How to Run a Food Truck 10: Perform Preventive Food Truck Maintenance

In last week’s “How to Run a Food Truck” lesson, we covered an important topic that many of you are facing right now—preparing for the off-season and figuring out how to keep your business going during the cold winter months. Though we focused primarily on alternative business opportunities you can pursue to avoid regular street service, we also know that many of you will continue on with your normal routes—even through extreme wind chills, snow, and ice. With that in mind, we’ve written today’s lesson for you.

If you’re planning to keep on truckin’ through the winter (and even if you’re planning to go out less by focusing on catering and events, as we suggested in last week’s post), you absolutely need to make sure your truck is running at its best. Food truck maintenance is important all year long, but it matters even more when you’re working during harsh weather and the threat of a breakdown is even higher.

Because preventive care for your truck is always important, we’ve broken the specific checks you need to perform into two categories below—food truck maintenance tips for the winter and general food truck maintenance tips to follow throughout the year. We recommend scheduling an appointment with your food truck mechanic now to make sure you’re fully prepared in both categories, and then hanging on to the latter half of this lesson to refer back to when spring starts again.

Grab a cup of hot chocolate and a warm blanket, and let’s start learning how to get your truck ready for a cold, snowy winter!

Four Winter-Specific Food Truck Maintenance Tips

Up first, we’ve got four winter-specific food truck maintenance tips that every food truck owner who will be staying out on the road during cold weather should take care of immediately. You should be able to take care of most (if not all) of these measures yourself, so set aside a couple hours this weekend to give your truck a little TLC!

1. Have De-Icer on Hand for Frozen Locks

Frozen locks are one of those troublesome winter problems that no one thinks of until they’re the one standing out in the cold struggling to fit a key inside a jammed, icy lock that won’t turn. Fortunately, you can prepare ahead of time and make sure that you never have to face this unpleasant scenario by purchasing some de-icer in advance. Of course, you should make sure to keep the de-icer inside your home or at your commissary—because if it’s stored on your truck, you won’t be able to get to it if your locks are frozen!

2. Give Your Windshield a Winter Treatment

In addition to needing the locks to function so that you can get on and off your truck with ease, you also need to be able to see clearly out of the truck’s windshield. And while a simple flick of the wiper blades is probably usually enough to get a clear view of the road ahead, the slush and salt that build up on your windshield during the winter can be a little harder to get off.

Give your windshield a winter treatment before the year’s first snow, and fill your truck with some heavy-duty wiper fluid that you can use on the go. Be sure to replace your wiper blades also (especially if it’s been awhile since you changed them or if you’re still using the ones that came with your truck). Brand new wiper blades and fluid will do a better job of clearing away the dirt and grime—which keeps your truck looking clean for customers, and also makes it easier for you to see and keep your team safe when visibility is reduced.

Finally, don’t forget to inspect your windshield (a tip that you should actually be following all year long!). Small chips and cracks in windshield glass are common, and they’re much easier and cheaper to fix when you catch them early on. However, if a small chip or crack widens (which is more likely when temperatures drop and the air pressure changes), you may even have to replace the entire windshield.

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3. Find Somewhere to Store Non-Perishables

Though some cities and states require food trucks to store all their food in local commissaries, others allow trucks to keep non-perishable items and cooking supplies on the truck. However, if you’re used to storing these goods onboard, you’ll need to take a different approach during the winter so that your food and beverages don’t freeze! Items like bottled water and soda can quickly freeze to ice, and foods like cookies or canned vegetables may harden and freeze slightly. And even if they thaw back to room temperature, they likely won’t taste the same or have the same consistency.

For FoodTruckrs who typically store these items on your truck, you should consider finding another place to keep your supplies during the coldest months. Look for a commissary in your area or some sort of temperature-regulated storage facility where you can keep non-perishables and dried goods that wouldn’t do well on your truck overnight. Be sure to review your city’s local laws again before putting food in any new location.

