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How to get your fleet ready for winter driving - what to watch out for

Drivers' Pre-Travelling Preparation

- Having top visibility is critical and also required by law (see Highway Code). If you find it necessary, use de-icers and scrapers to free your car (all window panels, plus mirrors and plates) of any debris or ice. 

- Prefer routes that favour major roads as these roads will be the ones cleared first in case of heavy snowfall.

- Make sure your mobile phone is always fully charged.

- Warm a key in a frozen lock by using a cigarette lighter. Many drivers breathe on the lock. However, many times the moisture condenses and freezes so it delivers the exact opposite outcome than the one desired.

- To prevent rubber door seals from freezing use either Vaseline or polish on them.

- Check the tyres. They need to be properly inflated.

What to Watch Out For

1. Your Engine & Fuel

If a vehicle is parked in cold weather, regardless of the length of time, it is best to use a battery warmer (if it won't start) or a block heater. This will help reduce harmful fluctuations in engine temperatures. Also, check the water separator daily and don't hesitate to change the fuel filter if and when necessary. Finally, to prevent the water in the solution of diesel fuels from freezing in the fuel line, keep your petrol tank, at least, halfway full.

Choosing the correct diesel fuel is key to ensure your diesel engine will start and run properly in cold weather. The Paraffin contained in diesel fuel causes fuel to gel when the temperature drops, which can even lead to engine failure. This is why diesel engines are more difficult to start in cold weather than their petrol equivalents (they need higher cylinder temperatures). So, it is paramount the diesel-run vehicle fills up with either winter blend or fuel with the highest cetane number possible. However, do check with your engine manufacturer for fuel treatment recommendations.

2. Battery

The most common winter breakdowns are related to a dead or weak battery. Typically, the life cycle of a battery is between 3-5 years.  If you notice that the headlights dim significantly when the engine speed drops to idle or you hear a motor sound that cranks the engine slowly when you want to ignite, then you should replace the battery. During battery maintenance, make sure the mechanic cleans and secures the mounting brackets and connections too.

3. Tyres

Change into winter tyres, which offer a better grip in snowy, cold, and icy conditions. All-weather tyres are okay, as long as the vehicles do not need to drive on roads with lots of ice and snow (the traction will not be sufficient).

A cause of tyre failure is under-inflated tyres. A tyre can lose up to half of its pressure and still appear well-inflated. This causes the tyres to wear faster and prevent the driver from having a proper handling of the vehicle, which puts the driver and everybody else on the same road at serious risk.

To avoid tread separation, though, you also need to make sure the tyres are not over-inflated either. Check the owner's manual for the correct amount of air for the tyres of each vehicle in the fleet or contact a local tyre vendor if you are still not sure.

4. Brake Pads

Brakes that make a squeaking sound when stopping should be replaced with a new pair. Also, ensure your mechanic is performing proper air dryer maintenance too. The air dryer is what keeps contaminants and air system moisture from entering the brake system. In any other case, the water will freeze in the air lines, which can lead to loss of the braking function.

5. Windscreen Wipers

Replace worn out windscreen wiper blades, at least, once a year. It is a good idea to get into a routine of having them replaced at the beginning of winter because this is the time of the year you will use them the most. If you want the fleet to be protected against tough ice buildup, you can consider using heavy-duty windscreen wiper blades.

Other Vehicle Checks

  • Oil – Select a type of oil that is thinner so that it can provide proper lubrication to the engine (the colder it is outside, the thicker the oil becomes, which makes its circulation challenging, making it almost impossible to start the engine) and prevent unnecessary wear on the engine. The proper viscosity levels of oil per climate are mentioned in the owner's manual.
  • Lights – All lights should be working properly to provide the driver with a clear vision of the road ahead in the darker winter months.
  • Fluids – Have your mechanic inspect the cooling system, check and top off the windscreen washer, and brake/battery/steering fluids. 
  • Belts  – Inspect and replace worn out belts, even those with a hint of a crack.
  • Hoses – Squeeze the cooling system hoses and replace the ones that have leaks, loose clamps or cracks, or those that are excessively spongy or brittle to the touch.
  • Spark plugs

After you have winterised your fleet, also make sure your vehicles carry an emergency kit with all the necessary tools, equipment, and supplies the drivers will need in the event that they become stranded due to harsh weather conditions. Using fleet management software like RAM Tracking to help produce regular email alerts when checks need to take place or important maintenance milestones like MOTs is also advisable if your fleet is in excess of 20+ vehicles.

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