Low temperatures and snowy weather can be detrimental for fleet owners and their vehicles. The cold can make it challenging to keep machinery at peak operating performance.
The last thing companies need is for breakdowns to affect productivity and make working conditions challenging. What sort of cold-weather maintenance is necessary to keep equipment functional when it’s frigid outside?
1. Invest in Block Heaters
While most fleet vehicles can withstand severe temperatures — both hot and cold — it isn’t the best option and can have detrimental effects on operations and overall functionality. Block heaters help to keep the engine warm, making it easier to reach the proper temperature.
These heaters reduce damage from cold starts and can, over time, increase fuel economy and reduce unwanted emissions. They also make it easier to heat the interior and keep it more comfortable for the occupant. There’ll be no more shivering while they wait for the engine to reach operating temperature.
Not all engine heaters work by warming the engine block. Some models only focus on heating the oil or coolant directly. Some are reusable, while others are designed to be used for a single season and then discarded. Regardless of the type, each engine heater should be installed by a professional to prevent leaks and damage to interior components of the engine during operation.
2. Be Wary of Rust
Rust is every fleet owner’s worst enemy, but salt and deicing chemicals can make that problem even worse in winter climates. Undercarriages are already prone to rust because of exposure to moisture from snow and sleet kicked up by the tires. Adding salt to the mix amps up the oxidation process, allowing the rust to do more damage in a shorter period.
The best way to protect fleet vehicles from rust is to regularly wash the undercarriage of each one during winter months to remove any salt or deicing chemicals that might be causing damage. If rust has already formed, using a removal product can help prevent it from spreading or doing any more damage.
3. Pay Attention to Battery Temperatures
Extreme temperatures — both hot and cold — can be detrimental to battery health. In extreme heat, the electrolyte inside the cells can evaporate and cause corrosion. The battery could fail if this progresses, leaving operators stranded. In extreme cold, these batteries begin to lose much of their starting capacity. The colder it gets, the more they will struggle to start the engine.
Batteries lose about 20% of their starting capacity at 32 F. At sub-zero temperatures around -22 F, they lose 50% of their starting capacity. Engine block heaters can help, or fleet owners can opt for specialized battery warmers that will prevent them from freezing or losing starting capacity in the cold.
4. Avoid Fuel Filter Waxing
Fleet operators that work strictly with gasoline engines can skip this suggestion.
Filling up the tank of a fleet vehicle is different in the wintertime than it might be during the warm summer months, especially for fleets made up of large trucks or any vehicles that run on diesel fuel. Standard diesel fuel contains naturally occurring paraffin wax. This doesn’t normally cause problems, especially during warm weather, because the wax remains in liquid form. It can solidify when the temperature drops, creating large crystals that will clog the fuel filter.
Opt for winter weight fuel or types of diesel that contain additives that can reduce the fuel’s lowest operating temperature. There’s no way to prevent the paraffin wax from solidifying in extremely cold situations. Still, the additives can ensure they only do so in crystals small enough to pass through the filter without clogging it up.
5. Increase Inspection Frequency
Inspections are a necessary part of fleet maintenance, especially for anyone who has a preventive maintenance plan in place to keep things moving smoothly. When cold weather is added to the mix, it’s important to increase the frequency of these inspections to ensure the low temperatures aren’t causing any undue stress or problems.
Maintenance crews and drivers should take the time to inspect their vehicles at the beginning and end of each shift. This might seem excessive until fleet managers consider how much damage cold weather can inflict, including things that might otherwise remain undetected until they cause a cascade failure.
6. Check the Tires Frequently
Rust and dead batteries aren’t the only risks that come with cold winter weather, at least for fleet owners. Now is also a good time to swap out existing summer or all-season tires for versions that can better withstand the rigors of winter driving.
Winter tires have deeper treads — better for shedding snow and ice — and provide better traction than their summer or all-season counterparts. On the other hand, summer tires have a shallow tread pattern that is better for shedding the water that comes with rainfall. They are not suitable for winter driving, especially for fleet vehicles, because they won’t be able to provide the same sort of traction and could potentially compromise driver safety.
7. Opt for Climate-Controlled Storage
Now, this isn’t always an option — especially for larger commercial trucks or fleets that contain hundreds of vehicles — but climate-controlled storage for fleet vehicles that aren’t in use during the cold winter months can protect them from the harsh conditions. Opt for a facility that enables fleet owners to control the temperature and the humidity.
They don’t have to be as warm and toasty as a home or office might be, but keeping these vehicles well above freezing temperatures can protect them in the long run.
Stay Warm This Winter
The world doesn’t stop moving forward just because the temperature drops and the snow begins to fall. Winter maintenance preparation starts now. Most of these tasks are simple, such as swapping petrol or replacing summer tires with winter ones.
Others, such as switching to a winter-weight fuel with additives to prevent waxing, might not require any work at all on the fleet owner’s part. Fueling stations often switch over automatically once the temperature falls.
Regardless of the steps taken, fleet managers need to prepare for the cold winter ahead. Now is the perfect time to get these maintenance tasks done.