Weathering the Elements: Tips for Specialty Vehicle Maintenance in Different Conditions
October 10, 2023
Even the most experienced and confident drivers can encounter challenges in harsh weather. On top of that, many specialty vehicles carry differently and have unique maintenance needs in the face of changing weather conditions. Learn about the proper fleet maintenance steps necessary for specialty vehicles to withstand adverse weather scenarios.
What’s Different About Specialty Vehicles?
Specialty vehicles are designed for a specific purpose, such as ambulances and fire trucks. Many delivery fleets also utilize specialty vehicles, whether they are equipped with refrigeration to transport fresh food or designed for high capacity carrying.
Specialty vehicles can pose unique handling challenges in difficult weather because of their larger size, higher weight, irregular shape, and special design features. Gaining a thorough understanding of these features and how to care for them in harsh weather can boost the longevity of your investments and keep drivers safe.
Understanding Weather Conditions
Weather conditions can shift in an instant, changing the behavior of other drivers on the road and presenting new challenges for fleet drivers. Every variety of harsh weather comes with its own set of risks.
Rain can cause reduced visibility and decreased traction. There is a higher risk of hydroplaning in rainy conditions.
Fog reduces visibility.
Blizzards interfere with visibility and can lead to icy roads. Often, there are stranded vehicles on the roads during blizzards, adding to the obstacles drivers need to navigate.
Ice on the roads makes it difficult to control a vehicle, especially at higher speeds. Sometimes, it’s nearly impossible to see ice before you are driving on it.
Extreme heat, especially for prolonged periods of time, can cause strain to your engine and cooling system. It can also impact tire performance.
Each of these unique weather types requires its own set of precautions and safety measures.
Safety Precautions and Practices
We can’t control the weather, but fleet managers can take steps to be as prepared as possible regardless of the outdoor conditions. By adapting driving habits, staying informed of the forecast, thoroughly educating drivers, and engaging in proper fleet maintenance, fleet managers can reduce risks to their vehicles, drivers, and overall community regardless of the weather.
Adapting Driving Accordingly
One necessary safety precaution for most harsh weather conditions is adopting a slower speed. While schedules are often tight and fleets of specialty vehicles are usually trained to be as efficient as possible, it’s important to remember that a slightly slower speed will still be less time-consuming than dealing with the aftermath of an accident, even a minor one.
A slower speed and a longer following distance can give drivers time to respond to unexpected icy patches, heavier fog, or large puddles. Drivers can also use gentler acceleration and braking in order to avoid skidding, in addition to refraining from any sudden maneuvers. Turning on fog lights in low visibility can give drivers a fuller picture of their surroundings as well.
Weather Forecast and Planning
In some areas, weather conditions can turn on a dime. What begins as a blue-sky, sunny day can end in blinding fog or a torrential downpour. Making a habit of discussing the weather forecast with all fleet drivers before their shifts can help ensure optimal preparedness for the day’s conditions.
Many fleets now utilize advanced technology to stay up to date on weather patterns and local conditions. Staying informed about weather developments can also help fleets ensure that the proper maintenance has been performed on specialty vehicles in advance of harsh weather rolling in.
Driver Training and Education
Investing in specialized training for all fleet drivers pays off in the long term. Training that applies specifically to your specialty vehicles and your local weather conditions can go a long way in ensuring that all drivers are aware of the limitations and capabilities of the vehicles they operate. Some driving tactics for harsh weather are counterintuitive, which makes thorough training especially important. This specific training should be refreshed seasonally for the best results.
Vehicle Maintenance and Preparedness
Most importantly, proper fleet maintenance for specialty vehicles can greatly enhance their safety in extreme weather. Partnering with an experienced fleet maintenance provider with familiarity around specialty vehicles ensures that each vehicle is correctly equipped for local weather changes. The following checklist can help you understand what needs to be done ahead of each season.
Extreme Cold Weather Maintenance:
Battery Inspection and Charging: Cold weather can be harsh on batteries. Regularly inspect the battery and ensure it's charged fully. Consider using battery warmers or trickle chargers in extreme cold.
Engine Block Heater: Install an engine block heater to assist with cold starts and reduce wear on the engine during cold weather.
Antifreeze Levels: Verify that the antifreeze/coolant mixture is appropriate for the lowest expected temperature. Antifreeze should be of the right type and concentration to prevent freezing.
Tire Maintenance: Check tire pressure regularly, as cold temperatures can cause tire pressure to drop. Consider using snow tires or tire chains in icy or snowy conditions.
Wiper Blades and Washer Fluid: Ensure wiper blades are in good condition, and replace them if necessary. Use winter-grade windshield washer fluid that won't freeze.
Heater and Defroster Inspection: Verify that the vehicle's heater and defroster systems are working effectively to keep the interior warm and maintain good visibility.
Extreme Heat Weather Maintenance:
Cooling System Inspection: Ensure the cooling system is functioning correctly, and there are no leaks. Replace worn hoses, belts, and thermostats as needed.
Air Conditioning Service: Have the vehicle's air conditioning system serviced to keep the interior cool for the operator's comfort.
Fluid Levels: Monitor all fluid levels regularly, including engine oil, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid, as extreme heat can lead to fluid loss.
Tire Maintenance: Check tire pressure and inspect tires for signs of wear. High temperatures can cause tires to degrade more quickly.
Air Filter Inspection: A clean air filter is essential in hot conditions. Replace or clean air filters as recommended by the vehicle's maintenance schedule.
Brake System Check: High temperatures can affect brake performance. Inspect and service the brake system to ensure it's operating correctly.
Extreme Wet Weather (Rain/Flood) Maintenance:
Wipers and Lights: Ensure wiper blades are in good condition, and all lights (headlights, taillights, and turn signals) are working correctly for visibility.
Tire Tread Inspection: Check tire treads to ensure they have adequate depth for wet conditions. Replace tires if the treads are worn.
Brake Maintenance: Ensure the brake system is in top condition, as wet weather can increase stopping distances.
Suspension and Steering Components: Inspect suspension and steering components to maintain vehicle stability on wet roads.
Weather Seals: Check and maintain seals around doors and windows to prevent water leakage into the vehicle.
Drainage System Inspection: Ensure that drainage channels and systems, including those in the interior cabin, are clear of debris to prevent water accumulation.
Snow and Ice Weather Maintenance:
Snow Chains or Winter Tires: Equip the vehicle with snow chains or winter tires for improved traction in snowy and icy conditions.
Snow Removal Tools: Carry essential snow removal tools, such as a snowbrush, ice scraper, and shovel, to clear snow and ice from the vehicle.
Heater and Defroster Maintenance: Ensure that the vehicle's heater and defroster systems are in good working order to combat icy windows and maintain a warm cabin.
Fluid Levels: Regularly check and maintain appropriate fluid levels, including antifreeze and windshield washer fluid.
Brake System Inspection: Check the brake system for proper functioning and consider installing anti-lock brakes (ABS) if not already equipped.
Exhaust System Inspection: Inspect the exhaust system for leaks or blockages, which can be especially dangerous in snowy conditions.
These maintenance checklists can feel understandably overwhelming for fleet managers with specialty vehicles. Creating a fleet maintenance schedule that won’t negatively impact your bottom line and severely set back your schedule can feel next to impossible.
Fortunately, with mobile fleet maintenance, there’s a streamlined way to ensure all seasonal maintenance is complete, without rearranging every driver’s schedule and losing precious time driving to and from the shop. Torque by Ryder provides fleet maintenance at your location of choice, on your schedule. Preserve uptime and protect your fleet with expert technicians and unparalleled convenience. Get started today!