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Keeping your truck cool under the summer heat

Summer is almost upon us and with that comes hot temperatures. Some parts of the country will see triple digit temperatures before long, but that doesn’t mean trucking can shut down. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite; commerce needs to keep moving and that means trucks and truck drivers will be out in force this summer facing the summer heat.

So how can you stay cool, and just as importantly, how can you keep your truck running? Trucks, just like cars, can suffer breakdowns under extreme temperatures.

Start by keeping yourself cool. Temperatures inside a cab can rise quickly in the summer. According to author Brittany Siegel, in a blog posting for Trinity Logistics last summer, the temperature inside an enclosed vehicle can rise 29 degrees in just 20 minutes and 43 degrees in 60 minutes, based on a study conducted by Department of Earth and Crime Sciences of San Francisco University.

That kind of temperature rise can be deadly for a trucker, who may be spending long hours inside the cab while off-duty. Most states now have limits on idling, which means truckers who do not have an anti-idling system for air conditioning should consider one or find locations where they can get out of the cab for long stretches to avoid overheating.

Don’t forget to check and service the tractor’s air conditioning unit, if necessary. No driver wants to get out into 100-degree heat only to find out that a loose a/c belt is preventing the unit from working.

Also keep plenty of water on hand to stay hydrated and use sunscreen, even when driving for long stretches. A “trucker’s tan” is no longer fashionable, knowing what we now know about skin cancer.

Beyond your physical well-being, the truck itself has a number of components that suffer in high-heat environments, these include brakes, tires, engine oil and coolant.

Brakes can suffer from lost friction or “brake fade” under hot temperatures. Brake fluid heats up when you apply the brakes, but in extreme temperatures, the fluid can sometimes overheat to the point of boiling which can cause a loss of brake power. To help prevent this, check your brakes often as well as brake pads to ensure they are in good shape and brake fluid for contaminants. When traveling down a long descent, consider downshifting to ease the load on the brakes.

Engine oil and coolants can also be affected by heat. Just like in your car, you should check coolant levels as low levels can cause engine overheating. Make sure the engine oil is topped off as it lubricates engine components but also helps cool the engine. Monitor coolant gauges and if they rise above normal levels, stop and identify the problem before an engine failure occurs.

Tires are an obvious concern during periods of extreme temps. Check tires for uneven wear, proper tread depth, and regularly check air pressure. Air pressure increases with temperature, so a tire that starts at proper psi in the morning may be too high in the afternoon heat. If the tire is too hot to touch, let the vehicle sit until it cools. A tire that is too hot is at risk of a blowout or fire.

“When air pressures are inaccurate, the tire flexes in ways it wasn’t designed to, changing the shape of the tire’s footprint, resulting in decreased fuel economy, irregular wear patterns and reduced tread life. In addition, underinflated tires build up excessive heat, potentially causing premature failure,” said Mike Hasinec, vice president of maintenance support at Penske Truck Leasing in a blog posting.

Engine belts should also be checked. Loose belts can impact the water pump and fan performance, potentially putting the engine at risk of overheating. Like tires, belts can also wear faster due to heat.

“The engine radiator, EGR coolers and transmission cooler need to operate properly to maintain the proper engine and transmission temperatures, and inadequate or improper service of cooling and electrical systems can lead to heat-related failures during hot weather,” noted the Penske blog.

Penske also said to remember trailer refrigeration units, which face increased demand and workload in the summer, and batteries, which see increased failure rates in the summer months.

With near-record rates and tight capacity, trucking is hot right now, but that doesn’t mean your drivers or vehicles need to be. Taking preventative steps before the summer heat hits can help keep your trucks up and running through the dog days of summer.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected].