Ah, November! This is the month of the year when all God's creatures seem to take stock and make preparations for the days ahead.
Summer is long gone and the Jet Skis and water wings are put away. The kids are back in school and Halloween is over. If you're like me, you've gotten the guillotine and coffins packed away and most of the bodies are sorted out and stored or at least identified by the next of kin. Most of the leaves are down now, the squirrels are busy storing nuts and seeds, and the deer are buying camouflage outfits.
Stores are setting up their Christmas displays, and the air just keeps getting colder. This can only mean one thing: Winter is fast approaching.
You're probably feeling that primal urge to prepare for the unpredictability of winter, too, and the onslaught of sleet, ice and snow. So you check the tires on your wife's car and decide to put snow tires on this year. You don't want to hear about her getting stuck in your development on a patch of ice like last year when you had that bad ice storm and she couldn't get to work.
You've got the new 4x4 with ``Grip the Road or Die'' tires-so you think you're OK. You check out the windshield wipers and replace the set on your car because you don't want to be caught in the middle of a sub-zero blizzard changing your blades...again.
You fill the windshield washer bottles and also check out the antifreeze and change the oil in both your cars so the engines are well protected. Good thinking. Then you empty the gas tank on the lawn mower, wax the snow shovels (marked ``His'' and ``Hers'') and check out the snow blower as well to make sure it's operational and that your supply of oil and gas mixture is ample.
It sounds like you're ready for winter. Or at least for a volume discount at your hardware or auto supply store.
Service truck winterized?
So now that you've got your personal life prepared for the harsh realities facing you, what about things at work? Are your service trucks winterized and ready to go in hail, sleet, rain or snow? You can't have your best service technician, who got up at 3 a.m. to respond to a service call, stuck in the parking lot during a blizzard while your biggest fleet account's driver stews on the side of the road because your service truck won't start!
Many tire dealers do their own service truck maintenance in-house while others prefer to outsource this work to a reliable truck dealer or repair facility. Whatever you do to prepare your company's vehicles for winter, make sure the following items are inspected and replaced or repaired as necessary:
* Battery-Load test battery and check condition.
* Belts/hoses-Look for cracked hoses, loose fittings and leaks on hoses and loose or worn belts. Replace as needed.
* Brakes-Check brakes completely including wheel cylinders, master cylinders and brake lines to make sure they are in top working order.
* Tires-Make sure tires have enough tread depth to allow safe driving in winter conditions. Look for any damage like curbing, cuts or punctures and remove any rocks or debris from the tread even though they haven't penetrated the casing.
As the tire continues to run, a small nail now embedded in a tire will eventually be pushed into the casing and cause a leak. Repair or replace any tires that are cause for concern. Good winter tires probably make sense for those of you in the Snow Belt states. Don't forget to check tire pressures and adjust as necessary.
* Shocks-Shock absorbers and springs also should get a good inspection, as should all steering components.
* Lights-Ensure all lights are operational: front, back and inside the cab.
* Engine oil-Check oil level and change if required.
* Windshield and windshield wipers-Inspect the windshield for cracks and chips and repair or replace if found. Test wipers and replace as necessary. Check windshield washer operation and fill the washer bottle.
* Coolant system-Check anti-freeze levels for freeze point, correct as necessary.
* Exhaust-Check the exhaust system for leaks.
* Alignment-Check the alignment. A vehicle that is out of alignment is more difficult to control in bad weather conditions.
* Beacon light-Make sure the lens is intact and the light is operational.
* Mirrors-Ensure outside and inside mirrors are secure and unbroken.
* Air filter-Replace the filter as necessary.
* Safety equipment-Ensure the service truck has all of the required safety equipment including reflective triangles or flares, first aid kits and fire extinguishers, and make sure they are operational, complete and charged.
* Cranes-For those of you with cranes on your service trucks, the good news is that the hydraulic fluid is good for -40 degrees Fahrenheit to +120 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as the fluid level is proper, there is no need to change fluid.
Now, the fleet customers
OK. So you've got your personal fleet in order and your service trucks are ready for winter. Now what about your fleet customers?
Do they know they should winterize their fleets for optimum and safe tire performance? Do you think they've got your primal urge to prepare for winter, too? After all, they are going to be plowing down the nation's highways in hail, sleet, slush and snow even when you decide it's too miserable to venture out of your house despite all of your preparations.
