It may have felt like spring throughout most of October and November; however, just over the past week or two, winter has roared into parts of the country with blinding snowstorms. That’s why this is certainly the appropriate time to discuss, once again, the top tips to winterize your fleet.
We lucked out when it came to the hurricane season this year, but that doesn’t mean we’ll get a pass with a mild winter. Over the past few years, we’ve seen snow in sections of the country that are not prepared for this type of weather. That means drivers in those areas aren’t used to driving on snow and ice and that means more accidents, more closed roads and highways, and less product delivered on time.
That last point listed above, less product delivered on time, can wreak havoc on your fleet’s customer relationships, and negatively impact the bottom line. There’s also the cost of necessary weather-related repairs. You can’t control the weather, but you can control how you prepare for it by making sure that every vehicle in your fleet is in the best condition possible. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to do just that.
Top 11 tips to prepare your fleet for winter:
- Choose the right diesel fuel – Diesel contains paraffin which causes fuel to gel as temperatures drop. Check with your fuel supplier to be sure it has the right blend of winter fuel. Also, anti-gel additives can be used during the winter months. Be sure to check with your engine manufacturer to get recommendations on fuel treatment, as some can cause damage to high pressure fuel 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.
- 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 protection for your needs. The inspection should also include the radiator, hoses, belts, and coolant filter replacement.
- Use a 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 and cold engine oil. That’s why, when the vehicle is parked for any length of time in cold weather, you should use a block heater to minimize cold starting conditions.
- Perform air-dryer maintenance – The air dryer is designed to remove moisture and contaminants from entering the vehicle air system, including the brake system. Drain the moisture from air tanks routinely to help prevent water from freezing in the lines and contaminants from entering air valves. Excessive moisture can be an indication of an air dryer malfunction or bad filter. 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 frequently check the health – Cold engines are harder to turn which requires more power from the battery. Cranking a cold engine increases amperage draw and decreases voltage – not a good combination if your battery is not fully charged. So, check the battery frequently.
- Battery life – Battery life is greatly affected by temperatures, vibration, and the amount of deeper discharge cycles. The deeper the battery discharge and the greater the number of discharges, the shorter the battery life. Also, keep in mind, a discharged battery can start to freeze around 32 degrees but a fully charged battery will only start to freeze at very cold temperatures. So, keep those batteries charged.
- Allow for reduced PSI due to cold weather and inflate tires accordingly – Tire pressure can change some 2 psi for every 10 degrees of temperature change. As the temperature falls, so does the tire pressure. Underinflated tires reduce the tire load capacity, wear faster, and generate more heat. It is also one of the major causes of tire failure. However, don’t increase pressure more than needed as overinflating can increase impact breaks and road debris damage. You need to get tire pressure just right, so refer to the tire manufacturer’s data chart for the weight carried and make sure you put the right amount of air in the tires. Make sure the tires are cool when you check them because air pressure increases when the tires heat up. Inspect the tires to make sure there are no gouges, cuts, bulges, or other irregularities.
- Perform preventive maintenance – Regardless of the weather, you should always follow the OEM’s recommended maintenance schedule. Even if you follow all of the steps listed above, breakdowns can still happen during treacherous winter conditions.
- Select a breakdown service provider that will be there whenever you need them; one that has your servicing area covered, experienced technicians, and 24/7/365 service available.
- Be prepared – Each driver should be prepared for the worst when driving in the winter. Be ready for road closures, gridlock, emergency breakdowns, etc. Imagine an unexpected blizzard in whiteout conditions, you’re in the middle of nowhere with no one around, and your truck breaks down. Take precautions and be prepared.