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Winter Truck Maintenance Checklist: 15 Steps to Ensure You’re Ready to Drive in Winter Weather

November 30, 2022 Service and Maintenance Author: Rush Truck Centers Read Time: 7 Min

While it’s important to keep your truck properly maintained throughout the year to ensure its longevity, this becomes especially important in the cold, winter months. The snow, ice and rain that often accompany colder temperatures can take a toll on everything from your engine and brakes to your fuel system and tires. Below are 15 steps you can take right now to ensure your diesel truck is ready to take on even the harshest conditions on the open road.

Ensure Tires Are in Good Condition and Have Tire Chains Readily Available

Everyone knows that air contracts as temperatures drop. This means that consistently cold temperatures can slowly reduce your tire pressure over time, causing safety issues, reduced fuel economy and excess wear.

Check your tires at the start of the winter season and measure the tire pressure regularly to ensure your tires are properly inflated and in good condition to prevent breakdowns and accidents. It’s also a good idea to replace your valve caps if they’re worn to ensure moisture isn’t able to cause ice buildup in the valve cores.

If you drive in areas with severe conditions, keep snow chains in your cab where they can be easily accessed when you need them. Inspect your chains at the beginning of the season to make sure they’re not broken or damaged.

Inspect Your Battery and All Connections

Even though your truck’s battery will typically last three to five years, its lifespan will drain more quickly in colder weather. At the beginning of the season, make sure your battery is not past its expiration date and that it’s capable of holding a good charge by using a handheld volt tester. If it’s expired or unable to properly produce a current, it’s time to replace your battery.

You should also make sure your battery is properly mounted, inspect the battery terminals to ensure they are free of corrosion and make sure all connections are tightened and cleaned. Checking the electrical wiring for damage and the alternator and starter for corrosion and frays will also prevent you from winding up with a dead battery down the road.

Use Winterized Diesel Fuel with Anti-Gel Additives at the Fuel Pump

As temperatures begin to drop below freezing, the diesel fuel in your tank becomes susceptible to an array of issues. Untreated fuel can thicken or “gel”, fuel lines can freeze and filters can become clogged from buildup — all of which can significantly decrease your fuel economy and potentially leave you stranded when your truck refuses to start.

When the temperatures reach 20°F or below, a hydrocarbon found in diesel fuel called paraffin begins to crystallize, giving your diesel a slushy, gel consistency. This can be prevented by using a winter blend fuel with a high cetane rating and adding an anti-gel additive each time you fill up your tank. These additives prevent your diesel from crystallizing and ensure it passes through your fuel filter as it should.

It’s best to keep extra anti-gel additive on hand in your cab in case temperatures drop significantly. If your diesel does gel from freezing temperatures, adding the anti-gel additive and taking your truck indoors where it can heat up above the gel point will allow the fuel to return to normal.

Keep Your Fuel Tank At Least Half Full

It’s recommended that you keep your fuel tank at least half full during the winter months to reduce condensation buildup. As you use up fuel, condensation can accumulate and add unwanted water to your fuel tank which can cause fuel lines to freeze when temperatures get cold.

Keeping your tank half full also ensures that you have fuel to keep your truck running and warm if you become stuck due to a breakdown, roadblock or weather.

Monitor the Fuel Filter and Water Separator Daily

Even if you have a fuel filter and water separator that filter out water and prevents it from entering the engine, condensation buildup can still introduce water to your fuel after it’s in the tank. You should check your water separator daily during the winter and drain it when it’s full to prevent condensation from forming. Replace the fuel filter as needed throughout the season and consider bringing additional ones with you in your cab.

Avoid Letting Your Engine Be Inactive for More Than 24 Hours

Diesel engines require a higher cylinder temperature than gasoline vehicles, which means it’s especially important to avoid “cold soaks” during the winter months. Cold soaks occur when your engine has been inactive for an extended period and the engine fluids and metal components of your engine block drop to ambient temperatures.

When temperatures are below freezing, cold soaks can lead to fuel gelling and have a negative impact on fuel economy, the charging systems and your ability to start the engine. You can avoid cold soaks by not letting your engine sit inactive for more than 24 hours during the winter.

