It is well known that fleet managers with the additional responsibilities of snow and ice removal equipment have their hands full during the winter months. They endure long hours away from home and family in cold, miserable conditions. They oversee the repair of millions of dollars of first responder snow and ice removal equipment so it is available for operators to keep the roads clear and safe for travel. Therefore, we as fleet managers must be proactive in preparation for the winter months when this equipment is called upon to perform flawlessly, possibly 24 hours a day, for weeks on end.
Early Preparation – Specifications and Timely Delivery
I cannot stress enough that developing, following, and funding a vehicle replacement schedule is paramount to the success of any fleet operation. Following this advice, snow and ice removal equipment needs to be ordered well in advance. Specifications need to be developed using both the vehicle and equipment manufacturers’ expertise and user departments’ input.
Specifications and/or procurement forms should be approved before the beginning of the next budget cycle by your purchasing division and user department. Using cooperative bids will speed this procedure along and assure competitive pricing. As soon as your new budget begins, vehicle agenda items for council/commissions should be prepared and sent for approval. This is important because many of the larger, more complex pieces of equipment could take as many as eight to 12 months to be ordered, built, and delivered.
In most cases, this equipment cannot be purchased from a dealer’s lot. You may choose to include a truck chassis and equipment completion schedule with a daily penalty clause assessed to the responsible vendor if the completed vehicle is not delivered within the specified time. I recommend the cab and chassis be inspected by the fleet manager or representative to assure they meet specifications before it is sent for the equipment installation. During the installation of the snow equipment, set up inspections to review installation procedures and placement of any added equipment. This assures there are no surprises at delivery.
You may want to consider an extended warranty option on the engine and transmission. These warranties are not that expensive, and if a failure occurs, this will ease the strain on your operating budget. I also strongly recommend you require all warranties commence upon final approval and acceptance of the completed vehicle.
When creating a specification, always include onsite training for operators and all technicians. You may want to consider video recording these for new hires or refresher training before your winter prep season begins.
Before winter fleet maintenance occurs, it is important to bring in factory and component representatives to review and reinforce proper repair and adjustment procedures. This will assure equipment is operating at the manufacturer’s specifications. This type of training will increase trouble shooting skills, help reduce downtime, and increase vehicle availability.
Winter Equipment Preparation
Begin early and have a goal date for completion well before you anticipate the equipment will be needed. If possible, begin the proactive maintenance of your snow fleet when the last snowfall event concludes. Work with the user department to schedule this. Inspections of items such as suspension, engine, transmission, and overall evaluation of equipment should take place. Prioritize the equipment in need of repairs that will take the longest.
Develop or update your pre-season checklist. This list should receive your entire staff’s input. The checklist should include a bumper to bumper inspection, and teardown and reassembly of the vehicle and attachments. These inspections, when following a detailed checklist, could take from 40 hours for a 5-7-yard dump truck, plow, and salt spreader to as long as 80 hours for a 10-16-yard dump truck with similar equipment. Stick to your list and insist no shortcuts are taken.
Once completed, it is suggested to have the technicians and shop supervisor sign and date it to assure completion, and to place it in the vehicle file or scan it into the fleet management software program. These checklists should be revisited yearly for updates from the previous winter’s maintenance issues. This could point out a repetitive component failure that should be added to your checklist. This also can document new equipment added to the truck, such as a wing plow that should be added to the checklist.
Parts room personnel must adjust inventory to meet the pre-season winter parts availability for your technicians. In many cases, this will mean increasing your quantity of frequently used parts to reduce the time technicians are waiting for parts to complete their repairs. Parts personnel should also open lines of communication with vendors, putting them on notice you will be increasing your stock for winter prep needs.
Planning ahead could bring cost savings, as many vendors offer end-of-season discounts on plow and spreader replacement parts such as cutting edges, curb guards, plow shoes, hydraulic cylinders, hydraulic motors, etc. Take advantage of these discounts, because as fall approaches, the demand for these items is high and the availability and discounts could be scarce. This will assure the parts will be in your stockroom when you need them. When possible, provide the vendors with the part numbers and increased quantity you intend to be ordering during your months of winter preparation. When working with parts vendors, request an emergency/after-hours phone number in case of emergency repairs. Keep an open line of communication with neighboring cities/municipalities in case either of you run into a situation during an emergency that requires parts one has and the other needs. Always document these transactions for accountability.
Even a well-maintained fleet at times will require a tow truck. If you do not own and operate your own tow truck, secure a towing contract with a company that can handle the GVW type trucks and equipment your city/municipality has on the roads. This towing company must be required to respond to your calls 24/7 and within a set time.
To keep your fleet equipment running smoothly, you must make sure your fuel is free of contamination and meets engine specifications. In the cold weather months, it is recommended to use a fuel additive to reduce gelling of the fuel. I would also recommend testing your fuel periodically to assure you are receiving the correct diesel cetane level. Keep an eye on the weather and your fuel tank levels when a storm is predicted and your levels are close to the reorder point. Order your fuel early. If a storm hits with several inches of snow, your fuel usage will increase, and a last-minute fuel order may be delayed. Another important point is servicing your pumps before cold weather sets in. Clean pump screens, check hoses and nozzles, lubricate moving parts, and replace filters and belts if equipped. If you are using a fleet management program, you may want to add your fuel pumps to the system and assign them an asset number and PM frequency such as spring and fall.
In order to maintain equipment, it is important to assure your facility is ready to meet your needs no matter what the outside temperature. Check overhead doors, heating units and filters, emergency generators, security cameras, and exterior lighting, and clear roof drains of debris. Your facility must be ready to respond to your needs. You may want to add these components to your fleet management program and again set up a PM frequency.
Staffing the Shop
Properly staffing your shifts during an emergency weather event is important so you do not burn out all your technicians at the beginning of the storm. Stagger your shifts when possible so technicians are not working more than 10-hour shifts. In many cases, the fleet operation will continue an overtime schedule for days after a major storm to assure the fleet is prepared for the next event.
In my career as a fleet manager, when following the above steps, I found we greatly reduced our downtime and overtime for our winter fleet operation and increased our vehicle availability. If you would like a copy of the checklist we used or have further questions, please do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com.