Cold weather battery maintenance is important for uptime

During the harsh winter months in the United States and Canada, proper truck battery maintenance is consistently a top-of-mind item for me. I think about it when I start my car in the 16 degree eastern Pennsylvania mornings. It creeps into my thoughts in the middle of the day when I’m reviewing reports.

For my second column, I wanted to share with you some best practices that our experts employ. It’s best to spot potential battery problems as part of a PM (preventive maintenance), as opposed to during a road breakdown.

Our technicians individually test batteries twice a year in the spring and in the fall. One thing that may surprise you: we don’t have region-specific processes. A truck battery in Wisconsin is maintained the same way a battery in North Carolina is.

Another interesting tidbit: the intense summer heat is the most harmful to the battery, but we don’t often know that until you get to the winter. When it is hot out, trucks require less cold cranking amps (CCA) to start, but the heat accelerates the chemical wear and tear on a battery. This is especially true when the batteries do not receive adequate cooling airflow.

We’re quite comprehensive when testing a battery; we put a true load on it, which is similar to a carbon pile tester. An important tip: be cognizant of the battery temperature when testing, to avoid failing good batteries when testing in colder climates.

What is Battery Maintenance 101 for Penske?

  • We wear safety glasses and rubber gloves, and take off jewelry
  • The batteries are pulled out, and both the terminals and cables are cleaned with an automated wire brush attached to a cordless drill
  • We have also learned the importance of keeping the top of the battery clean, and free of dirt and grime. The dirt and grime on top of a battery can actually have a parasitic draw between the terminals.
  • Our techs don’t test cracked, swollen or frozen batteries: those can be dangerous
  • They’re taught early on: don’t connect the digital meter reader to the stud post; connect it to the stud base
  • When using the battery load tester, we make sure a physical load is placed on the battery, to simulate a truck start

As you might imagine, with a truck fleet of over 246,000, batteries are one of the company’s biggest maintenance spends. As for what types of batteries are spec’ed for our trucks, absorbed glass mat (AGM) is in the great majority of our units.

These batteries have the greater capacity needed for today’s heavy-duty diesel engines and have proven to have a longer life when they’re properly maintained. We have also found through our own testing that they are more durable in colder climates, and hold up better to the increased energy demands of hotel loads.

With Penske Truck Leasing and Penske Logistics providing a wide array of transportation services in the industry, we highly value vehicle uptime and ensuring that our customers (and in turn, their customers) are able to keep commerce moving in the right direction, and on time.

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