Plug In an Engine Block Heater When Your Truck is Turned Off

Drivers who consistently drive in cold conditions during the winter months should also consider installing an electric engine block heater. Engine block heaters keep your engine warm while your truck is turned off and prevent it from reaching ambient temperatures. It’s good practice to plug in your engine block heater if you know the temperature is going to reach 5°F or below while your truck is idle.

Inspect Windshield Wipers and Replace as Necessary

You should replace your wiper blades at least once a year to prevent excess wear and tear, and there’s no better time to do so than in the winter months. You’re going to need your windshield wipers to be in peak condition to drive safely in freezing rain and snow, so take the time to inspect them thoroughly throughout the winter months and replace them when the rubber starts to look worn or they begin to cause streaking, smearing or squeaking/vibrating sounds during use.

Check Fluid Levels Regularly

Before you head out on the road, make sure your fluids are at optimal levels to help fight the stress cold temperatures put on your truck and maintain peak fuel economy. Check the levels of the following fluids regularly throughout the winter and replenish them as they become low or empty:

  • Engine oil
  • Windshield washer fluid
  • Coolant
  • Antifreeze
  • Fuel additives
  • Brake fluid
  • Transmission fluid
  • Power steering fluid

Inspect Suspension and Steering Systems

Keeping your suspension and steering systems in good condition is crucial when driving on potentially slippery or icy roads. Have your suspension and steering systems inspected prior to the winter months to check for potential issues that may negatively impact traction and your ability to make lane changes or sharp turns.

Inspect the Cooling System

Even in colder temperatures, your truck can overheat as your engine works harder to keep up. Before driving in colder temperatures, inspect your radiator for leaks, make sure any loose components are secured, check the belts and hoses for bulges, wear, cracks, hardening or softening, and look over the hose clamps for damage. You should also take this opportunity to flush out your cooling system and replace your antifreeze with fresh fluid.

To make sure your truck’s antifreeze system can handle the cold weather, you should pressure test your coolant system after letting your engine cool. Test the coolant to make sure it’s between 15 and 18 PSI after turning on the heater control valves and then pressure test your radiator cap at a minimum pressure of 5 PSI.

Check the Air Dryer to Prevent Frozen Brake Lines

The air dryer in your truck prevents water from entering the brake lines and causing frozen brakes. Replace the air dryer filter cartridge at the beginning of winter and inspect the system to ensure it’s functioning properly and isn’t leaking or corroded. You should also examine the purge valve for signs of corrosion or grit accumulation and clean or replace it as necessary.

Drain Water from Air Tanks

In freezing temperatures, it’s important to make sure that your air tanks are free of water. Any moisture in the tanks can freeze and affect the braking system and increase the likelihood of component malfunctions in the safety, emissions control and automated manual transmission systems. Manually drain your air tanks at the beginning of winter and at least every three months to remove any moisture and contaminants. Those with higher air demands may need to drain their air tanks at least once a month.

Pro Tip: Temperature shifts of 30°F or more can cause moisture to accumulate in your air tanks. If this temperature shift occurs within a 24-hour period, you should check the air system for moisture after driving your truck for another week and drain them as needed.

Inspect Trailer Gladhand Seals Daily

Your gladhand seals help prevent moisture from entering the gladhand connector, which is especially important in the wet, cold winter months. Check your seals daily to ensure they’re clean and free of cracks or damage. You should also check the air hoses and electrical cord and socket for damage, cuts or tears each day.

Keep Supplies in Your Truck in Case of an Emergency

Breakdowns in the winter are common and can potentially be dangerous if you’re stranded on the open road and have to wait a while for assistance. Keep the following safety supplies in your cab in case of an emergency:

  • Blanket or sleeping bag for warmth
  • Water and non-perishable foods
  • Extra clothing
  • Winter boots
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Glow sticks/flares
  • Reflector triangles
  • Jumper cables
  • Portable power unit
  • Tools
  • Tow strap/recovery strap
  • Show shovel/ice pick
  • Sand or kitty litter for traction on icy surfaces
  • Battery-powered radio

Let Rush Truck Centers Get Your Truck Ready for the Winter

Schedule a service appointment at one of our more than 140 locations to have our factory-trained, ASE-certified technicians make sure your truck is in peak condition for the winter month ahead. Our parts departments are also fully stocked with everything you need, from wiper blades and batteries to additives and safety supplies.

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