As a fleet manager, keeping your company’s vehicles running as efficiently as possible is one of your priorities.
However, driving in winter can present its own challenges. It goes without saying that there are weather extremes such as snow, ice and storms, plus extra hours of darkness, but fuel economy can also take a hit.
It’s estimated that vehicle performance is approximately 10% poorer overall in the winter. This is due to various factors including the greater use of lights and heaters, plus lower air temperatures resulting in denser air which boosts engine performance, but harms economy.
It’s therefore more important than ever that your fleet is properly prepared, employees change their driving habits so their vehicles run more efficiently, and they are getting the best price for their fuel.
- After starting an engine in cold weather, encourage drivers not to leave vehicles idling to “warm up” because all this does is waste fuel. The engine gets up to temperature faster when it’s driven
- Scrape ice or spray de-icer to clear the windscreen rather than leaving a vehicle idling and using heaters
- If possible, leave vehicles parked under cover or inside during the winter to prevent frost and increase the initial temperature of the engine and cabin
- Drivers of plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle should pre-heat the cabin while plugged into the charger to avoid eating into the car or van’s range
- Save weight by not carrying around unnecessary heavy items. For instance, trucks sometimes drive around with excess gear from previous jobs that drivers have not unloaded. It may not always make sense to have a full tank of fuel, unless embarking on a long journey, because more petrol or diesel means more fuel has to be used to move the vehicle
- Save fuel with journey planning. Use traffic news and intelligent sat navs to avoid congestion hotspots and try to use the most efficient route, which isn’t always the shortest
- Driving at 70mph (113kph) uses up to 9% more fuel than at 60mph (96kph), and up to 15% more than at 50mph (80 kph) so it pays to keep the speed down
- Broadly speaking, the optimum driving speed for fuel economy is around 55mph, but it’s also important to improvise and learn to adjust according to the road ahead
- Driving at a constant speed is one of the keys to fuel efficient drivers, so use cruise control on motorways
- A smooth driving style is the best for fuel efficiency. Gentle acceleration and reading the road ahead to avoid harsh braking will save fuel
- Drivers should aim to keep the revs down by changing up early and avoid stop-starts in traffic by rolling along gently
- Some drivers have the air conditioning switched on all the time, which affects fuel economy. When the weather is cold, it’s often unnecessary because the heat from the engine is enough to warm the vehicle
- Patience pays off, especially when roads are busy. Trying to overtake everyone is unlikely to save you much, if any, time
In addition to the above, use the technology available in the form of telematics or “black boxes” to analyse fleet fuel consumption by monitoring your employees’ driving habits and fuel usage, followed by a plan to help improve overall fuel efficiency. Shell has entered the telematics market in several countries
Fuel cards are also useful for fleets to keep track of drivers’ fuel purchases and consumption. A Shell Fuel Card also lets drivers pay for services on the road, such as road tolls, breakdown assistance, truck on train and ferry trips. It also allows you to set up fuel consumption reports, transactions and exceptions.
Get set for winter
- Have a vehicle winter check-up: Regular maintenance and servicing improves the efficiency of vehicles and therefore improve fuel consumption
- Battery performance decreases in the winter, yet they are under additional strain due to the increased use of the lights and heaters, so get a check done to make sure they stay the course
- Drivers should make sure lights are in full working order before every journey and regularly cleaned in poor weather so they remain visible. Mirrors and windows should be kept clean
- Monitor vehicle tyre pressure – not only is this essential for safety on icy roads, but it will also help fuel economy
- A minimum of 3mm tyre tread depth is recommended during the winter, compared to the legal minimum of 1.6mm, as this gives better grip. In some conditions, winter tyres, which are designed to be used in temperatures of 7 degrees Celsius or below, may be appropriate. They offer better responsiveness and braking distances due to a softer compound than summer tyres, but remember to change them back once the weather warms as winter tyres will wear out more quickly and the car will use more fuel.
- Check the levels of screen wash – not just to maintain visibility, but to reduce the chance of freezing