If your business operates vehicles of any size, shape, or type, fleet maintenance is essential to your success. Why is keeping your vehicles in good repair so important?
In this article, we answer that question, examine the different types of fleet maintenance, and discuss how you can improve the process in your business.
Table Of Contents:
- What Is Fleet Maintenance?
- Why Is Fleet Maintenance Important?
- Two Types Of Fleet Maintenance
- Tips For Effective Fleet Maintenance
What Is Fleet Maintenance?
At its most basic, fleet maintenance is the practice of keeping a group of business vehicles in good repair. But the theory behind the practice goes well beyond just fixing a flat or changing the oil.
True fleet maintenance also involves servicing your business vehicles in a proactive manner rather than simply repairing them when they break down.
It involves planning, scheduling, analysis, and execution — and, the more vehicles you operate, the more complex those variables become. The results, however, are well worth the effort.
Why Is Fleet Maintenance Important?
1) Safeguards Drivers
For fleet managers, ensuring driver safety is a big part of the job. In the absence of a good fleet maintenance program, serious mechanical and electrical issues can occur without warning and lead to driver injury and trauma.
Even relatively simple issues, like broken turn signals, broken headlights, and broken tail lights, can put your drivers at risk and increase the chances that an accident might occur.
Fleet maintenance keeps your vehicles in good working order and prevents minor problems from becoming major problems and major problems from becoming life-threatening problems.
2) Reduces Operational Costs
You may have to spend a bit more upfront to get a robust fleet maintenance program going but doing so can actually lead to lower costs and a more stable budget later on down the road.
How? The costs associated with poor fleet maintenance — driver injury, property damage, unplanned downtime, unexpected vehicle replacement — can cost your business dearly.
But an efficient maintenance schedule reduces the chances that those events will occur. This allows you to balance costs, avoid unexpected expenses, and even forecast future needs throughout your fleet.
3) Results In Fewer Delays
A dependable commercial fleet is the backbone of your organization and keeps everything running smoothly.
Without the dependability that comes with well-maintained vehicles, your business will grind to a halt and your customers and clients will get frustrated.
Too many delays can even affect your reputation for reliability and lead to a decrease in customer trust.
But when your fleet vehicles are well maintained, critical breakdowns are few and far between and drivers can get where they need to be on time and without causing problems for your customers.
4) Keeps Your Fleet Legal
Regardless of the size of your fleet, your business must comply with all local, state, and federal laws.
In many cases, this means abiding by the mandates and standards of the:
- Department of Transportation (DOT)
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
- Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA)
These organizations are responsible for maintaining the safety and reliability of American roadways. Well-maintained vehicles play a big part in making that goal a reality.
Failure to field a fleet in good repair can result in heavy fines and costly corrective action that can put a dent in your business’s bottom line.
A comprehensive fleet maintenance program can minimize the risk that your operation will be found in violation of the safety and inspection standards put forth by those, and other, organizations.
Two Types Of Fleet Maintenance
As a general rule, you can divide fleet maintenance into two broad categories:
Here’s how those categories apply to your business vehicles.
Preventative Fleet Maintenance
Preventative fleet maintenance is the theory and practice of monitoring the condition of a vehicle and making necessary repairs before an issue spreads to other systems.
As the name suggests, preventative maintenance seeks to prevent the catastrophic — and more expensive — damage that can sideline a vehicle for days or even weeks. The concept revolves around the idea that you spend a little now so you don’t have to spend a lot later.
The best way to structure your preventative fleet maintenance is based on two variables:
- Date since last service
Depending on the type of fleet you operate and what that fleet does, a combination of the two variables will form the backbone of your preventative maintenance schedule.
For instance, an inter-state delivery van that travels between Chicago and Boston on a regular basis will benefit from a mileage-based maintenance schedule. If you put it on a date-based maintenance schedule, it will amass too many miles before the next inspection.
