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How Winter Can Affect Your Fleet

Winter is coming, and with it, a whole new set of concerns for businesses that rely on fleet vehicles. The most obvious and unavoidable factor in winter fleet operations is road conditions. Most Canadians are familiar with how snow, ice, and cold weather can impact driving conditions, but the winter months can also affect the health and longevity of your fleet assets. Get your fleet ready for winter and avoid downtime by checking and maintaining these common problem areas.

1. TIRES

Tires are the most obvious, and arguably the most important, factor that can have an impact on your vehicle’s performance in winter. There are many different types of tires available that range all the way from slick racing tires to heavy equipment tires that stand several feet tall and weigh hundreds of pounds each.

Most fleets don’t need to concern themselves with specialty tires though, and can focus on highway tires that come in a few basic variations – summer, all‑season, and winter.

Summer tires often fall into a ‘performance’ category and are designed for warm weather and higher speeds. They offer little to no traction on ice or snow because of shallow treads and hard rubber compounds that stiffen up in the cold.

All-season tires are a well-rounded type of tire that are often seen on passenger vehicles in Canada. They don’t provide optimal traction in summer or winter, but they offer a reasonable middle ground. Depending on your fleet’s needs, all-season tires may be an acceptable option. Some all-season tires may come with a mud and snow (M+S) rating, meaning they are capable of performing in deep or soft snow, but they don’t offer the same level of winter performance (especially on ice or hard-packed snow) that a true winter tire does.

As the name suggests, winter tires are the best option for use in cold, snow, and ice. Winter tires are purpose-built for the harsh conditions, and are engineered with tread depths and patterns that help vehicles accelerate, brake, and handle much better once the snow flies and temperatures drop past 7°C. Built using a softer rubber that maintains flexibility and elasticity in extremely cold weather, winter tires provide traction and grip that other tire varieties simply don’t.

As winter approaches, you should check the tires of your fleet for the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake Symbol, meaning they are recognized by Transport Canada as meeting specific requirements for winter driving. It is also important to check tire pressures regularly in winter, when air pressures can fluctuate dramatically.

During the winter months, some provinces may require winter tires (or at least tires marked with M+S) for specific stretches of highway. You should always check the provincial regulations before dispatching any vehicles in your fleet.

Tire Chains

Similar to some provinces having specific regulations regarding winter tires, commercial vehicles are sometimes also required to carry tire chains. The regulations vary by province, so you should be aware of the rules for your fleet’s area of operation.

Anyone who operates a fleet knows that there is a lot manage, and checking tires likely isn’t at the top of that list. With GPS tracking systems, you can set periodic reminders to check things like tire pressure and wear so that your fleet is always equipped and ready for whatever Canada throws at you. Get a quote today to see how AutoConnect can help you manage your fleet.

2. BATTERIES

Having a dead battery is a frustratingly common occurrence. Most people can think of a time when they weren’t able to change the channel, drill in a screw, or make a phone call because of a dead battery. Vehicles are no different. Trying to turn over a truck to the sound of click-click-click is a quick reminder that battery life is finite. Batteries die all the time, but it is significantly more common in colder weather.

Simply explained, batteries work by storing electrical energy in the form of chemical energy and converting it to electricity. When you attempt to start a vehicle and it won’t turn over, it often means that your starter isn’t getting enough power. This can be a combination of a few factors, with cold at the centre of it.

Extremely cold temperatures slow everything down, including the chemical reaction that happens inside your battery. When the chemicals are slow to react, the battery is weak, and unable to produce adequate electricity. This is made worse by the fact that, like a battery, the fluids inside your vehicle are slowed down by the cold, meaning it takes more energy than it would in the summer to get things going. So a weak battery and an engine requiring a lot of energy are a recipe for a vehicle that doesn’t want to start. If your battery is not fully charged, it can actually freeze altogether, and won’t even be able to be boosted until it thaws.

For fleets that depend on smooth operation of their vehicles, a dead battery can cause a lot of problems. You can avoid this by periodically testing your battery – especially as winter approaches, and making sure it is fully charged or replaced if necessary. Buying battery blankets and parking your vehicles out of the wind and cold also reduce the amount of stress the cold puts on your batteries, helping them last longer and operate more reliably.

3. OIL AND FLUIDS

Engine oil gets a lot of attention when it comes to vehicle maintenance, and for good reason. Oil acts as a lubricant for the delicate moving parts inside the engine, but it also helps reduce heat build up from friction, keeps the engine clean, and protects parts from corrosion.

