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Home » BLOG » How to Keep Your Drivers — and Fleet — Safe During Winter Weather

“It’s never too early to start planning.”

The recognizable phrase holds true for almost every situation — especially when it comes to operating your trucks in the winter time. Preparing for the colder season means pulling out your warm work gloves and thermals while pouring a hot cup of coffee for the day. But it also means getting things set for your fleet.

Preventative maintenance is your top priority going into winter climates whether you have a few commercial trucks or more than a dozen. This guide helps you understand how to get your trucks and drivers ready for winter, gives you tips on what to stock up on, and provides a few ideas on what to expect during the next few months.

Truck on an icy road

Why Winter Preparation Is Essential

Winter truck driving can be dangerous if your drivers are not properly prepared and attentive. When inclement weather hits your region, snow, ice, and slush can cause severe road conditions, resulting in driving hazards. More than ever, you and your drivers need to be cautious and aware. Winter driving tips for truck drivers include having exceptional attention and patience.

Travel can also become more challenging with increased traffic rates. To avoid breakdowns, accidents, or being stranded, commercial truck drivers must drive at low speeds when appropriate, be aware of their surroundings, take note of other drivers, understand the flow of traffic, and prepare for various weather conditions.

Whether your drivers experience high winds, black ice, excessive snow, or slushy pavements, winter weather can increase their risk for collisions. Amplified winter environments can cause reduced visibility, less tire traction, increased stop time, less stability, lower maneuverability, unpredictable conditions, and hectic traffic patterns.

To avoid potential mishaps, prepare by having your maintenance technicians conduct preventative maintenance, stocking up on vital equipment, and having essential supplies on hand. Big rig operators also have more to think about when it comes to their driving abilities. They must alter their techniques with accordance to the weather, and focus on components like adept maneuvering, skid control, and knowing when it’s best to get off the road.

An average of 1,235,000 crashes occur each year because of adverse weather conditions such as snow, sleet, rain, crosswinds, slushy pavements, or icy roads. While this takes into account both automotive and commercial fleet incidents, the statistic gives a sobering look at the dangers of severe weather.  From those weather-related vehicle accidents, about 418,000 people are injured each year. It helps to put in perspective how a bit of preparation can save your fleet from being a part of the statistic. What’s more, 18 percent of crashes happen during snow or sleet, 13 percent because of icy roads, and 16 percent on slushy or snowy asphalt.

While snow and ice make for situations that can’t always be seen right away, knowing the weather forecast and current conditions can help your operators be alert for situations such as black ice or limited visibility.

As a fleet manager, you must also consider your drivers’ comfort in making preparations. Make sure to pack emergency kits for each cab that include food, water, blankets, gloves, warm clothing, maps, tire chains, flares, a battery-powered radio, a flashlight, a tire repair kit, and first-aid gear.

When you take the proper steps in preparing for the winter season, you can avoid vehicle accidents, broken down trucks, excessive downtime, and personal injuries while being able to deliver your load in a safe and timely manner.

What You Should Stock up On

List of items to have in your fleet trucks in winter

It doesn’t matter where you operate from or where your fleet travels. It’s imperative to stay organized and prepared if you want your fleet to survive tipping winds and slick roadways. Before investing in materials, supplies, and tools, consider the various makes and models of trucks in your fleet. If you operate different types, they likely all require different equipment.

For you and your business to get ahead of the game, stock up now on the following so you’re ready for the future:

  • Winterized tires
  • Thinner oil
  • Sufficient brake pads
  • Diesel engine batteries
  • Every type of fluid
  • Sturdy belts and hoses
  • Clean spark plugs
  • Engine heaters
  • New lights
  • Heavy-duty windshield wipers

When fleet supervisors arrange what they need for each rig, it helps the company avoid stressful situations. Preparation allows you to remain on track while eliminating downtime and keeping your fleet productive.

