At this stage of the battery electric vehicle revolution, you can’t just walk into a dealer and buy a battery-electric truck. That day’s not that far off though, so you might now be thinking about such a move. There’s a great deal more to think about with BEVs than you may be expecting compared to buying a diesel, including dealing with the utility companies, site planners, planning the probable expansion of your BEV fleet.

Several early adopter fleets are already running electric trucks in field trials and limited service, and they have begun the necessary upgrades to their terminal facilities. NFI is one such fleet. It operates a fleet of trucks between Chino, California and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The fleet currently has 45 tractors, including several natural-gas powered trucks, but so far only one electric Class 8.

“A typical run to the ports and back is about 108 miles,” says Bill Bliem, senior vice president of fleet services at NFI. “Most of the diesel trucks make two or three trips a day, but the electric truck doesn’t have the range to get to Chino and back. It’s running locally around the ports.”

Those range issues had surfaced previously when NFI first dipped its toe into the natural gas pond. They were successfully overcome then and Bliem expects a similar outcome with electric trucks but admits it will take some time. Getting the trucks into service is relatively easy, keeping them working and optimizing utilization is proving a little more challenging, he told an audience at the ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual meeting earlier this year in Atlanta.

“With electric vehicles, there’s lots of headwinds and also lots of tailwinds,” he said. “California is offering lots of incentives toward BEV adoption to help meet its clean air action plan of zero emissions by the end of 2020. The costs are coming down as the technology develops but there are still lots of unknowns; like the true total cost of ownership, for example. If anybody tells you that total cost of ownership is going to be less than a diesel, it’s only an assumption. Nobody knows yet. It has not yet been proven.”

Bliem is learning as he goes, and he says there has been a lot to get his head around, such as how much energy his trucks will be drawing off the grid.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. residential customer uses approximately 909 kWh of electricity per month. “Based on the estimation that we’ll need 2.3 kilowatt-hours per mile to run a Class-8 electric tractor, we’ll get one day of work out of one month’s energy consumption for a typical household,” he told the audience. “When you multiply that by 15 tractors, which we hope to have by the end of the year, we’ll need to have fifteen household’s worth of energy every day.”

There will be some areas where that amount of power just isn’t available, due either to local demand or infrastructure constraints.

Energy availability

Ryder System Inc. discovered these constraint problems during advance planning work for electrical infrastructure at some if its locations in California. Chris Nordh, senior director of advanced vehicle technology and energy products told HDT in January during the CES show in Las Vegas that after about 25 installations, it became obvious that some of Ryder’s older locations did not have enough spare capacity for more than six or seven light-duty electric vehicles.

“There are a number of things that’ll help increase the number of vehicles that you can have at a single site, but at some point you will reach a threshold, and yes, that is an issue,” Nordh says. “Most of our customers don’t have the kind of density that, for example, a FedEx or a UPS has with hundreds of vehicles at the same site. Most of our customers are 5 or 10 trucks and so they will have an easier time adopting electric vehicles than some larger operations.

“Interestingly, you have an almost inverse relationship when it comes to electric vehicles. The first vehicle that you get is quite easy to deal with,” Nordh says.

The building probably already has 220-volt service and it’s easy to install a 220-volt, level-2 charger. For the most part, the vehicles that are available today, especially smaller, shorter-range vehicles don’t need fast charging capabilities and they are used only 10 hours a day so they can be charged conveniently and cheaply overnight. But it can get complicated when you start getting into larger and larger implementation projects.

“In our experience with our buildings, it starts getting rocky right around 10 vehicles, maybe a little bit more, and in a few cases, a little less,” he says.

In NFI’s case, with its higher demand Class 8 trucks, Bliem is guarding against scenarios that would result in higher demand charges — upcharges utilities require you to pay when your use power at times of the day when there is peak demand for electricity. 

“Electricity costs, unlike diesel, can vary with the time of day,” Bliem noted. “It will often cost you more to charge at three o’clock in the afternoon than it does at 1:00 AM, so you need to be aware of the utility’s demand charges.”

“We had to look closely at when our trucks were finished their daily runs and could be charged compared to when we were actually charging,” said Bliem. “We are installing 550-kilowatt chargers in one location to charge 10 trucks, but we don’t want to be charging even five trucks at the same time because that drives demand charges up. If that happens, we’ll be paying more for power for the entire month because of that high peak demand. To control these charges, we’ll need to align the charging schedules with the drive cycles in such a way as to minimize peak demand.”