4. Put Snow Tires on Your Truck

We hope you already have high-quality tires on your truck (to improve your gas mileage, your performance, and your safety!)—but even food trucks with the best tires can benefit from switching them out for snow tires during the winter. Snow tires have weather-specific tread patterns that improve their handling and performance when the roads are slippery. They are also usually made with a slightly softer rubber than normal tires, which helps them stay a little more flexible on the roads when the weather gets cold.

Check out to compare snow tires and to figure out which model is best for your truck. And remember—even if your city doesn’t typically get a lot of snow on the ground, this added precaution can still help you stay safe and avoid accidents when the roads are just a little slick from frozen morning precipitation.

Six Year-Round Food Truck Maintenance Tips

Once you’ve taken some cold weather precautions for your truck, you should still make sure to follow this next batch of food truck maintenance tips. These important safety measures should be performed all year long, and the start of each new season is a great time to give your truck a once-over (and a quick visit to the mechanic!) to make sure everything is in order and in tip-top shape.

1. Check Your Battery Frequently

You work hard all year long to bring tasty food and loads of happiness to your loyal customers—and your food truck’s battery works hard to get you there. And just as you might need a little extra motivation and inspiration to get yourself going on a freezing morning when the whole world seems chilly and gray, your food truck’s battery can also need a little extra push.

See, when the weather is cold, the chemical reactions that take place inside your battery can take a little longer to form—which means that it will take longer to power your engine, and that the truck might not start at all. Though you can’t do much about the weather, you can make sure that your battery is in good condition to start with by taking it to your favorite mechanic to get checked. The mechanic will use a voltmeter to see how much power your battery has left, and he or she can let you know about how much life is left in the battery and when you should start thinking about replacing it.

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We recommend replacing your battery as soon as it starts to get a little low. This is one important repair that can really cause you a lot of trouble (and a lot of missed sales opportunities) if you put it off for too long and then end up stranded on the side of the road. Check your battery frequently and monitor its power to keep your truck running at its best.

2. Watch Your Tire Pressure

Flat tires are always an inconvenience, but they’re so much worse when you suffer one on a cold or snowy day when you hardly even want to step outside long enough to walk from the vehicle to your front door. And if you get stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire when you’re on your way to a catering event or a truck stop, you risk disappointing your most loyal customers and missing out on valuable sales simply because you couldn’t reach your destination in time.

It’s essential to monitor your tire pressure all year long for that reason—but it’s especially important during the winter, because the cold weather can make the air pressure in your tires drop dramatically in a short time. Tires with low pressure wear more quickly and don’t handle as well as tires that are inflated to the proper level—and worst of all, they’re also much more likely to develop a flat. Check your tires each morning using a simple tire gauge to make sure they’re inflated to the correct level, and be sure to make a quick stop at a gas station for air if they’re measuring a little low.

3. Keep Fluids at the Right Levels

The fluids that power your truck should be checked, replaced, and filled regularly throughout the year, but the beginning of winter is one of the best times to make sure everything is in working order. Whether you know how to check the fluids yourself or you’re planning to have your mechanic check them, this should be a pretty quick and simple exam.

While you’re making sure everything else on your truck is in working order, be sure to check on your truck’s transmission fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid (if you have it)—as well as on the antifreeze and water levels in your radiator so that the coolant inside doesn’t freeze. If you’ve never checked these fluids before, we recommend taking the truck to a mechanic for at least the first check so that he or she can show you what each fluid should look like and how to determine the proper ratios of each one.

4. Change Your Oil Regularly

This next maintenance tip is a bit of a no-brainer for anyone who’s used to performing regular upkeep for their car, but it’s definitely worth a reminder—make sure to change your oil on a regular basis! The frequency with which you need to change your oil (as well as what type of oil you should use) will all depend on what type of truck you have, how old it is, and how frequently you drive it. Your food truck mechanic can help you determine how often you need to come in, and he or she should also be able to recommend the best type of oil to keep your engine lubricated and running efficiently even when temperatures drop.

It’s easy to put off an oil change by telling yourself that you’ll do it tomorrow or on the weekend—but this is one maintenance task that you really don’t want to delay. Over time, dirty oil can actually wear away at your car’s engine and can cause you much, much bigger problems down the road.

