Not only is the holiday season the busiest season in trucking with increased shipping demand and often the highest rates of the year, it is also the most dangerous. If your tractor breaks down on you in the summer, the only location to have any fear is in the desert. Winter, to contrast, can provide inhospitable conditions almost everywhere in the country, including in the desert where it can easily drop below freezing at night. If you are trucking as the weather gets colder, here are some tips to help you survive the winter and perhaps even thrive. We have tried to list preparations that are less obvious to the average trucker, but if you know some of these already, it is always good to refresh knowledge.
Prevent Diesel Gelling
Diesel fuel is made of many different parts, including wax. Wax has a higher freezing point than other components in diesel, causing it to clump together (“gel”), and prevent your truck from running after a cold night.
There are two ways to prevent gelling. First is to add fuel additives that either reduce the freezing point of wax or spread the wax particles to prevent them from gelling. Most truck stops will sell these, but kerosene also works in a pinch. The other method is to heat up the fuel tank, which normally would take a tremendous amount of effort if not for a block heater. Check if your engine has one, and if not, get one installed.
As a side note, electric cars have no diesel to gel, and while hydrogen fuel cell cars also do not have diesel, the waste product of water has a much higher freezing point than diesel does gelling. Neither electric nor hydrogen heavy-duty trucks are on the market at this moment, but this is something to consider in the future. If the truck must start in the morning, the easiest route in the future may be electric-battery.
If your truck is in the middle of a blizzard that you did not foresee, you can rest easy knowing that you can keep moving forward to get out of it as soon as possible, without having to worry about an hours-of-service violation for another two hours. The FMCSA implemented this hours-of-service change very recently to help truckers be able to get themselves to safer locations to rest, rather than risk stopping in a dangerous area.
For the worst case scenario, a trucker will need some secondary help to visit them. In the meantime, the winter climate can still take its toll on the body. It is a good idea to have an emergency kit in the cabin that the driver can easily access, and should include:
- Heat source (hand warmers, portable stove, things that can generate heat)
- Food. Nuts are tried and true; they are energy-dense and non-perishable.
- Boredom aversion: books, power bank for cell phone, etc.
In this brief guide, we tried to avoid common sense tips that every trucker is tired of hearing (“Wow! I should get winter tires with extra tread!”). Hopefully even one obscure tip such as the notion of switching to electric for the next truck, or having a book on standby in case the trucker is caught in a snowy ditch, can help make a positive difference for this winter and other winters to come.