How To Prepare Your Bus Fleet for Winter
Driving a bus in cold weather requires a different skill set and the right equipment. But you have a better chance of keeping everyone safe with a checklist to remember how to prepare your bus fleet for winter. Start with a thorough inspection of your vehicles and stay vigilant to keep them in optimal condition.
As freezing temperatures approach, inspect all the buses in your fleet, starting with the oldest. Cold weather can exacerbate any preexisting problems, so don’t put off any repairs. It’s better to do it now, because there’s less time when the streets are icy and commutes get longer. Pay special attention to:
- Windshield wipers
- HVAC filters
You’ll be using it again soon enough. Turn it on to flush out dust and debris that’s accumulated since last winter, and make sure it’s blowing warm air. Check the water valves, and make sure there aren’t any leaks in the system. If you have any doubts, consult with a mechanic before it gets any colder.
A Coolant Tester can tell you if your antifreeze is sufficient for the season. When the bus’s engine is cool, remove the pressure cap and use the tester to withdraw a sample of the liquid. Generally, a 50/50 coolant solution will be effective year-round. As the temperature drops, you can add some more antifreeze to the system. Just be sure not to exceed a 70/30 mixture of antifreeze to water, as too much can lead to an overheated engine.
Fully charged, your fleet’s batteries should measure at least 12.6 volts. When engines are running, they should be between 13.7 and 14.7 volts. A multimeter will give you an accurate measure, but you can get an idea of the state of the electrical system just by turning the headlights on and off. If they seem dim, they’re probably pulling energy from the battery, not the alternator. Rev the engine to see if the headlights get brighter. If so, the alternator is assisting the current, but won’t effectively charge the battery. When the lights seem normal and don’t fluctuate when the bus is revving, you should be good to go.
Inspect them for any cracks, or too much space between them and the windshield. Wipers are critical on a daily basis, just to make it safely through snow and storms.
Switch your fleet to winter tires well in advance of extreme weather. A bus skidding on icy roads is profoundly dangerous. Winter tires have larger treads and can grip the asphalt better when it gets slippery. Make sure the treads aren’t too worn, and don’t have gouges or cracks, so you can count on the best traction.
Apply a thin layer of rain repellent to your windshields to keep them as free from accumulating frost as possible. It may not seem like much defense against a winter squall, but every little bit helps. Keep an extra supply on board each bus, along with other emergency equipment such as a can of de-icing spray and road salt.
It can start to freeze at around 20 degrees, so some anti-gel diesel fuel additive can help ensure that your fleet will be ready to begin their routes.
When you haven’t driven in icy conditions for a few months, it’s easy to forget how to prevent trouble on the road, and how to respond in emergency situations. A refresher course for drivers will remind them that winter has its own rules. The training can be conducted by more experienced drivers, or with videos, booklets, or online quizzes. It’s worth it to give them a space in the parking lot to practice cold-weather driving techniques, as well as other methods when called for. Depending on the severity of the weather each day, everyone should know how to adjust:
- Speed control. Even something as routine as approaching an intersection requires much slower speeds to avoid spinning out in traffic.
- Distance management. Drivers need to acknowledge that slippery roads mean that they will have to estimate more room on the roads—and try to remember that oncoming vehicles have the same challenge. It’s the best way to prevent skidding and accidents.
- Effective steering. Easy does it. Jerking the wheel too quickly will lead to loss of control in the winter.
- Increased alertness. It may be impossible to define,but there’s no question that bus drivers have a lot more to watch out for in colder months.
Each bus in the fleet should have some backup plans should their regular routes be interrupted. Rather than muscling through challenging conditions, it’s safer to switch to another route as soon as possible. Make sure drivers are familiar with these alternates and that these routes are posted or kept somewhere for easy reference.
A complete and thorough inspection will get your fleet in shape at the beginning of the season, but a lot can happen to a bus overnight when the weather is unpredictable. Before starting up their buses, drivers should:
- Check the heating system
- Test the air conditioning for the defroster
- Turn on the windshield wipers
- Ensure the headlights are bright
- Take inventory of cold-weather supplies onboard
- Clear all snow and ice from windows, headlights, and mirrors
Check the Weather
A driver needs to know what to expect every day before starting their bus’s engine. Make sure everyone overseeing your fleet has a reliable way to keep up with changes in the weather—including the consequences for roads and traffic—and a point of contact to strategize about navigation. Passengers will get to their destinations safely if the driver is prepared for dangerous conditions.
Park in the Sun
It may not be the most important thing about learning how to prepare your bus fleet for winter, but if you park in the sun to keep your bus warmer, you’ll be glad you did.
As you prepare in the late fall, take the opportunity to assess your fleet as a whole. If it’s time to look for a new vehicle, get ahead of the weather so you can integrate it before the roads get more challenging. Contact National Bus for any shuttle, van, school bus, or charter bus for sale, because we can delivery anywhere in the country. Or stop by and see our selection of new and refurbished models in Tulsa, Oklahoma.