Site management

The infrastructure is another matter altogether. Upfitting an existing site with the appropriate electrical service takes time, and depending on the proposed installation, it can involve discussions with utility companies as well as landlords if the property is leased.

“The first question is whether the utility company can even get enough electric power to the site,” Bliem said. “They may need to upgrade the transformers, and if so, is there funding available to do it? Obviously, we don’t want to make a million-dollar investment in a site we’re leasing.”   

Cities will sometimes pay part of the cost of the infrastructure, but then the utility may have partial ownership of that infrastructure. Negotiations of that nature can significantly increase the lead time on the project. On top of that, fleets will need to involve an engineering firm, as well as the utility, from the beginning.

Fleets considering electrification will need to work with an installation partner that can assess the facility and energy usage and provide some guidance in reducing electrical loads in the building itself, such as lighting retrofits or solar solutions. Other options such as smart charging can be used to balance electricity demand, and on-site battery systems can be charged at off-peak times in order to charge the vehicles during peak times if necessary.

Few fleets will have the inhouse expertise to pull this off alone, so Nordh suggests working closely with the utilities to take full advantage of their expertise and experience.

“As an example, some utility companies in California are reworking their rate structures right now in order to move away from the peak demand charges and instead create a sort of subscription basis for how many kilowatts the customer will use,” Nordh said. “If you have five vehicles, you have one type of subscription; if you have twenty, you have a different type of subscription. We’re seeing good progress in California and I’m starting to talk to a few other utilities that are thinking the same way.”

One thing Bliem has learned from his experience so far is that there is no one-size-fits all approach to the infrastructure needed to supply that power.

“There will be different approaches for every scenario,” he says. “And, purchasing electricity as a fuel is a completely new experience. We’re trying to negotiate with utility companies, and the good thing is that those companies are looking at this as a major sale, so they are interested in talking with us.”

In NFI’s case, they are building infrastructure for their own trucks. In Ryder’s case, Nordh is looking at charging solutions for the Ryder depots where electric vehicles are based, as well as customer locations who have long-term leases on electric vehicles.

“The transition from ICE to BEV is proving to be anything but seamless and we are finding that we have to play a larger role in helping our customers adopt this new technology,” Nordh remarked. “There is a need for education across the customer base right now. The skill set they have for managing a diesel fleet doesn’t always translate to the electric vehicle side.”

Source: FleetForward

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Rain is weather. Snow is, too. So, that must mean that all-weather tires work for both raindrops and snowflakes, right? As with almost everything else, the answer is: it depends. As seasons change and road conditions worsen, it’s essential to understand the differences between all-weather tires and winter tires.

What are all-weather tires?

All-weather tires, also known as all-season tires, offer a mix of the benefits that you gain from summer and winter tires. To maintain their signature well-roundedness though, all-season tires compromise on some features for more extreme conditions like heavy rainfall or significant road icing.

For example, all-season tires can be louder and less responsive than summer tires because they have deeper treads. On the other hand, all-weather tires’ treads are not quite as deep as winter tires’, which reduces their stopping power and traction on icy roads.

All-weather tires offer many benefits for drivers who live in areas with milder seasons. For example, drivers with all-season tires can enjoy the convenience and cost-savings of not needing semi-annual tire changes. Plus, all-season tires offer a quiet ride and more than enough traction for everyday driving! Although all-weather tires are great for many people, motorists in places with particularly harsh winters or extra-long rainy seasons should look for more specialized options.

What are winter tires?

Winter tires are designed to meet the challenges of rough winter weather, thanks to their softer rubber, specialized tread design, and traction-enhancing biting edges. If you live and drive in a climate that experiences severe cold, ice, and snow, then winter tires definitely can come in handy.

Wondering how differences in rubber and design impact winter tires performance as compared to all-season tires? Here’s how these components set the two types of tires apart.

Tread rubber

Most winter tires contain softer rubber than all-season ones. The purpose of such rubber compounds is to prevent tires from stiffening in low temperatures, which reduces traction when you need it most. Winter tires’ unique rubber compounds are designed to remain flexible, enabling them to grip the road better. That’s one reason many technicians recommend switching to winter tires when the temperature consistently dips below 45°F, even if the forecast calls for clear skies.

