As autumn sets in and winter looms on the horizon, businesses with operating fleets need to proactively prepare their vehicles for the challenging weather conditions ahead.

Safeguarding your fleet and protecting business during these seasons are paramount, as adverse weather can pose significant risks to drivers and cargo. To help you do this, we have compiled a comprehensive checklist covering crucial aspects to address during autumn and winter.

  1. Conduct comprehensive vehicle inspections: Before the weather takes a turn for the worse, businesses should thoroughly inspect their fleet. Focus on essential components such as brakes, tyres, batteries, and lights to minimise the risk of breakdowns and accidents.
  2. Weather-appropriate tyres: As the road conditions become more challenging, investing in winter tyres1 can be a lifesaver. Equip all vehicles in the fleet with appropriate winter tyres to offer enhanced grip and traction on icy and snowy roads, reducing the likelihood of skidding and accidents. You could also consider upgrading any rib tread tyres to lug treads for improved vehicle handling and stability on rough roads.

    Furthermore, cold conditions can cause gradual deflation of tyre pressure. Tyre deflation affects tread life, vehicle fuel economy and overall safety, so keeping an eye on this is essential to reduce risk. Consider putting a valve cap on each tyre to prevent moisture and ice from accumulating in the valve cores. Check tyre pressure as part of your drivers' pre-trip checks for regular check-ups2.
  3. Prepare for adverse weather: Autumn and winter often bring adverse weather conditions, including heavy rainfall, strong winds, and icy roads. Advise your drivers to exercise caution and maintain safe speeds in such conditions. Additionally, provide them with the necessary equipment such as ice scrapers, snow brushes, and emergency kits3 to deal with unexpected situations.
  4. Check your DEF: Winter conditions additionally entail Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) system maintenance. DEF is crucial for vehicle maintenance, especially if you have a urea-based exhaust. DEF has a freezing point of 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Under typical conditions, it can defrost in around 45 minutes. Also ensure that there are no leaks in the system.

    It is critical to check DEF levels on a regular basis to ensure they are normal. When your truck's DEF runs out, it can only go at a very slow speed and no longer reduces NOx emissions. Predictive maintenance software monitors and forecasts low-DEF levels without the requirement for human driver examination4.
  5. Implement driver training programmes: Organise specialised training programmes to educate your fleet drivers about the challenges during colder months. Training should cover techniques for driving on icy roads, handling skids, and maintaining a safe following distance.
  6. Check your brake health: New brake pads are absolutely essential for the colder months. Check your vehicle's brakes for proper operation and replace them if they are squealing or display any other issues. Include an inspection of the air dryer system on your preventative maintenance checklist. The air dryer removes moisture from the brakes, preventing water from freezing in the lines. Solid lines can lead to deadly brakes if not kept under control5.
  7. Monitor vehicle performance: Consider using GPS tracking6 and telematics systems like GPS fleet tracking software to monitor the real-time location and condition of your fleet. This will provide valuable insights into driving behaviours, fuel consumption, and vehicle performance to optimise fleet operations and enhance safety.
  8. Create a contingency plan: Prepare a comprehensive contingency plan to handle emergencies and unforeseen circumstances, ensuring drivers have clear communication channels to report incidents and a well-defined protocol for handling breakdowns and accidents.
  9. Stay updated on weather forecasts: Keep track of weather forecasts and alerts regularly to plan and adjust your fleet's operations accordingly. This will ensure driver safety and reduce the risk of weather-related accidents.
  10. Prepare for reduced daylight: Autumn and winter bring shorter daylight hours, resulting in more night-time driving. Ensure all vehicles have functioning headlights and encourage drivers to take regular breaks to combat fatigue associated with driving in the dark.
  11. Maintain clean vehicles: Regularly wash and clean the fleet vehicles during autumn and winter to preserve their condition and extend their lifespan. Road salt, slush, and debris can accumulate and cause corrosion and damage over time.
  12. Fuel management: Encourage drivers to maintain optimal driving speeds and minimise idling during cold weather to conserve fuel and reduce emissions. Regularly monitor fuel levels to avoid any fuel-related issues.
  13. Dipping into the best oil viscosity: It is essential to remember that oil thickens as temperatures decrease, leading to poor circulation throughout the engine. To prevent this from happening, switching to a thinner oil solution during the colder months is recommended. It is a good idea to refer to your vehicle manuals to determine the appropriate oil viscosity for the upcoming season. This will help ensure proper lubrication and prevent potential engine problems7.
  14. Adequate insurance coverage: Review your fleet's insurance coverage to ensure it protects against weather-related risks, accidents, and potential downtime, providing peace of mind during unpredictable weather conditions8.
  15. Encourage driver safety and well-being: Above all, emphasise driver safety and well-being, providing ongoing support and encouraging open communication with your drivers. A healthy and safe workspace is crucial for maintaining a reliable and efficient fleet.

Closing thoughts

Preparing your fleet for autumn and winter is vital to business fleet management. Not doing so can have serious consequences. Vehicles may not have the appropriate chains or tyres, which can lead to accidents and delays. In addition, extreme cold temperatures can cause engine problems and other mechanical issues that can be costly to repair. It is important to take the time to properly prepare vehicles for the changing weather conditions both to ensure the safety of drivers and the success of operations.

By following this comprehensive checklist, businesses can protect drivers and may safeguard the company from potential losses and liabilities. Proactive preparation and regular maintenance are the keys to a successful and secure fleet operation throughout the colder months.

Stay prepared and stay safe!

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The sole purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the issues covered. This article is not intended to give legal advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. We make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein or in the links which were live at the date of publication. You should not act upon (or should refrain from acting upon) information in this publication without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited accepts no liability for any inaccuracy, omission or mistake in this publication, nor will we be responsible for any loss which may be suffered as a result of any person relying on the information contained herein.