For most businesses, a fleet keeps their business moving — even during the harsh winter months. Unfortunately, winter roads can damage the same fleet that makes your business possible. If you live in an area that regularly receives ice and snow, what should you be doing to prepare your fleet for the winter months?
The Danger of Salt and De-Icing Chemicals
Anywhere it snows, cities will lay salt or other de-icing chemicals on the roads to melt the snow and prevent the surface from freezing. These chemicals make it safer for drivers, allowing vehicle tires to gain traction on the road. While effective, the process also accelerates the growth of rust, especially on a car’s undercarriage.
Rust is caused when the electrons in iron bond to oxygen molecules — a process called oxidation. This process happens everywhere, regardless of how wet or dry the environment is. When you add salt or other deicing chemicals to the mix, it increases the effect of water — or specifically the oxygen in the water — on metal.
What can you do as a fleet owner to prepare and protect your vehicles from the snowy highways that they’ll be facing? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Keep Up With Fleet Maintenance
Fleet maintenance might seem like a hassle, but it can help prepare your vehicles for the rough roads ahead. Your maintenance schedule should include regular undercarriage inspections to look for any signs that rust might be forming. Getting ahead of this issue can prevent a small problem from becoming a large one that might necessitate replacement instead of repair.
You might also need to change fluids to compensate for the cooler weather. Swap out washer fluid, for example, for a formula that won’t freeze on the windshield. Change oil to a thinner viscosity if needed, and flush out antifreeze if you’ve added water during the summer months.
2. Invest in Undercarriage Coatings
Undercarriage coatings might represent a significant investment for large fleets, but the money you save on repairs or replacements will be worth it in the long run. Undercarriage coatings prevent corrosion during the winter months by sealing the exposed metal that would be susceptible to rust.
However, applying an undercarriage coating doesn’t mean that you can leave your fleet dirty throughout the winter. Even with it, it’s essential to rinse the salt, mud and sleet away from the underside of each fleet vehicle, preferably after each day’s work before you store the cars for the night. Undercarriage coatings can only do so much when they’re left continuously coated in salt. If you don’t rinse them, they will eventually fail.
3. Prepare Emergency Kits
It never hurts to be prepared, especially during the colder months when the weather outside can be hazardous to your health. Equip each vehicle with an emergency kit that includes things like:
- First aid kits
- Fire extinguishers
- Jumper cables
- Hand warmers
Fill your kits with anything that a driver might need to wait comfortably in the event of an accident during the winter. These kits can be used year-round, though you might not need blankets or hand warmers in the summertime. Keep them in your fleet vehicle at all times. You never know when an emergency might occur, so it’s important to make sure your drivers are prepared at all times.
4. Check Fleet Vehicle Batteries
The cold isn’t kind to automotive batteries, especially if you store your fleet vehicles outdoors. An automotive battery loses 35 percent of its strength at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and up to 60 percent at zero degrees, according to AAA. This loss of strength could leave your drivers stranded first thing in the morning when the ice-cold battery doesn’t have enough juice to start the engine.
If you don’t have any indoor areas to store your fleet, check the batteries at least once a week to ensure they have enough power to start the fleet vehicles. A portable load tester can check each one in under a minute, so your morning inspections won’t take much longer than normal.
Wintertime is beautiful, but it can be dangerous for your fleet vehicles. The salt and de-icing chemicals that keep the roads save can encourage rust on unprotected undercarriages. Take your time to maintain your vehicles and protect them against the cold.