It’s no secret that extremes in temperature cause trouble for internal combustion engines.  When the mercury drops, diesel fuel gels and when the thermometer hits triple digits, gasoline vaporizes. 

Either one can cause catastrophe, and both are well documented by refineries and manufacturers.   For fleet managers, though, there are dozens of other challenges to be faced when the Arctic sends a blast of cold our way, so let’s look at how you can have your truck or van running and making you money, no matter how cold it is.  It’s important to remember that winter is extremely hard on vehicles of all types, and especially on fleet vehicles under heavy use.  No matter how big your fleet, you need to make sure you have a clear strategy, not only for winterizing but also for cold-specific vehicle maintenance and operation, to not have trouble in cold weather.

First things first, check the spark plugs.  While many passenger vehicles and light trucks offer 100,000-mile plugs, annual replacement of all the plugs in gasoline and two cycle engines can prevent hard starts in the deep freeze.  It’s already hard enough to atomize fuel, so a hot spark can make all the difference. 

Next, don’t wait for the batteries to die.  If the batteries are more than three years old, it’s smart to replace them, period.  Even if your batteries are fairly new, ensuring they have a good connection between the posts and the cables can make a huge difference.  At the same time, here in the “salt belt,” corrosion between the battery and the chassis ground can cause hard starting, too.  Make sure the starting system has a good path to ground and that connection is protected with dielectric grease.

As simple as it may seem, keeping fleet vehicles fully fueled can save a lot of trouble, too.  Water vapor in a nearly-empty fuel tank can condense and freeze in the pickup tube for the engine, making it impossible to get fuel to the engine.  While there are a number of “de-icing” products on the market – and many work incredibly well – a smart first step is to make sure that vehicles in the deep cold are completely fueled up.  (A word of caution here – many of these “de-icers” are designed for one fuel type or the other, so petrol engines require a different product than diesel engines.  Mixing the two can result in unexpected challenges!)

Much of what has been said about keeping the vehicles’ fuel system topped up also applies to all the other fluids.  Brake, antifreeze, power steering, and other systems need to stay at recommended levels, not only to provide drivers the full range of power in tricky conditions, but also to prevent freezing of these systems when the vehicle is parked in extreme weather. 

It may seem silly, but the number of times that we’ve seen windshield wipers employed far past their useful life is unbelievable.  In winter driving conditions, with freezing spray coming off the road as snow, ice, and salt all melt together, your wipers are one of the most important safety systems on your truck or van.  The same holds true for the windshield washer fluids and sprayer.  Using quality replacements and keeping the sprayer system topped off literally can save your life.  In areas of heavy snow or frequent storms, fleet operators should consider switching to heavy-duty blades, which can also cut through some ice buildups.Winter Maintenance Tips for Commercial Vehicles & Fleets

Another inexpensive system you must have working at full strength is lighting.  Headlights, running lights, and especially brake lights need to all be at full beam.  Replacement lights are a fraction of the cost of the liability if your vehicle is not seen in time to prevent an accident.  One system that is frequently forgotten is the reverse or backup light system.  While many vehicles now have a camera, it’s of little use if you can’t see where you’re going and end up stuck in a ditch!  Check all your lights.

One last critical area that vehicle owners need to pay particular is tire pressure.  It’s simple, air pressure drops in the cold.  Drivers should check tire pressure several times a month — more often in areas that experience substantial fluctuations.  Improperly inflated tires can reduce gripping action when drivers need it most.

It’s easy to forget things if you don’t have a dedicated fleet manager, but even the most basic checklist can prevent drama when the temperature drops.  There are even online tools to help, but no matter what, it’s critical to stay on top of these things.  At Expertec, we not only build the perfect vehicle for your business, we want to make sure that vehicle is ready to serve you every time you turn the key.