In the first article of this two-part series, Jeff Barron, managing director, head of Leasing National Sales at The Bancorp, and Vishal Singh, CEO of GoFleet, discussed the specific vehicle maintenance steps that HVAC contractors should take to prepare their fleets for winter weather. Here, the two of them discuss managerial strategies that contractors can incorporate to improve driver safety and management during the winter season.


Fleet Management and Winter

Vishal Singh, said that fleet management software can help HVAC contractors improve the safety of their drivers, as well as manage their fleets better in the snow.

“When you start your vehicle for the day, you should walk around the vehicle and take a look at anything that might be wrong with the vehicle,” Singh said. He explained that a software like GoFleet’s, and its accompany app, will walk a driver through a checklist of vehicle inspection each morning to ensure it is completed. Contractors can also create customized checklists for the inspections.

He also said that once the vehicles are on the road, software can integrate and layer winter weather on top of the fleet map.

“Now, in a city, you generally will have a good idea of the overall temperature,” Singh said. “But when you're looking at rural roads and understanding where your people are going, it's important that you know the conditions.”

He explained that some companies will set up check-ins once the technician gets to the job site so they can ensure the technician got there safely. Another option is using a technology such as geofencing, which allows notifications to automatically be sent once a technician arrives in a certain area of a city to complete a job. The telematics of fleet tracking allows for monitoring of the technician’s driving (such as speeding too much) to ensure that the employees are driving safely.

Singh also said that fleet managers should have conversations with the technicians about safe driving.

“I recommend that all fleet managers have a meeting with drivers at least once a quarter, because every quarter, the seasons are changing,” said Singh.


Emergency Precautions

Accidents and collisions in vehicles are not hoped for, but they do sometimes happen, and winter weather can worsen this risk. After a crash, fleet management software alerts can be sent to managers so that they can properly handle the crisis. Plus, after a collision, the software can help reallocate resources, identifying the technician who is the closest or who could take on more work that day. This sort of emergency preparedness offers an important reason that contractors need a spare vehicle to allow service to continue uninterrupted, even after a crisis like a winter car crash.


Reminding Technicians to Drive Safely

Jeff Barron, managing director, head of Leasing National Sales at The Bancorp, said that it’s important to remind technicians of the need to drive safely in the winter. One of the biggest reminders contractors should tell their technicians is that they don’t need to be in a hurry. Technicians should take the time to make sure that the windshield and windows are as clean as possible and that cameras and sensors are clear.

“If you're going from job to job, your customers may not be happy if you're five minutes late, but if you're in bad weather, be patient and take time,” Barron said. “Don't rush. Better to arrive five minutes late than not arrive at all.”

Whether a fleet manager or the technicians are responsible for winterizing vehicles (checking fluids, adding snow tires, etc.), vehicles must be properly maintained going into the winter season.

Barron said that leasing may be a viable option that can help the vehicles stay in proper shape.

“Leasing creates replacement cycles,” Barron said. “And so we encourage our customers to set proper replacement cycles for their vehicles and their use. Rather than let vehicles stay in service too long, until they're experiencing heavy maintenance and repair costs, oftentimes it's better to cycle out and replace that vehicle, especially with newer vans that have better fuel economy and better safety features.”

These safety features and a reduced need for repair can be handy for handling customers in the winter, and ensuring that the vehicles operate consistently and safely. In addition to these, newer vans often incorporate drop-down ladders, removing the need for technicians to climb up on a step ladder in the winter to get the other ladder off the top of the van.

“Contractors don't necessarily always look at the total cost of operating a vehicle again the downtime,” said Barron. “If your vehicles aren’t earning revenue every day but are older and need more maintenance and repairs, they could be in the shop for days or weeks — whereas the new vans under warranty are out there generating revenue for the company.”