How to Prep Your Fleet

Checklist of things to do in winter to your fleet

It’s time to get down to the top 10 winter driving tips for commercial vehicle operators. Your maintenance technicians will swiftly find how much more efficient they are when prepping your fleets for winter — as well as late fall — once you stock up on the essentials. We’ve gathered some top tips from Heavy Duty Trucking and ATA, along with a few other industry resources, to build a comprehensive list.

When instructing your maintenance managers to winterize your fleet, have them check out a few preventative maintenance guidelines such as:

1. Choosing the Right Tires for Your Trucks

Your tires can make or break a safe and productive haul. Equip your rigs with winter tires that deliver exceptional grip. Our team suggests avoiding all-weather options because they aren’t specific for winter conditions like ice and snow. Also, always ensure your tires are properly inflated. Under-inflated tires can fail and wear out your tread faster, while also affecting the handling of the truck.

Over-inflation can cause treads to separate and can increase the risk of damage from debris and potholes. Always upkeep your tires with the ideal amount of air. If you are unsure of the correct PSI, refer to your owner’s manual. Ensure the tread thickness is no less than 5/32 of an inch, which is ideal for winter weather environments. You can also invest in tire chains in severe situations.

2. Dipping Into the Best Oil Viscosity

Similar to other forms of liquid, oil thickens as temperatures decrease — meaning the oil won’t circulate well throughout the engine. We advise you to change your current oil to a thinner solution in the winter for proper lubrication. Take a look at your truck manuals to determine the viscosity of oil you need for the upcoming months.

3. Revamping Your Brake Pads

It’s a no-brainer that you need fresh brake pads for the colder months. Make sure the brakes on your vehicles are working and replace them with new versions if they are squeaking or experiencing other issues. Under your preventative maintenance list, have a section for checking the air dryer system too. The air dryer removes moisture from the brakes which prevents water from freezing on the lines. If you don’t keep it in check, the solid lines can cause fatal brakes.

4. Replacing Weak Batteries

We’re sure you’ve had to jump-start a few cars in your day or even coast down a hill to kick-start the engine because of a dead battery. While it’s doable with smaller vehicles, dead or weak batteries in tractor-trailers can lead to being stranded on the highway. Breakdowns can occur because cold winter temps drain the battery life faster than warm conditions.

Compared to automotive vehicles that rely on gas, diesel engines need stronger batteries. They also undergo a high starting load in the winter as opposed to faster degradation you see in the summer. Signs of a weak battery include dim headlights and a slow engine crank from the starter motor. Check for clean and secure connections and mounting brackets on your fleet’s batteries.

5. Topping up All Fluids

Unless a signal warns you of low levels, you may not remember to fill up your fluids. Get into the habit of topping up all your fluids during the winter season to make sure you’re prepared, whether you have a rough ride or you breeze through your route. Top off the brake, power steering, windshield, and battery fluids before each trip.

While you’re at it, inspect the cooling system to ensure the coolant is at the proper freeze point. You should consider replacing the coolant every 24 months because the additives in your coolant, which protect the system from corrosion and gumming, will break down.

6. Investing in Robust Belts and Hoses

Cold temps can weaken the belt in an engine, making worn belts an immediate safety hazard. Prep your fleet by inspecting for frayed areas and cracks. If you notice any defects, replace the belt right away to avoid breakdowns. Inspect hoses for cracks, leaks, and loose clamps, then replace if they have brittle or squishy components.

7. Inspecting the Spark Plug Systems

Inspect, clean, and replace the spark plugs as necessary. Drivers can often tell if new ones are necessary if the engine jolts, misfires, rides rough, or doesn’t want to start up. Having clean and connected plugs creates a smoother ride.

8. Preparing Drivers with Engine Heaters

When temperatures dip below freezing, engines can suffer. Unless you store your fleet inside a heated garage, engine heaters are a go-to solution. You can invest in either a block or oil-pan heater. Block heaters heat the engine coolant while oil pans heat the engine pan and oil, making them a bit more efficient.