Oil should be changed regularly regardless of climate, weather, or season. However, when temperatures start to drop, it’s especially important to pay attention to. Temperature influences the viscosity of any liquid – hot or warm liquids flow freely and easily, and cold makes them thicker and slower-moving.

Thick, slow-moving oil can cause a number of issues. During first start-up in the cold, thick oil will not circulate through the engine as fast, meaning that there can be inadequate lubrication for the moving parts, resulting in things like additional wear and uneven heat transfer. Thick, slow oil also takes more force to move, which is why vehicles can be more sluggish in the cold, and harder to start.

Vehicle manufacturers will always recommend a specific viscosity for their engines, and it is usually best to follow that recommendation. However, some manufacturers recognize that different climates pose different challenges to their engines, and will offer a range of viscosities for warmer and colder areas. It is not uncommon, especially for those with diesel engines, to switch to a less viscous oil with a lower ‘W’ rating for the winter.

Always consult with your owner’s manual, mechanic, or dealer before switching oil types. Regardless what you use, the important thing is consistently checking oil levels, and changing the oil and filter regularly to ensure your vehicle is adequately protected – especially during the winter when your engine is working its hardest.

Fuel Filters

Keeping with the theme of cold weather and fluids, giving consideration to a vehicle’s fuel system is also important for winter operation. While their gasoline counterparts face many similar issues related to winter conditions, diesel engines have a particular issue in sub-zero temperatures that is worth bearing in mind. Fuel gelling is a common occurrence in diesel-powered fleets. Gelling is a process that occurs as temperatures drop due to the make-up and properties of the fuel itself. Diesel fuel contains a wax, which begins to crystallize in colder weather.

That wax can build up in fuel lines and clog fuel filters, which can lead to issues with starting, and cause a lack of power and responsiveness. While there are fuel additives that can be used to reduce or eliminate gelling, many engine manufacturers don’t recommend their use, or only endorse one or two products. Since many fleets are parked outside year-round and are not given the luxury of staying warm, they run the risk of waxing off injectors or fuel filters.

There are aftermarket solutions that exist to combat the problem, but for the average fleet, the best defense against gelling issues is to stay on top of regular maintenance, including changing fuel filters. While the required frequency of fuel filter replacement varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, it is often based on odometer readings. However, as vehicles operate at different intensities and intervals, distance traveled may not be an adequate benchmark for proper maintenance. Performing maintenance based on a calendar or engine hour schedule can significantly improve the overall health and longevity of your fleet.

Antifreeze

Antifreeze is a liquid additive that helps regulate engine temperature by lowering the freezing point of the water inside a radiator. The term coolant is often used interchangeably with antifreeze, although antifreeze specifically is the chemical that when added to water, makes coolant.

Coolant plays many roles in the health of a vehicle, from lubricating seals and protecting components from corrosion to managing engine temperature in both extreme heat, and extreme cold conditions. The need for healthy coolant is exasperated during winter, as the internal temperature of the engine is constantly fluctuating.

While coolant does need to be changed to maintain peak operating condition, it is often at much longer intervals than engine oil. That doesn’t mean it can simply be left alone though. The coolant level and fluid strength (or concentration) should be checked regularly across all your fleet vehicles to ensure your engines are prepared for harsh conditions, rather than as a response to an overheating event.

A GPS tracking system can manage a fleet’s maintenance schedules, track engine hours, and offer users reminders to inspect, change, and replace various parts. Schedule a demo today to see how AutoConnect GPS can help you manage your fleet and keep operations running smoothly in any season.

4) BELTS AND HOSES

There are some components of your vehicles that are more affected by the cold than others. Belts and hoses are typically made of rubber compounds, and as such, are at the mercy of expansion and contraction in extreme temperatures. As the engine runs, the hoses and belts in the engine compartment expand, and when the engine is turned off, the rubber contracts – especially (and more quickly) in the cold.

Constant expanding and contracting of the rubber can compromise the integrity of hoses. Small cracks will eventually appear, damaging the rubber, which leads to larger cracks – and eventually leaks.

During your winterizing procedures, make sure to inspect all hoses and belts for cracks, excessive wear, and leaks, replacing all components when necessary.

At AutoConnect GPS, we are dedicated to the safety and longevity of your fleet. Our system can track and schedule the maintenance of your entire fleet so you are always prepared.

Contact one of our experts for more details on how AutoConnect can help you keep your business running smoothly.

Matthew Inglis

Matthew Inglis

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