The practice of winterizing a fleet has changed drastically from even just five or 10 years ago. Gone are the days of making adjustments on each truck based on historical perceptions or relying on experience.

Today’s advanced maintenance data analytics and technology has equipped progressive fleets with the tools and resources they need to make more informed decisions, eliminating the need for guesswork. Furthermore, while many fleets must begin to make adjustments in October and November, winterizing today is actually an annual process built around seasonal preparation.

Everything begins with a comprehensive right plan

Fleets and their maintenance/technician departments must have a plan – not just for the winter, but for the entire year. Everything starts with preventative maintenance (PM) and the ability to calendarize the PM plan. The maintenance a fleet does and prepares for in the spring and summer will have a different focus than that of winter, and fleets must be able to identify the trends and areas that colder climates may affect more so than in the warmer climates.

For example, a fuel filter that has some water in it in April and May won’t offer many problems. However, that same filter in November and December will be a completely different story if you’re operating north of I-70. This can result in a breakdown on the side of the road, which affects everything from driver morale, safety, routing and other costs like on-call maintenance.

Setting the appropriate annual plan will be key to establishing the right PM checklist at different times of the year.

Pay close attention to fuel systems

Another key area to focus on is your fuel system. Many maintenance professionals and technicians still look at it as a filter, but today it’s a complete system. In the winter months trucks move into higher idle applications. For many of today’s trucks we talk about a five-minute idle set, but the reality is that the truck allows a five-minute idle after it reaches normal operating temperature. Therefore, that increased idle during the winter months is going to cause additional soot to enter the diesel particulate filter (DPF) and can impact the entire system.

More specifically, you have the seventh injector, which is inserting additional fuel for the engine burn. There is also the filter, which includes the crossover pump, as well as the fuel blend, which has great consideration. Fleets can see as much as two- to three-tenths MPG reduction during the winter months, not only from just the change in fuel and different blends, but also cold tires, cold transmission, cooler fluids, etc. A truck that typically reaches 7.3 MPG could drop to 7, even if you’re doing everything correctly.

Changing tires can’t just be based off muscle memory

Tires are a major expense for fleets, and preparing your winter plan can be significant here. As winter approaches, many fleets may think about running their rear tires back to 4/32-inch tread. There is this perception that since there will be snow and ice on the road, fleets need to hurry up and change their tires. The reality is the traction between 4/32 and 8/32 is minimal. However, each tire change can bring additional expenses that fleet managers must be cognizant of. It’s important to leverage sophisticated PM and tire data and analytics, and also leverage solid KPI metrics from the OEM and dealer to make sure tires are only changed under the right circumstances and seasonal timing, as opposed to just going on perception or a hunch.  

In addition to proper data, fleets and their maintenance departments must have the appropriate technology to properly and continually make assessments in accordance with their annual PM plans. Years ago, the first thing a technician would do when inspecting a truck is to change the oil. However, today’s technicians are plugging a laptop into the diagnostic portal. By doing so, you can check critical areas of the truck that may show certain areas in the fuel system or tires to identify areas that could have a problem, and you can do more preventative work – even before a check engine light appears.

Properly communicating cost breakdowns to the C-level

All of these decisions can potentially cost the fleet several thousands of dollars each year. And when you multiply this by 40 or 60 trucks, you’re talking about a significant amount of money eroding the fleet’s bottom line. It’s critical that fleet managers and maintenance crews have an open line of communication to the executive suite so that planning and expenses can be discussed together.

A solid plan and detailed line-item visibility can make all the difference in the world in front of the executive team. Fleet personnel should be able to address leadership and say, here’s what we foresee happening; this is why maintenance costs have seasonality; this is why our tire cost is rising in the fall; this is why our fuel cost is rising; and here’s what we plan to do about it. What’s more, today’s analytics and data technology can help demonstrate these cost changes.

When fleets combine a comprehensive annual plan with today’s sophisticated data analytics and maintenance technology, they can keep their trucks on the road more and drivers safe during the winter months while also helping the executive suite preserve the bottom line.

Brian Antonellis, CTP, is Senior Vice President of Fleet Operations at Fleet Advantage, a leading innovator in truck fleet business analytics, equipment financing and lifecycle cost management. For more information visit www.FleetAdvantage.com.