Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

How to Get Your Fleet Vehicles Winter-Ready

September 14, 2017, by Les Smart

Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

You might be reading this and think, “Not another list of parts to be given the ‘once over’ on my vans and trucks!”

This list can help prepare your fleet vehicles for winter. Hopefully, it will make you say, “Why didn’t I think of that one?”

Battery                                           

This falls under the “should be obvious” category, but make sure to do the following:                                  

- Check for dead or weak cells in the battery. I had a brand-new motorhome fresh from the factory that had a dead cell. Batteries that are weak or fail are not necessarily old and/or used.

- Make sure battery covers are properly secured and in good condition.

- Battery terminals need to be clean and not coated in acidic residue. Battery terminal cleaners are sold in auto parts stores. Disconnect the cable terminal, clean, and then put on a light coat of grease after reinstalling the cable to the battery post.

- Clean any acid residue from the battery box. This will help the battery box to last the life of the vehicle.   

Windshield Wipers   

Make sure that both wipers work correctly at all switch settings. If not, replace the blades. Visibility can be a real problem with winter precipitation.

Heater/Defroster       

Check to see if the heater/defroster is in good working order. Many fans today have plastic parts.

If you hear a questionable noise coming from the fan, have it checked; it may be time for a replacement. Inadequate windshield defrosting or heat could have dire consequences in a winter storm. 

Radiator                         

You not only need to have the coolant checked to ensure its efficacy to negative 20 degrees, but also check that the surge tank has sufficient coolant in it when cold. The tank should be translucent to make the fluid level easily visible, and it should be marked for both hot and cold fluid levels. Check the radiator for leaks.

Hoses                                              

Squeeze the hoses to make sure they are not too thin and liable to break. If questionable, have the hoses replaced.         

Belts                                

Do a visual check. Turn each belt to make sure it is not dry or cracked. If questionable, have them replaced. 

Alternator                     

Get your alternator checked. In the wintertime, there is a heavy load on an alternator. Running the headlights, the heater, and other electrical components can drain a weak alternator. It must be in good condition to charge the system adequately.

Fuel Filter(s)

Make sure the fuel filters are changed. This avoids the potential for the engine to be starved of fuel with the resulting loss of power. It’s not expensive to have these filters replaced.

Air Filter(s)

Don't forget to have air filters checked or replaced. Unless the filter has been recently replaced, it's best to install a new one. Most diesels have an air restriction gauge, which indicates when the filter needs to be replaced. If your vehicle is equipped with this feature, check and act accordingly.

Tires                                 

Checking the state of each tire is, surprisingly enough, a task that is often neglected or overlooked. Check the tread level; tires should be replaced when they are down to 4/32 of tread at the bare minimum.

When driving on ice and snow, better tread depth provides better grip to the road surface. Check for cracks, cuts, or other damage to the sidewall. A damaged sidewall can allow water to penetrate to the steel belts, resulting in rust and eventual tire failure.  

Lights                                               

A vehicle’s lights are essential for both visibility and safety. If the lenses of your headlights are opaque, clean them up with some toothpaste and a buffer. Check for any burnt-out bulbs and replace as needed; those clearance lights help other drivers to see you, especially from the side and rear.  

Air Brake System        

Does your system bleed down over time when parked? If so, have it checked for leaks.

Safety Devices                             

Do the seat belts all work properly? Does your backup alarm work? Are your four-way emergency flashers in good operating conditioning? Check the operation of all these safety features.

These devices should be checked daily during drivers’ walk-around inspections prior to beginning their route — for their safety as well as for the safety of other drivers.

A weekly check of tire pressure is also recommended.

About the Author

Les Smart is president of Smart Fleet Management, a small and medium fleet consulting company. He can be reached at [email protected].

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