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Top 6 winter driving tips for truckers

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Winter weather is often the most challenging and dangerous for commercial truck drivers. Icy roads and blinding snowfall can make roads quite treacherous. While most if not all truckers are familiar with the usual rules of the road, these are some lesser-known tips to keep drivers safe and efficient during the winter.

Truck tires

It sounds weird, but a bag of kitty litter could save drivers time and big headaches on snowy days. It doesn’t take long for warm tires to turn the snow on which they parked into patches of ice. The heat of friction melts a thin layer of snow, forming a water boundary between the tire and the snow. The snow absorbs the water and freezes into smooth ice.

Throwing kitty litter under the tires is an effective and environmentally safe way to get that little bit of extra traction drivers need to get them going. However, sand or salt will also work.

In addition, drivers should keep a shovel handy in case they get stuck on a secondary road that hasn’t been treated for snowfall.

Trailer tires

Drivers should check their trailer tires often, especially after just hooking up to a trailer. Remember, the brakes were warm when the last driver dropped that trailer. Make sure the wheels are turning. If the brakes are frozen, drivers should check for the following possible issues: a frozen valve or shoes frozen to the drums.

If it’s a frozen valve, pour some methyl hydrate through the system to melt it. If it’s a shoe frozen to the drum, go under with a hammer and gently tap the drum with the red button pushed in.

Air tanks

Drivers should have a putty knife handy, along with a hammer, to chisel ice from unwanted places. Air tanks can freeze up pretty fast. After driving in excessive amounts of snow, truckers should get under their trucks, when it’s safe to do so, and make sure there’s no snow or ice packed onto the air tanks. Heat from the motor or the air in your tanks will probably not melt the snow. Compressed air is cooler, and any snow that does melt will likely turn to ice from the cold metal beneath it.

(Photo: Shutterstock)


On very cold days when windshields are dirty and need cleaning, heating them can help. Drivers should turn the defroster on high for a minute to help warm the glass. Typically, windshield cleaning fluid works in temperatures as cold as 40 degrees below zero. But that only applies when it’s still in the bottle and lines. The alcohol evaporates faster than the fluid, and the fluid can freeze on the windshield. Some drivers say that pouring a few ounces of brake line antifreeze into the washer fluid can also help prevent this.

Black ice

In near-freezing temperatures, drivers can look for clues that black ice may be on the roads. Black ice is a dangerous road condition and presents itself as a thin layer of transparent ice that often makes the road look slightly wet. These are signs that drivers may be at risk from black ice:

• A buildup of ice on truck mirror arms, antennae or the top corners of the windshield.

• If vehicles in front of a truck stop kicking up spray, then black ice could be ahead.

High-tech checks

Carrying out daily paper-based walk-around checks can be a lot harder when it’s bitterly cold outside. Drivers should consider entering the information digitally using a tablet or cellphone app. This removes the risks of wet or damaged paperwork, illegible handwriting and the need for administrative support to input the information into a system.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.