Dealing with Frozen Brakes

Dealing with frozen brakes is never a pleasant experience. While it’s more manageable on the truck, it can turn into a nightmare when it happens on the trailer. The best way to avoid this issue is, of course, prevention. In many regions, authorities use various chemicals to treat roads during winter to prevent snow and ice buildup, with road salt being the most common choice. Road salt effectively melts snow and ice, and as vehicles pass over it, the saltwater is spread across the road, leaving it clean and dry.

However, this saltwater spray also reaches the underside of both the truck and trailer, eventually freezing and accumulating there. While driving and using the brakes, the water tends to evaporate. But when you park and the brakes cool down, the water can refreeze, causing your brakes to stick. To prevent frozen brakes, when you arrive at your destination, whether it’s a yard, customer site, or truck stop, take a few minutes to drive around slowly, allowing the brakes to cool off slightly. Personally, I never engage the trailer brakes when parking, except when dropping the trailer. If the brakes aren’t applied, they can’t freeze.

In case you wake up to frozen brakes, there are a few steps you can take to get them moving again. One approach is to repeatedly apply and release air to the system, which can fill the brake chambers with warm air and potentially free them up. While it might not always work, it’s worth a try. Another option is to add some air line antifreeze (methyl hydrate) to the supply airline and wait a few moments to see if this helps.

If these attempts fail, it’s time for a more hands-on solution. You’ll need a hammer and appropriate warm clothing because you’ll have to get under the trailer. Ensure that the brakes are “released” and start tapping the brake drums. If you hear a dull “thud” sound, the brake is frozen. If it has a slight ring when hit, then it’s free, and you can move on to the next tire.  For more information on dealing with frozen brakes, visit The Trucking Network

Be Aware of these Brake Failure Signs

Heavy-duty trucks and trailers utilize air braking systems, which, as the name implies, rely on air rather than hydraulic fluid. This air-based system eliminates the risk of fluid depletion or significant braking issues stemming from fluid leaks. It enables the safe operation of vehicles in tandem with trailers. However, the substantial weight of these vehicles and their loads can introduce safety concerns related to air brake systems. Brake problems in heavy-duty trucks pose serious hazards, jeopardizing the safety of operators and fellow road users. Here are five indications that your heavy-duty truck’s brakes are deteriorating and require immediate attention from a certified diesel mechanic.

High-Pitched Noise
If you notice a piercing squeal emanating from your brakes, it’s likely time for brake pad replacement, typically recommended every 50,000 miles.

Grinding Sensation
The presence of grinding sensations in your brakes suggests that your brake pads have worn down significantly, potentially compromising the integrity of the rotors. Swift action is necessary at this stage to prevent more costly repairs down the line.

Vibrations During Braking
Braking vibrations are often caused by warped rotors, a common issue due to the immense loads carried by heavy-duty trucks.

Pulling to One Side
Ideally, your vehicle should maintain a straight path when the brakes are applied. If it veers to either side, this could indicate uneven brake pad wear or a problem with an air brake line, posing a safety risk that demands immediate attention.

Soft Brake Pedal
A brake pedal that depresses easily to the floor likely signifies worn-out brake pads or a potential air brake line leak.

Understanding How Air Brakes Operate
Before delving into potential issues, it’s essential to grasp the operation of heavy-duty truck brakes. These systems typically consist of three components: air brakes, parking brakes, and emergency brakes. The entire system is meticulously designed and, under normal circumstances, functions flawlessly. When the brake pedal is pressed, friction is applied to the brake pad, compressing the air inside the truck’s tank, which then exerts pressure on the brake pad. Parking brakes prevent the vehicle from rolling when parked, while emergency brakes are vital for larger trucks. Some rigs even feature automatic emergency brakes, while others require manual engagement.

Common Brake Problems in Heavy-Duty Trucks
Several common factors contribute to heavy-duty brake issues, including:

Uneven Brake Shoes:
Brake shoes, designed to wear evenly as a pair, may become unbalanced in certain situations, leading to uneven wear and potential braking problems, often indicated by squeaks, scrapes, or reduced braking sensitivity.

Improper Loading:
Properly loading a trailer is crucial, as improper loading can lead to various issues, including increased brake wear and compromised stopping capability.

Lack of Maintenance:
Regular servicing is crucial for the entire braking system to ensure its proper functioning, as a malfunctioning heavy-duty truck braking system poses significant safety risks.

Brake Fade:
Brake fade can occur when drivers overheat the brake drums by braking excessively hard or continuously. Prevent this issue by employing short, forceful, intermittent brake applications.

Brake Lock:
A jammed brake shoe can result in slow acceleration and the feeling of being held back by the vehicle. This occurs when the brake shoe fails to disengage after engagement.

Damaged Air-line:
When specific components of the truck’s airline sustain damage, the air system may no longer maintain adequate pressure, leading to inefficient braking.

Responding to Brake Failures
Heavy-duty trucks, weighing between 35,000 and 80,000 pounds, require a dependable braking system to stop effectively. A malfunctioning or worn-out braking system endangers everyone on the road, necessitating vigilance to identify potential brake issues and take appropriate action.

To address brake problems and maintain safety, consider the following strategies:

  • Downshift to Reduce Speed
  • Avoid Using the Emergency Brake
    Pump the Brakes (if hydraulic)
  • Seek an Exit Route (change lanes or use the shoulder)
  • Utilize an Emergency Stop RampFor the effective operation of heavy-duty braking systems, keep the information mentioned above in mind and promptly seek assistance from a specialized heavy-duty truck repair professional when brake issues arise. Prioritize immediate action to ensure your safety and that of your cargo while on the road.

Safety is our top priority at Liquid Trucking.  Please visit for our Youtube channel for more useful safety information.  Or contact us with any questions.