The winter temperatures and elements are hard on any vehicle. The extra moisture in the air and on the roads wreaks havoc on every system in your rig. When water gets into the air brake system, it can cause corrosion and freezing, taking your rig out of commission for hours, maybe even days. The salt and chemicals used to keep roads free of ice and snow can get into the air brakes and cause corrosion and damage.
Frozen truck brakes and winter damage are preventable, though. How can you keep air brakes working in winter? You’ll need to take steps to winterize your rig and watch for damage. Preventative maintenance is key.
A Clean Air Supply
Whether you have foundation drum or air disc brakes, you should drain the air tanks of moisture and contaminants. When the air temperature shifts 30 degrees Fahrenheit or more, moisture can accumulate. If you experience this shift in a 24-hour period, you should check the air system after driving for another week.
Winterizing Drum Brake Components
Check the chamber housings for damage and corrosion. Corrosion attracts corrosive materials, leading to failure of the housing. Check that the chamber’s dust plug is correctly installed. Lubrication is an enemy of corrosion. All components in the drum brake need to be properly lubricated, the automatic slack adjusters, clevis pin connection points, cam tubes, shafts and bushings.
Any worn rubber seals can cause air to escape and moisture to invade the system. Get your rig checked before you drive in the colder months. Remember that it gets much colder in the mountains as early as September and can stay colder until May or even June, depending on the elevation. Always consider your route and the conditions under which you be driving.
Air Disc Brakes Winterization
Visually inspect the ADBs. Look for cuts and tears in the boots. A small tear allows moisture and contaminants to enter the caliper, causing it to corrode. Replace if necessary. Make sure the pads move freely in the carrier. If not, you’ll need to remove them, clean the carrier surface with a wire brush and then replace the pads. Check the thickness of the pads and rotors. Minimum rotor thickness is 37mm; friction thickness is 2mm or greater.
If you drive in harsh or cold climates, replace the air dryer cartridge before the season. This prevents moisture from getting into the system and causing frozen truck brakes. Make sure to replace it with the right cartridge. An oil-coalescing cartridge needs to be replaced with a similar product to maintain the quality of the air.
Examine the air dryer’s purge valve. Look for signs of corrosion or an accumulation of grit. Clean it or replace it if necessary. This simple maintenance item can prevent malfunction during the harsher winter weather and save you time and headaches down the road.
What About Using Alcohol?
A traditional solution to treating frozen brakes is to add alcohol. Most experts agree that while this may solve your immediate problem, it will lead to long-term issues. It can damage the seals. Some air brake systems have an alcohol evaporator, which does keep air lines and reservoirs free of ice. However, you should only use approved products in this component. Check with your mechanic before trying to unfreeze air brakes using an alcohol product. It will be frustrating to be stuck, but if your vehicle is down for maintenance later, you haven’t saved that much time.
Driving Tips for Winter Safety
If you’re driving with air brakes in the winter, you have to keep the system dry and the pressure up. Make sure to allow even more stopping distance on wet and slippery roads than you would on dry roads. If your system doesn’t have antilock brakes, pump lightly on the brakes to maintain steering control.
Always check your truck before heading out on the road. Make sure the minimum operating pressure is no less than 100 psi for a truck with an air-brake system. It should not take longer than 2 minutes for air pressure to rise from 85 psi to 100 psi.
If you’re inexperienced in driving under winter conditions, check with your company to see if they have some training or another driver who can work with you to let you gain confidence in handling the rig in snow, ice, sleet and/extreme cold. It’s important to know how to handle mountains, country roads and city byways under wet and cold conditions. While it can be humbling to ask for help, if it saves your life, your truck and the lives of others on the road, that should be your concern.
Check all the components of the air brake system regularly throughout the winter to ensure proper performance. Poor maintenance can result in senseless deaths and injuries. It’s important to stay on top of brake maintenance all year long, but even more important in winter months. Take good care of your truck, and it will take care of you.