Winter is Coming: How to Keep Fleet Costs Under Control in the Cold Months

Your fleet may not have to face the Night King this winter, fortunately for you, but it doesn’t change the fact that winter is coming.

If you’re not a fan of the much-hyped Game of thrones TV show then this first sentence may not make an awful lot of sense, but I’ll summarise.

Without going into too much detail, in the fictional world of Game of Thrones, winters can last for years or even for generations. Through that time icy winds blow from the north and disturb the lives of everyone, including those transporting goods up and down the Kings Road, a kind of mythological equivalent of the M1.

In the land of Westeros they only need to concern themselves with the efficiency of their horses, but here in the real world, when winter sets in several factors conspire to limit the effectiveness of our fleets.

In an analysis we conducted a few years back looking at a large UK-based mixed fleet, we identified a swing of 4 – 6% between the summer and winter months. That means your fleet could be a twentieth more expensive to run in the winter, or looking at it another way, 5% less effective.

This is right at a time when most operators are pushing what is possible to the absolute limit to meet surging demand. So what are the main factors affecting vehicle performance and how can fleet managers make changes to best keep costs under control this winter?

Engine Performance
Winter diesel fuel is enhanced to prevent it from gelling in cold weather conditions. This is achieved with additives that change the low temperature characteristics of the fuel.

In the UK and the republic of Ireland, distribution of fuel including these winter additives begins in November and ends in March. While it is required to ensure the smooth running of your fleet it does lead to an inevitable reduction in efficiency.

There’s very little that can be done to change this, though efforts can be made elsewhere to offset this swing to inefficiency.

Stock Up on De-Icer
It sounds obvious, but make sure you don’t run out of de-icer. Customers we meet do stock de-icer, but all too often it runs out. Don’t let this happen in your fleet. Often the alternative is to idle the vehicle and rely on the engine-powered heater to warm up the window until the ice melts away. This is significantly more expensive than the de-icer would have been in the first place.

So when the seemingly painful invoice for de-icer arrives, remember that the hidden cost of not buying it is much greater than that of settling the bill or even increasing the order. It’s also key to make sure your drivers always have access to supplies and understand the importance of using it.

Buy Night Heaters
Even if you’re vehicles are not overnighting, night heaters are a sensible investment. At a couple of hundred quid a pop they will help you to minimise idling time.

In so many cases we see vehicle idling time shoot up in the winter months as drivers warm up their cabs when they get in in the morning using vehicle heaters. Cut this out by having drivers use night heaters instead. This has the added benefit of reducing time spent in the yard getting ready.

Even through a single winter the cost of this additional wasted time and extra idling is likely to significantly exceed that of the cost of the night heaters. Plus they’ll last many years to come.

Monitor Idling Time
With telematics products, like Microlise Fleet Performance, you can monitor excessive idling so that you’ll be the first to know if a depot has run out of de-icer or is not implementing company policy to reduce idling time. With the data at your fingertips you’ll be able to target incentives to tackle the most inefficient parts of your operation to have the greatest impact.

Driving Style
Research by the Office for National Statistics for a report titled Analysis of Weather Effects on Daily Road Accidents identifies a correlation between temperature, rainfall and road accidents.

Contrary to what you might think, the warmer it is and the less rainfall there is compared to average, the more road accidents there are. It also highlights an obvious seasonal trend, with more accidents in the summer months and fewer in the winter.

This stacks up with our belief that road users will drive to road conditions and if conditions are cold or wet, in general they slow down and give more space. Not only does this mean safer roads, but it leads to drivers performing more efficiently through the winter months with less harsh braking, accelerating and cornering. This will naturally offset the less efficient diesel and engine performance.

Using telematics, you could examine your drivers’ performance on a particularly challenging weather day and use it as an example for a warm, sunny, dry day. Make the most of the good practice naturally occurring through winter and try to extend it into the warmer months.

The Simple Things
While we may not have Daenerys Targaryen and her trilogy of dragons to keep us and our fleets warm this winter, we hope our tips have proved useful.

A few simple steps to cut idling, reduce wasted time and stay stocked up will help to minimise the inevitable reduction in performance that comes with the winter months. Remember, winter is coming, so make sure your team has the best processes in place and that your fleet is in tip top condition.