Though each season of the year will task a fleet in different ways, winter is the one that sends owners scurrying to make sure each truck is ready to ride out the storms. Even semi’s that spend the majority of their miles in warmer states can be unpleasantly surprised by weather that is not common. For instance, in Atlanta, Georgia, a January storm in 2014 turned roads into sheets of ice, causing thousands of people to be stranded at work, on the roads and even at school.
Prepare for the Unexpected
The rule of thumb, when you are responsible for the safety of your drivers, the delivery of goods and the overall expenses of the fleet is to prepare for the unexpected. This means getting those vehicles ready for the winter truck driving before they are caught in the cold. Failing to do so means leaving your entire fleet vulnerable during the most damaging weather season. Taking time to make sure each vehicle in the fleet is winterized can make all the difference to your drivers, customers and especially to your bottom line.
Fleet Winterizing Checklist
Keeping a winterizing checklist on hand is a great way to make sure you do not miss any steps when making sure your vehicles are prepared for whatever winter might bring. Here are 7 checklist Items that should be performed on every fleet vehicle.
- Winter fuel – Diesel fuel and cold are typically not mentioned in the same sentence without some frustration. This is because diesel fuel is known to gel in very cold weather due to the hydrocarbon, Paraffin, found in the fuel. Educating drivers about the need to use a winter-blend fuel and having them add anti-gel additives when they are fueling can go a long way to ensuring the semi truck winter start, even in the cold winter weather.
- Battery testing–Because batteries drain more quickly in cold weather, each vehicle in the fleet should be tested to make sure the battery is strong. This should not be a one-time test, but should be done periodically throughout the winter to ensure that the battery is still able to maintain its charge level. Any battery that is more than 3 years old should be tested more frequently or replaced.
- Don’t forget the coolant – A truck’s cooling system is not just for the summer months. This system, containing coolant, controls the boiling and freezing points as well as offering some protection from corrosion. Checking the inhibitor levels and coolant concentration is a must before cold weather sets in. Older style coolants were known to drop in level pretty quickly, but there are newer coolants available today that can stay in the truck’s system for up to 600,000 miles.
- Check the engine heater – Weather the vehicles in your fleet use external, internal or coolant engine heaters, they should be checked as part of a winterization routine as well. This type of heater makes starting a diesel engine in the winter much easier, as they preheat either the coolant or the engine block. Easier starting saves wear on the engine, lowers emissions, and can even increase fuel economy, not to mention the fact that some also provide heat to your driver more quickly.
- What about the trailer – Drivers know that winter is as hard on the trailer as it is on the tractor. One frequent trailer problem is frozen brakes that simply refuse to release. Making sure to properly lubricate moving parts during the winter is one of the ways to make sure those brakes work properly when needed. Another way is to make sure all of the air is released from the brakes before stopping for an extended period of time.
- Check the electrical system for corrosion – Both tractors and trailers have a 7-terminal receptacle for the electrical trailer cable plug. These are standard throughout North America. This plug is critical as it controls all the lights, signals and antilock devices on the trailer. As such, keeping them clean is always important. It may take a bit more time and effort in the winter, as many chemicals such as magnesium chloride and salt are coming off the road. Prolonged exposure to such chemicals can corrode the contacts and cause the loss of lights, ABS equipment and power. Even more unsettling is the fact that any moisture that makes it into a plug or socket can slowly make its way into the wiring system causing expensive problems later on.
- Protect your drivers – Every fleet owner knows that trucks only make money when paired with good drivers. Making sure your valuable drivers have all the equipment they need for winter trucking safety. Such items include emergency flares, a tool kit, bottled water and non-perishable emergency food, waterproof gloves and a working cell phone.
Taking time to properly inspect and prepare each vehicle in your fleet can help to ensure that the wheels keep turning, no matter what mother nature surprises you with.