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Winterizing Your Truck: A Step-by-Step Plan

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

As the weather starts to cool off, and everyone is about to be consumed with pumpkin-spice flavored everything, owner-operators should have something else on their mind: Winterizing their truck. Actively taking steps to prepare your truck for winter is crucial for keeping your costs down, and staying safe in the cold winter months. Follow these guidelines and get your truck ready - winter is just around the corner!

Step One: Prepare an Emergency Kit

Getting stranded in adverse weather conditions is far more likely in the winter months. Make sure you have adequate survival supplies in your truck, including:

  • Extra blankets

  • First aid kit

  • Flashlight and extra batteries

  • Canned food and bottled water

  • Gloves

  • Scarves

  • Hats

  • Snow boots

  • Snow shovel

  • Flares

  • Radio

  • Extra coolant, washer fluid, engine oil

  • Extra fuel filter and fuel filter wrench

  • Tire chains

Step Two: Check The Battery

The best time to check the age and condition of your battery is just before winter settles in. Freezing temperatures drain battery life quickly. If the battery is close to the typical 48-72-month life cycle, then it’s best to replace it. If not, inspect the battery to make sure it is securely mounted and that all connections are tightened and clean. Perform a load test, and check on the alternator and starter as well. Inspect the electrical wiring for any damage or frays, and make sure there are no loose or exposed wires.

Truck in the winter

Step Three: Check the Fuel Filter and Water Separator

Check to be sure the fuel filter is in good condition, and replace it if necessary. To reduce the risk of damage to the engine, monitor the water separator on a daily basis. Water is a common contaminant in diesel fuel and can shorten an engine’s life. If a large amount of water has been collected, it should be drained. Most separators are not self-cleaning, so you’ll need to locate the separator, near the fuel filter, and turn the drain valve to empty the water. This is especially important during the winter months because condensation forms on the inside of a warm fuel tank as the outside temperature cools.

Step Four: Use Fuel Additives

Diesel fuel contains paraffin, a wax, which crystallizes at freezing temperatures. This causes water in the fuel to emulsify and the fuel becomes slushy and gel-like. The fuel cannot pass through the fuel filter and the problem only gets worse when temperatures continue to drop. This gelling of fuel can lead to rough vehicle operation and in some cases, engine failure. To avoid this, check the cetane rating of the fuel at the pump - the higher the better, and add anti-gel fuel additives at each fill up to enhance performance. Check your owner’s manual for specific additive guidelines and always follow mixing procedures exactly, or you risk damaging your fuel system.

Step Five: Inspect the Cooling System

Proper maintenance of the cooling system is a major part of winterizing. Anything that’s worn, damaged or cracked is only going to get worse as the temperature drops. Perform a comprehensive inspection of the entire system, including the radiator, inspecting the hoses for any bulges, and checking hose clamps to ensure they are secure and not damaged. You should have a coolant test conducted to be sure that your coolant is at an optimum freeze point. Checking the additive levels to determine if the coolant needs to be changed or adjusted should become part of your regular maintenance plan. Last, it’s critical that you use the proper coolant for your truck, and never use aerosol ether starting fluid.

Step Six: Keep the Engine Warm

Diesel engines require a higher cylinder temperature than gasoline vehicles, which means that they are considerably more difficult to start in cold weather. If you travel or live in a cold climate, you may want to consider installing an electric block heater to keep the engine warm while it’s turned off. Make sure that the block heater cord will accommodate a three-prong plug and ensure it is securely held in place.

Step Seven: Inspect the Air Dryer

The air dryer, installed between the compressor and wet tank, collects and removes contaminants from the air before they enter the brake system. This prevents water from freezing in the brake lines. It’s important to inspect the air dryer to ensure that it is functioning properly and to also replace the filter if necessary. Make sure to drain the air reservoirs periodically. Failing to maintain your air dryer can lead to extremely dangerous malfunctioning brakes.

Step Eight: Prepare the Windshield

When snow and ice accumulate on the windshield, it makes driving difficult and dangerous. Just before winter hits, inspect your windshield wipers and replace them if needed. Make sure your windshield wiper fluid is filled and that you have switched to a cold temperature blend. Keep extra bottles of washer fluid in your truck in case you run out unexpectedly.

Step Nine: Check the Tires

Your tires must be in good shape to navigate through the snowy and icy roads ahead. Inspect your tires thoroughly and make sure they are inflated to the proper pressure rating. Find out which states require chains, and make sure you have the correct size and number of chains in your truck at all times. Inspect the chains for worn, twisted, or damaged links and replace them when needed.

Read more: Winter Tire Tips.

Finally, know your limits. Do-it-yourself maintenance is often very cost effective, however, you can easily get in over your head if you aren’t a mechanic. Don’t compromise safety, which can cause serious damage to the vehicle and put you and others at risk. When in doubt, make an appointment with a trusted mechanic and leave it to the professionals.

Stay safe out there this winter!

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