A trucker’s life is a good one. You get to travel the country, experiencing different cities, landscapes, and weather. Unfortunately, that also means you have to be prepared for every kind of driving complication—including snow and ice. It’s not easy to keep a rig safe in wintry weather, so we’ve compiled tried and true winter truck driving tips to help you manage it.
Use Proper Vehicle Maintenance
Inspect your truck and cargo before jumping in the cab. Make sure the battery is in good shape since cold weather can drain power from it. Then, check to see if you’re using a winter-grade product for fifth-wheel lubrication. You could have steering issues if you use a summer-grade in low temperatures. Also, check to see whether your radiator has any leaks and contains proper winter coolant. Make sure your heater, wiper blades, and defroster function correctly and that your tires have decent tread depth.
Be Prepared with Equipment and Supplies
You are required to carry chains or cables during the winter months in some states. They may also mandate the use of specific traction devices and determine which axle(s) need chaining. That’s why it’s important to know the laws for winter truck driving that govern the places where you travel.
Also, learn how to put chains and cables on your truck before you need them in subzero temperatures. No one wants to figure that out in the middle of a snowstorm.
Next, research the regulations for buying fuel additives and find out whether your vehicle has fuel tank heaters. Do everything you can to keep your fuel from gelling. You can also avoid that by keeping your tank as full as possible, never turning your engine off for long periods, and keeping track of the temperature and wind chill. Be wary of fuel bought in southern states, as well, because vehicles in the south don’t need blended fuel, and it can gel in colder weather.
Take an emergency kit for winter truck driving, too. We suggest you stock it with…
- Flashlight and batteries
- Extra clothing, such as warm layers, gloves, shoes, socks, and rain gear
- Non-perishable food and water
- First aid kit
- Bag of sand or salt
- Extra washer fluid
- Windshield scraper and brush
- Jumper cables
- Tire chains or traction mats
- Cellphone and charger
- Lighter, matches, and candles
Know the Road Conditions
Bring two things with you on the road: a reliable source for weather reports and a dependable thermometer. You have to know the road conditions you face. If the temperature is hovering around freezing and you can’t determine whether the road is icy, then watch other vehicles. If the road has frozen, other cars will start to slide, and you will see ice buildup on them as well as a lack of tire spray.
Know How to Respond When Things Go Wrong
Unexpected things happen in winter truck driving, and you have to know how to react.
Your brake lining can freeze to the drum in cold weather if you set your brakes when they are still wet. Break them loose by either backing up and letting them break free on their own or by hitting them with a hammer.
If your truck starts to skid, immediately hit the clutch and, while staring only at the left mirror, steer the vehicle back in line with the trailer. Steer and counter-steer until you regain control, but make sure you don’t over-steer. You also need to avoid braking during this process—no matter what. You probably won’t have enough room to both stop and prevent a collision. Plus, slamming on the brakes might make matters worse.
You can avoid skidding completely by not braking, turning, steering, or accelerating too quickly.
Studies show that if the tractor and trailer get more than 15 degrees out of line, you most likely won’t gain control. Still, you should try to correct the jack-knife as soon as you can and steer until the trailer and tractor are realigned. Never use the brakes! But in the case of a trailer jack-knife (when the wheels of the trailer lock up as opposed to those of the tractor), press the accelerator to pull the trailer back in line.
Basically, the key to winter truck driving is to think ahead. Be prepared, know your own limitations, and stay far away from other vehicles. If something goes wrong, don’t panic and remember everything you have learned about safe driving. Also, use common sense – if the weather conditions make you uncomfortable, don’t drive. Cargo can be replaced, but you can’t.