Skip to main content


Vehicle Operation Winter Readiness

Much of the country is currently in the throes of winter, dealing with snowy and icy conditions. It can be a dangerous time to be on the road, but the following Tailgate provides information to help you safely combat the perils of winter vehicle operation.

Block Heaters
Many utility vehicles are equipped with block heaters. Ensure the heater is used when temperatures are expected to be below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

Facts about Block Heaters
• Many vehicle block heaters are rated at 800 watts, which cost approximately 10 cents per hour to use.
• A block heater only needs to be used no more than four hours prior to starting the vehicle. 
• Use extension cords with lighted plugs to ensure you have power to the heater.
• For those using a block heater at home, install it to a timer rated for 15 amps. (Mechanical timer – 15 amps can be found at Home Depot for about $12.)
• The block heater draws approximately 7 amps, so select a circuit that has low use. 

Washer Fluids and Scrapers
Keep your washer fluid topped off. Anticipate ice, frost and snow and take the time to completely clear windows prior to travel.

Check and Adjust Tire Air Pressure
Set tire air pressure according to the vehicle manufacturer’s cold tire pressure(s) recommended on the vehicle’s tire placard or in its owner’s manual. This should be done before rising ambient temperatures, the sun’s radiant heat or even driving short distances temporarily warms the tires.

Tire Tread Depth
According to most state laws, tires are legally worn out when they have worn down to 2/32 of an inch (2/32”) of remaining tread depth.

If rain and wet roads are a concern, you should consider replacing your tires when they reach approximately 4/32″ of remaining tread depth. Since water can’t be compressed, you need enough tread depth to allow rain to escape through a tire’s grooves. If the water can’t escape fast enough, your vehicle’s tires will be forced to hydroplane on top of the water, losing traction.

Example: A new passenger tire typically has 9/32” to 11/32” of tread where a light truck (LT) tire may go from 9/32” to 17/32” or more. The larger the vehicle, the deeper the tire tread. 

Engine Idle Time
Much focus is being placed on engine idle time in larger cities around the country. Laws are now being put in place to reduce emissions from idle engines for vehicles greater than 8,000 pounds. Some state laws require that vehicles may not be idled for more than 10 minutes in any 60-minute period while the vehicle is stationary. Specific city ordinances, like one in Chicago, require that vehicles may not be idled for more than three minutes in any 60-minute period while the vehicle is stationary.

There is relief to these laws that applies to utility work. For instance, it is permissible to idle the vehicle to operate auxiliary equipment to accomplish the intended use of the vehicle (e.g., operation of the boom), or to supply hydraulic or electric power for equipment needed to restore, repair, modify or install electrical service (e.g., generators, drills, saws and other power tools). 

Also, when the outdoor temperature is below 32 degrees or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, vehicles may be idled to operate defrosters, heaters or air conditioners solely to prevent a safety or health emergency. This exemption does not always apply to idling the vehicle solely for cabin comfort or to operate non-essential equipment. 

Operating Bucket Trucks in Ice and Snow
• Shovel snow and ice away from the path of outriggers so the outriggers and outrigger pads are on a solid surface free of snow and ice.
• If road and traffic conditions allow, situate the truck away from the edge of the road where snow and ice do not exist so the outriggers and outrigger pads can be placed on a solid surface free of snow and ice.
• Follow the proper procedure for setting up the truck:
a. Ensure all tires are inflated to proper pressure.
b. Position unit as level as possible (side slope not greater than 5 degrees).
c. Set brakes and wheel chocks. Wheel chocks will not prevent the truck from sliding if the outrigger and outrigger pads are placed on ice and snow.
d. Place down pressure on the low-side outrigger first, then the high-side outrigger. Place only enough down pressure to take the bulge out of the tires. Do not lift the tires off the ground.

By following these basic principles, you can successfully and safely operate your equipment throughout the winter months.

About the Author: John Boyle is Vice President of Safety and Quality for InTren, an electric, gas and telecommunication construction company based in Union, Ill. Boyle has more than 27 years of experience, and has worked in nuclear and wind power generation and electric and gas distribution.

Tailgate Topics