We all look forward to the winter holidays, but that also means winter weather is right around the corner. Whether you drive a pickup truck, cargo van, big-rig, or other truck or van, freezing temperatures and winter precipitation can impact your commercial vehicle’s performance or even cause lasting damage. For those who have a single commercial vehicle, and for fleet managers overseeing many trucks and vans, Commercial Truck Trader has put together 13 tips for winterizing your commercial vehicles in preparation to face the harsh weather of the season:
1. Check Vehicle Fluids
Cold weather can impact your vehicle’s fluids, so it’s important to check that your engine oil, antifreeze, transmission, brake, and power steering fluids are clean and filled to their proper levels. It’s advisable to get an oil change to start the season with the oil viscosity recommended by the OEM for operation in winter weather. You can also test the freezing point of your antifreeze, compare that to the lowest temperatures you expect to encounter, and add more antifreeze as necessary. Finally, take a quick look at your radiator cap to be sure it’s not cracked or leaking antifreeze.
2. Prevent Fuel Line Freezing
When it’s cold outside, condensation can form in the warm fuel tank and then potentially freeze in the fuel line. To prevent this, strive to maintain at least half a tank of gas in the vehicle at all times. Before it gets cold, ensure your vehicle is equipped with a fuel filter in good condition, then check and drain the water separator daily during the season.
3. Defend Against Fuel Gelling
Fuel can gel up in cold temperatures, which can impact vehicle operations and lead to engine failure. To combat this occurrence, use fuel with a high cetane rating and consider adding anti-gel fuel additives during each fill-up. Be sure to strictly follow OEM additive recommendations and mixing procedures, as failing to closely follow those guidelines could damage your fuel system.
4. Clean the Fuel Injectors
Fuel injector cleaners can help maintain engine power, keep idling smooth, and eliminate hard starts in cold weather. Some fuel injectors are designed to also work as an antifreeze, providing additional help in removing water from the fuel system and preventing fuel line freezing in the winter.
5. Check the Battery
Low temperatures can reduce a battery’s power by up to half, so it’s important your truck or van has a healthy battery during the winter. At the start of the season, check the date stamp or sticker on your vehicle’s battery, and consider replacing it if the battery is older than 3 years. Also check that the battery is securely mounted and the cables and terminal are clean and firmly connected. Perform a load test and check the battery cells, having them refilled if they are too low.
6. Prepare Your Tires
Snowy and icy roads can be incredibly dangerous, so it’s important that your vehicle and its tires are prepared. Cold temperatures can contribute to decreased tire pressure, which can impact traction on slippery surfaces, so be sure to test the PSI of each tire every few days during cold weather and re-inflate them as needed. You should also keep an eye on their tread, and consider swapping out your regular tires for winter tires if they are available. Winter chains are another option, though policies on chains can vary by company and by state.
7. Test the Four-Wheel Drive
Many areas of the country experience consistent, heavy snowfall, making four-wheel drive essential for work to continue. As we enter the winter season, be sure to test your four-wheel drive to make sure that every component of the system works properly. This gives you plenty of time to schedule any needed repairs before the snow and ice actually become a problem.
8. Keep the Windshield Clear
Be sure to have new windshield wipers going into the winter season, and clear them of frost, ice, and/or snow before getting into your vehicle each day. Don’t use the wipers to clear your windshield of snow or ice; they’re not always effective and if they drag debris across the windshield it may be scratched. Instead, use a scraper to ensure a clear windshield. Ensure you’re stocked up on non-freezing wiper fluid, as plain water can freeze to the windshield and impair your vision. Finally, when parking outside, put the wipers in their raised position so they do not freeze to the windshield.
9. Warm the Engine
Diesel engines need a high cylinder temperature, making them harder to start in extreme cold than gasoline powered cars. If you live in an area with low winter temperatures, or if you know you could stop in such an area, you could potentially install an electric block heater, which can keep your engine warm when it is not running. Block heaters allow you to immediately start up your vehicle in the morning, even on the coldest of days.
10. Keep the Exhaust Clear
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a real danger during the winter, when the exhaust system can be clogged by snow and ice, forcing monoxide into your cab. You should have your exhaust system checked before the season begins, and consistently check your downdraft exhaust for snow, ice, or other debris that could clog it. Whenever you’re stopped for a period of time with the engine running, it’s a good idea to crack a window to let in fresh air, even when it’s cold.
11. Check Your Heat
It’s all too easy to put off checking your cab’s heating system, assuming it will work when the weather turns colder, only for it to actually be broken when you finally need it. Save yourself the headache and check your heat before winter truly begins, giving you time to have any repairs done, should you need them.
12. Clean the Vehicle
Winter precipitation, as well as salt and other anti-icing road treatments that are kicked up, can erode the body and undercarriage of your vehicle and cause rust. Go ahead and clean your vehicle now, to start the season fresh, then keep an eye on the vehicle throughout the coming months, paying special attention to the front grille and the area around the tires, cleaning as needed.
13. Prepare an Emergency Kit
Should you become stranded in the snow, you need to be prepared. When putting together an emergency kit, consider including:
- First aid kit
- Flashlight & extra batteries
- Gloves, hats, & scarves
- Snow boots
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable food
- Cell phone charger
- Snow shovel
- Road flares
- Tire chains
- Extra coolant, washer fluid, & engine oil
- Extra fuel filter & wrench
- WD-40, which can defrost locks
White blankets of snow on the holidays look beautiful, but winter weather can be dangerous for those who operate commercial vehicles. Stay safe and protect your truck or van by following these tips for winterizing your commercial vehicles. And if you’re looking for your next truck or van, check out all the commercial vehicles for-sale on CommercialTruckTrader.com.
About the Author
Ethan Smith is a Content Curator for Trader Interactive, serving the commercial brands Commercial Truck Trader, Commercial Web Services, and Equipment Trader. Ethan believes in using accessible language to elevate conversations about industry topics relevant to commercial dealers and their buyers.