These aren't your grandpa's winters. Grandpa used to be able to count on some predictability, but today's weather is all about freak events like Snowmageddon, ice storms, flash floods and tornadoes. Unpredictable, extreme winter weather creates opportunities for tow truck companies—but you need to be prepared. Use our 9-point checklist to make sure you are.
Expect the Unexpected
Here are a few examples of record-breaking winter weather from the last five years, just to give you a sense of why it’s a good idea to be prepared.
Binghamton NY breaks its all-time record for 24-hour snow accumulation (31.3 inches) on March 15. There were 299 preliminary reports of tornadoes across the country by early March, more than double the average.
Snowzilla hits the mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S. Seven states have accumulations of 30 inches or more.
An early March ice and snow storm hits most of the U.S., resulting in the heaviest two-day snow storm on record in Lexington, Kentucky, and record-breaking low temperatures for March 4 to 5 across the lower 48.
Casper, Wyoming experiences the warmest temperature recorded in November (72°F) and, 12 days later, the coldest November temp ever recorded (-27°F).
More than 150 daily precipitation records and almost 100 daily snowfall records were broken across the northeastern, southeastern and south central U.S. from December 6 to 10.
How to get your tow business ready for an extreme winter: a 9-point checklist
Extreme cold will turn a weak battery into a money-losing headache for your tow business. Check the batteries on all your trucks and replace any that aren’t performing at their best.
Extra tip: Install a battery protector so if a driver leaves a light on, the battery won’t fully drain.
You can’t expect to arrive safely at the scene, let alone recover a challenging wreck, if your tire treads aren’t in good shape. (Don’t forget to check your spares, too.) Look for signs that your snow chains have seen better days, including poor fit, and stretched, marked or otherwise damaged links.
Extra tip: If you don’t already have snow chains, buy some now and test them out on a nice day. Gramps may not have seen snow and ice in your area, but chances are you will.
#3 hydraulic system
Check your hydraulic lines for cracks or chafing, and leaks at connection points. Run the pneumatic system air dryers through their paces. Check your engine anti-freeze.
Extra tip: If extremely cold temperatures are expected, switch to a cold weather hydraulic fluid that’s recommended by your manufacturer.
#4 winch lines
Winch failure is disastrous, and can usually be prevented by proper maintenance. Check for fluid leaks at the hydraulic motor mount and gear case seams. Look for loose bolts in the winch frame. Ensure there isn't too much movement in the winch drum. Lubricate your winch lines for extra protection from winter moisture.
Extra tip: Only use the recommended type and grade of lubricant for your winch. If you don’t have your manual, check the manufacturer’s website.
Stock up on windshield washer fluid, batteries for equipment such as flashlights, road salt or other ice melter, snow shovels, diesel additive, and lock deicer.
Extra tip: Check stock levels and expiration dates of items in first aid kits. (Every tow truck should have a kit.)
#6 Equipment for common winter calls
Are all your jumpstart sets complete and working? How about the jumpstart batteries—are they strong? Do you have working battery testers on every truck?
Extra tip: Keep disposable hand warmers and even a thermos of hot chocolate on hand for customers who may have been waiting outside for a while.
Check that last year’s hi-vis and insulated clothing still fits your operators and hasn’t been compromised by excessive washing or on-the-job stains. Go for ANSI Class III clothing whenever possible. Make sure all operators have warm, waterproof gloves; insulated steel-toe boots; insulated socks; and a toque.
Extra tip: Freezing rain and cold rain call for insulated waterproof clothing, including bib overalls.
Safety should come first every time an operator climbs into a tow truck, but during a winter storm, conditions become that much more dangerous. Ensure your operators know how to safely tow and recover in snow, ice, wind and flood conditions, and when they shouldn’t attempt a recovery without backup.
If extreme winter weather hits, it’ll be all hands on deck. Make sure you have enough operators to cover freak storms that may last several days and the means to take care of them. Mistakes happen when operators are cold, hungry and overtired.
Extra tip: Talk to your staff ahead of time about what they need and their ideas for staffing efficiencies during high-demand storms
Check off every item on the extreme winter preparedness checklist. We know Grandpa would be proud.