If fleets want their trucks and tractors to operate properly in this harsh weather, it's imperative that their rubber meets the road. It if doesn't, they will find they've got toboggans, not trucks!
While most northern fleets are accustomed to living in the cold and take proactive measures to winterize their trucks, a large percentage of vehicles requiring roadside assistance during the winter months are those that are maintained in states with warmer climates. So fleet managers based in warmer climates have to be reminded that even though they may not go everywhere, their trucks do. All fleets need to be reminded to winterize their tires in addition to their trucks.
And this presents an opportunity for you as a commercial tire dealer. With the hot weather over, it's time to take a really good look at your fleet customers' tires. The summer may have taken a toll on them since their vehicles were hauling freight like mad in this strong economy. If their tires weren't as well maintained as they should have been, you'll find all kinds of ugly things now that may result in increased tire sales and services.
It's tire time
First off, you'll probably find tires with tread depths that are pretty low. If you find tires on the steer or drive axles that have less than 7/32nds, you might want to point these out to the fleet. Then you can recommend replacing them with tires that will provide ample tread rubber to cut through snow, channel water and provide the traction needed to stop and accelerate in arctic conditions.
If air pressures or diameters have not been matched on dual tires, you may find a lot of irregular wear. Recommend to the fleet that you move these tires to other positions on the tractor or trailer to run these out. Or use them as spares depending upon their conditions. Then properly match dual tire diameters and air pressures within 2 psi of each other in order to keep the tires in even, solid contact with the pavement.
If the fleet has tractors with tandem axle drives, you'll find that the rear drive axle tires are much more worn than the forward drive axle tires. If the wear on a tractor's rear drive tires is more than 4/32nds vs. the wear on the forward tires, recommend to the fleet that you rotate the tires from the rear drive axle to the forward drive axle. This will even out their wear.
The tires on both of the tandem drive axles must be closely matched to safeguard the differential and prevent excessive slip, loss of traction and uneven wear. Odds are good that the fleet replaced some tires during the summer and you may find that certain tires have more tread than others. The diameters of the four drive tires on a single axle drive tractor should be matched within 1/4-inch or less across the axle.
Twin-screw drive axles require all eight tires be matched so that the average diameter on one axle is no more than 1/4-inch different from the average diameter on the other axle. If tires do not mate within these tolerances, it may be necessary for the fleet to replace the whole set.
Properly mating tires will help prevent spinning on ice with the drive axles fighting each other and will get the freight delivered on time. It also may get you additional tire sales and service revenue.
If tractors are out of alignment, you may find shoulders worn off steer tires and even the drive tires depending upon the alignment condition. Don't forget to check the trailer tires, too. Worn shoulders on these tires also indicate misalignment.
Proper vehicle alignment of both the tractor and the trailer not only improves fuel economy and tread wear, but also could be a lifesaver when the vehicle travels on snow, slush or ice. Even a minor misalignment condition could reduce the driver's ability to control his rig in bad weather. Recommend to the fleet that its vehicles be aligned as soon as possible to make sure the tires contact the road properly to get the best traction possible and ensure the vehicle is traveling straight down the road for optimum handling.
You also will find tires with cuts, punctures and snags that are just begging to fail on the road at the coldest and nastiest moment imaginable. Advise the fleet of these conditions and recommend that you repair these tires properly as soon as possible.
Other checklist items
While you're out there checking tires, make sure the fleet has metal valve caps installed on all valve stems. The job of the caps is to keep dirt, snow and ice from getting in the valve and fouling the valve core, which causes leaks.
And check to ensure all tires are inflated to their proper pressure. This will prevent a lot of irregular wear and help make sure your product runs longer. Also, emphasize to the fleet the need to properly maintain tire pressures in the winter months. Remind them that when tire pressures change, tire footprints change as well-and this will affect tire traction.
Remind fleets to check the condition of their tire chains or cables if they travel in states that require traction aids on snowy or icy roads. Many fleets forget to do this and drivers only realize their chains are broken when they pull them out to put them on.
In many states, if trucks don't have tire chains or cables installed for hazardous, winter road conditions, they are shut down on the spot.
While you're talking with the fleet manager, this is probably a good time to review his fleet's tire use over the last year as well. Address supply and inventory issues, tire maintenance problems, record keeping software and different types of tires that the fleet should consider, etc.
Keep in mind that fleets that issue contracts for tire purchases usually do so at the beginning of the year. So now is a good time to begin preparing for that predictable part of winter. Think of it as storing nuts and seeds.