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Fleet Management

Commercial Fleet 101: What Business Owners Need To Know

Commercial fleet management is essential for the successful operation of your business. Learn what you need to know to keep your vehicles on the road.


Commercial fleet management is an umbrella term that covers the essential activities of overseeing, organizing, and making everything more efficient and effective.

But what specifically can you do to build the best fleet system possible?

In this article, we answer that question and discuss ways you can bring your commercial fleet into the 21st century.

Commercial Fleet 101

Man checking his commercial fleet

1) Understand What Makes A Vehicle Commercial

One of the first steps in running a commercial fleet is understanding the difference between a fleet vehicle and a commercial fleet vehicle.

A fleet vehicle is any wheeled asset used by a company to transport people and products, conduct business, or assist with daily activity.

In the broadest sense of the term, your fleet may consist of anything from bicycles and scooters all the way up to semi-trucks and heavy equipment. But not all of those vehicles are considered commercial.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) and its oversight and regulation organization, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), define a commercial vehicle as:

Any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:

  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater
  • Is designed or used to transport between nine and 15 passengers (including the driver) for compensation
  • Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers
  • Is designed for or used in transporting hazardous materials per the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act

And, while this definition mainly applies to vans, trucks, and semis, some specialty vehicles, cars, and heavy equipment also fall under its purview.

Basically, any of the “large” vehicles, starting with cars, fall into the category of commercial vehicle. Because of the way these definitions work, though, your business can actually operate a fleet without any commercial vehicles.

For example, your logistics business may operate a fleet of motorized pallet jacks and golf carts for use in the warehouse, but the DOT doesn’t consider them to be commercial.

If, however, you add five Class 8 semi-trucks and three Class 3 vans to the fleet, those vehicles are commercial.

The reason this distinction is important is because the DOT and FMCSA set different laws, regulations, and standards for all commercial vehicles.

2) Comply With All Fleet Laws

commercial fleet

Once you’ve identified which vehicles in your fleet fall into the commercial category, you can take steps to comply with all local, state, and federal laws. You’ll hear this activity referred to as compliance.

Abiding by the rules and regulations that the DOT, the FMCSA, and other organizations set for commercial vehicles helps prevent accidents, breakdowns, and driver errors that could put people and property at risk and seriously affect the way your business operates.

In addition, if one or more work trucks in your commercial fleet are out of compliance, the DOT can impose hefty fines on your business and require that you remove those vehicles from service until you complete the necessary maintenance or repairs.

Local, state, and federal organizations take commercial fleet compliance very seriously. Because of that, compliance is one of the most important aspects of keeping your business running and successful.

For more information on commercial fleet compliance, take a moment to read this article from the Coast blog: Fleet Compliance 101: Best Practices For Your Business.

3) Hire A Commercial Fleet Manager

With two, five, or even 10 vehicles in your commercial fleet, you might be able to manage the day-to-day activities yourself while also focusing on other aspects of the business.

But, when your fleet exceeds 12 vehicles, the job load — e.g., logistics, vehicle readiness, driver performance, etc. — can quickly become too much to handle if you’re not giving it your full attention.

The solution to this is to hire a commercial fleet manager. They can dedicate all of their time to ensuring that the fleet runs smoothly and successfully and free you up to concentrate on managing the business as a whole.

Keep in mind that 12 is not an absolute threshold, and you shouldn’t always wait to hire a commercial fleet manager until you have that many vehicles.

Even if your business only operates a handful of commercial vehicles right now, a fleet manager can be a valuable addition to the team and make everything run more smoothly.

4) Purchase The Right Vehicles For The Job

Different types of commercial fleet

Purchasing the right vehicles for the job is essential for effective commercial fleet management and the ongoing success of your business.

Start by analyzing what your team does every day and determine what vehicle would make the tasks easier. Build in a bit of room for exceptional circumstances, but don’t purchase a vehicle that’s more than your drivers need just because you can.

For example, if your repair team’s tools can fit comfortably in the backseat or the trunk of a small car, there’s no need to spend extra money on a pickup truck with space that will largely go unused.

If your team needs a bit more cargo space and hauling capacity on occasion, you might opt, instead, for an SUV or a minivan.

Or, if a pickup truck is essential for your team’s daily activities, will a Class 2A truck (e.g., a Ford F-150) suffice instead of a Class 3 truck (e.g., a Chevy Silverado 3500)?

Purchasing the right vehicle for the job saves you money upfront and also saves you money down the road with reduced fuel and repair costs.

5) Decide On Buying Or Leasing

Another important part of commercial fleet management is deciding whether your business is going to buy or lease its vehicles.

Buying the vehicles outright means that your business will be responsible for:

  • Keeping everything in good working order
  • Maintaining government-mandated paperwork
  • Ensuring compliance
  • Verifying that repairs are done correctly and in a timely manner

This is a major upfront expense and may be more than your business can handle

Leasing the vehicles, on the other hand, often serves to simplify — and even eliminate — many of these variables.

