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Keep your truck in shape for the dark, cold days of winter

By on January 2, 2013

Operating a large vehicle with heavy cargo is dangerous year round, but during the winter additional safety precautions are necessary. Key truck components and systems must be maintained so that they operate at peak capability during these dark and cold months.

Windshield wipers

Wiper blades seem to be a simple item until you are standing at a display shelf staring at the endless variety of brands and features. Premium blades are pricier, and you might question whether it’s a smart choice to pay more when you know the blades will need to be replaced in a few weeks due to the harsh chemicals and road grit they will be exposed to. I consider an upgrade to good blades worthwhile, given the low light, fog, sleet and snow that come with the season. Good visibility is critical under those conditions, so better wiper blades are a way to increase safety.

Many operators only replace the rubber portion of the blade, but that may not be adequate. If your wiper blade is streaking, the metal portion of the blade is warped or worn, and the rubber is not connecting with the glass. You should always examine the contact quality of the blade you are replacing. In addition, check the arm tension to ensure that the wind does not affect the blade contact while driving down the road. You may need an entire blade assembly in order to gain good contact with the windshield.

Anti-lock brake system

All modern trucks have some form of ABS technology. Many include Traction Control. Some have Stability Control. These are all wonderful advances in technology that make hazardous driving conditions easier to negotiate. Yet, I’ve heard of too many drivers who remove the bulb or break out the black tape when the ABS light goes on. Yes, you still have functioning brakes without the ABS, but why would you risk losing an extra measure of safety? If your ABS system malfunctions, your brakes could lock and cause the vehicle to lose control during slippery conditions. It is more than advisable to get the vehicle in to a qualified service provider and have the system analyzed and repaired. Plus, the truck is in violation as long as that light is on.

Operators must also stay on top of brake balance, the coordinated application of the brakes at each wheel position. Many factors impact brake timing, such as brake shoe condition, brake hose length, the design and shape of brake fittings, brake chamber type and size. Brake systems must be inspected to ensure all components are working as designed so your vehicle will be ready to brake safely in winter conditions.


When a truck’s air conditioner or heater is not blowing enough air or the air is not at the desired temperature, it should not be ignored. Many modern vehicles are equipped with HVAC control devices that can be calibrated in a few minutes and dramatically improve the quality of the climate control system to include defrost and general heating modes during winter.

In addition, water valves should be checked, if equipped, to determine the efficiency of their operation. Do not forget to check your cabin filter and replace when necessary. Taking a few minutes to get your climate control system checked, calibrated and serviced could be the difference between a chilly, sleepless night or a warm, restful night. If an operator can’t sleep in comfort, drowsy driving is the result. In severely cold temperatures, if the heater is not working, there is danger of hypothermia.

Electrical system

Long hours of darkness coupled with cold temperatures tend to overtax a truck’s electrical system and lead to battery or alternator failure. Early winter is a good time to get the alternator amps and volts checked, batteries load-tested and electrical cables volt-dropped in order to identify any issue before additional damage occurs or a service call becomes necessary. Electrical failures can create some very unsafe situations. Low voltage may make headlights inoperable or very dim, or cause computerized components to malfunction. The truck might even stop running altogether in an unsafe position on the highway.

Winter driving is stressful enough without worrying whether your truck can handle it, so taking care of each of these areas will give you peace of mind as you wait for spring to return.

Homer Hogg’s “Maintenance Matters” airs on the Dave Nemo Show (Road Dog Trucking, SiriusXM 106), 8 a.m. ET, the first and third Thursday of each month.

Homer Hogg, Maintenance Supervisor for TA and Petro, has worked as a truck technician for more than 30 years. He is ASE Master-certified, a Daimler Certified Trainer and a member of the Nashville Auto Diesel College Hall of Fame.

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