Preparing for winter

Make sure you and your truck are ready for cold, ice and snow.

October 2020

Tom Berg


Years ago I knew a trucker from the Dakotas who was alarmed by the sight of young Southerners on their first trips north in late fall or early winter. They wore shorts and T-shirts and not much else and did nothing to prepare their equipment for the shock of bitter cold air.

“They have no idea of what they’re getting themselves into,” he lamented. Driving unprepared into snow storms and sudden drops in temperature – or, God forbid, a polar vortex! – put those fools at serious risk. They weren’t “winterized.”

Winterizing is a process of equipment inspections, adjustments and repairs, and laying in supplies for emergencies. It means packing warm clothes, and food and fluids that will sustain you if you’re stranded along a cold, dead highway.

If you’re in a line of rigs blocked by snow and ice, you can seek help from other guys, but that means they have to share whatever they’ve got with you, and that’s not right. It’s better to be self-sufficient. Start by checking out your truck – something you do during all pre- and post-trip inspections anyway, right? Here’s a check list.

Electrical charging system

Is the alternator putting out its rated amperes? Are the cables clean? Are all connectors tight and working? Are batteries reasonably fresh? Run all electrical accessories to be sure they work. Make sure the heater and defroster work strongly and that all lights are bright so you can see and others can see you.

Air system

Does the compressor pump air as it should? Are air lines sound and glad hands in good condition? Is the air dryer operating correctly? Stock in a few cans of alcohol to clear out moisture from truck and trailer air lines if necessary.


Replace any cracked or broken glass, especially the windshield, to keep out cold air and so you have a good view of that winter wonderland out there.

Windshield wipers

Now’s a good time to install new blades, or at least toss a new set into the truck in case the ones in use get cut or cracked by ice. You can’t shop for new blades while you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Engine belts and hoses

Replace worn and frayed belts now. Inspect hoses for any cracks and soft spots and install new hoses and clamps if need be. Look at all engine accessories, and the engine itself, to be sure they’re operating correctly, and that their supporting brackets are steady. Are the engine itself and the exhaust aftertreatment equipment working as they should?

Cooling system

Look closely at the radiator – any leaks? Also, see that the thermostat and fan are operating correctly. Does coolant have the correct mix of water, antifreeze and any needed additives?


All rubber should be free of cracks and cuts, and tread should be deep enough to provide traction in snow and on ice. If any tread is getting thin, autumn is a great time to replace tires because the new, deep tread will come in handy, and meanwhile the tread will slowly wear down and be at an efficient depth for decent fuel economy when pavement is bare. Check air pressure in those tires, too.


No cracks, please, and be sure all lug nuts are reasonably free of rust and properly torqued.

Fuel system

Are lines clean and filters fresh? Are insides of the fuel tanks clean and dry? If not, drain them and clean ’em out. Stock up on anti-clouding/gelling additives and use them as directed. Remember to fill the tanks before parking over a freezing-cold night so water doesn’t condense on the bare insides of the tanks. Have a lot of fuel on board before venturing into questionable weather.

Go or no go

Do you or the company you pull for have a policy on operating in threatening weather? Do you consult weather reports and, if your intended route will be blanketed by storms, find another route or simply hole up in a truck stop or other safe place until things clear up? Doing that might delay a delivery by a few hours, but running into a ditch or colliding with another vehicle can damage or destroy a load or delay you much longer. How will the dispatcher and customer feel about that? Not so incidentally, you’ll be safer, too.

Survival gear

Maybe warm clothing is not part of your normal attire, but it ought to be if you’re heading north. You can’t count on the truck’s heater to keep you comfortable if you get stranded and run out of fuel, and sooner or later you’ll have to get out of that cab. In a decent-size duffel bag, pack an insulated jacket, pants and snow boots; a lined cap with ear flaps, heavy gloves or mittens; and a few changes of underwear and socks. Also stow an extra blanket or sleeping bag that will keep you warm on a cold, blustery night.


What will you eat and drink if you’re stranded on a frozen interstate for many hours or even days? A few jars of peanut butter and packages of crackers, along with bottles of fresh water, will keep you full and nourished for quite a while. Milk tastes good and by itself is an excellent food, and you can buy irradiated milk in cartons or even canned condensed milk that need no refrigeration. If you’re ex-military, you’ve probably thought of MREs – meals ready-to-eat. They’ll keep you going, affirmative?

When you’re prepared, you might even enjoy winter. That guy from the Dakotas talked about the joy of truckin’ on a cold, clear night, with the stars shining above and him all cozy and happy in his warm cab of a truck that’s hummin’ happily along because he made sure it would. You can, too. LL

J.J. Keller