Here it comes. The thermometer is dropping, and the season for snow, sleet and salty roads is looming. In fact, the frozen precipitation has already started to fall in some states, and even those warmer climes will face many months of stormy conditions. This is the time of year when fleet vehicles should be readied for the changing weather. Just a few preventative measures will help keep drivers safe, mitigate downtime and extend vehicle life.
START WITH ROUTINE MAINTENANCE
Standard maintenance should always be a priority, but it is even more important when a driver could end up stuck on the side of the road in freezing cold and dangerous road conditions. Make sure air and oil filters are clean and the engine cooling system is flushed and refilled according to recommended maintenance schedules and with the proper fluids for colder temperatures.
BATTERIES, BATTERIES, BATTERIES
It bears repeating because this is one of the most common failures during winter months—the dreaded “click, click” when you turn the key and then proceed to blow on your hands so your fingers will warm up enough to make that call, cancelling your next appointment. Freezing temperatures slow the chemical reactions in batteries at the same time cold engines are demanding more power and defrosters and heaters add to the strain. All of this is compounded by the fact that extreme cold increases a battery’s rate of discharge, thus accelerating the loss of ability to hold a charge. Typically, common lead-acid batteries last an average of four years, but extreme temperatures can cause their early demise. Batteries approaching the four-year mark should be swapped out before the temperatures drop. And, whenever drivers are travelling in remote locations, portable jump starters should be standard equipment.
WIPERS, WASHERS AND HEADLIGHTS
Cold, wet and dark— the trifecta of challenging driving conditions, and exponentially more dangerous if drivers are faced with dull wiper blades, dim headlights or empty washer reservoirs. Make these items part of the checklist when performing other routine maintenance such as an oil change. Be sure to use windshield washer fluid mixed with a deicing agent that is specifically designed for winter driving and don’t forget to stock vehicles with scrapers and brushes. It is also worth noting that dimming headlights or dome lights can be a sign that the battery is starting to fail.
TIRES— SNOW OR NO?
Shallow tire tread grooves will not channel water, slush or snow effectively. The more worn the tires, the less effective they will be at keeping the vehicle tracking on slippery roads. When tires reach approximately 1/8 of an inch of remaining tread depth, approximately half the original depth, it is time to replace them. There is no question about changing out worn tires but whether or not to go with winter tires can be a dilemma. They do improve a vehicle’s performance on slippery roads, but they are expensive and decrease fuel economy. However, if your drivers are going to be operating in conditions that are consistently below freezing with frequently occurring precipitation, they may be worth considering for the winter months.
Another option is the recently introduced all-weather tire product, which is designed to perform well in snow while also being year-round equipment. Not to be confused with all-season tires, the all-weather versions are hybrids of all-season and winter tires, effectively combining two tread configurations, and have been shown to have better stopping performance in wet conditions. They are slightly more expensive than all-season tires, but can still be more cost-effective than swapping winter tires twice a year.
Regardless of which tire product works best for your fleet, maintaining proper tire pressure is important for performance all year round. Manufacturers often recommend increasing inflation by three to five PSI in the winter because there is less heat buildup as the tire is in use. The tire pressure increase that typically occurs as the tire heats up is mitigated by the cold, and the tire performance can be diminished as a result.
Even well-maintained vehicles break down, accidents happen and rapidly deteriorating road conditions can leave drivers stranded. If it happens, a well-stocked emergency kit can literally be a lifesaver. Winter vehicle emergency kits should include the following:
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Jumper cables
• Traction mats
• Energy bars
• Bottled water
• First-Aid kit
• Air-activated hand warmers
• Candles and matches
A reliable roadside assistance program can also be a lifesaver no matter what the season. If you do not have one in place for your fleet already, it is something to consider.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO IT ALONE
Winter can be more challenging to fleet operations than other times of year, but ultimately, keeping vehicles well maintained and creating a culture that continuously promotes driver safety can address potential issues before they become full-blown problems. Fleet operators have a lot on their plates, so many of them turn to fleet management companies for maintenance, roadside assistance, driver safety programs and more. Merchants Fleet works with a wide range of organizations to optimize daily fleet operations and provides a range of services to manage weather-related risks including storm preparedness programs. If you would like to speak with a Merchants Fleet expert to explore what a fleet management partner can offer, call (866) 653-2737.