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A risk management approach to winterizing your business

November 25, 2013
KEYWORDS winterizing
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Summer is over and it is time, once again, to prepare for the winter season. The carwash industry plays a key role in helping customers winterize their vehicles. It is just as important for carwash owners and operators to take proactive steps to help prevent damage to business property, as well as to reduce the probability of claims from injuries or damage to customers and their vehicles. The purpose of this article is to help you, the carwash owner, reduce both the frequency and severity of claims which ultimately should help control your insurance premium costs by improving your loss history.

Winter is an opportunity to capture the business generated by the customer’s need to winterize their vehicles, including washing their vehicle on a regular basis. It is also an opportunity to reduce your own exposure to loss. As a carwash owner you understand the importance of removing all of the summer’s residues from the exterior of the vehicle, including the undercarriage and wheel wells, to avoid winter corrosion.

Are you ready for winter?

In addition, the sealants you provide your customers help protect their vehicles from winter slush, salt and grit, as they are especially abrasive. As you know, salt is a car’s worst enemy during the winter. According to the Salt Institute, an average of about 15 million tons of salt is used to de-ice slippery roads in the United States every winter. This salt ends up on and in people’s vehicles which eventually sends them to your carwash for cleanup.

You will want to be sure your business is ready for winter as well, paying special attention to your own vehicles and premises. Following are some suggestions to winterize your vehicles to ensure driver safety for you and your employees, and help prevent accidents and breakdowns during the winter season. By taking just a few common sense steps, you will reduce your exposures to loss.

  1. Check wiper blades. Be sure to replace worn blades and don’t forget to fill the vehicle with washer fluid and antifreeze solution so windshield can be cleared efficiently.
  2. Keep a full tank of fuel. Keeping your tank at least halfway full prevents moisture from freezing in the fuel lines which will reduce the likelihood of engine shutdown.
  3. Winterize your tires. Be especially careful to monitor your tire pressure.  Cold air causes tires to contract, reducing traction and increasing the risk of sliding on slick roadways. 
  4. Check the battery. Cold temperatures reduce battery capacity by up to 50 percent.  If your battery is more than three years old, have it checked by a professional technician and replace it if necessary.
  5. Charge your cell phone. If you have car trouble, it is better to stay in the shelter of the car and make a phone call than to subject yourself to dangerous conditions.
  6. Check your lights. Bad weather may mean reduced visibility. Be sure you can be seen by others by being sure all lights are working properly and that the lenses are clean and free of ice or snow.
  7. Winterize driving skills. Remind your employees that it takes longer to slow down when the roads are covered with slippery ice and snow. By doing so, could prevent an accident, especially when entering or approaching intersections.

The importance of detailed records

Cold weather increases the possibility of slip and fall accidents, especially in the carwash industry. This should be an especially important part of your winter risk management plan.  Care should be taken to ensure your customers are protected from injury by making sure your walk ways and parking areas are cleared of dangerous conditions due to ice and snow. 

It’s not a bad idea to include in your risk management plan, a weather log that indicates daily weather conditions and what you have done to make your premises safe to prevent any possible accidents. This should actually be an ongoing log for the entire year to be sure you do not accidently overlook a weather related condition that could give rise to hazardous conditions. 

If someone were to claim they fell due to your negligence regarding the condition of your premises, you will have documentation to verify that you took proactive steps on a regular basis to show the area was secured. This weather log is a good defense if you are sued for injury or damages as a result of a weather related fall and is evidence of your efforts on a consistent basis to protect the safety of your customers and others who may be on your premises.

Preventative maintenance checklist

In most cases, you cannot afford to be caught unprepared for the cold days of winter that may be ahead. Being unprepared can cost you business income, increased premiums due to larger, more frequent insurance claims, as well as out of pocket costs of repairs. After reviewing a number of checklists available through your vendors and others, listed below is just some of the equipment you will want to double check in preparation for the big chill, along with a few simple suggestions to assure ease of operation and prevention of damage to your equipment:

(Erika, can you make this with a perforated edge)

 

EQUIPMENT

SUGGESTIONS FOR WINTERIZING

 

TunnelWash

 

Drain gear oil, flush casing, refill with proper gear oil.  Replace worn chain pins or wear block. Clean take-up and drive pits. Run conveyor through full speed range and check for excessive wear on track and brushes

 

 

Heaters

 

Check thermostat operation. Operate heaters and check for recommended water temperatures. Be sure to also check thermostat operation and heater operation in tunnel and customer area heaters.

 

 

Pumps, Valves & Dispensers

 

Drain oil and refill. Check tightness of plumbing fittings.  Grease all bearings and check for patterns of wear.  Replace clogged nozzles and any couplers that have excessive “play.” Check pressure relief valve, high and low shut off, pulleys and belts on all air compressors

 

 

Self-Serve Locations

 

Check on any in-ground heating. Be sure to turn the thermostat up to keep any water from freezing on the bay floor. Check for dryness around in-ground coils.  Check trigger guns for proper operation and replace nozzles as necessary.

 

 

Note: Oils used in your equipment changes characteristics when the temperature changes and when they become “old” loosing the required lubricating qualities. You should change the oil at least twice yearly.

What to do when the temperatures drop

A good rule of thumb is that cars can be washed when temperatures drop as low as 28 degrees F using the current design of carwashes. This may vary from location to location depending on how your building is orientated. Depending, again, on your location you may want to consider space heaters in bays, air doors, heat exchangers in reclaim pits or chemical additives.

Some of you will need to close your business during an extended period of time during the winter when you cannot operate because of cold temperatures. You will want to winterize the plumbing in your business to prevent broken pipes which can lead to water damage and huge plumbing expenses. Most insurance policies include provisions regarding doing what you can to eliminate or reduce damages from frozen pipes.

The policy may say you need to maintain heat and/or shut off and winterize plumbing and fixtures, etc.  A goodfirst step in winterizing is to turn off the water at the source. You should also learn to winterize your outdoor faucets, a simple process that can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. In addition, drain all of your outdoor hoses and if possible store them indoors to prevent cracking in the cold temperatures. Drain all outdoor taps and wrap them with some type of insulating material. Open up all of your fixtures and drain them until all of the water has drained. If possible, drain your hot water heater by opening the valve, but be sure to turn off the power or gas first. This is good to do once per year, whether you are winterizing your plumbing or not. Remove and drain all the traps and fill with a small amount of RV antifreeze.

If you have gutters on your building, be sure to remove leaves and other debris that can clog the system so that melting snow and ice can flow freely. This can prevent ice damming which is when water is unable to properly drain through the gutters and instead seeps into the building causing water to drip from the ceilings and walls.  You might want to consider installing gutter guards that prevent debris from entering the gutter and interfering with the flow of water away from the building.

Check in on your insurance policy

Check with your insurance professional to see if there are any special considerations for continuing coverage on your insurance policy. For example, you will want to know if there are any vacancy provisions that may affect your coverage if you are going to be out of operation for sixty days or more during the winter season.

The old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” By being sure that you have done all you can to winterize your business; you will be able to avoid costly delays or closures that may result from the cold winter weather.

The implementation of a good risk management plan will help you reduce your exposure to loss.  Therefore, don’t wait until you have experienced a loss to get started.  When it comes to being prepared, there is never a better time than now.

Summer Cole works for the Joplin, Missouri-based The Insurancenter. The Insurancenter has been insuring the car care industry since 1986 and is the leading writer of insurance for the industry nationwide.