Now that another winter is upon us, and most of our work is outside, it might be a good time to touch on some of the preparations we should make to keep our equipment running in less-than-ideal conditions. As I’m presently working in the Williston Basin, where winters are known to be brutal, proper maintenance and preparation can be a matter of life and death; I’m getting a hands-on refresher course.
Let’s start with your personal vehicle; this is what gets you to the rig, so
it’s pretty important. First, it’s got to start. Check the battery and top off
the water in it if necessary. Use distilled water. If it seems to crank slowly
on cold mornings, a load test at the local parts store might be a good idea. In
cold weather, batteries lose a lot of their cranking power, so if you need to
replace yours, go with the most cranking amps that will fit.
Fuel: Keep your tank pretty much full. There are a couple reasons for this.
First, it helps prevent moisture condensation. Ice in the fuel system will ruin
your day quicker’n an ex-wife with a warrant. Second, keeping your tank full is
good insurance if you get caught in the field, in a blizzard, and have to wait
for the roads to be cleared. For diesel engines, an anti-gelling additive is a
must when it gets really cold.
Tires: All-season tires are OK in most conditions, but in severe conditions,
dedicated snow tires are a must. I use studded tires, which help a lot, but
they are not legal in all areas. Chains are good idea, too, but I would only
use them to get home from the rig; if I have to chain up to get out there, I
don’t go. Don’t forget a tire gauge, either. When it gets cold, tire pressure
goes down. This is fine at low speeds in the field; it increases traction. But,
if you get on the freeway with low tire pressure and drive 70 mph for a couple
hours, those tires are likely to heat up and blow out. That certainly will
cause a failure to proceed.
Antifreeze: It’s pretty common to top off a cooling system in hot weather. This
eventually will dilute your antifreeze until you don’t have adequate protection
in winter. Get it checked.
Lights: Because nights are longer in winter, you are going to find yourself
driving in the dark a lot more. Newer cars and trucks usually have a plastic
cover over the headlights that collect road film about as fast as dogs collect
fleas. Keep them clean. Another handy item is a good flashlight, with fresh
Oil: Manufacturers usually recommend a lighter grade of oil in severe winter
conditions. It makes starting easier and warm-up quicker. The commercial
oil-changing companies sometimes are aware of this and sometimes not. It is
good to ask. If you are doing it yourself, look at the owner’s manual to get
the right grade.
These are some of the common maintenance items to get your truck ready for
severe winter weather, but there are a lot more. I always carry a large amount
of basic survival gear, such as the following: a week’s worth of food and
water; a way to heat water; coffee; cold medicine, plus any prescriptions you
might need; spare fuel, batteries, jumper cables, tow rope, road flares, and a
spare tire and jack; a fire extinguisher, cell phone battery charger; spare
clothes, underwear and socks; Arctic coveralls and Arctic boots; a 100-percent
wool blanket; space blanket, an emergency spill kit, candles, a lighter and
GPS. Dodge says my truck can seat six. Baloney! It seats me, and enough gear to
The list could go on and on, but the one thing to remember: Be aware of your
situation, consider the possible hazards and prepare for them. I’ve worked in
some places that were, for one reason or another, less than safe. Extreme cold
weather is just one more of them. You may find yourself in a situation where
you have to rely on yourself and your resources for quite a while. Like the Boy
Scouts say, be prepared. ND