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Don't get iced out

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Don't get iced out“Mr Frosty” is coming to town and vehicle owners need to be prepared. Here are some important problem areas that should be taken into account when conducting maintenance during winter.

With the abnormal amount of rain that parts of South Africa have experienced during the summer, many are forecasting a cold winter. To avoid unnecessary and costly roadside breakdowns – and to ensure that your vehicles will start on cold mornings and that the water in the engine and radiator will not freeze – extra care and maintenance must be undertaken.

The cold weather makes starting an engine more difficult, because low temperatures make the engine harder to crank and, at the same time, reduce a battery’s power potential. A fully charged battery, that delivers 100 percent of its full power at 27°C, will deliver only about 65 percent of its full power at 0°C and only 40 percent at –18°C. Vehicle batteries therefore need to be inspected regularly.

The amount of antifreeze in the radiator needs to be regularly inspected, to ensure that the ratio of antifreeze/water is in accordance with the vehicle manufacturer’s specification. Failing to have the correct amount of antifreeze could result in the radiator freezing, which in turn will severely damage the engine. An incorrect antifreeze ratio will also result in long-term, expensive engine damage due to corrosion.

Inexpensive antifreeze testers are available and testing the antifreeze content in the radiator is a simple and easy task that should be done at every vehicle service.

Vehicle radiators also need regular inspection to ensure that they are not blocked with dirt. Extra care must be taken with vehicles that are doing long distances, as often the radiators on these vehicles become blocked with insects and dry grass in the winter months. Care must also be taken to ensure that the radiator fins have not been damaged by the use of high-pressure cleaning guns.

Drivers play a vital role in reducing the risk of a vehicle not starting on a cold morning and ensuring that the cooling system of the vehicle is functioning correctly.

Vehicle batteries and cooling systems do not normally just fail. There are often telltale signs that the driver, if correctly trained and motivated, will quickly see and can report, or stop the vehicle before severe damage occurs.

Drivers need to be motivated to carry out a daily pre-trip vehicle inspection, which should include an inspection of batteries and the cooling system.

Drivers should also be taught what to look for when inspecting the batteries and cooling systems.

The visual vehicle battery inspection points are:

• Battery terminals that are corroded will inhibit the flow of electricity, which will cause the battery not to work as required.

• Electrolyte levels below the top of any of the plates in any cells could indicate overcharging, lack of maintenance or a cracked cell.

• Battery hold-down clamps should not be missing or loose.

• Battery terminals should not show signs of having been hammered or twisted.

• Look for any signs that the battery casing is cracked or damaged.


The visual vehicle cooling system inspection points are:

• Look for, and immediately report, any water leaks.

• Check the water header tank. (Modern vehicle cooling systems do not lose water. It should, therefore, not be necessary to top up water.) If the water level has dropped, the driver must report this to the maintenance crew immediately.

• Inspect the radiator to make sure that it is not blocked.

By undertaking a daily inspection, and by paying a little more attention to your vehicles during the cold winter months, your risk of expensive failures will be greatly reduced.


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 49 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel (now UD Trucks), 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.


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