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Truck maintenance and fuel tips for winter

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This is a winter we won’t soon forget. Temperatures in the sub zero range across the country and snow covering roads from north to south have made it a treacherous time for those who make their living on the road—and a challenging time for fleet managers who must make sure vehicles are road-ready and prepared to handle the elements. Here are some tips to help.

Winter truck maintenance tips

“Keep a vehicle running at highway speeds in extreme temperatures (as opposed to idling) so that it can reach the temperature threshold required for the regeneration and diesel engine fluid cycling processes,” advises Bill Dawson, Ryder’s vice president of maintenance and engineering. “Plug in the engine block heater on all diesel trucks each night, even when the temperature feels warm. The longer a truck sits, the more crucial it is to plug it in. Be sure the vehicle is at normal operating temperature when you plug in your block heater. Block heaters maintain temperature; they are not designed to heat coolant from ambient temperatures.

“In addition, avoid cold soaks,” he continues. “Cold soaks occur when the engine fluids and the steel of the engine block drop to low ambient temperatures. This happens when a vehicle sits for more than a day and it impacts starting and charging systems.”

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Winter fleet fueling tips

Dawson points out that proper maintenance of vehicle fuel tanks is an essential part of achieving a trouble-free, lower-cost winter operation. Most diesel fuel in the U.S. is now Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) and, while ULSD’s lower sulfur content improves air quality, it also presents some unique challenges that need to be addressed when winterizing your fuel to avoid fuel-related problems. Winter preparedness tips include:

  • Fuel additives: When temperatures drop below 20°F, add a diesel fuel anti-gel additive to your fuel tank.
  • Winter blend: Ensure that you have quality winter blend fuel in your tank.
  • Fuel tank: Keep your fuel tank half full. Condensation can build up in a near-empty gas tank in extremely cold temperatures. This can cause fuel line freeze-up and no-start conditions.
  • Plan ahead: Think in terms of the geographic coldest points to which that the vehicle will travel and treat fuel accordingly. Be sure to get a correctly blended fuel with a cloud point additive to prevent fuel filter waxing. Base your fuel needs on your destination weather. Use winter weight fuel when driving north and consider fuel additives.

Additional checks

Other parts and systems you should have regularly checked to be sure they are operating optimally include: brakes; battery; ignition system; radiator coolant, hoses and belts; tires; fluid levels including anti-freeze and thermostat to avoid freezing; windshield wiper blades and de-icing washer fluid; headlights, taillights, brake lights, blinkers, and emergency flashers; fuel and air filters; oil levels and power steering fluids; and door locks, which should be properly lubricated to avoid freezing.

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“Have drivers pre-trip their trucks daily,” Dawson adds. “This should include inspecting their vehicle for frozen components like trailer doors, power cords, etc. If they have any safety, starting, fuel or heater defroster-related problems, drivers should report those immediately.”

For more information, visit ryder.com/winterdriving.

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