All motor vehicles can benefit from some preparation for cold weather, but it’s much more of a requirement for heavy vehicles. These vehicles often must carry heavy loads and operate for prolonged periods in freezing weather. These conditions place unique stresses on both moving parts and electrical components that can shorten a vehicle’s service life without specific measures. Some of the most important steps in preparing a heavy vehicle for winter involve lubrication, batteries, and fuel.
The viscosity of engine oil increases as the temperature drops, so oil with lower viscosity is preferable in cold weather. Low viscosity vehicle lubricants are able to flow through the engine more quickly, thus providing more effective lubrication. In areas with unusually wide temperature variations during the year, it may be necessary to change engine oil twice a year to keep a vehicle running well.
This decision largely depends on the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) recommendations, but heavy vehicle operators may want to consider low-viscosity vehicle lubricants such as SAE 0W-30, 0W-40 and 5W-40, which provide better protection in cold weather. Keep in mind the oils in these viscosity ranges are all synthetic formulations, which are considerably more expensive than pure petroleum-based oils.
The electrical conductivity of metal generally drops with temperature, which is the main reason batteries require additional maintenance during the fall. For batteries with liquid electrolytes, ensure the electrolyte is at the indicated level to ensure it’s above the top of the plates. Keep in mind that a battery will never perform satisfactorily once its plates dry out. You can determine if this has occurred by measuring the battery’s load test current output. It’s also a good idea to check the alternator for its current output before winter.
Clean debris around the battery posts to prevent it from creating a conductive path and draining the battery. You should also clean corrosion on the posts with baking soda and a wire brush, which can improve the electrical connection between the cables and battery. These measures can help improve battery performance, which becomes especially important at low temperatures.
The density of fuel increases as the temperature drops, which also increases the concentration of contaminants in the fuel. This fact makes fall an ideal time to check the fuel coming from your provider. Clean the cap on the fuel tank and ensure it’s functioning properly to prevent snow and ice from entering the fuel tank.
The maintenance requirements of heavy vehicles increase in conditions of extreme temperatures. The best time to prepare your vehicle for cold weather is in the fall before it gets cold enough to affect performance.