Fleet in Winter: Looking after your fleet

Introduction

Cold weather and vehicles are two things that do not always go hand in hand. The RAC say they see a ‘sharp increase’ in breakdowns during the winter.

At EVP Solutions, our clients often ask the best way to keep their fleets running throughout the colder winter months. This blog aims to help explain and answer some of our typical customer questions to ensure that your fleet can stay on the road this winter.

The key issues

A significant number of issues can become exaggerated in the winter without proper management and maintenance. First, we list and explain some critical problems below, with some advice to avoid/minimise those risks. After that, we cover the actions which the Fleet Manager can implement to solve potential issues.

Issue 1 – Car battery

What is the problem?

A flat battery.

Why is it a problem?

When it is cold, car batteries produce less electrical current than when it is warmer. This is due to the slower chemical reactions inside the battery, which ultimately produces less power. In turn, this causes more difficulties in cars starting when they are required.

How can you avoid this problem?

Firstly, ensure that the battery is not being drained unnecessarily. For example, do not turn the radio on or put the heating on before starting the engine. However, the leading cause of battery problems is a lack of usage during the festive period. For batteries (and cars by default) to continue to work at their best, vehicles must be driven regularly.

What can the Fleet Manager do?

Ask one of your employees to go to work one day over the festive period. Although this would, of course, require paying for via additional pay and/or additional leave, it is undoubtedly a sound decision (both financially and practically) when you consider the potential costs of dead batteries when returning to business activities in the new year.

Issue 2 – Tyres

What is the problem?

Worn tyres

Why is it a problem?

Naturally, there is more rain, snow, and fog in the winter that your fleet will face. These are all conditions that make driving more hazardous due to several factors. Firstly, these conditions significantly reduce visibility for a driver, meaning potential hazards become more difficult to see early. Additionally, when a hazard is spotted, the required distance to make the vehicle go from a certain speed to stop is greater than in dry conditions due to less grip on the road. Tyres that have reduced traction are a common but severe cause of road accidents in the UK.

How can you avoid this problem?

The key to preventing the impacts of worn tyres is to check their condition regularly. Of course, this should be happening anyway, but it is particularly paramount during the winter. Although the legal minimum tread depth for tyres in the UK is 1.6mm, it is advisable to have at least 3mm of tread during the winter, so more grip is available to the driver should they need to use it.

What can the Fleet Manager do?

Include in the vehicle policy that all vehicles must have at least 3mm tread throughout the year, and users/employees should check their tread depth regularly (you might include a tread depth tool in the vehicle pack). Also, ask mechanics to check tyre tread when vehicles go into the garage.

Issue 3 – Engine coolant

What is the problem?

Frozen engine coolant

Why is it a problem?

When temperatures are particularly cold, there is a risk of coolant freezing. If the engine coolant becomes frozen, the engine can very quickly overheat, which inevitably will cause the engine to fail.

How can you avoid this problem?

The key to preventing the engine coolant from freezing is by utilising an appropriate antifreeze concentration. However, it is also vital to consider how cold it will become where your fleet is based. For instance, if your fleet is based in Northern Scotland, temperatures will inevitably be far lower than those in other parts of the UK. Therefore the antifreeze should be suitable to prevent freezing in lower temperatures.

What can the Fleet Manager do?

Consider where the fleet they are managing operate. From there, choose the area that is likely to have the coldest temperature and use an antifreeze concentration suited to that temperature.

Issue 4 – Electrics

What is the problem?

Faulty electrics

Why is it a problem?

During the winter, days are significantly shorter, while the nights are significantly longer. Therefore, if a vehicle’s electrics become faulty, particularly the lights, this becomes a dangerous situation.

How can you avoid this problem?

Drivers should continuously check their vehicles, particularly ensuring that all the lights are working as they should be. This includes headlights, taillights, fog lights, signal lights, brake lights, hazard lights and driving lamps.

What can the Fleet Manager do?

