Before the Snow Flies
Now Is the Best Time to Get Your Fleet Customers Ready for Winter
Your trucking fleet customers may work at a constant pace 24/7/365, but Mother Nature doesn’t. Spring and fall serve as pleasant breaks between the two toughest seasons on commercial trucks and truck tires summer and winter. Now that summmer has passed, it’s time to get your customers ready for winter.
While helping fleet customers prepare for summer is relatively easy, getting them ready for the unpredictability of winter is another matter. Now that autumn is fully upon us, it’s probably a good time to get with each of your fleet customers to talk about winterization.
And fleet winterization shouldn’t be restricted to your larger over-the-road customers. Light commercial fleets plumbers, local cable operations, police and fire outfits, utility fleets and so forth ®“ also need a pre-winter tire review.
While making sure your fleet customer’s tires are in tip-top condition all year-round, getting ready for winter requires a more critical, more detailed examination of tires. Traction and safety are even more important when the snow flies.
Here’s a rundown of what to look for:
®′ Tread Depth Take a close look at all axle positions, and make sure there’s adequate tread to grip snow-, slush- and ice-covered roadways. This is as important for trailer axle tires as it for drive tires.
If you find tires on the steer or drive axles that have less than 7/32-inch tread depth, consider replacing them with tires that will provide ample tread rubber or a more aggressive tread pattern that will allow the tires to cut through snow and channel water, and provide the traction needed to stop and accelerate in snow and ice.
®′ Contact Patches Often not thought of, keeping even, solid contact with road surfaces is a key to delivering maximum traction. Properly matching tire diameters will help prevent tires from spinning on snow or ice, and keep them from fighting against each other.
The outside diameter (OD) of the tractor and trailer tires should be equalized from one end of an axle to the other, between a set of matched duals, and between duals on tandem drive axles. The OD of the four tires on a single drive axle should be within 1/4-inch of each other.
On twin screw drive axles, the average OD of the tires on one side must be within 1/4-inch of the average OD of the four tires on the other side. And if the rear drive tires have a tread depth that is more than 4/32-inch deeper than the forward drive tires, rotate the rear units to the forward drive position to even out the wear. Keep in mind that tires on both tandem drive axles must be matched closely to protect the differential and help prevent excessive slip, traction loss and uneven wear.
®′ Inflation While winter makes proper inflation more important, it also makes getting there even harder. “Cold” inflation pressure refers to moderate ambient temperatures (approximately 70Þ F), not extreme cold (below 32 F). Work with your tire supplier to calculate inflation pressure adjustments necessary in colder temperatures.
Air pressure on matched duals drive and trailer positions ®“ should be within 2 psi of each other. And make sure your fleet customer is using metal valve caps on all tires. These are vital to keeping dirt, salt, snow and ice from damaging the valve core. And come spring time, it’s a good idea to replace all valve cores and caps, thereby eliminating the chance of winter wear and tear causing tire problems later in the year.
®′ Inspect There’s no better time to do a complete and thorough physical inspection of your fleet customer’s tires. Look for the obvious, and the not so obvious. Worn shoulders on steer, drive or trailer tires indicate a complete vehicle alignment is past due. Deep cuts, tears or punctures should be repaired, or the tires taken out of service if the damage is too great.
You may see significant irregular wear and/or low tread depth on duals if the air pressure between the tires isn’t properly matched. Flatspotting could point to a previously unknown brake balance problem, or a serious on-road incident. Lateral scrub could be a sign of alignment or braking problems.
®′ Align Proper vehicle alignment, tractor and trailer, is not only important to enhancing tire life and fuel efficiency, it could be a lifesaver when the vehicle travels on snow, slush or ice. Even a minor misalignment could diminish the driver’s ability to control the tractor/trailer.
Many fleets turn a blind eye to alignment, or they focus their alignment efforts only on power units. If there are 18 wheels on the ground, then all 18 tires need to be traveling in a straight, sure line. Nothing wears tires faster or more irregularly that a misaligned tractor/trailer combination. If your fleet customer expects maximum value for their tire investment, they need to invest in a complete tractor/trailer alignment.
®′ Traction Aids If your customer operates in mountainous areas or those that experience serious snowfall, tire chains or cables are usually called for. Many states ®“ California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Washington ®“ mandate them, while others ®“ Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah ®“ require them based on prevailing conditions.
Chains should be inspected before winter comes. Look for broken links or fasteners, or extreme rust. Broken or rusted chains should be replaced. Cables, often used as a cheaper alternative to chains, should also be examined for breaks, rust or other damage.
®′ Suggest One tip you can suggest to your fleet customer is an easy way to keep his trucks moving in winter’s cold. Warm tires coming off the road will often create small dips in the icy crusts that cover most parking lots in colder climates. To avoid getting hung up in these dips, before drivers park for an extended period they should give the tires a few minutes to cool, then move their rigs forward or backward a couple of feet and re-park. This will move the tires out of dips that are forming under the tire heat and weight of the vehicle and onto a more tractive surface.
®′ Consider The pre-winter season is a good time to review the customer’s tire use over the last year. Were they short anywhere? Too much inventory? What about tire performance? Did the fleet suffer from excessive tire-related downtime? Need to make adjustments to tire maintenance recommendations or actions? Would now be the best time to adjust recordkeeping or maybe add that recordkeeping software? Should the customer consider different types of tires?
Light Commercial Fleets
While most of the tips outlined here are oriented to over-the-road Class 7 and 8 fleet vehicles, a complete pre-winter tire inspection is an excellent idea for even the smallest light commercial fleet.
Again, make sure tires have enough tread depth to allow safe, sure driving in prevailing conditions. Equally important make sure the vehicles have the right tires for your climate and the fleet’s work conditions. If your area experiences significant snow fall or ice storms, a good winter tire probably makes sense. Plus, it’s a good time to consider vehicle loads (do they have enough tire for the job?) and road surfaces (can the tires stand up to required use?).
Take the time to thoroughly inspect the fleet’s tires. Look for any damage, like curbing, cuts or punctures that could cause unexpected downtime. Repair or replace any tires that look questionable.
Unlike many Class 7 and 8 over-the-road, regional or intermodal fleets, vehicle service may be an added option for light commercial fleets.
Make sure cooling and electrical systems especially batteries ®“ are up to spec. Check brakes completely ®“ including wheel cylinders, master cylinders and brake lines ®“ to make sure they are in top shape. Oil and other vital fluids should be checked and replaced as needed.
Just as with 18-wheel fleets, alignment is important to tire wear and vehicle control. Shocks and springs should also get a good inspection, as should all steering components. Belts and hoses need a good going over, and any showing wear or cracking should be replaced. And don’t forget windshield washer fluid.
Large or small, no fleet wants unexpected downtime. Being a proactive business partner will not only help keep them on the road and making money ®“ it will go a long way toward cementing your long-term ®“ and equally profitable ®“ relationship.