On the other hand, an inter-city delivery van that’s only on the road for three days out of the week will benefit more from a date-based maintenance schedule. If you put it on a mileage-based schedule, months may pass before it has enough miles to warrant an inspection.
Setting up the right preventative maintenance schedule for your fleet can help preserve your investment and keep the vehicles doing what they were meant to do: contribute to your business’s success.
Emergency Fleet Maintenance
Emergency fleet maintenance — also known as immediate maintenance — is the practice of fixing problems as they come up.
Issues such as flat tires and damage from poor road conditions fall into the emergency maintenance category. Really, any time an unexpected breakdown occurs you’ll need to execute an emergency repair plan.
Emergency fleet maintenance plans are crucial, but they shouldn’t be the only type of maintenance you have in place. Emergencies are often more expensive and can put a vehicle out of service for prolonged periods of time. All of that can impact your bottom line.
While a preventative maintenance schedule can help you avoid many of the unexpected breakdowns that come with operating a fleet, it’s still essential to have an emergency plan in place should an incident occur.
A combination of the two plans — preventative and emergency — provides the best coverage for your fleet vehicles and helps keep them on the road longer.
Tips For Effective Fleet Maintenance
1) Choose The Right Vehicles For The Job
One of the first steps in building an effective fleet maintenance program is choosing the right vehicles for the job at hand.
Determine the tasks you need your fleet vehicles to perform, and then research the options that can handle those tasks.
Take into account such factors as:
- Travel distance
- Type of freight
- Operational environment
- Deliveries per day
If your fleet vehicles are mismatched with the jobs you ask them to perform, their major systems will wear out more quickly.
For example, if your fleet consists of SUVs designed to haul passengers but you’re routinely putting them into service pulling trailers full of cargo, they’re going to have more maintenance issues sooner rather than later.
2) Create A Vehicle-Specific Maintenance Plan
When your fleet is new, consider creating a maintenance plan for each of the different types of vehicles. Take into account the mileage the vehicles amass, the operating environment, the type of cargo they haul, and other telematics data.
And, remember, one size does not fit all. Base your maintenance plan on the original equipment manufacturer’s suggested service intervals, but don’t be afraid to add in more frequent repairs when necessary.
As your maintenance plans progress, you may even develop different checklists for each vehicle in the fleet (van A, van B, van C, etc.), not just for the types of vehicles they are.
To build the best vehicle-specific maintenance plan possible, ask drivers and maintenance techs for their input on how you can improve the schedule for each vehicle.
3) Make Use Of Maintenance Metrics
Once you’ve got a fleet maintenance plan in place, it’s essential to monitor and evaluate the success of that plan.
The best way to do that is to make use of maintenance metrics, including:
- Utilization Percentage
- Downtime Percentage
- Cost Of Vehicle Downtime
- Maintenance Cost Per Unit
- Maintenance Compliance Percentage
Your fleet’s Utilization Percentage is a metric that calculates the number of vehicles available for use during a specific time frame.
The formula is:
Utilization Percentage = (Number Of Vehicles Available For Use / Total Fleet Size) x 100
With this metric, you can identify the number of vehicles your business needs to satisfy customer expectations and compare it to the number of vehicles your business is fielding on a regular basis.
You can figure your fleet’s Downtime Percentage with the following formula:
Downtime Percentage = (Total Hours Of Downtime / Total Available Fleet Hours) x 100
This metric tells you the percentage of time your vehicles are out of service. But, before you run the numbers, be sure to distinguish between downtime for scheduled maintenance and downtime for unscheduled maintenance.
With your Downtime Percentage in hand, you can take steps to reduce the amount of time your vehicles are out of service for unscheduled reasons.
Cost Of Vehicle Downtime
Cost Of Vehicle Downtime is useful for figuring out how much revenue your business loses due to downtime.
The formula is:
Cost Of Vehicle Downtime = Average Revenue Per Hour x Unscheduled Downtime Hours
To find your business’s average revenue per hour, divide total revenue for the year by the total fleet running hours.
