On a regular basis, I talk to business owners and fleet managers throughout central Illinois who purchase and maintain commercial vehicles. It might be three or four cars, 10 small sport utilities or a large fleet of diesel trucks. In every instance, these commercial vehicles are a critical component of successful day-to-day business operations. Sales calls, deliveries, cargo transport and service appointments are just a few ways commercial vehicles are used in the business world. If one of these vehicles fails to perform properly, it ends up in a repair shop instead of on the road making the company money. In most cases, commercial and fleet vehicles break down because of neglect or failure to perform routine maintenance. Vehicles need to be maintained on a regular schedule so small issues are addressed before they become larger, more expensive problems that erode a company’s bottom line.

Winter is the most difficult time of year to keep a fleet in steady operation. Unexpected downtime is easily the most important issue facing business owners or managers with regard to maintaining a productive fleet. Proper maintenance is directly related to the amount of hours and/or days your commercial vehicles are out of service. Preparing your fleet before winter arrives is an important part of avoiding emergency repairs and keeping downtime to an absolute minimum.

Business owners should be aware that tires, belts, hoses and wipers are more likely to fail or malfunction due to extreme winter conditions. A fleet manager or authorized automotive technician needs to inspect these items in October or November—before it is too late. Plugs, air and fuel filters, and in-car cabin filters should also be checked and maintained per the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Extreme temperature changes also adversely affect a car or truck’s fluids. Antifreeze, transmission fluid, brake fluid and power steering fluid are important parts of a vehicle’s performance, especially in cold weather. Managers who maintain diesel vehicles have a slightly different set of concerns in the winter months. With the rising use of biodiesel, fuel additives and fuel maintenance become even more important. Biodiesel will gel at an even higher temperature than conventional diesel fuel. This can cause fuel pump or fuel injector failure, leading to thousands of dollars in potential repairs.

One final component of winter fleet maintenance that business owners often overlook is the exterior of a vehicle. Winter driving and harsh weather conditions are tough on all vehicles, especially if they are on the road eight to 10 hours a day. Advanced preparation in the fall will help prevent damage from harmful winter elements, including ice, snow and salt. The easiest way to protect the body of a fleet vehicle is by deep washing and waxing before bad weather hits. A thorough cleaning and well-applied coat of wax will provide a protective shield against the corrosive elements on central Illinois roads. Additionally, when the temperature permits, wash your fleet vehicles regularly during the winter to prevent long-term body damage. An added benefit is a professional appearance at the job site or on service calls.

Because of extreme temperatures and conditions, it is vitally important to properly prepare your commercial fleet for winter. It is equally important to adhere to a regular schedule all year long so your vehicles are up to proper safety and performance standards. At the very least, your fleet manager or each vehicle’s driver should check the oil, wiper fluid, engine coolant/antifreeze and tires at each fuel fill-up. In many instances, these small details keep a vehicle running smoothly. In the case of commercial vehicles for your business, it is a matter of dollars and sense. iBi