As cold weather approaches, van drivers and fleet owners become increasingly aware of the caution needed to drive safely. Van drivers must commit to driving safely, and those tasked with maintaining an HVAC company’s fleet must make sure that vehicles are prepared to handle cold temperatures and slippery roads.
Jeff Barron, managing director, head of Leasing National Sales, at The Bancorp, offered advice for ensuring that company vehicles are prepared to weather the winter. He began by saying that there are industry standards that have been followed for years, slowly developing as technology changes and grows, but that some of the basics haven’t really changed.
“Summer takes a greater toll on automobile batteries than winter does,” he said.
He explained that especially for fleets operating in hot climates like the southern states, batteries could fail once the temperature drops below freezing. He noted that since batteries last so long, it’s easy for people to forget about the importance of testing them regularly.
Cables, Belts, and Hoses
“Make sure cables are free from corrosion and that they are secure,” he added. “In the old days, vehicles had a bunch of different fan belts. But now they really just have one serpentine belt that drives the alternator, air conditioning, and power steering, so it’s a good idea to make sure that the serpentine belt is free from cracks and that it looks like it’s going to last through another cold winter.” Barron added that service manuals will show the expected lifespan and replacement intervals of serpentine belts.
“The engine hoses should not be brittle; they shouldn’t feel spongy soft — they should be firm,” Barron said. “Otherwise they’ll crack or fail in an especially cold climate.”
He said that antifreeze should be topped off so it won’t need replacing during the winter, and that the coolant shouldn’t be mixed with too much water, which can happen when people add water to the coolant during the summer.
Tires, Lights, and Cameras
Regarding tire pressure, Barron explained that it’s important to ensure tires are properly inflated, since colder temperatures can lead to tire pressures dropping. Plus, there should be enough tread on all four tires. He explained that there should be enough wiper fluid, and that there should also be good wiper blades, since warm weather can cause them to dry out and turn brittle.
“Make sure all the lights work. Do a walk-around and make sure the taillights and any marking lights work,” he said. “And then there’s just general routine maintenance that might be due.”
He explained that people will often get a normal oil change done, but they should make sure that the brakes are checked, as well as fluids, such as the transmission, brake, and power steering fluids. Diesel vehicles would also need their diesel emission fluids checked.
Barron also said that a lot of new vans and trucks have backup cameras, sensors, or both, so drivers need to make sure that those are clear of any debris, dirt, or snow, and that they have the visibility necessary for safely backing up.
“A lot of companies that operate out in rural areas will provide drivers with an emergency kit, in case they get stuck out in a snowstorm,” he said. Barron explained that when he grew up in Colorado, he would often have a kit like this, consisting of a first-aid kit, water, a blanket, and flashlight. Now, he recommends that vehicles have ice scrapers, jumper cables, and flares or reflective triangles. All of this is preventative, but if a technician absolutely needed to spend a wintery night in their vehicle, they could do it safely.
Vishal Singh, CEO of GoFleet, said that even though driver safety is important in making sure no accidents occur, fleet managers still have a lot of liability in making sure vehicles are prepared for the winter. Like Barron, Singh recommended proper preventative maintenance, and said that fleet managers should set aside enough time before winter to inspect all of the vehicles with a general assessment, making sure that they are properly winterized. In addition to this, drivers should walk around their trucks and perform an inspection before leaving for the job each morning, and that technology like field management software can provide checklists to ensure vehicles are ready to be driven that day.