Posted on 01/18/2016 at 01:08 PM by Dena Boelter
If you are a truck driver who spends any time on the roads North of I-20, you probably know it is winter. As all professional drivers know, winter brings unique challenges. One of the more common issues encountered is frozen brakes on one or more wheel positions.
Depending on how many positions are frozen and how firmly they are frozen, this can be a small headache or a raging migraine. That said, armed with a little good information, that headache can be tamed. There are many things a driver can do, some to prevent brake freezing and others to free frozen brakes.
How do they freeze? Most often this happens when running on wet and sloshy roads and then parking for the night, when the temperature drops and the brake shoes can freeze to the drums. As far as preventive measures, a couple to consider:
Plan your stop for the night and prior to stopping, maintain light brake pressure, not enough to slow the truck, but enough to heat up the brakes and dry them as much as possible.
The other thing to do once parked is set the tractor parking brakes and leave the trailer brakes released. (Red valve out, yellow valve in). That will prevent them from freezing to the drums while you are on break.
Try to park so that you can move forward or backward. Sometimes frozen brakes will release easier when backing and if you are back up to a curb, backing up is not possible.
If all that fails, and you have frozen brakes in the morning, there are various ways to release frozen brakes.
First, before attempting to move your truck, you should always wait until you have a full supply of air in all tanks, including the trailer. If the trailer brakes are set, release them and make sure you have over 100-120 psi in all air tanks. This will ensure that all air bags are inflated and all tires are carrying a load. It also ensures you can apply fully brake pressure.
Listed below are various means to free frozen brakes, if you should need them:
With all air tanks full, firmly apply the service brakes by pressing hard on the brake pedal. Do this 2 or 3 times, making sure you have a full charge of air each time. By doing this, you will apply up to 1800 psi to the brake drums. This is far more pressure that what is applied by the spring driven parking brakes. Anyone who has pushed or pulled a trailer around trying to slide the tandem with the parking brakes set, only then to achieve success by pulling down on the trailer brake handle instead, has seen this difference.
If the brake pressure trick does not work, and you have space to back up at least a few feet, next try to move backward. If you hear that telltale sound of brakes suddenly popping loose (kind of a “pop” and “thunk”, all rolled into one), it will be music to your ears.
The last method is virtually guaranteed to succeed, providing you can swing a small hammer. A one pound claw hammer, one or 2 pound sledge, cross peen, or regular peen, whatever you can get your hands on. This method includes safety rules. First, if hooked to a trailer, leave the brakes set on one unit, (trailer brakes set while working on the tractor and vice versa). Then reaching over the top, or while lying on the ground (I carry a heavy but flexible old rug for this), hit the exposed brake drum sharply with the hammer. You do not need to take a heavy swing. Just make firm contact. If the drum “rings” when hit, that set is not frozen. If the sound is a dead thunk, hit again until the brakes pop loose and the ring is heard. Depending on the degree to which they are stuck, it should take no more than 4 blows with the hammer.
VERY IMPORTANT: If you are bobtail, the hammer method cannot be used unless you have the means to chock one steer axle wheel, forward and behind. The last thing you want is to get rolled over, trapped, or have the truck roll away and hit someone or something else.
These are things I have learned in my 40 years in the trucking business, most before cell phones - let alone smart phones - so most of this is tried and true by myself and other drivers I have known. Your greatest asset while on the road, any time of the year, is patience. When a problem presents itself, take a breath, step back, and think about what you know, what you have learned, and what others have told you. Then work through a solution to the problem at hand.