It’s October, which means fall is here. In much of the country there’s a chill in the air, the leaves are starting to turn, and football season is getting into gear. But for fleet managers, the beginning of fall means more than anything else that it’s time to start preparing for what’s next – winter. There’s a lot to do. Vehicles used year-round have to be prepared for the change in weather. Equipment that’s only used in winter need to be retrieved from storage and prepared for a return to action.
You can’t wait until roads are already covered in ice and snow to change over. The process has to start now.
VEHICLE UPKEEP MEANS EVERYTHING
Winter means dangerous road conditions, which means that your fleet – no matter whether you’re managing for public works, sanitation, landscaping, or any other purpose – needs to be prepared for a struggle. Ice and snow mean more wear and tear on equipment inside and out, and without the proper care, that can lead to breakdowns. A vehicle out of commission takes an even greater importance when it means a neighborhood doesn’t get plowed, or a driver is stranded in freezing conditions.
When the weather turns, that means vehicles that haven’t been used in months are making a return to service. Snow plows, salt trucks, and other equipment all come out of storage, and it all needs to function perfectly. Proper pre-storage maintenance is critical, as is the proper storage procedure, but in October, it’s too late for that if you didn’t do it right last spring. So the work has to be done now.
The most obvious things are ensuring good traction and reliable use. Check the tread depth and wear on tires that have seen some use. Cold weather deflates a tire, so check tire pressure and make sure they’re properly inflated. Make sure the four-wheel drive is functioning, if applicable. And if necessary, change to snow tires or put on chains. Do a full engine check, and replace fluids like oil and antifreeze if needed. Check the charge on all batteries, and make sure fuel tanks remain at least half-full as it helps prevent residue from freezing in fuel lines.
The exterior is also critical to maintain. Check the windshield for any minor chips or cracks, as temperature changes can turn them into major problems. Visibility is an issue in bad weather, and slushy and salty conditions wreak havoc on a windshield – so check and replace windshield wipers if necessary, and always keep washer fluid well-stocked. Also, make sure front and rear defrosters are functioning, as well as mirror defrosters if you have them. A coat of wax will help prevent damage to the vehicle’s body from snow and salt, as will regular cleanings – especially of the undercarriage, where much of the contact between the elements and equipment happens.
This can’t be a one-time thing, either. It’s critical to keep track of how your fleet is handling harsh winter conditions on a regular basis, with frequent and detailed maintenance. Fault code monitoring and engine diagnostic tools give you a constant view into what is and isn’t working, and will help prevent your drivers from ending up stranded in the ice and snow.
PUT SAFETY FIRST
Even the best planning can go awry, though. Smart maintenance and the information you get from engine diagnostics will minimize problems, but a battery can fail at any time, and even a good driver can hit a patch of dark ice and end up on an accidental off-road adventure. And that’s not to mention what the other drivers on the road can do. In winter, anything can happen, and that can leave a driver or a team stranded and in need of help. Preparation is key.
Have a plan in place in case a vehicle is wrecked or otherwise stranded. Your fleet should have towing capacity, or if that’s not feasible, build a relationship with a towing company that you know is reliable, able to handle the types of equipment you use, and able to handle the elements. Additionally, it’s important to have a way to locate your vehicles. Detailed route information is one way – knowing where your individual vehicles might be is a great start to finding them. An even better way, though, is precise and granular GPS tracking of each and every piece of equipment in your fleet. With GPS, as soon as you get a call about an incident, it’s easy to know exactly where your people are, and what’s the fastest way to get there.
It’s cold, it’s icy, it’s dangerous. Don’t leave your drivers stranded through lack of planning.
KNOW YOUR ROUTES DOWN TO THE INCH
No matter what your vehicles are doing once they get to the site, fleets of all kinds benefit from having better routes to follow. That’s true in all weather, but particularly when ice and snow enter the equation. With the elements already making every mile a little more taxing on engines and transmissions and more. Because of that, efficiency is key. The less your vehicles are on the road, the less likely it is that they’ll be damaged. Additionally, for plowing speed matters. The longer it takes, the more time citizens and community residents have to drive on dangerous roads, and the greater the chances that an accident can happen.
It’s also important to conserve resources as much as possible. Fuel and time are always at a premium, and that’s amplified when the weather gets rough. But when you’re salting roads as well, you also have to make sure that you’re not wasting an expensive – and very limited – resource. Ensure that vehicles are taking the most efficient routes, and that you don’t have roads getting salted more than once unnecessarily due to route mixups. GPS tracking tools give you the ability to make sure the routes you plan are the most efficient ones possible, and that your drivers are actually following them.
It’s especially important to assess planned routes if there have been major changes to local roads since last winter. Perhaps a new neighborhood means increased traffic in a previously-empty area, or road expansion and construction means getting from one place to another takes a totally different approach. Planning now means not only that the first snow can be dealt with, but also that if more and larger roads require more vehicles and more supplies, they can be acquired now rather than rushed into service at the last minute.
Where possible, all routes should also be inspected ahead of time, and whatever steps are available to prepare the route for plowing and salting should be made. This will likely be easier for corporate campuses and neighborhoods and other private areas where government money doesn’t need to be obtained, as it can be done more quickly. Fix potholes. Level raised manhole covers. Make note of any obstructions like speed bumps that need to be avoided. Find and mark all utilities and emergency equipment and anything else that has to be reachable. Look at where plowed snow is going to end up, and plan routes that prevent blockages in crucial places.
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
All of this applies to any fleet that operates in winter weather, no matter what the circumstance. Many are municipal fleets, but private fleets also have winter work to do. If you’re a landscaping company, for example, you may need to be able to get out to neighborhoods and businesses to help clear trees felled by ice, or to do plowing on streets that aren’t under governmental purview. No matter who’s paying the bills, things like route efficiency, safety, and maintenance are critical when the weather turns. Take steps now to prepare, and don’t get left out in the cold.