An owner-operator with decades in the industry, Josh has plenty of stories about navigating through the snow out west to up east. “I’ve passed plow trucks down in Texas whenever they hit that snow storm a few years ago. They were making the whole mess worse. I got on the radio and I said, ‘Snow man, I appreciate what you’re doing, but may I please go around you, sir,” he laughs. Preparation and alertness, he says, are what get you through the season. From maintenance to troubleshooting on the road, Josh shares tips for truck drivers that have always kept him safe during the winter months.
Cold-Weather Truck Maintenance & Emergency Supplies
1. Get your coolant mixture right.
To prevent freezing, Josh says, “Test the coolant to make sure it’s still gauging good. Get a little cheap gauge at your local parts store. Take an additive to bring it back, or flush the coolant system and make sure that you got enough pure coolant. I like to run mine on the heavy side of pure coolant. I’ll do mine 9 to 1 gallon of water. That way if the truck has a breakdown, the driver can add water and it’ll still come out 50/50. You won’t have to worry about scrambling and finding pure coolant so it doesn’t freeze up.”
“Some people will not agree with that, but it's a theory that I have used for years and it has worked quite well for me. Because you think that you check all the hoses and there'll be one little hose that hides his ugly little crack somewhere and he wants to go out at the very coldest moment there is.”
2. Fill up with diesel fuel additive to prevent gelling in cold weather.
“I add anti-gel whenever I fill up. You can ask the fuel stop if they winterize their fuel, but depending on where you’re going, like if you’re going up to Canada in negative 25 weather, it’d be a good idea to add something to the fuel just in case somebody missed a delivery and it wasn’t winterized when you filled it up.”
“The quality of the diesel depends on where you get it—if they put water in it. One time in Georgia I got a lot of water. I could tell because whatever it was, it wasn't a gel, it was like ice slushy. I had to put quite a few things of [anti-gel] in it.”
3. Always keep plenty of gas in the tank.
“I tell other drivers: find your fuel, do your fuel up before you hit a quarter tank. Because anything can happen. The other day I was coming out of Tennessee and there were 40 miles of bumper-to-bumper tractor trailers. Felt so bad for 'em.”
4. Carry extra hoses.
All that expanding and contracting from temperature changes can cause cracking at the wrong time. “I carry different sized hoses in the side box. You try to keep an extra foot or so of different sizes, from ½ inch, 3/8ths, 5/8ths, stuff like that.”
5. Keep rubbing alcohol for your windshield wipers. “91 proof rubbing alcohol, the big bottle. That's a good thing to keep on the truck. Wipe it on your windshield wipers to thaw them out. It'll bring 'em back to life.”
“You can also add ammonia to your windshield washer fluid and it cuts the grime and the salt and stuff better.”
6. Check for tire leaks.
“Make sure you look at the tires, brake chambers. Make sure they’re not leaking, because they have a rubber pancake inside.”
7. Test your batteries.
Practice good cold weather battery care for your truck. “Cold weather is hard on ‘em. At Harbor Freight you can get a manual battery tester for $10-$20. If you have more than one weak battery, you need to change them all because they will fail you in the middle of nowhere.”
8. A crowbar can help MacGyver almost anything.
“You could carry an extra mud flap, wrap it with some zip ties around a crowbar and use it to shovel stuff. If you need to break any ice, the crowbar will do it. You’ll get a lot more leverage and stability out of a crowbar than you would a little shovel.”
9. Keep an emergency supply of candles in your truck.
“Go to Walmart or Dollar General and get the big, three-wick glass candles because if you break down and you're a non-emergency, you're not a priority. So you get underneath the extra blankets and whatever you have and you've got a hot, more secluded space to stay warm.”
Tips for Driving a Truck in Snow Storms & Cold Weather
1. Neutral is your friend.
The golden rule for safe winter driving for trucks: go to neutral, and just steer. “Don’t panic, but if it gets going squirrelly, you can try to throw it in neutral. Let off the gas and try to straighten it up, just with steering, very slight adjustments. If that doesn’t work, like if you’re going downhill and the trailer tries to come around you, the rule of thumb is to try to pull it out. Drop a gear and accelerate the truck enough to get it to come out of that slide. Always be very alert. You have to have a plan B, C, and D.”
2. Prevent fishtailing over bridges and overpasses.
“Try to see it up ahead, and have enough momentum to get across so you’re not having to throttle hard. You don’t want to have a lot of torque hitting the ground. Try to lightly throttle across, it’ll keep you from fishtailing. Bridges and overpasses freeze before the roadway does, and sometimes they don’t get plowed, just salted.”
3. Never use cruise control in the snow.
“That is one of the worst things I harp on. Do not use cruise control if you're going through snow, ice, anything. Because that cruise control does not know if it's slippery. It gets you all in a mess. Slow down.”
4. Park your truck smart.
Parking trucks in cold weather requires a little more effort, because as your truck cools down after you park, it can sink as it melts fresh snow. Once your truck cools, the snow around it can turn to ice, and then you’re stuck. “Back in, pull up, back up, pull up, back up. Run over that snow and cool those tires down before you just lock your tractor brakes on land. Unless you absolutely have to, do not lock down the trailer brakes or you'll be calling a tow service.”
5. If you’re driving in a whiteout, try to avoid a slow car in front of you.
“If you’ve got enough weight on you, break off to the left lane and try to get around them, because a car that’s scared in front of you is more dangerous than the road you’re driving on. If they stop, you’re not gonna stop.”
One big thing to remember when you’re on the road with your truck in the winter, is to keep your feet dry. “Get cheap little rain boots. If you have to chain up in the snow, that’s an easy place to get your feet soaking wet.” Another thing, Josh said, is to bookmark helpful videos on YouTube for when you might need them, like how to put your tire chains on. You never know when they could come in handy.
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