Ensure the fleet policy states that users must complete a weekly vehicle check (with photos) that a line manager/supervisor must sign off during the winter.

Issue 5 – Screenwash

What is the problem?

Frozen screen wash

Why is it a problem?

Salt trucks are deployed to grit the roads of the UK to keep roads as free from ice as possible during the winter. Although this is completely necessary for safety purposes, it can lead to excess dirt/grit on a vehicle’s windscreen. In turn, this will impede driver visibility. It’s therefore paramount that the windscreen wipers and fluids are ready to use.

How can you avoid this problem?

Similarly to the engine coolant, it is crucial to ensure that the screenwash in the vehicle can drop to the appropriate temperature without freezing.

What can the Fleet Manager do?

Develop a list of approved screen washes that fleet operators can use in their vehicles and access for the employees to purchase the screen wash.

Issue 6 – Journey planning

What is the problem?

Lack of journey planning.

Why is it a problem?

When there is a risk of heavy rain or snow, journey planning is vital. Due to weather, certain roads may be closed, which adds unnecessary time to the organisation’s journey to undertake other business activities. More importantly, it can create additional risk to your employees via increased accident risks or incidents of being stranded due to road closures. For example, if undertaking a trip from Sheffield to Manchester in December, it may be wise to avoid the Snake/Woodhead passes and instead utilise the M1 and M62 via Leeds. Although this is a greater distance, motorways are unlikely to be closed and potentially safer for drivers.

How can you avoid this problem?

Ensure you assess journeys for risk before being undertaken, particularly for long trips. Is it possible to do the meeting online?

What can the Fleet Manager do?

Carry out occasional journey audits of drivers, considering the weather at the time. Drivers must know these audits take place.

Issue 7 – Driver habits

What is the problem?

Poor driving habits. For example, driving quickly or not leaving space from the car in front.

Why is it a problem?

Many drivers continue to drive in the same way in poor weather conditions as they do when conditions are good for driving. However, as discussed in the tyres’ section of this blog, the braking distance is significantly increased when wet/snowy/dark.

How can you avoid this problem?

Therefore, drivers should drive at slower speeds and leave greater distances between vehicles in front of them when conditions are not good. Braking should also be more gradual to prevent skidding.

What can the Fleet Manager do?

There are numerous things the Fleet Manager can do to reduce the risk of poor driving. Firstly, they could look to implement a telematics system if one is not already in place. These devices can monitor driving habits and therefore flag any driver who is using their vehicle dangerously. Alternatively, they could develop a risk register on each driver, depending on historical driving offences (accidents, fuel consumption, fines, vehicle damage etc.)

What if you do break down?

Even if all the guidance and policies are in place, a vehicle breakdown may still occur. Therefore, the vehicle must have all the necessary equipment to ensure the user can wait safely for the breakdown service to attend.

Always equip vehicles with basic items such as a first aid kit, water, jump leads and at least two hi-vis jackets. Other items which become particularly useful during the winter for your fleet are sets of warm clothes and a torch.

If you break down, the driver should first look to manoeuvre the car into a safe position. Whether this means coming off a busy road or pulling into the hard shoulder on the motorway, this should be the priority. Once they are in a safe position, switch on the hazard lights (and sidelights on if it’s dark), following which passengers should safely exit the vehicle on the left-hand side of the vehicle. Once the vehicle has been exited, passengers should stand far away from the vehicle or behind the barriers and upstream from traffic. Passengers should wear hi-vis jackets. Next, call the breakdown services.

If it is not possible to get into the hard shoulder on a motorway/A road, drivers should stay in the car, keep seatbelts on and switch the hazard lights on. Finally, dial 999 for emergency support.

How can EVP Solutions help you?

So how can we help you to keep your fleet in operation this winter?

Our specialists can help you develop your fleet policy so that you get the most out of your fleet, not just over the winter but all year round. We also specialise in developing a fleet strategy to get the most suited vehicles to your business operations.

If you would like to know more about our services, please feel free to contact us at hello@evpsolutions.co.uk