Tread depth and design

Winter tires come with deeper tread depths and more detailed tread patterns than all-weather tires do. The deeper treads of winter tires grip the road, enhancing traction. The unique tire tread patterns channel snow and slush out and away from the tire.

Biting edges

“Biting edges” are tiny, shallow slits within a tire’s tread blocks. Each slit “bites” the road as a tire turns, improving traction on snow and sleet. While both all-season and winter tires have biting edges, winter tires have more than all-season tires, giving them additional traction in wintry road conditions.

Overall, winter tires have an advantage in areas where winter temperatures regularly hit 45°F or below. In a test conducted by Popular Mechanics, winter tires improved performance in braking (up to 5%) and cornering (up to 20%) on snowy and icy roads compared with all-weather tires.

All-weather vs. snow tires: which should you get?

The decision of whether to equip your vehicle with winter tires or all-season tires depends on where you live and drive.

If you drive somewhere that rarely gets hit with snow or ice, all-weather tires should be just fine. But if snow, ice, and freezing temperatures are a common occurrence, it’s best to invest in a reliable set of winter tires.

Dashing through the snow takes on a whole new meaning when you do it with the right tires.

Source: Firestone

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The holiday season is finally here, and with it comes many things: comfort food, holiday parties, and spending time with family and friends. With everyone traveling to reconnect with their out-of-town nearest and dearest, it’s no wonder the holidays are the most traffic-heavy time of year. Over 100 million people took to the roads for the holidays in 2018! How many will be hitting the highways in 2019?

Traffic isn’t the only concern drivers have while traveling during the holiday season. Snowstorms, rain, and sleet can roll in any time. Thankfully, these threats don’t have to slow you down, or worse, leave you stranded. Before you hit the road this holiday season, here are some ways to prepare your vehicle for that first winter road trip.

1. Get your battery tested.

Everything from the engine to the radio relies on your battery, and cold can impact your battery more than you think. A cold battery is not only trying to warm itself up, but it’s also trying to get everything else in your vehicle running as well, such as your engine.

Plus, your engine’s oil thickens as temperatures drop. The thicker the oil, the more power your car battery requires to move it to where it needs to be. With all this strain, it’s no wonder your battery has a higher chance of kicking the can during the winter months.

Luckily, a battery test at Firestone Complete Auto Care can give you a comprehensive look at your battery’s charge. This quick and simple test can save you a lot of heartache down the road. Imagine your car not starting after you stop for gas, halfway between grandma’s gravy and who-knows-where.

2. Check your windshield wipers.

Nothing is more frustrating than driving down the highway and turning on your wipers, only to realize they’re making it harder to see! Old wiper blades can smudge your view, make horrible scraping noises, and even scratch the windshield glass. Layer on dirty road slush and flurries of snow and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Replacing your windshield wipers is an easy thing to overlook. But when you need a clear view of the road, the quality of your wipers makes all the difference. Have your wipers blades replaced every 6-12 months.

The correct windshield wipers should sit firmly against your windshield and apply even pressure. Bring your vehicle to Firestone Complete Auto Care for TRICO® wiper blades and we’ll top off your wiper fluid, too.

3. Get an oil change.

Many technicians will tell you that changing your oil is the easiest way to extend the life of your vehicle. This is especially important during winter. Motor oils are rated for cold resistance. So, having a less-than-ideal oil in your engine during a cold season could mean sludgy oil and poor engine performance.

Before embarking on your winter road trip, schedule an oil change to get the best cold-rated oil for your vehicle. Even if you aren’t due for an oil change, it might be best to go ahead and get fresh oil that’s designed specifically to withstand lower temperatures. This simple to-do will better prepare you and your engine for the long (and potentially icy) road ahead.

4. Get winter tires.

If you thought winter tires are just regular tires that say “Winter” on the side, think again! There are many benefits to installing a complete set of winter tires on your vehicle, especially for a long drive or winter road trip. Here’s a quick look at the differences between winter tires and other tires when put to the test in low temperatures.

Non-winter tiresWinter tires
Stopping PowerLow stopping power due to decreased traction from shallow treadsIncreased stopping power from deeper, cold-weather optimized treads
TractionPoor traction, as normal rubber hardens in the cold and will struggle to grip the roadBetter traction, since the rubber in winter tires remains pliable in low temperatures, keeping the tire from hardening and offering better grip
HandlingUnreliable handling since the tread is not designed for icy conditionsSteady handling, as deep tread grooves help maintain traction and handling in wet, snowy, or icy conditions

Knowing the benefits of winter tires is important. Winter tires can help reduce the risk of a blowout and increase your steering control in icy conditions. When freezing temperatures hit, winter tires can help you get to your holiday destination safely.