Maintenance Cost Per Unit
The Maintenance Cost Per Unit metric tells you the total annual cost of maintenance per vehicle and is especially important for young and growing fleets.
Maintenance Cost Per Unit = Total Annual Cost Of Maintenance / Total Fleet Size
If you’re in the process of adding a new vehicle to your fleet, this calculation can give you insight into the potential maintenance costs associated with the new addition and help you plan accordingly.
Maintenance Compliance Percentage
The Maintenance Compliance Percentage shows you what percentage of your fleet has gone through the maintenance plans you set up for each vehicle.
The formula is:
Maintenance Compliance Percentage = Number Of Vehicles Current With Scheduled Maintenance / Total Fleet Size
Once you’ve determined your compliance percentage, you can work to get more vehicles through the process on schedule and on time.
4) Train Drivers To Check Tire Pressure
Checking the tire pressure on your vehicles only takes a few minutes, but it can save your business hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars down the road.
Tires in poor condition dramatically affect vehicle performance, including such critical variables as:
- Fuel efficiency
- Hauling and pulling
Train your drivers to check tire pressure before they set out on a run, whenever they stop for fuel, and after they park the vehicle for the night.
Have them make note of any unexpected or dramatic drop in pressure and report it to you or the maintenance supervisor as soon as possible. If a tire doesn’t seem to be holding pressure, get the vehicle into the shop immediately to diagnose the problem.
Doing so can prevent the tires from decreasing the performance of other systems and keep the vehicle as safe as possible.
5) Build A Strong Relationship With Your Maintenance Provider
Before you choose a maintenance company, talk to them and evaluate their expertise with your vehicles. Find out if they’ll be able to adhere to the turnaround time you need to keep your fleet active.
Doing so can help you get the service you need and maintain an effective fleet maintenance plan.
6) Harness The Power Of Telematics
One of the best ways to create a robust fleet maintenance program is to harness the power of telematics, installed applications and services that provide near real-time data about vehicle activity, location, and condition.
Where maintenance is concerned, it’s this latter variable — condition — that can help you keep your vehicles in tip-top shape.
The onboard equipment can show you all manner of information, including:
- Miles driven
- Hours of use
- Engine temperature
- Transmission temperature
- Drivetrain RPMs
- Fuel consumption
- Driver behavior
- And much more
With the information that telematics provides, you’ll be able to monitor vehicle condition and design a maintenance program that best serves your business.
7) Implement Daily Fleet Maintenance
Your drivers are the frontline when it comes to fleet maintenance and often see the small problems before they become big problems.
Implementing a daily fleet maintenance checklist reduces the likelihood that your drivers will pilot a vehicle with minor issues that can become big issues.
Basic fleet maintenance consists of activities like:
- Walking around the vehicle and looking for anything that’s out of place
- Checking for body damage
- Examining the tires for uneven wear
- Verifying that the tires are inflated to the right pressure
- Putting air in the tires if need be
- Looking under the vehicle for fluid leaks (i.e., wet spots on the ground)
- Examining the engine for fluid leaks (i.e., wet spots where they shouldn’t be)
- Visually checking for wear on the fan belts
- Checking the oil
- Verifying that engine coolant is at the proper level
- Checking windshield washer fluid
- Inspecting the brake linings
- Verifying that the turn signals work
- Verifying that the brake lights work
- Verifying that the hazard lights work
- Verifying that gauges read within acceptable levels
At first glance, this may sound like a complicated set of suggestions, but the reality is quite different. The majority of the steps are quick visual verifications that only take a few seconds to complete.
Most drivers will be able to do these things without much training, but you can also lead a training course to ensure that everything gets done correctly.
8) Hire A Dedicated Fleet Mechanic
When your business is first starting out, sending fleet vehicles to a repair shop may be the most practical and economical option.
As your fleet grows, though, it can be more efficient and convenient to hire a dedicated fleet mechanic to service and maintain the vehicles.
