Truck Maintenance – What to review as the seasons change
As a trucker, you rely on your truck to remain in good condition and get you and your cargo to your destination. Whether you are an owner-operator or a driver, you should have a vested interest in the condition of your trucks. After all, you want it to function as it should on the road, as any failure comes with an increased risk of accidents. Owner-operators have additional concerns, as they want to protect their investment in the truck.
Review the maintenance that you should take care of as a trucker to ensure you can always count on your truck.
During the winter, your maintenance and inspections should focus on confirming that none of the vulnerable systems or components in your truck have been damaged by the cold. You should make sure to:
- Check your diesel engine if it uses urea-based DEF in its emission control system, as this fluid freezes at just 12 degrees Fahrenheit or -11 degrees Celsius. (Normal operation thaws it within 45 minutes.)
- Inspect the engine heater, especially if your truck has an oil-pan heater instead of a block heater.
- Confirm your diesel engine uses ASTM D-975 Grade 1 fuel if you drive in temperatures under 10 degrees Fahrenheit, as this fuel can handle the lower temperatures.
- Confirm the coolant level and flush it if necessary.
- Inspect the glow plug for proper functionality.
- Inspect the fuel filter and drain the water separator.
- Inspect the battery, testing it, and clean connections, if necessary.
- Confirm there are no windshield chips, a problem that increases in frequency during cold weather.
- Inspect and replace windshield wiper blades, if necessary.
- Confirm the dilution levels in the windshield washer reservoirs.
- Confirm the defroster and heater are fully functional.
- Confirm the tires have at least 5/32 inches of tread and proper inflation.
- Install tire chains, if necessary.
- Confirm the exhaust system has no leaks.
- Confirm heated mirrors are functional.
- Confirm the front of your radiator is clean.
- Confirm the ABS is functional.
- Check the hoses and belts.
- Clean the truck every week, as this removes road salt.
- Confirm you have an emergency kit in the truck.
In the summer months, you want to ensure that your truck is ready to handle the hot weather, even under a heavy load. You also want to confirm that the cooling systems for the cabin work well, as this is essential to your comfort.
When inspecting the cooling systems in your truck, do the following:
- Check for corrosion on the radiator.
- Confirm the coolant is clean. If you have not already done so this year, drain and flush the coolant, as well.
- Test the coolant system pressure.
- Confirm the radiator cap is in good condition. (Replace it if you drain and flush the coolant.)
- Check and clean the cooling coils on the air conditioner.
- Check the heater core and radiator hoses and lines. Look for hardness, mushiness, damage, and leaks and ensure tight connections. If you have not done so within the last two years, replace the hoses.
- Check the belts for tension, wear, and tear. If you have not done so within the past one or two years, replace the belts.
- Check the tensioner arm.
- Check for leaks in the water pump.
- Confirm the engine’s temperature is within recommendations.
- Confirm the heater functions by running it.
Summer is also the perfect time to check your truck’s electrical system, including the following tasks:
- Confirm no alternator wiring is loose or in contact with fuel lines.
- Confirm the battery is securely mounted.
- Confirm there is no corrosion by the battery terminals.
- Clean the battery terminals, if necessary.
- Confirm the battery cables are connected and securely fastened.
- Confirm wires are in good condition.
Other summer maintenance tasks to take care of include:
- Check tire pressure once a week or more. The hot air can increase pressure by an unwanted 10 or 15 psi.
Always Do a Pre-Trip Check
No matter the season, all truckers should be in the habit of completing a pre-trip checklist before they even get on the road. Think of this as daily maintenance for your truck that keeps you safe and protects your investment.
In the winter, this checklist should include confirming that no components are frozen. In the summer, it should include confirming heat damage has not occurred to any parts.
At a minimum, inspect the:
- Windshield Wipers
- Parking Brake
- Lighting Devices
- Steering Mechanism
- Rear Vision Mirrors
- Wheels and Rims
- Coupling Devices
- Emergency Equipment
Other Maintenance Tasks to Include
In addition to all of the above seasonal maintenance tasks, make sure that you regularly inspect and clean or replace the following components:
- Engine Oil
- Engine Filters
- Transmission Fluid
- Truck Guards and Grille Guards
- Braking Systems
- Wheels and Rims
- Suspension and Steering System
- Lighting, Both Interior and Exterior
- Truck Bumpers
- Auxiliary Systems
Other Notes on Maintenance Timing
If you are ever unsure as to when you need to complete a certain bit of maintenance on your truck, you should look at your manual. Every manufacturer includes a maintenance schedule, and it should be available online, as well. You will find maintenance intervals based on time passed and based on distance traveled. Follow whichever applies to you sooner.
Don’t Just Take Care of Preventative Maintenance — Document It
In addition to completing your truck maintenance, you should take the time to document your efforts. Remember that the FMCSA requires trucks to have a year (or more) of planned and documented service for compliance. You can traditionally do this with paper or opt for digital documentation.
To keep yourself and others on the road safe at all times and protect your investment in your truck, you should always stay on top of truck maintenance. This should include inspecting every component from your HERD bumpers to your grille guards, with a focus on the most important systems, such as the brakes, engine, and battery. There are also some seasonal-specific maintenance concerns, such as cooling systems in the summer and heating systems in the winter.
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