glass.”
Cooling System: Today’s cooling systems are designed to run with air flowing
freely through the radiator. Manufacturers perennially warn that covering the grille
with a “winterfront” interferes with air flow and can cause the fan drive to run constantly. It also cuts off air flow to the aftercooler ahead of the radiator, causing the engine to run hotter than normal. However, in extreme cold a winterfront can keep the radiator warm and help prevent frigid air from infiltrating the cab. An
opening at the centre allows air to pass through the aftercooler, and evens out the wind load on fan blades.
Cranking System: The starter motor should have enough power to turn over the
engine every time, no matter how cold the temperature you encounter. Ask about stronger options for severe temps, and products that protect themselves against overheating after long bouts of cranking.
Electrical System: There are many components to consider:
The alternator must have enough capacity to power everything on the truck in your worst-case operating scenario-for instance, on a dark, cold night with all lights on, plus the heater blower, CB radio, and stereo. Add up the total amperes drawn by each light accessory and compare that with the alternator’s output. Chances
are you need a stronger one than what may be standard.
On your present trucks, if the alternator is aging (e.g., more than two or three years old), consider replacing it before it fails on a winter night hundreds of miles from home.
Batteries must be strong enough to recover after being pulled down after a hard
crank or a period of engine-off operations. If drivers equip their sleepers with lots of accessories powered directly off the 12-volt system, or 110-volt appliances powered through an inverter, consider an isolated battery setup. In the isolated system, one or two deep-cycle batteries alone power the accessories, then are recharged by the alternator when the engine is running. Two or three regular
batteries are kept separate so they will always be ready to power the cranking motor.
Remote-mounted “jump” posts make jump-starts easier and safer. Even battery
disconnect switches aren’t a bad idea.
Wiring is usually a take-it-or-not proposition, but builders today put a lot of thought into making connectors, junctions, and the wiring itself tough and serviceable.
Before sending your trucks onto a cold road, check out the cranking and charging
systems for signs of weakness. This includes the starter motor’s performance and condition of the batteries. If batteries are more than a year or two old, test their ability to hold a charge. Are cables and wires connecting all the components
strong and unfrayed, and are all connections tight and bright? Is the alternator
producing the amps it should? How old is it, and therefore how much life does it have left? If experience tells you it’s within a few thousand miles of dying, replace it now.
Engine: A plug-in heater that warms the engine block or oil pan can greatly ease
cranking. Premium fan belts and heavy-duty accessory brackets may be available
to lessen on-road failures.
“A good fuel heater/water separator is a must,” says GreatWest’s Selbie. “And
consider other fuel-line items that can be heated-fuel filters, for example.”
Set the fuel pump to specifications, and inspect the injectors, cleaning them if necessary. Change the fuel filters if you haven’t recently, and inspect all fuel lines and valves for integrity.
Air System: A robust air dryer will avert problems on the road. “You want an air
dryer that’s heated, and one with an extended purge-moisture valve,” Selbie
explains. “Consider a heated purge valve on the No. 1 tank-the wet tank-to prevent freeze-ups.”
The compressor’s capacity shouldn’t be a spec’ing concern unless you’re going
to pull doubles and the tractor model you’re buying was built for pulling single
semis. For gladhands, consider using synthetic grommets, which stand up better to extreme temps instead of traditional rubber.
“We watch the compressors closely in winter, making sure they’re not passing oil or fighting leaks so they become overworked,” says Ringuette.
Details, details: Most everything else on a new or existing truck should get through the winter with little or no attention beyond normal maintenance. Use common sense, though: for instance, Ringuette times his tire purchases so new tires or recaps go on his highway tractors in the autumn, so deep tread is in place for
when moisture hits the pavement.
Selbie talks about making sure lighting and other conspicuity systems stay clean and in good working order, and using heated mirrors to keep the reflective surface clear.
Keeping vehicles grime-free in the winter is a chore, he says, but a build-up of ice,
sand, and road salt can take the shine off your lights, mirrors, and retroreflective
“Here you’ve spec’d this fantastic equipment to keep the driver comfortable on the
inside and the truck working smoothly in any weather,” he says. “It could all go to
waste if another driver can’t see you.”