Keys to Managing Icy Roads & Inclement Weather

Dec 13, 2023

For most truckers, harsh winter weather is just part of the job. Nearly 70% of the U.S. population lives in snowy regions, and the shipping industry can’t exactly take time off to wait out every storm — but with snowy, slushy or icy pavement accounting for more than 116,800 crash-related injuries each year, inclement weather shouldn’t be shrugged aside, either.

Without the proper training and preventative vehicle maintenance, hauling over 20 tons of cargo through adverse conditions can spell disaster. Here’s what to look for when readying for winter transport:

Pre-trip Inspection Tips for Cold-weather Transport

Reduced traction, impaired visibility and sudden strong winds can threaten even the most experienced trucker.

Before temperatures drop, drivers should diligently perform routine maintenance checks and daily pre-trip inspections to ensure trucks and winter equipment are in good working order. Never overlook the importance of the pre-trip inspection — it takes significantly less time to scrape the ice from lights and mirrors than it would to salvage an overturned truck later on.

Winter pre-trip inspections should include the following checks:

  • Lights: Lights help other drivers see you in heavy rain or snowfall. Test all lights and remove any ice or snow build-up — remember, inoperable truck lighting is the clear no. 1 culprit for poor CSA scores.
  • Mirrors: Completely de-ice and de-fog mirrors by wiping them down with a dry cloth (lingering moisture freezes over and reduces your visibility on the road). While de-icing, check each mirror for subtle cracks or hints of damage.
  • Wipers: Loosen and remove ice or snow from the windshield to ensure your wipers can move freely. Confirm wipers are making contact with the windshield glass and aren’t just pushing ice chunks around.
  • Fluids & Fuel: Top off your fluid levels, adding de-icing chemicals if needed. Coolant and antifreeze should always be full, and fuel levels should never drop below a quarter tank in the winter. Low fuel levels increase the risk of icing issues (water pooling together and freezing rather than dispersing evenly throughout the fuel) or diesel gelling, where the paraffin wax in diesel fuel crystallizes and prevents proper flow. Check for signs of diesel gelling (white exhaust smoke, engine struggling to start or idle, sluggish acceleration, no fuel pressure) and add non-alcohol-based additives or anti-gel preventatives if needed.
  • Tires: Over-inflated and under-inflated tires will impact how much tread makes contact with the road’s surface and can significantly reduce traction. Make sure tire pressure is in the optimum range as marked on the sidewall of each tire by its manufacturer, bearing in mind PSI will increase as the tires warm up during transit.
  • Brakes:  Ice on brakes causes dangerous malfunctions. Before driving any commercial vehicle be sure to remove any obvious snow or ice buildup from its undercarriage, then let the engine run for a few minutes to melt any lingering ice off of brake pads and rotors.
  • Battery: Cold temperatures cause condensation to build up inside the battery, leading to corrosion. Remove any precipitation that may have accumulated on the battery and clear corrosion from its terminals.
  • Belts & Hoses: Extreme cold can cause hoses and belts to become brittle; check for signs of wear and breakage.
  • Wires: Any place wires are spliced together or connected to other components is at risk of corrosion. Inspect these connections and apply fresh electrical tape when necessary to prevent road spray from shutting down the circuit.
  • Cabin: Do a quick assessment of your in-cabin emergency supplies. If possible, stock up on anything you may have used the day before. Organize the cabin so it’s free of any trash and loose items.
  • Trailer: Make sure all cargo is properly secured.

Practice Safe Winter Driving Techniques

Some winter driving tips are pretty intuitive: slow down to compensate for poor traction, avoid sudden movements and increase following distance (remember: it takes double your normal stopping distance to brake on wet roads and 10x on icy ones). Other safety tips require a keen eye and are often learned through years of experience in trucking. Here are a few pro tips for safer winter driving:

Check the tire spray. Look at the tires of the vehicles around you — excessive spray means the roads are wet; little or no spray means the roadway has started to freeze and additional caution is needed.

If you need to use your wipers, your headlights should be on. Nasty weather lessens visibility — make sure other drivers on the road can see you clearly.

Avoid the ruts of other vehicles. Compacted snow tends to turn icy and severely limits traction.

Drive with your head on a swivel. Remain alert of your surroundings. Some drivers find it useful to pick a pattern: rearview mirror, windshield, dash, windshield, left-side mirror, windshield, right-side mirror, windshield and so on. Always look twice before crossing intersections.

Adjust or turn off modern driving features as needed. Engine brakes can cause a rig to jackknife on slippery surfaces. Adjust vehicle safety features when conditions are slippery, in accordance with the vehicle’s operation manual and (if applicable) your company’s own established safety processes. Cruise control should not be used in wintery conditions, as it can accelerate trucks through dangerous curves or patches of ice. Advanced Driver-assist systems (ADAS) can create similar problems by failing to account for current road conditions.

Remember, when driving in icy weather it’s never too late to pull over. Truckers are plenty familiar with the intense pressure to meet deadlines at nearly any cost, but if conditions prove too severe or a driver feels it unsafe to carry on, it’s best to get off the road — no load is worth endangering lives.

The 3PL You’ve Been Looking For

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for carrier partners looking to make the most of their miles.

“First Call always paid on time and would get me back-hauls whenever possible which was great.”

– Wayne, Carrier

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