Doing so can help your business in three distinct ways:
- Save money
- Control quality
- Improve repair time over offsite garages
Though it may seem more costly to hire a dedicated fleet mechanic at first, your business can enjoy significant savings over the long haul when compared to sending all your vehicles out to an offsite garage.
9) Track The Mileage Of All Vehicles
One of the biggest indicators of the wear and tear that your vehicles have undergone is the miles they’ve traveled.
Tracking mileage — digitally via telematics or manually via the odometer — goes a long way toward helping you keep your entire fleet well-maintained.
With an efficient tracking program in place, you’ll know when to service key systems on the vehicle to keep them running smoothly.
For example, depending on the manufacturer’s suggested schedule (or your own custom schedule), changing hoses and belts every X miles traveled cuts down on potential failure.
A visual inspection may not reveal any problems with those parts, but the mileage may tell you when they’re on the verge of failure.
10) Clearly Define Maintenance Responsibilities
As we mentioned earlier, basic daily maintenance is an important component of keeping your fleet operating on all cylinders.
But what if your drivers discover a problem during their inspection? Is it their responsibility to fix it?
As part of your fleet maintenance program, be sure to clearly define whose responsibility it is to handle any issues that may arise.
For example, if the oil levels are low, the driver can top up the tank before they leave for the day.
But, if a driver discovers a leak in an oil hose during their daily walk-around, they shouldn’t try to repair it themself. Instead, they should notify their manager so the vehicle can be serviced by a qualified mechanic.
Establishing a chain of responsibility like this helps ensure that issues are handled in an appropriate way that won’t cause even bigger problems down the road.
11) Create An Efficient Reporting Process
In conjunction with clearly defining maintenance responsibilities, take the time to create an efficient reporting process so that the information gets where it’s supposed to go.
Establish a chain of command so that the driver knows where to report when a problem does arise.
For example, should the driver report the oil leak directly to the fleet mechanic? Or, should they report to their supervisor or the dispatch office who will then communicate with the fleet mechanic?
Setting up an efficient reporting process eliminates the stress and confusion that accompanies the discovery of a problem in one of your vehicles.
12) Keep An Eye On Total Cost Of Ownership
As part of your fleet maintenance program, keep an eye on the total cost of ownership for each vehicle.
At some point — typically a combination of vehicle age and miles traveled — those costs will start to rise. When they do, it can indicate that it may be time to think about replacing the vehicle.
Left unmonitored, total cost of ownership can spiral out of control and push your maintenance bills to the breaking point.
If you monitor nothing else, be sure to track total cost of ownership so you know when your maintenance efforts may be a losing battle.
13) Come Up With A Plan For Vehicle Retirement And
Even with regular maintenance, a vehicle’s engine, drivetrain, and electrical systems will eventually wear out, and you’ll need to retire and replace the vehicle.
This is a significant expense, but with a robust fleet maintenance program, it won’t come as a surprise.
When maintenance costs start to pile up, create a plan to transition the vehicle out of service and replace it with a newer model.
As you think about the issue, address questions such as:
- Will you keep the vehicle for use onsite?
- Will you recycle the vehicle?
- Will you use the vehicle for parts?
- Will you sell the vehicle?
- Will you trade in the vehicle?
- Will you lease a new vehicle?
- Will you buy a new vehicle?
Setting up a plan for vehicle replacement — and sticking to it — can save you a lot of headaches down the road and prevent you from spending too much to keep a vehicle running.
Fuel And Fleet Management Made Easy
Whatever form your fleet maintenance activities take, the Coast fleet and fuel card can help.
With Coast’s online platform, you can see the details of every purchase right down to the line item so you can improve productivity, control fuel costs, and maintain profits for your business in real time.
And, you’ll be able to close your books quickly and easily thanks to integrations with QuickBooks, Xero, and others.
To learn more about how Coast can streamline your fuel management and improve your fleet activities as a whole, visit CoastPay.com today.