We’ve spent some time talking about making sure your rig is ready for the harsh realities of a cold winter, but there is one piece of equipment that you’ve got to really focus on: Your cooling system.
Sure, the summer might be over, but that doesn’t mean the winter is any easier on your cooling system. The fact is, your cooling system is responsible for a lot. Several aspects of your truck’s operation rely on a fully functional cooling system. So what is a responsible truck driver or fleet technician to do?
One of the best resources for making sure your cooling system is in tip-top shape is the American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) Technology and Maintenance Council’s Recommended Practice 313C. These guidelines outline everything you need to know as winter bears down.
The most important factor is your coolant mixture. If you live anywhere in the north, where ambient temps can get to 10 to 20 below zero for weeks or months at a time, you’ve got to have freeze protection. If you are operating in the south, you may be able to get away with a leaner mixture, but always consider the possibility that you may end up heading north. The last thing you want is the wrong coolant mixture as you hit the road.
The commonly accepted standard recommendation for your coolant-to-water blend is around 40 to 60 percent. At this level, you should get freeze protection all the way down to minus 60 degrees. Most brands do not recommend going over 60 percent coolant, as this could result in the fluid thickening at extremely low temperatures.
You may be wondering what the best way is to determine your coolant-to-water ratio. While most use a hydrometer, you may instead want to go with an optical refractometer, as they are more accurate and simple to use. But determining your ratios is the easy part, how do you figure out what coolant to use in the first place?
Get It Right
Figuring out what type of coolant you should use is very important, because there could be serious implications if you don’t get it right. When we all used to use low-silicate coolants it was easy to figure out, but today we have a number of different coolants that are commonly used in heavy-duty diesel engines.
Although in some cases you can differentiate them by color, this method isn’t always reliable. Some manufacturers use multiple colors for the same type of fluid or technology.
So what happens if you do mix to different types of coolant? Up to 15 percent, it isn’t the end of the world, depending on the types, but you are mixing chemistries, which could have a serious impact on coolant performance. Above 15 percent it is recommended you flush the system and replenish the vehicle with the proper coolant.
Another consideration is metals protection. Some coolants are designed to work with aluminum radiators, while others are not. Knowing this information is key to preventing problems down the road.
Fleet technicians and maintenance staff should also be communicating with truck drivers the importance of ensuring the coolant is mixed properly. If a trucker is completing an on-road top-off, they also should be communicating this back to fleet headquarters so technicians can be alerted to a potential mix.
Improper blends can happen if there is a leak in the system and the operator is continually adding coolant. If it is the wrong type, problems can arise.
With the high heat load stressing out modern heavy diesels – even I colder weather – maintaining your cooling system is even more pressing. This means you should be giving it a thorough examination a couple times a year. Small things, like a fan shroud coming lose, could have serious impacts if they aren’t discovered in time. So as winter approaches, keep your cooling system in mind.