5 Winter Maintenance Musts for Fleet Managers

If you’re a fleet owner, the fall/winter months offer up just as much maintenance requirements as the hot summer months do. Winter brings on potential vehicle problems that range from inconvenient annoyances to life-threatening safety concerns:

1. Winter Tires a Must

Most of you out there running a fleet this winter will already be obliged to run winter tires on all your work vehicles. The majority of insurance companies will either offer a minimum 5% yearly discount for using them, or will outright demand you have them installed in order to keep your insurance valid (and, if you get into an accident, bet the farm they’ll be checking to insure you’ve kept your word!) The difference is very obvious between winter and all seasons, as all seasons will harden up during the cold which reduces their grip.

Bridgestone Tires likens the difference to effectively walking around in sandals in the snow compared to a warm pair of winter boots. Winter tires are softer and have lots of tiny little “gripping slots” all over the tire. Their stopping distance is shorter, they corner more effectively, and accelerate with far less slippage. Winter tires are a must if you’re operating a fleet in the cold and snow.

Winter maintenance tips for fleet managers

2. Avoid Winter Battery Woes

If you’re just getting started at managing a fleet, you might never have experienced what happens to a battery when temperatures start to dip for the first time in the year. You might also be the type to think that a battery can just die occasionally for no apparent reason, give it a boost when such an incident happens, and move on thinking it will never happen again. Truth is, most places that sell vehicle batteries will test yours for free — AAA lists dead batteries among their top calls each year and estimate that 3 out of 5 vehicle owners never have their battery tested. In addition, most of the free testers used will also test the vehicle’s charging system, including alternator and voltage regulator.

It’s a quick and easy process and in most cases, the electronic testers used are virtually idiot-proof, meaning if a battery tester is hooked up properly, you can 100% rely on the results being accurate. This quick test tells you how many CCAs or Cold Cranking Amps the battery has compared to what the vehicle manufacture has determined the vehicle requires to turn over the engine for at least 30 seconds at 0-degrees Fahrenheit while maintaining a minimum voltage of 7.2 volts. If any of your vehicles fails this test, the chances of the vehicle and your employees being stranded in the cold is almost certain.

3. Braking System Must be Flawless

There’s never any good time for a vehicle’s brakes not to be up to snuff, but winter is definitely a time when you want them to be working perfectly. For the cost of a set of brake pads and possibly new rotors or drums, you can make sure your investment in winter tires really pays off by reducing accidents and potential death.

Places like Midas and Meineke offer lifetime replacement guarantees on brakes too, making them a good choice for a place to have the inspection done (some places do this for free as well). If you’re running vehicles with air brakes, it’s imperative to have not just your pads and shoes checked, but also the entire air system including pump and hoses. Depending on the mileage and age of your vehicles, it might be a good idea to have your brake fluid flushed too — to protect the system and prevent boil-over during heavy use.

Image Credit: Cardinalegmc

4. Radiator Coolant Should be to Spec

A lot of people think that the coolant running in their rad and engine is designed to make the car run cooler. It does, but it also prevents freezing in colder temperatures. Poor coolant efficiency can cause it to freeze up in the radiator and engine, and when this happens you or an employee may not see the warning signs until the engine overheats and dies. New engines aren’t cheap and at the very least, you could be looking at a blown radiator, hoses, heater core (that thing that makes the car interior warm), and a blow water pump.

Coolant testers are cheap to buy and easy to use, but the place you take your vehicles to for oil changes will likely test yours for free or for a small fee to. Also have them visually inspect your rubber radiator hoses for signs of cracking and wear. Finally, if everything else checks out, make sure the coolant overflow is filled to manufacturer’s specifications.

5. Full Lighting System Should be Working

This is an obvious must for year-round use. However, in the winter when snow is blowing and stopping distances are severely reduced, lighting is even more important than ever. You don’t need a mechanic to check the lights are working:

  • With lights turned off, check that both daytime running lights are working.
  • Have an assistant press the brakes and look to make sure they both come on (don’t forget the high mount brake light in the rear window!)
  • Turn on night lighting system lights and check that low and high beams work on both sides.
  • While lights are still on, check that all running lights work.
  • Flick turn signal on for each side and make sure each light illuminates.
  • Finally, make sure the hazard lights come on when the hazard switch is turned on (a broken down car without hazard lights on in the winter can be a death sentence for someone, including you and your employees!)

Remember: Winter driving safety starts and ends with you!

Image Credit: M Petrucho/Flickr

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