Preventive maintenance and stocking needed products will help you prepare your customers to get through the wintry months

Winter is here. Along with it — in many parts of the country — comes below-freezing temperatures, snow and corrosive road chemicals, leading to gelled fuel, air and fluid lines that freeze or crack, dying batteries and failing electrical assemblies, among other problems that can sideline a truck or trailer.

It’s January, the heart of winter, and many drivers might need to take reactive measures if the weather starts wreaking havoc with their vehicle. Fortunately, aftermarket experts understand what problems to expect and explain which parts, products and services help drivers get back on the road.

Riding out the storm

Richard Nagel, director of marketing and customer solutions, air charging, Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, says one of the top issues affecting heavy-duty trucks in the winter is the air dryer not operating properly. This can lead to excessive moisture and water in the service tanks, especially during freeze and thaw weather cycles.

“Once you get water into those service tanks and it gets into the lines of the different valves in the truck brake system, [during] prolonged cold that water then freezes and you start to get malfunctions in the brake system, which can leave the truck inoperable,” Nagel says.

Another common problem is when the vehicle’s fuel partially or completely gels, clogging up the filter, says Steve Muth, chief chemist, The Penray Companies. Using a quality anti-gel additive like Penray’s Winter Pow-R Plus or Winter Blend to prevent crystallization and gel formation will eliminate most of these problems,” Muth says. “Even then, plugging can still occur if the fuel is contaminated with poor quality biodiesel, which often contains significant amounts of water and monoglycerides.”

If proper preventive measures have not been taken, or poor-quality fuel is in the system, Muth says a recovery product like Penray’s Winter Thaw is needed. “We often hear from drivers or techs, ‘My fuel looks fine, but my filter [looks like it] is full of mayonnaise.’ Don’t throw out that filter. Pour in some Winter Thaw and put it back on the truck.”

When a vehicle has been sitting in cold weather, Muth suggests using start-ing fluid, which is easier to ignite than diesel fuel, “and burning even a small amount in the engine can fl ash-heat the combustion chambers to enable compression ignition to happen. In diesel engines, it is important to use premium starting fluid with high ether content.” Phillips Industries addresses corrosion to electrical equipment in its November/December 2018 edition of Qwik Tech Tips. Corrosion is more prevalent during the winter months, Phillips states.

For vehicles exposed to harsh weather and de-icing chemicals, Phillips suggests trucks should be spec’d with premium, sealed electrical harnesses and non-corrosive components such as non-metallic noseboxes and nylon plugs and sockets. The anti-corrosive properties of nylon will outlast its metal counterparts be-cause of their susceptibility to corrosion.

The tech bulletin also suggests frequently washing equipment to reduce magnesium and calcium chloride build-up. Phillips, however, warns against power washing, which can force water into tight areas and cause corrosion. Phillips & Temro Industries (PTI) offers battery blankets that can wrap around batteries as well as a silicone pad heater that sits under the batteries. When plugged in overnight, these heaters, which use low wattage, keep the core of the starting battery warmer, enabling it to accept a charge sooner in very cold weather and help to extend battery life, according to the company.

Preparing for winter

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The adage holds true when it comes to prepping trucks before Old Man Winter makes his presence felt. PM service, along with providing must-have winter products, will give drivers and their trucks a better chance of getting through winter relatively unscathed. And, experts agree, it’s cheaper to prepare vehicles for the elements than to fix them if they go down during the cold weather.

Normal repairs plus wintertime issues “bring a level of chaos to our shop with emergency repairs or problems because equipment didn’t get PM service or winterization,” says Dean Dally, Blaine Brothers president and owner.

Blaine’s winterization list includes checking the cooling system, including belts and hoses; load testing batteries; checking electrical connections on alternators and starters, among many other components; servicing the air dryer; and checking crank case and diesel exhaust fluid filters, says Grabow. “And we always make sure to check that block heater,” he adds.

The PM Columbia Fleet Services provides doesn’t change depending on the time of year. For example, if there’s a problem with the cooling system in July, Columbia will address it immediately, and battery terminals are cleaned all the time. If a vehicle doesn’t have extended life antifreeze, the customer will be notified, regardless of the time of year.

“Everything is done whenever we see issues. So when a guy comes in for a PM a couple times a year, we’re going to treat that vehicle the same all the time. Everything has to be right regardless of the season,” Kevin Murray says.

“If you have a comprehensive PM [schedule] and you stick to it all year, you really don’t have the issues a lot of people have that just change the oil. That’s what I stress to everybody,” he says. “I hate to see someone come in and just want an oil change and grease job. I just feel like they’re trying to save a buck by doing that, but it can cost them in the harsher weather.”

Stock up early

Not only do suppliers prepare early to make sure they have enough product on hand to meet demand from aftermarket distributors, parts and service providers must buy early or risk not having enough product on their shelves or paying more once the winter season begins.

“If you don’t buy by the end of September, you’re not in the game because there can be a 10 to 20 percent increase in price once you’re in season,” says Callison.

“We tend to err on the side of [order-ing more] and if we have a little bit of stock left over, we’d rather have it and get the sale than not have it and not get the sale,” he says. “These products don’t go bad, so having a little bit of carryover isn’t the end of the world.”