When you lease your commercial fleet, the leasing company takes care of maintenance, paperwork, repairs, and some compliance so you don’t have to.

You will pay a premium for this service, but your business won’t have to spend large sums of money right away as it would if you decided to buy the vehicles yourself.

Discover the other benefits of fleet leasing in this article from the Coast blog: What Is Fleet Leasing And How Does It Work?

6) Set Up A Commercial Fleet Maintenance Program

Mechanic checking commercial fleet

A commercial fleet maintenance program is essential for keeping your vehicles in good repair.

You can structure your maintenance schedule however you like, but the best programs typically have two components:

  • Preventative maintenance
  • Emergency maintenance

Preventative maintenance is the practice of monitoring the condition of a vehicle and making necessary repairs before an issue spreads to other systems.

Emergency maintenance is the practice of fixing problems as they come up.

A combination of the two components provides the best coverage for your commercial fleet vehicles and helps keep them on the road longer.

At first, it’s best to create a maintenance program for each type of vehicle in your fleet (e.g., cars, vans, pickup trucks, etc.).

As your fleet gets more use, it’s a good idea to develop different plans for each individual vehicle in the fleet (e.g., car A, car B, van A, van B, etc.) rather than relying on a standard checklist for all vehicles.

7) Monitor And Manage Fuel Consumption

When it comes to your commercial fleet, one of the largest expenses your business will face is fuel costs.

You can keep those costs under control by monitoring and managing such variables as:

  • Vehicle operating condition
  • Driving behavior
  • Type of vehicle used for a particular job
  • Vehicle aerodynamics

These are strategies you can use to manage fuel consumption, and they give you an idea of where to start.

For more information on tracking and controlling fuel costs, take a few minutes to read these articles from the Coast blog:

8) Create A Culture Of Safety

Drive safe sign

Creating a culture of safety is one of the most important things you can do when managing a commercial fleet. Work-related vehicle accidents can be very expensive for your business and have a profound effect on the lives of your drivers and those on the road with them.

Prioritizing safety at all times goes a long way toward helping your drivers operate their vehicles to prevent and avoid accidents whenever possible.

Start by creating policies that govern the safe operation of company vehicles, and then train your drivers to abide by those policies at all times.

Include points such as:

  • Standard operating procedures
  • Distracted driving
  • Seat belt use
  • Impaired driving
  • Fuel management techniques (which often make for safer drivers)

It can also be useful to take a fleet safety certification course so that you are familiar with current defensive driving and safety best practices.

Once certified, you can pass that information on to your drivers to create the culture of safety that will do your business well.

To learn more about building a safe work environment for your team, take a few minutes to read these articles from the Coast blog:

9) Research Commercial Fleet Management Software

Whether you operate two commercial fleet vehicles or 200, managing drivers, routes, payloads, and other essential variables can be extremely challenging — even for seasoned professionals.

That’s why it’s important to implement modern fleet management software into your day-to-day activities.

These software packages support the daily activities that come with directing both small and large numbers of vehicles and their drivers and help you:

  • Monitor hours of service
  • Prevent driver fatigue
  • Maintain Driver-Vehicle Inspections Reports (DVIRs) or electronic Driver-Vehicle Inspection Reports (eDVIRs)
  • Abide by the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA)
  • Keep up with Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) scores
  • And much more!

Take the time to research commercial fleet management software systems to see which one will help you streamline your activities and do your job better.

10) Obtain A Fleet Identification Number

Whether you buy or lease your commercial fleet, it’s usually a good idea to apply for a fleet identification number (FIN), fleet account number (FAN), or membership in a specific fleet program.

Registering in these programs is an easy way to access discounts and amenities offered by the vehicle and equipment manufacturer, and makes it possible for said manufacturer to identify qualified fleet vehicle customers, process orders, and track vehicle production and delivery.

So, for example, let’s say that you decide to purchase several Ford Transit Connect vans for your IT service and repair fleet.

If you apply to receive a fleet identification number directly from Ford, you may be eligible for a discount (among other incentives) on the cost of your vehicles.

These programs aren’t exclusive to the big auto manufacturers. Other vehicle manufacturers, such as Kubota, Caterpillar, and Freightliner offer some type of fleet program in which you can register to receive exclusive company benefits.

11) Plot The Best Routes

commercial fleet map

Plotting the best routes — those that take vehicles along the shortest distance between point A and point B — or redirecting them to avoid delays, has a significant influence on such important variables as:

  • Total miles driven
  • Time en route
  • Engine run time (both moving the vehicle and idling)
  • Fuel consumption
  • Number of deliveries or appointments per day

Controlling these variables ultimately helps you reduce costs, improve vehicle life span, and ensure that your commercial fleet stays productive.

12) Invest In Telematics

When it comes to commercial fleet management, one of the best ways to find out what’s going on while vehicles are away from home base is to install telematics.

