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Get Your Diesel Ready For Winter

60 Minutes of Work For a Truck-Maintenance-Free Winter

Text By Jason Thompson

Fall is the best time to work on your truck so you don’t have to deal with frozen fingers and cold, brittle parts when the snow starts to fly. Although it’s harvest time for many of our readers and people have so many other things to do during this busy season, we’ll show you how 60 minutes of maintenance now can buy you time until spring. If the cold is already closing in on you, make sure to keep an eye on your truck as it reacts to the changing conditions.

Our Trucks Hate Winter
Tire pressures usually drop, seals become less supple, things begin to leak, and any water in the vehicle’s fluids will react. In general, mechanical systems like linkages and hinges that worked great all summer long tend to become finicky in the cold. And as snow and ice pack into the vehicle’s frame, cooling system, air intake, and wheels, stuff the engineers who designed our vehicles could never imagine begins to happen.

Most of us are familiar with the basics: things begin to rust, heating systems fail to warm up the truck’s cab, busted windshield wiper blades ruin your windshield, and you go out to your truck to find two dead batteries that won’t start your engine. So as part of your pre-winter vehicle inspection, we recommend you do the following.

Fluid Transfusion
If you time your oil changes right, you can avoid doing it during the coldest part of the winter. While you’re at it, now is also a good time to switch all your fluids (engine, power steering, differential, transfer case, and transmission) over to synthetics because they flow better at cold temperatures. This means your bearings and other contact surfaces will get protection sooner (compared to conventional lubricants) when it’s cold out. It’s also a good idea to check or change your coolant and make sure your thermostat and heater core are flowing properly. Also, be sure to test the engine’s block heaters, as sometimes the electrical cord to the heater gets damaged during the hot summer months.

Leak Inspection
If your vehicle has a leak or rattle, make sure to take care of the problem now when it is warm. When winter comes, everything takes longer because you’ve got to wait for things to thaw out and then you need to clean the area before you can even start working. If you don’t take care of your truck’s small problems now, be prepared to have salt-flavored grit dripping in your face when you’re solving a much bigger problem. If you suspect a bad fuel injector, now is the time to replace it because winter usually means a lot of engine idling time to keep the truck warm. Idling is one of the hardest tasks we put to our diesels since injection timing is critical during the slow engine speeds.

Hydraulic Checks
Check your brake pads and do the brake job in the fall instead of during the winter. Now is also a good time to change your brake fluid so you can get all the air, dirt, and moisture out of the system. This will save you money later on since your brake cylinders and calipers will last much longer. Also, the first time it snows, go into a controlled skid and make sure your brake system is applying enough pressure to the front and rear tires. If you have a manual transmission system, keep your helper around just a little longer so you can flush this system, too. This procedure will make your clutch and internal transmission parts last longer because it will ensure the pressure plate gets fully disengaged.

Electrical Demand
A truck’s batteries will last two to six years, depending on usage, temperature, and humidity. If your battery is starting to lose its power, check the battery cables and replace them if necessary. If that’s not it, get your alternator tested to make sure it’s putting out the right amount of power. Remember to replace both batteries at the same time if that’s what’s needed. It’s important to keep the battery terminals clean and coated with an electrical corrosion inhibitor since the connections expand and contract during extreme temperature changes. A battery blanket will help keep the battery temperatures more stable. A battery tender that keeps a small electrical charge on the battery is a good thing to plug in when you plug in your coolant heater.

Drive Smarter
Change your driving patterns to adapt to the colder weather. Extremely cold and molasses-like fluids slow the internal workings of all your truck’s parts. You can minimize the effects by letting your truck warm up slowly and combining trips. Avoid turning the steering wheel until the power steering fluid warms up in order to avoid a burst or leaking hose.

Build an Igloo
Now is the time to scout out or construct a shelter for your truck. If you don’t have a heated garage, you can park your truck against a wall to protect it from the wind. A tarp over the windshield can sometimes keep you from having to scrape frost off it in the morning. Ideally, you’ll want access to a good source of 110-volt power for the block heater, too.

See the Future
In order to increase your visibility, change your windshield wipers. You can also clean your headlights with a polishing kit so the snow and slush won’t be able to stick as easy and they’ll shine brighter. Make sure your window defrosters and lights are working, and be prepared for the extra electrical power they’ll require since they’ll both be on longer than they were in the summer.

Be Nice To Your Frontend
Put fresh grease into all the fittings on your truck. If you have serviceable front bearings, now is the time to re-pack them. If you have unit bearings, now is the time to inspect them for play or squeaks. How do you know if your truck has unit bearings? All independent-front-suspension 4x4 GM trucks, all Ford Super Dutys, and all ’94-and-newer Dodges have unit bearings. Check your tie rods and U-joints for play.

Clean, Inspect, and Treat Your Truck
Wash your truck and then use a clay bar on the paint to get it as smooth and clean as possible. After that, apply a wax to the surface. This will make the snow and road chemicals come off easier during the winter season. Fluid Film is a spray-on protectant used by Caterpillar, the U.S. Navy, John Deere, and others to protect equipment from corrosion. This lanolin-based product will also keep snow from sticking to your snowplow. Get underneath your truck and make sure all your bare metal is covered up with touchup paint.

The Best Time To Buy New Tires
Now is the time to get a new set of tires. Avoid wide and overly aggressive mud tires if you plan on doing lots of snow-covered highway driving. Snow tires are generally soft, sticky, and have lots of sipes in order to make the snow stick to them—this is because snow sticks to snow better than snow sticks to rubber. Mud tires usually have wide voids, which clean debris from the tires. While great off-road, this feature creates less surface area for highway traction. A street, all-terrain, or light-duty mud tire is probably the best choice for a truck driving on icy roads. If more bite is needed, you can always add a set of chains.

By Jason Thompson
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