Fleetowner 4710 Ryderwinter1a

Winter checklist

Dec. 16, 2014

Manager: Mel Kirk
Title: Vice president-maintenance & quality operations
Company: Ryder Inc.
Operation: Offers fleet management and supply chain solutions, serving 43,000 customers and managing 210,000 vehicles


Last year’s bitter cold winter temperatures covered a huge swath of the U.S. for days at a time. And as you can well imagine, this caused innumerable amounts of problems for commercial vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

“Last year’s Polar Vortex wreaked havoc on businesses that were not prepared for the impact of extreme cold weather on their fleets,” says Mel Kirk, vice president-maintenance & quality operations for Ryder Inc.

“Everyone operating or servicing trucks during those conditions got overtaxed,” he notes. “And it’s one thing for a driver to sit on the side of a road in 50 deg. weather. It’s something else when it’s minus 5 deg.”

Equipment operating in Canada and northern U.S. locations is routinely prepped to handle the cold, Kirk adds, but the last winter cycle pushed Arctic temperatures well into southern portions of the U.S.

“Many zones that are not normally affected by such weather got hit with sub-zero cold,” he points out. “So we decided that it’s in everyone’s best interest to put out there what we’ve learned from our winter experience.”


To that end, Ryder developed a winter checklist as part of an online campaign to help motor carriers across the industry get ready for snow, ice and cold.

First and foremost, Kirk says, is to regularly check all the filters, i.e., fuel, oil and even air, on a commercial vehicle when significant drops in temperatures can be experienced, typically from November through April. Next, ensure that truck batteries and related charging system components are in good working order.  “Maintaining enough cranking power is critical to getting trucks up and running when the temperature dips,” Kirk stresses. “We instruct drivers in our northern operations to plug in their block heaters every night in the winter.”

That’s especially critical for 2004 model and later trucks, he added, ones equipped with exhaust gas recirculation and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emissions control systems. “It’s been normal for years to idle engines for long periods in winter,” Kirk says. “But high idling can be damaging to post-2004 vehicles. That creates a lot more soot, for starters.  Then there are many areas where laws restrict engine idling. That’s why we tell all of our drivers to plug in overnight and let the block heater do its job.”

Fuel treatment is another critical area of winter maintenance—even for fleets that don’t expect to operate in northern climes all that much.

“Making sure that fuel has been blended correctly for the seasonal temperature and that a cloud point additive is included prevents fuel filter waxing that causes breakdowns,” Kirk says.  Fleets should fill up on winter-blended fuel at least once per week or use cold-weather fuel treatment additives when traveling to colder climates even if doing so only occasionally, he explains.

Kirk cautions that even small amounts of water in either diesel fuel or diesel exhaust fluid used in the SCR system will freeze. “Even a little water accumulating in the tanks for those respective fluids can freeze in winter; and a typical engine warmup may not thaw it,” he warns. “That can lead to diesel injector jams that can shut down a truck.”

Tires are another item that can undergo changes due to the weather.  “Thermal differences affect tire pressure—decreasing them in the cold, increasing them in the heat,” Kirk points out.

“Such downtime not only affects our customers, it exposes our road service technicians to the same brutal conditions,” Kirk notes. “We’d both rather handle winter maintenance needs on a routine basis—in the shop, not on the road. That’s one reason why we plan to continue offering such seasonal maintenance advice.”

The tips are available at http://campaigns.ryder.com/WinterDriving.  

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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