Telematics is a set of systems and add-ons that use the Global Positioning System (GPS) and on-board diagnostic (OBD) equipment to monitor movement and a vast array of other data, including:

  • Speed
  • Distance traveled
  • Total mileage
  • Trip time
  • Idling time
  • Harsh braking
  • Rough driving
  • Seat belt use
  • Fuel consumption
  • Engine data
  • System faults

Once analyzed, this data can help you set safety benchmarks, plan better routes, improve driver performance, and much more.

13) Train And Retrain Your Drivers

commercial fleet

Ongoing training — and retraining — is one of the most effective ways to create a better, safer team of drivers for your business.

Such training can include:

  • Proper driving technique
  • Reminders about the dangers of distracted, fatigued, and impaired driving
  • On-the-road vehicle monitoring and maintenance
  • Risk management
  • Loading and unloading
  • Local, state, and federal compliance
  • Record keeping
  • Anything else your business needs to build a better team

Training of this type can also serve to protect your business if an accident does occur.

An established training program proves that your business is in compliance with all local, state, and federal safety standards and that it educates drivers to maintain those standards at all times.

This fact alone can go a long way toward reducing claims of negligence aimed at your business.

14) Pay For A Fleet Insurance Policy

Businesses of all types and sizes that operate a commercial fleet must pay for and maintain an insurance policy on all their vehicles.

Fleet insurance is different from regular vehicle insurance in a number of distinct ways, including:

  • Simplicity
  • Cost
  • Driver Flexibility


Fleet coverage comes as a single policy that applies to all of the vehicles in your fleet. You can add or subtract vehicles as the need arises, but you’ll still only have one policy with which to track and renew.


Fleet coverage for your business vehicles usually ends up being considerably less expensive than purchasing a unique policy for each vehicle. This is similar to “buying in bulk” where you can get a reduced price the more vehicles you include on your policy.

Driver Flexibility

Most commercial fleet insurance policies cover company vehicles in such a way that anyone is allowed to drive them. In contrast, personal vehicle insurance requires that you specify which drivers will be operating the vehicle and, thus, will be covered under the policy.

15) Look Into Upfitting Your Vehicles If Necessary

commercial fleet at a construction site

Depending on the needs of your business and your drivers, you may need to look into upfitting your company vehicles.

This involves equipping your vehicles with the necessary tools to help simplify any work done away from your main office.

For example, your work trucks might need to be upfitted with a service or utility body (rather than the standard pickup truck bed) to make it easier to store tools and supplies.

Or your work vans may need to be upfitted with tank restraints to accommodate compressed air or chemicals necessary for the job.

There are many options available, so take the time to research the different equipment you can add to your vehicles to make your employees more productive and efficient.

For more information on upfitting your fleet vehicles, check out these articles from the Coast blog:

  • Must-Have Work Truck Accessories For Fleets
  • 7 Space-Saving Work Van Shelving Ideas

16) Plan For Vehicle Disposal Or Resale

No matter how well you treat your vehicles, they’re going to wear out.

Planning for vehicle disposal or resale — and how it fits in with new vehicle acquisition — can help your business ease the transition and reduce the cost of leaving one tool behind and introducing another into the workflow.

In most cases, fleet data and maintenance records will go a long way toward informing your decision whether or not to retire a vehicle and replace it with a newer model or a different vehicle entirely.

However and whenever you decide to sell or dispose of an old vehicle, having a plan in place can make things easier for everyone involved.

17) Build Good Communication With Drivers

Open and effective communication is the foundation of commercial fleet management.

It doesn’t matter if your business employs one driver or one hundred, without good communication, it can be extremely difficult to keep your fleet safe, effective, and productive day after day.

Build good communication with drivers by:

  • Choosing the best method for the job (e.g., phone call, text, push notification, etc.)
  • Striving for clarity in everything you say and write
  • Offering and asking for explanations whenever possible
  • Meeting one-on-one periodically

With strong communication habits such as these, you and your drivers will have a solid foundation on which to build an effective commercial fleet.

It’s also worth noting that effective communication starts at the top. In most cases, it’s your responsibility to take the initiative, set a good example for your team, and encourage them to maintain open communication with you.

18) Make Use Of Checklists

Another must-have for effective commercial fleet management is the checklist. Process checklists make completing complicated tasks much simpler for you and your drivers.

As part of your driver training, show them how to use the forms — whether they’re hard copy or digital — and the benefits they experience by doing so.

Then, encourage them to use the process checklists whenever they’re on the job for tasks and necessary items, such as:

When they get in the habit, they’ll see just how beneficial checklists can be for helping them perform their job at a high standard every time.

Commercial Fleet Management For The 21st Century

Coast fuel card for commercial fleet

Bring your commercial fleet into the 21st century with the Coast fleet card. Combined with telematics data and vehicle tracking tools, Coast helps you simplify and streamline fleet compliance and management.

Our fuel card provides real-time expense tracking, line-item detail, and a powerful online management platform that puts your entire commercial fleet in the palm of your hand and provides full visibility of every dollar spent.

For more information, visit today.

For more information, visit today.