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Winter Vehicle Maintenance: Top 12 Checks

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We’re not talking about stocking caps and long underwear here (though we’d never undersell their importance in keeping you comfortable.)  No, we mean your vehicle fleet. Is it ready? Really ready? 

A long, cold winter can be especially brutal on cars, trucks, buses, heavy equipment and other machines you maintain. Ice, snow, sleet and deicing chemicals can do a real number on every moving part. Plummeting temperatures thicken vital fluids. Weak batteries finally call it quits. Worn parts break. Tires give out. If you haven’t prepared your vehicles for the rigors of winter weather, you can’t be certain they won’t let you down just when you need them most. In short, you’re setting yourself up for failure before the first snowflake falls.

More Cold, More Breakdowns

Data indicates that winter weather brings more breakdowns and roadside repairs than at any other time. A carefully planned maintenance protocol can help protect you from those incidents. Think of it as a sort of low-cost insurance program. Sure, your equipment will stand a better chance of remaining running and productive. But you’ll also catch potential problems earlier, helping to avoid expensive repairs. You’ll also be helping to increase the safe working conditions of drivers/operators, in what are often the worst and most unpredictable of weather and road conditions. 

We’ve included our Top 12 Winter Checks to look over before winter, and monitor throughout, to get your fleet ready for whatever winter can dish out. We can’t make winters less harsh. But we can help put you in the best possible position to make it through unscathed.

  1. Engine Fuels
    Perhaps the most obvious and commonly forgotten issue with starting and running diesel engines in cold weather is using the right diesel fuel. Ingredients like paraffin (wax) cause fuel to gel as temperatures drop. This makes for a rough operating vehicle or could even cause engine failure. It is worth looking at the cetane rating of the gas at the pump. The higher the number is, the easier your truck will start during the winter months. Most fueling stops carry a winter blend fuel, so make sure to fill up with that winter blend if you’re going to be operating your vehicle in cold conditions. Check with your engine manufacturer to get approved recommendations on fuel system additives.

  2. Engine Block Heaters
    Diesel engines need higher cylinder temperatures than gasoline-powered vehicles. A block heater is recommended to reduce any large fluctuations in engine temperatures when your truck is parked for long periods.

  3. Water Separators
    Diesel fuels have water suspended in the solution. That water comes from condensation which forms on the inside of a cold fuel tank that has warm fuel. To minimize risk, you’ll want to check your water separator daily and invest in a new fuel filter. Keeping your gas tank at least half full minimize the risk of water freezing in the fuel line.

  4. Engine Oil
    Your engine needs proper lubrication from oil to run properly. Similar to fuel, selecting the type of oil is important because the wrong oil in the winter can cause unnecessary wear on your engine. Cold weather thickens oil and reduces its effectiveness due to poor circulation. Without the lubrication it needs, you’ll have a truck that won’t start. Consider utilizing a thinner oil in winter. You can find the proper viscosity of oil in your operators’ manuals, which will outlineproper viscosity levels for different climates.

  5. Brake Pads and Shoes
    Brakes should be high on your list of priorities. If your brakes are squealing as you stop it's time to get them replaced. Proper air dryer maintenance will ensure the air dryer can effectively remove air system moisture and contaminants that lead to blockages in lines and lost brake function.

  6. Tires
    All-weather tires might not cut it if your vehicle is operated in cold conditions through a lot of snow and ice. Winter tires offer more grip in icy conditions and even on cold, dry roads. Underinflated tires, one of the leading causes of tire failure, also causes tires to wear faster and negatively impacts overall handling. Conversely, over-inflated tires can increase the risk of tread separation and damage from road debris, curbing or potholes. Check your vehicles owner’s manual or truck tire vendor for the correct pressure.

  7. Battery
    A weak or dead battery is the most common culprit in winter breakdowns since cold temperatures drain batteries faster. A battery usually lasts around 48 to 72 months. You'll notice the signs of a weak battery: a starter motor that cranks the engine slowly when the ignition key is turned or headlights that dim noticeably when the engine speed drops to idle. Don't forget to clean and securt the connections and mounting brackets when completing battery maintenance.

  8. Fluids
    Check your vehicle's fluids including power steering, brake, windshield washer and battery fluids before and throughout the heart of winter. A winterization inspection of the cooling system and coolant test will ensure your coolant is at the optimum freeze point.

  9. Belts and Hoses
    Frigid winter temperatures weaken the belts that help your engine run smoothly. A worn-out belt could turn into a major safety risk for you and your vehicle. Inspections should be a part of your regular routine including checking accessory drive belts for any signs of fraying or cracking and the cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Be sure to squeeze hoses and replace any that are brittle or excessively spongy to touch.

  10. Spark plugs
    Spark plugs may need changing if your engine misfires, feels rough, jittery or simply doesn’t want to start.

  11. Windshield Wipers
    Make sure to inspect and replace your windshield wiper blades if necessary. They are easy to replace and should be changed at least once a year. Doing this at the beginning of winter is a great idea since you will likely use them more heavily. Heavy-duty winter windshield wiper blades are made especially for tough ice buildup.

  12. Lights and Vehicle Exterior
    Visibility is important during darker winter months. Inspect your vehicle to make sure all plow lights, warning lights, strobe lights and other lighting equipment are working. Consider regular year-round fleet washing as a way to protect the exterior of your vehicle against the elements. Cold temperatures are hard on paint too, and this maintenance technique may prevent long-term body damage to your vehicle.

Even if your vehicle is up to date with routine maintenance and you’ve followed this checklist of precautionary measures thoroughly, breakdowns can still occur. Make sure that you’ve not only winterized your vehicle, but that you’ve prepared yourself for winter as well. Keep an emergency kit inside your truck with supplies and equipment, things like a battery-powered radio, flashlight, blanket, jumper cables, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, gloves, tire chains, bottled water, non-perishable foods, maps, tire repair kit, flares and the telephone number to a qualified and reliable 24/7 breakdown service provider in the event that you become stranded as a result of inclement weather.

Don’t Forget to Check With Imperial Supplies
We’re ready with all the winter inventory and expert advice you’ll need. Contact your Dedicated Account Advisor to get started!


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