When your business depends upon on-time delivery, you can’t afford to let winter breakdowns get in the way.
If you’re in a part of the country that’s experiencing unusually warm weather for the time of year, don’t be fooled and don’t get complacent. Eighty-degree weather in November can turn to cold winter temperature in a flash. That’s why it’s essential that you winterize your fleet earlier rather than later, especially if your vehicles operate in cold weather climates.
Obviously, the biggest threats to fleets come as a result of breakdowns, so making sure your vehicles are ready amounts to taking a series of steps. Here are nine very important steps to take to make sure your drivers are not left out in the cold. Now is the perfect time to review and take action:
- 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 treatments, 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 – Before the cold weather starts, have your local service provider perform a comprehensive winterization inspection of the cooling system. 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 gasoline vehicles because of their 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, you should check it just before the winter months begin. 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 preventative 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 above steps, breakdowns can still happen. And being in warmer, more temperate climates is no guarantee of better weather. Consider last winter’s ice storms that paralyzed the Southeast U.S. If a breakdown does occur, you want to resolve the problem and get back on the road as quickly as possible. And that leads to step #9.
- Select a breakdown service provider – Regardless of the reason for the breakdown, you want to contract with a service provider who has coast-to-coast coverage, experienced technicians, and 24/7/365 service availability.