Those 70-degree December days that had East Coast businesses looking forward to a balmy winter got slammed a couple of weeks ago. Now what?
El Nino typically results in warmer-than-average temperatures over western and central Canada and over the western and northern U.S. That was definitely the case in November and December, but then came the curve ball of feet of snow in locations from D.C. to Boston. And that resulted in major traffic jams and thousands of accidents. Driving in this kind of weather is always treacherous so drivers, especially commercial drivers, are constantly on the lookout for any problems.
The reality, whether you like it or not, is that you can’t do anything about the weather’ however, you certainly can do something about your fleet by making sure that every one of your vehicles is in the best condition possible. On top of the bad weather, the last thing you want to experience is a breakdown due to the vehicle not being winter-weather ready. That’s why this might be the perfect time to revisit advice we posted late last year about winterizing your fleet.
- Choose the right diesel fuel – Diesel contains paraffin which causes fuel to gel as temperatures drop. Check the cetane rating at the pump; the higher the number, the easier your truck will start in winter months. Make sure to fill up with that blend, if one is available, if you’re going to be traveling into cold weather. Also, anti-gel additives can be used during winter months. Check with your engine manufacturer to get recommendations on fuel treatment, as some can cause damage to high-pressure common rail injection systems.
- Check your water separator daily – Diesel fuels have water suspended in the solution. The water comes from condensation which forms on the inside of a cold fuel tank that has warm fuel. To minimize the risk, check your water separator daily and invest in a new fuel filter.
- Test your coolant system – You should do this before the cold weather starts. But if you haven’t done it already make sure your local service provider performs a comprehensive winterization inspection of the cooling systems. A coolant test will make sure your coolant is at the optimum freezing point. The inspection should also include the radiator, hoses, belts, and coolant filter replacement.
- Use an electric-powered block heater when the truck is parked – Diesel engines are harder to start than vehicles that run on gasoline because of the diesel engine’s need for higher cylinder temperatures. That’s why, when the vehicle is parked for any length of time in cold weather, you need to use an electric-powered block heater to minimize large fluctuations in engine temperatures.
- Perform air-dryer maintenance – The air dryer is designed to remove air system moisture and contaminants before they enter the brake system to prevent water freezing in the lines and brake failure. Air dryer maintenance is imperative and should be maintained according to the interval schedule listed in the owner’s manual.
- Check battery age and lifecycle and do proper maintenance – Cold temperatures drain batteries faster; diesel engines require strong batteries that hold a good charge with enough cranking amps to start the engine. Since the typical battery lifecycle is 48 to 72 months, make sure you check it now, if you have not already done so. Make sure that maintenance includes cleaning and securing connections and mounting brackets.
- Allow for reduced PSI due to cold weather and inflate tires accordingly – Underinflated tires wear faster, adversely affecting vehicle handling. This is one of the major causes of tire failure. However, don’t go too much the other way and overinflate as that increases the risk of tread separation. You need to get this just right, so make sure you put the amount of air in the tires that is specified in the owner’s manual. Make sure the tires are cool when you check them because air pressure increases when the tires heat up…and tires heat up when you’re driving. Inspect the tires to make sure there are no gouges, cuts, bulges, or other irregularities. And make sure your tire treads are at least 14/32nds deep.
- Perform preventive maintenance – Regardless of the weather, you should always follow the maintenance schedule of inspections and service outlines in the owner’s manual. Even if you follow all of the steps listed above, breakdowns can still happen; and as we saw this past weekend, being below the Mason-Dixon Line is no guarantee of freedom from the dangers of a snowstorm.
So what can you do when you’ve done everything right and a breakdown still occurs?
Take Step #9 – Select a breakdown service provider that will be there whenever you need them; one that has coast-to-coast coverage, experienced technicians, and 24/7/365 service availability.