Here we are, in November and the snow is on the ground. Apparently for keeps.
Now, the scary part for most of us that are used to driving in snow isn’t “Us” – it’s the other guy – you know the one – texting, drinking coffee, eating his breakfast, and running late for work. He’s the one that statistically causes more drama in bad weather.
But he’s got an advantage – he’s only got four wheels and 1,700 kilos of car. You’re driving a one-ton dually loaded to the gills with gear and you’ve got a two-axle trailer behind you with a year’s salary worth of tools and equipment.
How do you safely navigate in the snow and the ice that are a way of life here in the winter? After two decades of building, designing, and selling equipment for trucks and trailers, we’ve learned a thing or two about winter trailering safety, so here are our tips for you to have a smooth ride, no matter how bad it gets!
- Start at the tires. Proper inflation is always number one – if your tires call for 80#, run 80#. This includes all the tires on the trailer and the rig itself. Obviously, both drive and steer tires need to be in great condition, with lugs and siping designs capable of cleaning the tire as you drive.
- Check every system. Just like over-the-road truckers, you need to check every system on your vehicle. Defroster, heater, taillights, brake lights, the electronic brake controller (if equipped), windshield washers, and, yes, especially washer fluid. If the route requires it, you need to have chains either packed or installed, too – and remember, it’s always easier to put on chains at the shop than it is on the side of the road.
- Tanks filled? Having a tank full of fuel may seem silly, but every extra ounce of weight you can put over your drive tires can add to traction in poor weather. At the same time, in the extreme cold of a Canadian winter, you’ll want to make sure that fuel has every chance to properly atomize, so a winter additive for gasoline or diesel is also a good idea.
- Got brakes? The majority of our customers aren’t running engines large enough to be able to rely on an engine brake for slowing down like our big brothers with Jake Brakes, so making sure that all the components that make up your braking system are functioning properly is critical. You cannot rely on Antilock Braking Systems (ABS) in the snow, either, so make it a point to not follow too closely when you’re on the road. Follow the 4 second (or more) rule between you and the next vehicle when driving at highway speeds in winter conditions and know that in city driving, that is going to be compromised immediately. No matter what, though, try to leave plenty of room for the other guy and, if possible, use engine braking, in the form of downshifting OR not running in Overdrive if possible.
- Leave early or don’t leave at all. It’s easy to get caught up in the job, we know that. There’s a certain pride that we all take in doing what needs to be done, no matter the weather. Guess what? There’s also a point where you have to simply say no. Your people and your equipment are too valuable to put them in harm’s way for a paycheck. If you have to leave, don’t treat it like another day at the office, leave early, clearly understand the safest route to your destination, and understand how the weather is going to impact you throughout the day. If you still have to make it, keep your speeds down, well under the posted amount to stay in control of your rig. Getting there late is a whole lot better than not getting there at all.
- Watch out. If the weather is really socking you in and you have to stop, give yourself plenty of room and be sure of what you’re pulling off into. Remember, the plows may or may not be out in some locations until long after weather clears and if they come by and leave you marooned due to a three-foot berm they’ve pushed up, your situation just got worse. At the same time, don’t simply pull over on the side of the road, either. Other drivers may not see you until it’s too late and then, by the time they slam on the brakes, they are in your trailer.
It’s easy to view the onset of winter here in Western Canada as “just another day” but the reality is that thousands of vehicles are damaged or destroyed as a result of careless winter driving. We already fight a battle with salt on the roads, but black ice, whiteouts, and poor plow schedules can all contribute to a bad day for you and your trailer. Taking the time to set yourself and your team up for success can be the difference in everyone going home safely after the job is done or a tragedy.