Maintenance Bay: Winter air

Jan. 5, 2017

Manager: Richard Nagel, director of marketing and customer solutions-charging group
Company: Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC

Operation: Test fleet of 30 power units and 30 pieces of towable equipment from dollies to flatbed, dry van and tanker trailers


Fleets are quite familiar with the challenges winter weather poses to truck operations. Snow and ice make highways hazardous to navigate, and the chemicals used to remove them from the roadway can cause corrosion to take root on trucks and trailers.

Yet there are other peculiarities about winter conditions that can impact truck and trailer systems and components, says Richard Nagel, director of marketing and customer solutions-charging group for Bendix.

“It’s really not the cold itself that brings the most potential for air system trouble; it’s the moisture that’s brought in with it when the compressor draws in air,” he explains. “If enough moisture makes its way through the air dryer, it creates the potential for condensation within the air tanks. From there, it can travel downstream, affecting the braking system and other connected technologies.”

The question is figuring out how to combat such cold temperature issues that occur with air systems and how to detect them in the first place.


Nagel says Bendix taps two maintenance resources to help identify and solve such problems. The first is its fleet customers. During Bendix demonstration events, tech talks, and field visits, he’ll sit with fleet managers to get insight into the best practices they use to deal with  maintenance issues, including winter-related ones.

The second is through Bendix’s own test fleet of 60-odd trucks and towable equipment. When company engineers conduct on-road tests, they collect a broad range of data. Those tests result in various maintenance issues that must be solved by the test fleet’s shop personnel.

Nagel and the test fleet technicians review best practices glean­ed from fleet interactions and attempt to verify their veracity, making improvements when possible. What sort of winter maintenance insight has all of that provided regarding air systems?

Manually draining the air tanks, for example, proved to be a simple and fail-safe step to help keep the air system moisture-free in winter. Nagel says to drain the tanks at least every three months for a typical linehaul truck up to as frequently as once a month for vehicles with “high air demand.”

Sometimes, though, winter weather wins and part of a vehicle’s air system will freeze. Typically, Nagel says fleets and drivers use alcohol or a similar de­icing solution to quickly clear the affected area, but Bendix “emphatically advises against this” because of the potential for long-term damage.

“Of course, there are situations, such as a truck being down, that may call for drastic measures, including the use of a brake antifreeze compound,” Nagel explains. “In those instances, it’s important to try to determine the precise location of the freeze-up and limit application of any alcohol to that area, minimizing potential exposure to other parts of the air system.”

It is important to note exactly where the alcohol was applied as that location will determine what downstream components might be affected, he adds.

“Later, when possible, check for leaks around the brake valves if the O-rings were exposed to the antifreeze chemical,” Nagel says.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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