Low temperatures and winter weather can be detrimental to the stress level of any fleet manager, as well as for their trucks. Extreme cold makes it quite difficult to keep all your cabs and trailers in optimal condition and operating at top performance.
For your commercial fleet to pull through the winter weather safely, adequate preparation beforehand is crucial. You need to ensure all your trucks, regardless of the number, and drivers are ready to face the winter weather conditions that challenge commercial fleets, including icy roads, winds, drifting snow and heavy rains.
Prevailing weather conditions can change drastically during winter, and elements like snow, slush, and ice make the roads unfriendly for truck drivers in Northern climes. Lower temperatures and greater precipitation on Southern routes also have an adverse effect. But with appropriate driving tips, your drivers can navigate the highways safely and ensure your fleet operations are not interrupted.
Apart from the reduced tire traction due to icy and wetter-than-normal roads, the traffic rates in winter are actually higher than any other season. If not already used to this seasonal effect, your drivers need to be aware of these changes in traffic flow and exercise caution to limit accidents or breakdowns.
Generally, extreme winter weather increases the risk of commercial fleet disruption. Poor visibility, reduced stability, low tire traction, and increased traffic contribute to a higher likelihood of collisions. Without sufficient preparation, it’s also likely your truck drivers can get stranded on the road.
When getting your commercial fleet ready for upcoming winter weather, the focus of fleet managers should be on the trucks and the drivers. It’s the only way to avoid excessive downtime due to breakdowns or personal injuries.
Here are some tips to keep your fleet’s performance optimal:
Poor grip is one of the greatest challenges semi-truck drivers face in winter. Switching over to winter tires (with larger lugs) is an optimal solution to reduce the risk of skidding or braking loss on snowy and icy roads that have the potential of causing accidents. Even with the winterized tires, you need to maintain adequate inflation for enhanced performance. Always consult the owner’s manual to confirm the correct PSI when inflating tires. A minimum tread depth of 5/32 inches is ideal for winter, but for severe situations and mountainous regions, a supplemental set of tire chains is best and may be required in some locations.
Extremes of temperatures affect battery performance significantly. In very cold weather, the batteries lose their starting capacity much faster, and if they are weak already, the chances of failing are quite high. Dim headlights or slow cranking could be a sign that your batteries (or alternator) need replacement before you enter the winter season, which is characterized by faster battery drainage.
In winter, the roads are bound to get slippery, and installing new brake pads (when indicated) is a must-do to keep your fleet in good shape, especially if they are squeaking already. Plus, you need to keep an eye on the air dryer system and avoid water freezing on the lines, which could be fatal.
Fluids become more viscous in cold temperatures. Your engine oil could be the most affected, leading to poor lubrication. Investing in a lighter grade oil (if recommended) will enhance fuel efficiency while reducing other costs like repair expenses. Besides that, remember to top off all other fluids, including windshield, battery, and power steering fluids, at regular intervals.
Engine belts always weaken in cold weather. Checking for frayed areas or cracks will help you escape the safety hazards a defective belt can cause. If you notice any issues such as leaks or cracks in hoses, consider replacing them with a new pair promptly.
If your rig is not in continuous use during freezing winter temps, or not idling overnight, it makes sense to add a block heater, or test out the one you have.
If your fleet is operating in temperatures that would cause issues with #2 diesel it makes sense to instruct your team to begin filling up with winterized diesel or straight #1 diesel, depending on the severity and duration of the anticipated weather cycle.
In Summation, winter poses numerous additional challenges to your fleet and drivers, so it makes sense to plan in advance and communicate the plan with your team, including any necessary training, so that your stress level can be a bit less as well.