Engine heaters get the engine components up to working condition so you can start up your trucks with no hassle. It’s smart to use a heater when your rig has been sitting for some time. It helps the engine to start and reduces fluctuations in the engine temps. Whichever you choose, you can face dropping temperatures head-on.

9. Replacing Front, Back, and Sidelights

Without bright lights leading the way through blistering snow storms and foggy conditions, you may as well not even leave your fleet’s base. More excessive winter conditions could mean little visibility; if you want to see what’s in front of you at all times, make sure to broaden your sight with proper lighting. Examine your headlights as well as your tail lights and any other sections that help you see and be seen on the road.

10. Mounting Heavy-Duty Windshield Wipers

It’s important to replace your windshield wiper blades at least once every year, and the beginning of winter is the ideal time. If you operate in a particularly rough environment, you may need to replace them even more often. Install heavy-duty options since they are great against thick ice build-up. Inspect truck windshields as well for cracks or chips. When there is a decrease in temperature, it can cause more stress on the glass.

Preparing for the worst could help improve your productivity when winter weather strikes heaviest. Preventative maintenance can also lead to a safer trip and higher efficiency, no matter the situation. Begin your winter maintenance now and prevent downtime in the future.

Additional Components to Consider

In addition to stocking up on the essentials in preparation for winter, make sure you choose the right diesel fuel for your engine. Because diesel includes paraffin, which is a wax, it can form into a gel-type substance when temperatures drop. This gel can cause engine failure or make for rough engine starts. Examine the cetane rating of the diesel before pumping at a station. The higher the cetane number, the easier it will be for you to start the rig during winter.

Winterization even includes the maintenance of the DEF system. DEF, also known as diesel exhaust fluid, is critical to upkeep especially if you have an exhaust that’s urea-based. The freezing point of DEF is 12° F, but it can thaw under regular conditions in about 45 minutes. Also, be sure to check the system for leaks.

What to Expect in the Winter

Winter weather planning is critical before starting up the engine – and once your drivers on the road, the winter preparation will help them avoid accidents, remain safe, and increase productivity. Here’s what you should instruct your drivers to do to prepare:

  • Remove snow and ice from your trucks before driving for optimum visibility
  • Drive slower to prevent skidding on ice or slick patches of snow
  • Never operate a vehicle impaired to keep yourself and others safe
  • Be aware of all blind spots
  • Keep a safe following distance between you and every vehicle on the road — about a quarter of a mile at all times and on all sides
  • Travel alone on the highway as opposed to following a pack of cars
  • Don’t follow the tail lights of other vehicles during heavy snow, as that can be too close
  • Avoid stopping on the shoulder of the road during hazardous weather
  • Never use the Jake brake on icy pavement
  • Ensure every component on your rig is working like wipers, engine, lights, and brakes
  • Top up your gas tank as often as possible
  • Maintain the air pressure in your tires

Safety is a priority when it comes to your drivers and trucks. And whether you adhere to every prep suggestion or follow a few tips, every caution makes a difference.

Always be cautious. Always prepare. Avoid being a statistic.

Our Sealant Solutions for Tough Winter Conditions

truck with imi sealant

At IMI, our line of STS Tire Sealants would be a great addition to your preventative maintenance practices in preparing for winter. One of the last things your fleet would want to experience is being stranded on the side of the road in winter conditions due to a tire puncture; our high-performing sealants are formulated specifically for your application, and all of our sealants are glycol-free to prevent wheel-end corrosion.  Check out our online tool to match your application with the sealant that’s right for you.

Our winter-weather tips are also ideal for buses, utility vehicles, and other industries that complete long-distance trips. Prepping your fleet for winter keeps your operators, trucks, shipments, and business safe. To learn more about IMI solutions or if you have further questions, contact one of our representatives today!