As the “polar vortex” continues to pummel large parts of the U.S. with freezing air from the North Pole, standard winterization measures may prove inadequate to protect fleets from record-breaking low temperatures.

In order to keep vehicles running in weather cold enough to freeze boiling water in midair, fleet managers must ensure that batteries, fluids and tires are adequately maintained and protected.

For companies that use fleet maintenance software to organize their maintenance, special winterization schedules can be created to cope with the unusual challenges brought on by unpredictable conditions like the polar vortex.

+Keep Batteries Warm

Cold temperatures wreak havoc on batteries, slowing  down the chemical reactions that generate electricity, and turning oil into sludge. As a result, batteries must work extra hard to keep cars running, and are much likelier to die in these conditions.

That’s why, in extreme cold, it’s a good idea to cover batteries with wraps or “blankets” which are made from insulating material to trap heat when the vehicle isn’t in use. These are relatively inexpensive and can be particularly useful for vehicles that are parked outdoors for extended periods of time. They must be removed while the vehicle is in use, however, so it might be a good idea to set reminders to ensure that they aren’t forgotten.

Although they are installed in the cylinder block, “block heaters” can warm a vehicle’s entire core, including the battery. In frigid climates, like northern Canada, these often come pre-installed in cars and power stations can be found in many parking lots, but they may be relatively unknown in other parts of the world.

Fortunately, block heaters can be purchased and (professionally) installed in vehicles that don’t already have them, and plugged into standard electrical outlets.  The devices themselves are relatively inexpensive, but because they must be plugged into an outlet, they can increase energy costs. Many of the public heater stations in Canada function on 20 minute intervals for this reason, so fleet managers exploring these solutions should try to find aftermarket versions that have similar energy-saving features.

For batteries nearing the end of their 2-3 year life, brutal cold is apt to deal the final death blow, which can be extra costly and inopportune in winter conditions. Organizations that use fleet management software to track vehicle assets would be wise to monitor battery life and try to schedule replacements before temperatures begin to decline in order to avoid problems arising from freak weather like the polar vortex.

+Maintain Proper Fluid Levels

Battery wraps and block heaters can help improve the function of batteries, but thickened oil will still force them to work harder. To help combat this problem, it might be a good idea to switch to thinner oil grades when temperatures drop. Doing so will aid oil circulation throughout the vehicle and improve overall oil economy.

Because vehicles generally use more fuel during the winter, anything that can be done to improve fuel economy will help: limiting short trips where possible, regularly checking tire pressure and balance, etc. It’s also important to keep fuel tanks as full as possible, as moisture can condense and cause fuel lines to freeze.

Methyl hydrate or “dry gas” can also be added to fuel tanks to prevent freezing. Many gas stations already add it to fuel when temperatures drop, but it’s a good idea to double check to be sure. Fuel conditioner can also be added to diesel engines to prevent fluids from thickening.

Other fluids like anti-freeze obviously need to be topped up, but it’s important to be sure that the same type is used consistently to avoid dilution or quality degradation. In general, the key is to check these levels weekly or bi-weekly rather than monthly or quarterly.

Batteries and fluids aren’t the only things affected by cold, of course. Tires can lose pressure and winter salt can cause corrosion. Checks and preventive measures for these issues should be added to fleet management software schedules as well.

Be sure to stay safe, and check back here regularly for all of the latest news, tips and insights from ManagerPlus.

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ManagerPlus is the preferred solution across the most asset-intensive industries, including Fortune 500 companies, to improve reliability and minimize downtime.
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