The coming of winter means it’s time to prepare your truck for the cold weather ahead. For those of you in the South, “cold” is a relative term, especially when compared with the subzero temperatures and head-high snowdrifts your brethren in the North have to cope with. But no matter where you live, some early preventive maintenance will see your rig safely through to spring.
Start the season with fresh windshield wiper blades. Summer heat can dry and crack the blades’ rubber, rendering them ineffective when you need them most. If you live in a snowy climate, you might consider investing in winter wipers, which have rubber boots to keep snow and ice from packing into the arm mechanism. Change back to the original wipers in the spring, though. The heavier winter wipers can strain your truck’s wiper motor.
Be sure to have plenty of windshield washer fluid on hand. You’ll use more in the winter months to clear windshield-smearing muck. Be sure the washer fluid is rated to handle the coldest weather you expect-some of the mass-market brands freeze at minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Specialty deicers and washer concentrates claim to stay effective to from minus 30 to minus 45 degrees, depending on the brand. How long has it been since you flushed your truck’s cooling system and replaced the fluids? You should do this every two years, so if you didn’t do it last year, now is the time. The recommended 50-50 ratio of antifreeze to water should keep things flowing to about minus 30 degrees, though some manufacturers rate their products to minus 80.
Make sure the battery is in good condition. These days, batteries generally last only four years or so (we’ve seen some go south in as few as two), and you’ll get little warning before it gives up. Compounding this situation is the fact that cold weather reduces cranking power-by up to 50 percent when the temperature drops below zero. If it’s time for a new battery, look for one with as many cold-cranking amps (CCA) as you can find. Ratings of more than 600 CCA are best.
[pagebreak] Under the Hood
Your engine-bay checkup should also include an inspection of belts and hoses, since cold weather makes rubber brittle. And how is the general condition of your engine’s tune? The last thing you want is a stumbling, balky engine that could strand you as a storm front moves in. Changing the oil to a lower viscosity will provide better flow in freezing temperatures, but don’t go below your truck maker’s viscosity recommendations.
If the winters where you live get especially frigid, you might want to invest in an under-hood heater to make it easier to start your truck in the mornings. These run the gamut from battery-tray and oil-pan blankets to engine-block heaters. Inspect the chassis. Grease any lubrication fittings and check to make sure the rubber boots over driveline joints are intact. A torn boot allows moisture and road spray to seep in, which leads to damaged joints. Have a muffler shop inspect the exhaust system for leaks that could be allowing carbon monoxide into the cab.
When the truck’s on the rack, swap on a set of winter tires, or at the very least replace worn tires with a fresh set. You’ll need the new tread’s biting edges to gain traction in slush and snow. When tire shopping, look for the mountain-and-snowflake icon, which indicates that tires have passed rigorous winter-weather performance tests.
Check the air pressure in the tires often. A temperature drop of 10 degrees reduces tire pressure by 1 pound per square inch, which can add up as late fall becomes midwinter. Remember, too, that if air was added to tires in a heated garage, the pressure will drop when you drive outside.
If your local roads require snow chains, make sure the chains fit your truck’s tires properly and that you practice mounting them before really miserable conditions set in.. Chains should be attached to the truck’s drive wheels; if you use four-wheel drive in the snow you should have two sets and mount them to the front and rear wheels.
Finally, keep your fuel tank more than half full, to prevent moisture from developing in the tank and creating icing problems. (Fuel-tank and fuel-line deicers are available, too, to prevent freezing between the tank and the engine.) A half-full tank will also ensure that you have plenty of fuel on hand should you become stranded and need to run the engine occasionally so you can use the heater. Just be sure that your tailpipes are free of ice and snow before you do.
Winter Safety Kit
Keep this gear in your truck during winter in case of emergency. Wool blanket
Dry clothing, socks, boots, gloves
Snacks and water
Flashlight with fresh batteries
Hand and/or body warmers
Extra windshield-washer fluid
Jumper cables or portable jump-starter
Kitty litter or sand for traction
Well-charged cell phone or CB radio