About a month before the Winter Solstice of 2021, interstate semi trucks in the U.S. clocked 17% more miles of travel than in July. That’s not uncommon; retail heats up for the holidays just as temperatures plummet, so winter is a busy season for truck drivers. It’s also a dangerous (and potentially uncomfortable) time to drive. The good news is that every driver can take steps to make winter trucking a safe and pain-free experience.
Truck drivers focus on safety all year long. You make sure you’re alert; you follow hours of service rules; you avoid drugs and alcohol. These rules apply regardless of the season. If you’re concerned about winter driving, however, you should take a few extra steps.
Here are 11 of the most important trucking winter tips, both for safety and comfort on the road.
11 Trucking Winter Tips For Drivers
1. Take inaction.
If it’s not safe to drive, don’t drive. It doesn’t matter what your dispatcher or fleet manager says; if you know there’s too much ice on the road to control your vehicle, refuse to move until conditions are clear. You can’t cause an accident if you’re safely parked, which is why this is among the most effective winter driving tips on our list, as you might guess from its pride of placement.
Fleet owners can create a culture of safety by reassuring drivers that it’s okay to stay off the roads if conditions are risky. That understanding improves safety, of course, but it can also help attract and retain drivers—an important consideration during a time of labor shortages.
2. Slow down.
If you decide it’s safe enough to travel on a snowy road, go ahead—but keep your speed lower than usual. In fact, you should probably travel well under the speed limit. (Just be sure to turn on your hazard lights if you go below 55 miles per hour.) Going faster is always more dangerous, but in winter driving conditions, it can be downright deadly. As we’ve written, fleet owners should assume their drivers will cover around 2,000 miles per week. In winter, that number could be much lower—and when the snow begins to fall, it should be.
3. Keep your distance.
You can’t control everyone else on the highway. But you can keep a safety zone between your rig and passenger vehicles. If you end up having to brake, you’ll need that extra space to slide over the packed snow or ice. Better to skid into empty space than into another vehicle. Watch the lanes to your left and right, too; try to keep a 360-degree buffer zone.
4. Treat your diesel.
Low temperatures do weird things to diesel fuel. Diesel contains paraffin, which, at low temperatures, may crystallize into a waxy compound. That wax can cause all sorts of problems, from power loss to engine failure. Truck manufacturers can install fuel warmers in tanks and lines, but that’s more common in cold, northern climates. Those of us who just face a few cold months per year can use a fuel additive instead. Anti-gel treatments are available at truck stops. Add them as you refuel when you hit freezing temperatures.
5. Top off all fluids.
It’s always a good idea to top off your fluids: coolant, power steering fluid, oil, etcetera. In winter, pay special attention to your windshield washer fluid levels. If you’ve used any since your last stop, top off the reservoir—and choose a winter-rated washer fluid. Be sure to run your defroster before using washer fluid; in extremely cold weather, even anti-frost fluids can freeze over. Carry an extra jug of washer fluid in your cab to top off levels between truck stops.
6. Keep a full gas tank.
You don’t want to end up stuck on the side of the road in freezing weather—but that’s not the only reason to keep a full gas tank in winter. The extra fuel adds weight to your rig, which increases the pressure between tires and the ground. That’s helpful in tricky driving conditions.
7. Be diligent with inspections.
Winter is no time to skimp on maintenance checks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires drivers to complete these pre-trip inspections, going so far as to state that “a vehicle may not be driven unless the driver is satisfied that its parts and accessories are in good working order.” At minimum, that includes verifying the working order of:
- Tires, wheels, and rims
- Brakes and brake connections (including both the power unit and the trailer)
- Steering systems
- All lights and reflectors
- All coupling devices
- Horn systems
- Rearview mirrors
- Windshield wipers (in winter, you may need to replace these more frequently)
If you think the weather might get tricky, take the time for extra-thorough pre-trip equipment checks.
8. Pack for warmth.
Your cab may get nice and toasty—but what if your heater fails? The safest bet is to be prepared. Carry plenty of warm clothing (layers, from thermal underwear up to a heavy coat or arctic-grade coveralls). Don’t forget the hat and gloves. Wear waterproof winter boots. And throw a few extra blankets in the cab.
9. Carry traction supplies.
You park with a hot engine. That can melt the snow beneath your vehicle. Overnight, that melted snow can easily turn to ice—trapping your rig in place. To get moving again, you need traction: Use kitty litter or a mixture of sand and road salt to get out of a slippery situation. Stock your truck with these supplies before heading out for a haul.
10. Use a block heater.
Cold diesel engines don’t like to start. Even when you can get the engine running, a cold start places extra wear on components. Make sure your rig is outfitted with an electric block heater, which can keep the engine warm while you park. Most truck stops and parking areas have electrical outlets for block heaters; just don’t forget to plug it in.
11. Keep extra cash on hand.
Even expert winter drivers can run into trouble. You may need to call roadside assistance or stop into the dealer for emergency repairs. It’s essential to have reliable cash flow to your trucking business for these sorts of winter contingencies.
But cash flow in the trucking industry can be a challenge, as brokers and shippers may take weeks (or even months) to pay carrier invoices. So how can trucking companies speed up the payment cycle to stay prepared for winter emergencies? Simple: Factor your invoices with Bobtail.
Factoring is a financial tool in which a third party pays trucking company invoices immediately, collecting from your customers when the bill comes due. Bobtail offers a simple, reliable way to factor invoices, providing same-day funds without the complications of more traditional factoring companies. Bobtail doesn’t require contracts or impose volume requirements; it’s always your choice which invoices to factor.
We also got rid of the hidden fees that plagued the factoring industry. That means no set-up fees, no bank transfer fees, and no surprise costs of any kind. For the convenience of near-instant funding, you pay a single low factoring fee (2.99% or less, depending on the size of your company). And we make factoring easy: Just open the Bobtail app, upload your receipts, and get funded. Take advantage of factoring; that’s not just a winter trucking tip, but year-round advice for success.