The holiday decorations are in the stores, the days are growing shorter, and unless you’re a New England Patriots fan, your football team is at the bottom of the standings.

Winter is here.

As any driver or fleet manager knows, winter weather and the icy conditions can be hard on trucks. While solid knowledge of equipment can save some downtime this winter, your best defense from Old Man Winter may actually be your fleet data.

Big Data can prevent the big chill

By way of on-board computers (OBCs), today’s trucks are tracking and analyzing many types of data that offers visibility into the performance of a truck. Fleet managers and operators are also relying on third-party analyst teams as a way to squeeze every ounce of performance out of trucks – not to mention profit potential. Afterall, increasing fuel economy and reducing maintenance service and repair downtime can add to a fleet’s bottom line. None of this is possible without the abundance of data now being produced by each truck’s OBC.

With trucks facing harsh elements during the dead of winter, it is important to recognize that OBCs have been tracking these effects over the last few years, with newer-model trucks producing even more data and insight into vehicle performance.

In addition to fuel economy and mile-per-gallon trends, critical data sets such as road speed, top-gear time, idle time, routing and scheduling can all be scrutinized through data and analytics to track performance and efficiency gains or losses when the weather turns colder. The data will also support the initiatives that were correct from the previous selected period and allow for adjustments.

When it comes to being prepared for winter, the keys to the winter game aren’t necessarily all in the garage. Your biggest competitive edge may be right now, when you still have time to review what last winter’s data presented about certain vehicle performance characteristics during certain winter conditions day in and day out.

Past data clears the future path

Looking at data another way, when you go to the store to pick up toys and gifts, last year’s data was scrutinized by the store’s manager in order to set inventory schedules for this upcoming holiday season. By studying and using the data, each store can ensure a better guestimate of how much inventory it will take to get through the holiday season, so that products can be priced appropriately for the largest profit margins. Without last year’s data, a store manager may be stuck with excess product, leading to erosion of profit after the holiday season.

This same theory can apply to fleet managers and operators. By studying last year’s vehicle performance data, you can make the timely adjustments to your truck and routes to ensure success at navigating the harsh weather patterns and possibly minimize time in the garage for service and maintenance. A fleet manager can also discuss past performance with the drivers to commend them or provide instruction for improvement.

Other tips to help prepare for winter:

Newer equipment increases chances for success. Newer trucks don’t just offer a higher chance of staying out of the garage and on the roads; they also increase your chance of collecting additional data for future winter planning sessions. Newer-model trucks are more fuel-efficient and are equipped with additional safety and monitoring features that can keep drivers, passengers and other vehicles safer on dangerous weather-beaten roads.

Check coolant levels. Coolant life is normally specified for 24 months (except long-life coolant), and any coolant older than that should be flushed and replaced properly. Your antifreeze properties will remain intact with older coolants, but the additives providing corrosion protection will break down.

Not all diesel is made equal. For diesel engine models, ensure you’re using a pour point additive to treat fuel in areas where temperatures may drop to -10°F. Also noteworthy is that ultra-low sulfur diesel is required in all temperature conditions. When temperature drops to below -10°F or below, you may choose a 20% blend, but keep in mind that blended fuel can cause mpg to drop.  

Lastly, fleet operators should check items such as the battery, any cracks in windshields, operation of heated mirrors, tire conditions, working chains and brake systems and make sure the engine exhaust system is free of any leakage.

Also keep in mind the drivers behind the wheel and their well-being. Ensure that all internal heaters and defrosters are working properly, and that proper emergency kits are fully loaded in the cab.