Source: Firestone Complete Auto Care

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If you’ve been driving for awhile, you’re probably used to encountering occasional potholes on the road — including some that can be rather large. You know that potholes can create an unpleasant and bumpy ride, but did you know that they may also cause damage to your vehicle? The tips below can help you learn how to handle potholes safely and may even minimize the impact they can have on your car.

What causes potholes?

Many potholes are caused when water seeps into soil under the pavement and then freezes and thaws, weakening the road. This may cause the pavement to crack, which, when combined with the weight of vehicles driving over the road, eventually turns these weak areas into potholes, says the Summit County Engineer in Ohio. Because of the role freezing temperatures can play in pothole formation, severe winter weather can often lead to the creation of potholes.

How can I safely handle them?

If you live in an area with lots of potholes, knowing what you can do to help safely maneuver around them is key. First, you should maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you so it’s easier to spot potholes ahead. You should also use caution when approaching puddles of water as they could really be potholes in hiding. If you can’t avoid hitting a pothole slow down before you hit it and firmly grip the wheel to help avoid losing control of your vehicle.

To potentially minimize the impact that hitting a pothole can have on your car, ensure your tires are inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended level — an under-inflated tire may not have enough resistance to withstand the impact of a pothole. Lastly, you should ensure your car’s suspension is in good condition. It may be a good idea to have a mechanic help you confirm this.

What kind of car damage can potholes cause?

In addition to causing damage to the tire itself, potholes may cause alignment or suspension problems to your vehicle. Below are some signs that your car may have sustained damage after hitting a pothole:

  • One or more deflated tires
  • Severe cracks or bulges in the tires
  • Dents in the wheel rims
  • The vehicle shaking and pulling to the left or right, which could indicate an alignment problem
  • Fluid leaks, which may mean your undercarriage is damaged
  • Odd noises coming from the exhaust system

If you notice any of these issues, you may want to take your car to a repair facility to have a professional check it for damage as soon as possible. If the pothole did cause damage to your vehicle, it may be a good idea to call your insurance agent to see if your auto policy might help cover some of the repair costs.

Some potholes are unavoidable, but learning how to safely handle them on the road may help you save money and frustration down the road. The next time you see a pothole ahead, remember to slow down, and call your mechanic right away if you notice any subsequent issues with your vehicle. It might also be a good idea to notify your city or county transportation authorities so they are aware of potholes that need to be filled.

Source: Allstate

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More drivers hit wild animals during the fall season, according to AAA — and that can mean anything from a mild fender bender to a serious collision. Deer mating season runs from October to early January. Now is a good time for fleet managers to remind drivers how to avoid hitting a deer, and what to do in the event that it does happen.

Experts offer the following advice for avoiding a collision with wildlife crossing:

Slow down: This provides you with a longer reaction time in the event a deer or other wild animal runs in front of your vehicle.

Heed warning signs: Many rural roads feature deer crossing signage. Be on the lookout for signs and be extra vigilant when traversing those roadways.

Be cautious at dawn and dusk: This is when there is high animal movement, but low visibility. Be extra cautious when driving in the early morning or after dark.

Use high beams: When driving at night, make sure to use your high beams, which increase viewing distance of the road ahead. They can help you spot deer in advance.

Pay attention to the side of roads: Deer and other wildlife can suddenly dart into the road, so look off to either side from time to time.

Look for shine: Anything reflective or shiny up ahead could be “eye shine”—that is, a deer looking in your direction.

Eliminate all distractions: As always, set the cell phone, coffee cup and anything else aside and stay focused on the road.

If you are caught off guard and think you are going to strike a deer, experts offer the following advice:

  • Do not swerve: It’s better to strike the deer than to hit a tree or pole.  
  • Brake firmly: But just before you make impact with the animal, take your foot off the brake. This technique reduces the risk of the deer smashing through your windshield.
  • Seek help: After hitting a deer, if possible, leave your vehicle and head to a safe place on foot where you can call for help. If the vehicle is disabled or you are in a remote area, turn on your hazard lights, call the police, and keep your seat belt fastened.

Source: Automotive Fleet

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