Prepare for Winter Challenges
If you live in areas of the northern United States or in Canada, chances are good the phrase,“Winter is coming,” already sent a chill up your spine long before Game of Thrones made it a catchphrase.
For service truck operators, the expression is more than a cliché. Extreme cold and snowy conditions can be debilitating. It takes careful planning and preparation to overcome the challenges of a long winter.
“In the dead of winter, we can get as cold as -35° C, with wind-chill in excess of minus 50 degrees,” says Morley Marwick, corporate service manager for Redhead Equipment in Regina, Sask. “It gets pretty severe here sometimes in January and February.”
With many kilometers separating major centers and towns, it’s essential to retain heat under the hood and in the cab, Marwick says. The key solution is proper preparation. In the fall, he makes sure his company buys good quality diesel exhaust fluid, that heating systems are working and properly maintained, and that air filters are changed regularly.
Check your heaters
“We’ve got to focus on preventative maintenance, with respect to making sure block heaters are working, cooling systems are up to snuff and maintained,” Marwick says. “We make sure that all of our trucks, especially the ones that head to some remote areas in the north, have winter fronts on them to retain any heat under the hood, battery warmers, even belly pans and keeping the oil pan warm in the winter time.”
Redhead Equipment recommends that operators don’t shut truck engines off during extreme cold or in remote areas. It may burn some extra fuel, but it saves in the long run by avoiding the wear and tear from cold starts.
Wendell Cobb, general manager with Acden Fleet of Fort McMurray, Alta., has lived in the area.
“We gear our guys up accordingly. We give them proper winter gear if they’re going to be out in the cold working and we suit our equipment up to work in those types of temperatures too.— Wendell Cobb, general manager, Acden Fleet
for over a decade and has seen temperatures as low as -42° C in that time. With the potential for temperatures to sink that low again, it’s important to prepare properly.
“We gear our guys up accordingly,” Cobb says. “We give them proper winter gear if they’re going to be out in the cold working and we suit our equipment up to work in those types of temperatures too. They’re all equipped with Espar diesel cooling heaters and things like that so we can pre-heat them in the morning to ensure they start. We try to do everything possible to prevent breakdown and things not starting in the mornings.”
Cobbs says the company has developed specific cold work policies and working alone policies for operators to follow. Acden Fleet insists on micro breaks, such as taking five to 10 minutes to warm up after every 15 to 20 minutes working in the cold.
“Early in the year, we have a winter preparation service that we do, which includes going through the entire vehicle and doing all your checks and stuff on your charging and starting systems and draw tests and things like that to prepare ourselves ahead of time as much as possible,” Cobb says. “The more proactive we can be, the less reactive we need to be when it hits.”
Winter driving is a challenge shared by all vehicles on the road. This LSM service truck suffered a fender bender as a result of icy street conditions.Photo: LSM Home Comfort Solutions
Gordon Provencher, CEO of LSM Home Comfort Solutions in Grand Prairie, Alta., says that its employees need to be available to go out in the middle of the night whenever necessary to repair a furnace. Naturally, winter is their busiest time so properly navigating the season is doubly important. So when temperatures drop to around -40° C, LSM employees will run their engines constantly or use block heaters when shutting them down.
“You make sure your fuel is always full,” Provencher says. “Keep your tanks full. Sometimes you’re using fuel conditioner. Make sure everything is running, just basic maintenance, keeping them up and running good.”
Sandy Beech, owner of DRS Energy Services in Fort St. John, B.C, says that the biggest winter-related challenge he encounters continues to be idling with tier 4 emission engines.
DEF pains persist
“They inject DEF into the particulate filter and that’s what cleans the exhaust,” says Beech, who is president of the Northern Truckers Association and a director with the B.C. Trucking Association. “You have to be doing a certain speed to do that. So when they’re sitting idling on a location doing work, the particulate filters plug up and they de-rate themselves. It’s a real pain.”
Beech says the problem has cost thousands of dollars in repair costs and lost productivity. With the issue being so common, repair servicing can be backed up for weeks. That poses a significant problem for a larger operation, but is potentially crippling for a smaller one that might not have back ups. Unfortunately, engine manufacturers have not provided a solution, Beech says.
“Because we’re such a small market that they aren’t interested is how I understand it,” Beech says. “They couldn’t care less. We’re like one percent of all truck sales.”
Winter presents challenges to all drivers. Service truck operators aren’t immune, notes Chris Stinson, owner of Michigan Construction and Remodeling LLC.
“Come winter time, when you’re pulling a trailer, not only do you have to worry about your truck that you’re driving in, you’ve got to worry about the carload that you’re pulling and giving yourself enough room to stop,” says Stinson, who has a truck he uses for service calls. “I just tend to stay a little bit more cautious. Just because the speed limit is 50 doesn’t mean that I’m going 50.”
It’s also important to remember that, no matter how much a given job needs to get done, sometime conditions are just too dangerous. In such circumstances, the job simply has to wait.
“I’ve been there,” Stinson says. “I’ve had to put things on hold because of the weather. If we’re in a state of emergency, it’s not worth it.”
(The previous article “Prepare for Winter Challenges” was archived on “Nov. 15th, 2018” from “https://bit.ly/2DnL1ew”)