Avoid Winter Breakdown Frustrations
For Starters, Focus on the Big 3
by: Homer Hogg, MANAGER OF TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT for TA-Petro
IF YOU’RE INTENT ON PREVENTING BREAKDOWNS AND CONTROLLING SEASONAL INCREASES IN YOUR COST PER MILE THIS WINTER, FOCUS ON THE BIG-THREE SYSTEMS: CRANKING, FUEL AND BRAKES.
Cranking system problems can be the most frustrating for two reasons: they are the easiest to prevent, but can be repetitive if not properly addressed. It is not uncommon to have your truck jumpstarted on a bitter cold morning, just to call for service again two days later. One thing to remember is that your alternator is not designed to charge dead batteries. It is designed to maintain already charged batters and support your truck’s electrical loads once the engine is running. When I was a technician, I ran countless service calls to jumpstart a truck engine, just to watch in frustration as the driver immediately took off down the road without correcting the problem.
Operating a jump-started vehicle without correcting the problem will likely have one of two outcomes: Either the alternator will fail, because it overheated trying to charge dead batteries, or once the driver turns the engine off, the engine will not crank. It is very important to always locate the root cause, and have it repaired. This will help you avoid additional costs and delays. The good news is that cranking system problems are relatively easy to diagnose and repair. Modern testing equipment provides TA Truck Service technicians with accurate test results and is less stressful on the battery. This same battery testing equipment can be used to check the integrity of cables, connections and alternator performance.
Fuel system defects are major contributors to winter breakdowns. As your fuel gets colder, the wax in the fuel starts to reform and slows or prevents fuel from flowing. To add insult to injury, any water in the fuel will freeze. That may starve the fuel system and cause poor performance, or the engine may not run at all. To help avoid these conditions be sure your fuel heaters are operable, and your fuel-water separator is hooked up correctly and functioning as designed. Some fuel-water separators are heated in the winter by engine coolant that is routed to them via heater hoses. If your engine is running too cold, you’re likely to have more severe fuel freeze ups and/or fuel gelling.
Finally, your brake system is inherently prone to freeze ups. As hot air leaves the air compressor and heads towards the air dryer, the air inside the line starts to cool. This cooling causes any moisture in the air to condense. The air dryer, if it is functioning properly, will remove a large amount of this moisture. However, some moisture will remain in the air, causing new condensation in the line to the air wet-tank, as well as within the wet-tank. A diligent driver who drains the air tanks daily will greatly reduce the amount of moisture entering the rest of the air system, but know that some moisture will inevitably make it to your brake system.
When the temperature drops below freezing, any remaining moisture will freeze and restrict or prevent airflow within the brake system. This will likely result in a service call and could take several hours to correct. To help keep moisture in your air system to a minimum, be sure your air-dryer filter (desiccant) is replaced per the manufacturer’s recommendation. Also, be alert to an excessive amount of moisture coming from your wet tank when drained daily. If you add deicing agents to your air system, be certain to pour them down stream from the air dryer. The moisture-absorbing material in the air dryer can only hold a limited amount of moisture, so, if added upstream, the deicing chemicals will over-saturate the air dryer and eliminate its capability to dry the air.
If you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to practice some preventive maintenance by having your cranking, fuel and brake systems inspected before Old Man Winter stops your truck in its tracks.