Winter is coming – time to get your fleet fully prepared

25th November 2019

With winter fast approaching, it’s good practice to prepare your fleet for the upcoming drop in temperatures with a winter check.

“The unit isn’t working”, exclaimed one stressed-out customer on the phone to a dealer. “We’ve set the refrigeration unit for +8°C and are struggling to get the temperature above 0°C”.

The Thermo King dealer, located in Russia, quickly looked to find out what was happening, and asked the question: “Where are you?” The reply: “Surgut” (situated between Siberia and the Urals). When the dealer then heard that the ambient temperature was -48°C they instantly knew the cause of the problem.

As was explained to the customer, coolant inside a refrigeration unit evaporates at -43°C, so it was too cold even for this to happen. Indeed it was a miracle the unit was working and trying to heat the trailer at all! Clearly a warm workshop was going to be required…

Preparing for the worst

-48°C certainly puts the cold into cold chain, though obviously not every transporter operates in such extreme weather conditions. That said, with winter fast approaching it’s good practice for all our customers to prepare for the upcoming drop in temperatures.

To do so requires a winter check. Available from all Thermo King dealers, this is a service that’s focused on checking the condition of:

  • Fuel system and fuel pipes – to ensure no water, dust, or particles are found inside the system
  • Unit, drive system, and belt – to examine the level of wear and tear
  • Refrigeration system – to make sure the charge is good and to check for any leaks or losses of refrigerant
  • Battery – to ensure there’s capacity to power the system through low temperatures
  • Engine coolant – to replace ‘summer coolant’ with a winter variety if the vehicle is expected to operate in extreme conditions
  • Engine oil – to determine if the viscosity exists to survive cold temperatures

A focus on fuel

The fuel that a refrigeration unit uses is a key consideration for winter work. In fact it’s arguably the key factor: 90% of dealer activities aimed at preventing freezing are connected to the quality of fuel in use.

That’s because:

  • Winter (or arctic) fuel, used regularly in countries such as Sweden, Norway, and Russia, is a special diesel that works at very low ambient temperatures
  • Summer fuels involve diesel with a high viscosity and a high paraffin percentage, and this liquid has a tendency to freeze in below-zero conditions

Balancing fuel requirements can of course be a challenge. Take for example a logistics firm shipping apples from the south of Italy to Norway. The vehicle sets off from a warm climate with summer fuel in use, but by the time it gets to the destination the temperature could have fallen to -30°C – thereby creating the possibility of a breakdown in refrigeration.

Problems caused by the freeze

What exactly happens inside a refrigeration unit when cold weather takes hold? What causes a unit to stop functioning? The answer to these questions is simple: the fuel freezes, meaning that none is able to get through to the engine. The unit therefore stops, causing the temperature inside to drop very quickly.

There’s no simple fix either. Instead you’ll need to:

  • Contact the nearest Thermo King dealer to arrange immediate support
  • Be directed toward a warm service center, and wait for the summer fuel to become liquid again
  • Empty the tank and refill with winter fuel
  • Replace the existing fuel filter

All of which means a lot of downtime, the loss of the temperature-sensitive cargo being shipped, and the extra costs associated with the service center and man-hours of a skilled technician.

Benefits of the winter check

A winter check can therefore introduce immediate benefits, including:

  • Access to winter fuels that can be difficult to obtain in warm locations
  • The reassurance of knowing that your fleet is ready for the rigors of winter
  • Upgrade options including heaters for both fuel filters and fuel pipes, alongside innovations such as ThermoLite™ Solar Panels to keep batteries fully charged

Book your winter check up

Winter checks can be completed either inside a dealer workshop or as a mobile service where the dealer comes to your location. To find your nearest dealer click here, and book your check-up – before the big freeze sets in.