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Checklist for winterizing your Class 8 vehicle

With colder weather quickly approaching — and in some places already settling in — winterizing your heavy-duty vehicle is vital. Not only do ice, snow and freezing temperatures create hazardous road conditions, but they also shorten the lifespan of trucks that are not prepared, while decreasing fuel efficiency and damaging equipment.

Weather-related vehicle accidents are far more deadly than natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and floods, according to The Weather Channel. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration reports that an average of 1,836 deaths and 136,309 injuries per year are associated with snowy and icy driving conditions.

The proper precautions can reduce risks to life and property alike.

Here are some helpful tips from the pros on how to prepare your Class 8 for the winter. 

First thing’s first: Prepare for the worst. It is crucial that every Class 8 truck carry an emergency kit. According to Jeff Rodgers, Ryder director for field maintenance in the east region, all trucks are required to have an emergency kit for breakdowns containing items like reflectors and first-aid essentials.

However, for a truck traveling in colder regions, it is extremely important to have warm clothing, blankets, hand warmers, gloves, ice cleats, a flashlight, a central heating device, nonperishable food and water bottles as well. Place these items in an easily accessible area for the driver in case of a breakdown in the snow, Rodgers urges. In blizzard conditions, he notes, it can be hours before service arrives.

He also recommends winterizing fuel for trucks traveling up north. In September, Ryder begins winterizing fuel by checking fuel tanks and draining the system of any water. If water remains in the tanks, it can freeze, rendering the engine unable to run. Next, Rodgers says, it is important to use a microbiocide to kill any microscopic algae in the fuel system.

By November, he says, use fuel additives to avoid “cloud point.” “Cloud point” describes the fuel’s state in temperatures under 10 degrees. Below that temperature, fuel crystallizes, resulting in a waxy or gel-like substance. The additive allows fuel to last longer before reaching crystallization. Near January and February, Ryder recommends, double or triple the amount of additive. Rodgers considers this the No. 1 step in preparing a heavy-duty truck for cold weather.

Next, take a look at the air system. As with fuel tanks, it is highly important that there is no water in the air system in order for the vehicle’s brakes to work properly. In fact, Rodgers recommends that drivers drain the water out before the beginning of every shift in the winter. Further, it is important to have a properly functioning air dryer to avoid water buildup. In colder climates, the water may freeze, causing the brakes to freeze up.

It is also very important to replace fuel filters near November. This supports the warmth of the fuel and helps separate water from the fuel tank.

Consider, too, the truck’s downtime. According to Rodgers, if a vehicle has sat in 0-degree weather, even if just overnight, starting the engine is likely to be difficult. When the battery for a Class 8 sits in freezing weather, it loses about 60% of its power.

This is why block heaters come in handy during the winter. They warm a truck engine prior to starting, which allows the engine to maintain warm temperatures for coolants and oil. The oil flows through the engine more easily, which ultimately extends the engine’s lifespan, according to block heater manufacturer VVKB.

Some heavy-duty trucks travel in and out of cold weather. For example, if a truck is delivering a load of oranges from Florida to Maine, Ryder provides winterization for the vehicle along the way. Rodgers recommends stopping at Ryder or any other preventative maintenance program to have your truck inspected in preparation for freezing temperatures.

“The key to safety in dangerous climates is communication,” Rodgers says. “It is extremely important for a driver to have extra phone chargers and charging banks to allow them to call for help in the middle of an emergency. It can be very scary to drive in the winter, but it is possible with the process of winterization and good communication.”