Businesses need to control their fleet costs at all times, but these demands are increased in winter when potential costs begin to escalate. The winter months present a range of significant problems for the fleet manager, with an increased risk of accidents, traffic delays, wasted journeys and driver illness and absenteeism. Ignoring these issues can be very costly to the business, but there is a program of control measures which can be implemented to help mitigate some of these costs and potential problems.
Service and maintenance
To ensure your vehicles are in the best possible condition going into the punishing winter months, the fleet manager should schedule annual service visits and MOTs for the late summer or autumn months. This ensures that vehicles have been professionally serviced by qualified personnel and give the fleet manager the best chance of avoiding accidents and incidents through vehicle failure or safety issues. This also ensures your fleet is in good condition ahead of a period in which garages are traditionally much busier.
Proactive management by your own drivers or internal personnel should ensure that vehicles are maintained in the best condition throughout the more damaging winter months, and between external service visits. These daily/weekly checks should include:
- Oil – keep levels topped up to avoid unnecessary breakdowns
- Coolant – engines can be over-worked in winter so checking coolant levels is essential
- Screenwash – top up regularly to ensure clear driver vision and use an anti-freeze screenwash
- Tyres – check for pressure and tread wear regularly
- Wipers – the rubber on blades can crack or go brittle in cold weather, so check their condition regularly
- Lights – check these are all working regularly
- Battery – you use the heaters, wipers and lights much more in winter and this drains the battery quicker, plus it is harder to start a cold engine in a morning, so check the battery connections and condition and maybe change an older battery
- Brake fluid – check the levels regularly
As well as healthy vehicles in winter, you also need healthy drivers. Of course the winter months are more likely to bring viruses and illnesses, so make sure your drivers are equipped to handle long journeys and the challenges of driving in the dark and poor conditions. Flu and cold can affect vision and concentration, so introduce some health screening and also program regular breaks into a driver’s schedule.
The fleet manager should ensure all vehicles are stocked with essential items for emergency situations that may occur during winter. These can include a first aid kit, a warning triangle to position in the road if/when you breakdown or have an accident, jump leads, a torch and extra warm clothing such as gloves, a hat and a jacket, in case a driver gets stranded.
While driving in poor conditions should be restricted to essential travel only, sometimes bad weather descends when a driver is already out on the road. Therefore, an essential part of driver training should be how to drive in poor weather conditions. This involves snow and ice and heavy rain, but also how to navigate the low afternoon sun in winter, braking distances and recommended driving speeds.
The fleet manager should prepare risk assessments around all winter driving activities, but they should also have formal procedures which document the above actions and these should be built into the daily and monthly schedules, so that elements such as training and service visits are programmed in good time. This all combines to make the fleet manager’s job controllable with a view to minimising operational costs and the incidental costs of accidents and breakdowns.