By this time of year, warm — even hot — weather has already arrived in many parts of the country. Summer weather presents its own set of challenges. Some preparation to both truck and driver can mean the difference between running cool down the highway and sweating on the side of the road.
Engine fluids are always a necessity but can be especially critical in summer. Coolant, windshield washer fluid and engine oil should be fresh and full. A good-quality windshield washer is necessary. Some drivers mix bottled washer solvent with an ammonia-based window cleaner for extra cleaning power. The hot summer sun can cause tar and oils in the road surface to rise to the top, where passing tires churn it into small droplets that can settle on windows and mirrors. A quality solvent keeps the view ahead clear.
Under the hood, belts and hoses are stressed to their limits in summer. Your vehicle inspection should include checking them frequently. Small “check cracks” are normal for serpentine or fan belts, but if chunks are missing or cuts and tears weaken the belt, get it replaced. Hoses can crack, become loose or form bubbles in their sidewalls; they should be replaced when signs of damage appear.
Radiators and air-conditioner condensers can become clogged with dirt and road debris. Check them often and, if necessary, clean them with a stream of water or compressed air.
Tires also suffer in the heat. In addition to absorbing heat from the atmosphere, from the pavement and from direct sunlight, they also generate heat via friction with the road surface. The sidewalls flex as the tires rotate, generating even more heat. When tires are underinflated, heat buildup occurs quickly and can cause a blowout. When one of a pair of tires is underinflated, the other tire absorbs extra weight, creating more heat.
Make sure tires are properly inflated, and check them often. Conduct a thorough inspection at least once a day and a walk-around visual check each time you stop. It doesn’t need to take long. During a quick stop for a restroom break you can check the tires on one side on your way in and take a look at the other on the way back. Any missing tread, bulges or crack in sidewalls, or sounds of leaking air are warnings that failure could occur soon. Deal with these issues as soon as you can.
Summer driving can be hazardous to drivers as well as to their equipment. Bright sunshine may be nice to look at, but it can wreak havoc on the eyes and cause fatigue. Every driver needs a quality pair of sunglasses. Visors and window tinting can help when used properly. Glare can be minimized by keeping windows and mirrors clean.
Dehydration can occur quickly if drivers don’t consume enough water. Air conditioning removes moisture from the air, and since you’re breathing the air in the cab, it pulls the moisture from you, too. Replace fluids by keeping a bottle of water nearby and sipping often.
Sugary sodas and energy drinks can speed up dehydration. Try to drink more water, or at least non-carbonated beverages. Carry extra water in the truck in case of breakdown or a long wait at a shipper or receiver.
Drivers must also remain mentally alert. Be prepared for summer driving hazards that can pop up without warning. Blowing dust, dirt or sand can impair visibility and cause loss of traction if enough of it settles on the road. Summer wildfires are a problem in some areas, and can create large smoke clouds.
Extreme heat can cause pavement to expand and buckle, creating hazardous conditions for everyone. Keep an eye out for any pavement that looks unusual, and slow your speed before you reach it.
Summer rainstorms can cause oils that are “cooked out” of the pavement to float on top of a layer of rainwater, causing a sudden and treacherous loss of traction. Be prepared; slow down until you’re sure you have enough traction for the speed you’re traveling. Usually the road film is washed away quickly and normal traction resumes, but it pays to be ready.
Of course, with kids out of school and more people out on the highways for vacation and trips, traffic can be brutal. Watch out for the extra traffic — and keep your cool when others are losing theirs. Drivers of large RVs and rental trucks face the same hazards as you do, but they may not have the knowledge and experience to react properly to unsafe conditions. Give them plenty of room, and keep an eye on them until you’re clear.
Summer brings out motorcycles, bicycles, four-wheelers and other vehicles. Motorcycles can slip into blind spots more easily than cars and trucks. Watch for them, and give them plenty of room. Motorists sometimes have to share the road with bicyclists, making for a dangerous situation. Give them room, and be patient until an opportunity to safely pass appears. Others are out on four-wheelers, skateboards and any number of other devices. Children can appear in the street before you know it. Stay alert.
Watch out, too, for families or cars full of teenagers headed for the mountains or the beach. Some may have their minds on the fun times ahead instead of their driving. Keep an eye out for other motorists who may be celebrating the summer sun with alcohol or other substances. And watch for the usual distractions such as smartphones or other devices, books or anything else that can take the driver’s attention from the road.
Ahh, summer. The days are longer, the scenery greener and the skies brighter. Preparing your truck and yourself will help you and others enjoy it before the winter returns.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.