November 22, 2011
By James Menzies
Depending on where you operate, you may have already seen some of the white stuff swirling to the ground. We all bemoan the inevitability of winter, but if you think we have it tough as humans, think about what our equipment goes through.
Logging trucks – particularly those that operate predominantly off-highway – are exposed to a prolonged spell of torture during winter. However, you can take steps that will help your truck emerge in the spring none the worse for wear.
Before the first flakes hit the ground, and certainly before bitter cold sets in, you should take a few moments to prepare a survival kit for yourself. If you break down or get lost in the bush, your very survival may depend on having a few key items. Candles, flares, non-perishable food items, matches, flashlights, warm gloves, blankets and other survival gear can be stored in your cab, and could be a life-saver if you should get stranded in winter.
If you already have such a kit, be sure to do a quick inventory in the fall, as many of these items tend to go missing, and batteries will drain over time. These kits can be purchased pre-assembled but you can also assemble them yourself and likely save some money in the process.
As for your equipment, winterization should be a year-round process, advises Mike Wiens, maintenance guru and owner of Big Wrench Mechanical in Macklin, SK, an area that’s no stranger to harsh winters.
“There are many things you can perform at the last moment for winterization, whether it be August or December,” he explains. “I treat my customers like the worst weather is coming at any time. I make sure the tire pressures are proper, and that the sidewalls and tread are well within the safety spec’s, and make sure that all the lamps work and that there are no wiring problems. Every couple of months, I take the lens out of the grommets and check the pigtails to make sure the green bugs (corrosion) didn’t get to them during the rain or snow.”
Brake stroke should be checked and within 1/8-1/4-inch. Alignment should also be checked in the fall, and if it’s out of whack, having the truck properly aligned is a good investment, as it will save on fuel mileage and irregular tire wear.
The entire air system should be checked for leaks, which could cause additional strain on the compressor.
The batteries are one of the most likely components to let you down during the winter, so you may want to test them in the fall and ensure they’re not on their last legs. Also check the cables and connectors, and remove any visible corrosion. Some truck operators go so far as to wrap the batteries in a battery blanket to protect them from the cold elements and keep their environment warm and dry.
Driver comfort should be a priority in the winter. To ensure you can focus on the task at hand, make sure the defroster is providing good airflow.
“Make sure all your switches, gauges, lamps and buttons are in good working shape,” Wiens adds.
Air tanks should be drained completely in the fall. If moisture is found, it may suggest the air dryer desiccant needs replacing. A new desiccant cartridge will run you about $50, and air dryer manufacturers suggest replacing it each fall for optimum performance.
A bad habit that is still commonplace in the industry is the use of alcohol to thaw out frozen airlines. This can damage valves and has even been known to cause the ABS valve to stick, resulting in a lack of service brakes. Proper maintenance of the air dryer can usually reduce instances of frozen airlines in the first place. If you’re in a pinch, a tablespoon or so of alcohol can be used in the red air line, but many drivers are guilty of pouring large amounts into the system, which does more harm than good.
An alternative is a specially lubricated brake line anti-freeze, which serves the same thawing purpose as alcohol, but doesn’t strip away the lubricant or damage valves.
“Alcohol removes lubrication from the valves, shortens life of the components and in its purest form, it’s highly combustible,” says Chuck Eberling, principle engineer, Bendix Vehicle Systems Group. “There’s no positive to it that we can see.”
The fall is also a good time to ensure reflective tape is properly applied and replaced if necessary. Making preventive maintenance a year-round priority will prevent many surprises from popping up when the weather turns sour.
“As far as getting ready for winter, if most of this stuff is performed throughout the year, many things won’t come as a surprise for you or your pocketbook,” Wiens concludes.
James Menzies is executive editor with Trucks West, and writes this column exclusively for CFI Magazine.