5. Monitor Your Belts and Hoses

Monitoring your belts and hoses is another tip that is important all year long, but even more important during the winter. Cold temperatures add extra strain to the belts and hoses inside your truck, making them a little tighter and more taut, and subsequently, more likely to stretch out or to snap.

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Have your mechanic take a look at all the belts and hoses in your truck before the temperatures begin to dip and to make sure everything is in good condition. If you live in an area where the cold weather sticks around for several months, you should have the belts and hoses checked again at least once mid-way through the season. Though a snapped belt is usually a pretty quick fix (and fortunately, usually one that is also pretty inexpensive), it can leave you stranded on the side of the road and put your food truck business out of commission until you can get a tow or a mechanic to come to you.

6. Create an Emergency Kit

Finally, you need to be sure that your food truck has an emergency kit somewhere on board. Again, this tip is a good precaution all year long, but it’s dramatically more important during the winter when you’re up against a constant threat of harsh temperatures and severe weather.

Make sure your emergency kit has:

  • A blanket
  • Jumper cables
  • A radio
  • A first aid kit
  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Extra oil and engine coolant
  • A fire extinguisher
  • Road flares, reflective triangles, and glow sticks or a flashlight
  • Water
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • A gas generator
  • Charging system or extra battery for your cell phone
  • Spare tire

Building an emergency kit and placing it in your truck might seem like an unnecessary preparation (especially if you don’t typically travel far from home or if you live in a city with lots of traffic and convenience stores nearby), but it can be a literal lifesaver if you get caught in an unexpected or dangerous situation. It doesn’t take much for your truck to break down on a back road or in the middle of a snowstorm, and you’ll be glad you spent a few extra minutes and a little bit of extra cash on this important precautionary measure.

Keep Your Truck Ready for Anything

Life as a food truck owner is unpredictable enough as it is, so it’s a great idea to make sure you’re always as prepared as you can be for any situation that may come your way. Getting your truck ready for winter (and maintaining your truck all throughout the year) can dramatically reduce the chances that you’ll get caught off guard by a maintenance emergency or that you’ll end up stranded on the side of the road when you’re trying to make it to an event—or when you’re simply trying to get home after a long, cold, and grueling day.

What are you doing to get ready for the winter ahead? Have you already built your emergency kit? Does your mechanic perform any additional special checks that we forgot to mention here? Tell us what your plan for the winter is in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

Coming up next: We’ll show you what to do when you don’t have enough customers! Stay tuned to learn our top strategies for reinvigorating your business.

image by Paul Sableman

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About the Author

FoodTruckr is the #1 online destination for current and aspiring food truck owners looking to succeed in the mobile food industry. Self described “food truck devotees,” the FoodTruckr team enjoys reading about successful entrepreneurs, salivating over photos of burritos on Twitter, and long walks through food truck parks. Chat with FoodTruckr on Facebook or check out the FoodTruckr School podcast for more awesome tips to level up your business.

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  • Paul Miller November 17, 2014, 7:08 am

    Another great article from FoodTruckR! Thanks so much for these valuable maintenance tips. I expecially appreciate your cold weather advice. Freezing temps can really ruin your day, not too mention your budget. Unfortunately, I learned this from my own experience. I’d like to add a couple of additional tips:

    1. If you’re storing your truck in below freezing conditions, you’ll need to winterize your hot water tank and water pump. The best method is to blow the air out of the lines by fitting a special adapter to your water fill cap. Open all your faucets and blow air through to force the water out. Also make sure to remove the lower drain plug on your hot water heater so the water remaining in the tank will not freeze and crack your tank.

    2. If you are operating and need additional deicing, buy a one gallon garden sprayer and fill it with de-icer. This will allow you to get to hard to reach areas and gives you a back-up if you run out of windshield wiper solution.

    Have a safe winter.


    • foodtruckr November 18, 2014, 12:26 pm

      Hey Paul,

      Thanks so much for your comment! We really appreciate the tips you added on… it’s always great to get “in-the-field” advice from real FoodTruckrs like you! 🙂

  • Richard February 1, 2015, 9:15 pm

    what about the water tanks freezing?