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Tractor-trailers at a truck stop on a snowy night.

Winter storms can be very disruptive, often shutting down roads, businesses and power grids. They can complicate and endanger lives.

Truckers know the fundamental supplies needed to make it through winter weather safely, like chains, insulated winter clothing, additives to prevent fuel gelling, etc. But here are some winter storm survival items that some drivers may not have thought about.

Gaining traction

It sounds weird, but a bag of kitty litter could save drivers time and big headaches on snowy days. It doesn’t take long for warm tires to turn the snow on which they parked into patches of ice. The heat of friction melts a thin layer of snow, forming a water boundary between the tire and the snow. The snow absorbs the water and freezes into smooth ice.

Throwing kitty litter under the tires is an effective, inexpensive and environmentally safe way to get that little bit of extra traction drivers need to get them going. Sand or salt also works.

Dig in

From time to time, drivers may find themselves on secondary or rural routes that road departments don’t treat for snowfall. In jurisdictions that are underfunded and, thus, underequipped, only interstates and a few other roads may be safe for travel. If drivers have to use untreated roads once they exit main highways, they may get stuck. Keeping a shovel handy could save them a lot of hassle in these cases, and keep them rolling.


(Photo: Shutterstock)

Chip away

Drivers should check their trailer tires often, especially after just hooking up. Remember, the brakes were warm when the last driver dropped that trailer. Make sure the wheels are turning. If the brakes are frozen, drivers should check for the following possible issues: a frozen valve or shoes frozen to the drums.

If it’s a frozen valve, pour some methyl hydrate through the system to melt it. If it’s a shoe frozen to the drum, go under with a hammer and gently tap the drum with the red button pushed in.

Drivers should also have a putty knife handy. Use it with their hammer to chisel ice from unwanted places, like air tanks. They can freeze up pretty fast. After driving in excessive amounts of snow, truckers should get under their trucks, when it’s safe to do so, and make sure there’s no snow or ice packed onto the air tanks. Heat from the motor or the air in your tanks will probably not melt the snow. Compressed air is cooler, and any snow that does melt will likely turn to ice from the cold metal beneath it.

Cash is king

Credit and debit cards make life simple. They’re convenient and make it easy to track expenses. However, credit/debit card machines require electricity and communication lines. In a bad winter storm, truck stops may be unable to process transactions using plastic due to power outages. Cash lets drivers pay the old-fashioned way and not go hungry.

Overstock the pantry

Piggybacking on the preceding section, winter storms can shut down many of the restaurants in their paths. Any given trip may take longer than truckers expect, and they may get stuck for several hours to more than a day if they can’t pull off before roads are closed. With all of this in mind, it’s a good idea for truckers to have plenty of extra food and water on board.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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