When your business operates a company vehicle fleet, there are a lot of factors you can’t control. For example, there’s nothing you can do about traffic or gas prices. That’s why it’s so important to truly take ownership of the aspects of fleet operations that are within your control.
The concept of fleet operations covers a lot of territory and many different types of business. Specific policies that work for one company may not work for another company with different needs.
However, the fundamental concerns of fleet operations are universal. Aside from getting to the destination on time, every business wants to avoid costly breakdowns, pay less for fuel, and have confidence that their fleet vehicles are operating safely.
We’ll look at seven of the most effective ways to improve your fleet operations below.
7 Strategies For Better Fleet Operations
Since all businesses with company vehicle fleets share essential goals, all businesses can apply the same fundamental principles to improve their fleet operations—whether they’re a regional logistics company with 100 trucks or making in-town deliveries with 10 vans.
Read on to find out more about the most useful and universal approaches to improving fleet operations, whatever type of fleet you have and whatever line of business your company is in.
Right-Size Your Fleet
As already mentioned, company vehicle fleets come in many different shapes and sizes. From an efficiency and profitability standpoint, anything else you do to optimize your fleet operations will have a limited impact if your fleet isn’t well-suited to your business’s needs.
It may seem simple to determine whether your business needs 18-wheeler trucks or compact delivery vans. However, there’s much more to the process of “right-sizing” your company fleet than merely picking the right type of vehicle.
Within each vehicle category, there will probably be several options to choose from. Making the right choice requires calculating the total cost of ownership (TCO) for each option.
Figuring out TCO means determining the cost not just of initially acquiring the vehicle but the projected costs over the entire period your company operates it — factors like the expense of fuel and maintenance, insurance premiums, depreciation, and resale value.
Of course, in addition to picking the right type and model of vehicle, you also need to accurately determine how many vehicles you need in your fleet. As a general rule, it’s better to expand your fleet later than to acquire too many vehicles and have some of them sitting idle.
But what do you do if you’re a fleet manager who “inherited” an existing fleet when you took a new position and found out it was poorly suited to the business’s needs after taking stock of your fleet operations?
Every vehicle has a finite useful lifespan. You should have a plan to remarket or otherwise dispose of all of your vehicles based on mileage and depreciation. It may make sense to move up the phase-out of some current vehicles to get more efficient types in service sooner.
Take Safety And Compliance Seriously
According to the National Safety Council, road accidents are the number one leading cause of work-related deaths in the United States. Statistics from the Centers For Disease Control show there were over 2 million emergency room visits from motor vehicle crashes in 2020.
In addition to the human toll, there are sound financial reasons to be serious about the safety side of fleet operations. Vehicle repair costs, insurance premium hikes, and legal bills as a result of accidents can devastate your company’s bottom line.
No business that operates a company fleet can afford to neglect good safety practices. Many businesses have rigorous safety policies for job sites while neglecting the importance of employee safety on the way to those job sites.
Best practices for fleet safety have both mechanical and human components, and entire articles could be written about this topic by itself. Fleet managers who want to learn more should consider getting a certification in fleet safety from an organization like the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA).
Closely related to fleet safety is fleet compliance — the regulatory standards put in place to ensure vehicles are safe and roadworthy.
In most cases, these standards are set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). Compliance requires things like monitoring drivers’ hours of service and maintaining vehicle inspection reports.
If your fleet fails to meet compliance standards, your business could be subject to fines and may have to temporarily take vehicles out of service.
Hire And Train Great Drivers
Improving your fleet operations requires paying attention not only to your vehicles but to the people operating them. It’s important not to neglect driver performance, especially when employees have to perform other duties after driving to a job site.
Company vehicles are valuable company assets, and the consequences of operating them poorly can be severe, as we have seen. With that in mind, your company should set standards for hiring and training the employees who are entrusted with these assets.
Screening applicants for company drivers should involve interviews, a written exam, driving record checks, and a road test.
After hiring good candidates, train them on unique aspects of operating your company vehicles, company policies, compliance requirements, and safe driving habits.
Control Fuel Expenses
You can’t control the cost of gas, but there are a lot of things you can do to control how much gas you use and how much you pay.
Because gas prices do fluctuate — and because there are many variables that impact fuel spending — fleet managers should closely track fuel usage and expenses on an ongoing basis to see how they can save.
Fuel economy should figure into your analysis of what vehicles to buy, but good driving habits can help you get better mileage out of any type of vehicle. Using cruise control, making smooth stops and starts, and not leaving the vehicle idling all help conserve fuel.
Many companies simplify and save by using a fleet credit card. These cards allow drivers to fill up on the go and usually offer some form of discount or rebate. All your gas purchases appearing on one statement can also simplify the process of tracking the company’s fuel costs.
Save With Preventative Maintenance
Preventative maintenance is the art of spending small amounts predictably to avoid spending big amounts unexpectedly. Beyond preventing breakdowns, proper regular maintenance also makes your vehicles safer and more fuel-efficient.
Every vehicle in your fleet should have its own preventative maintenance checklist (PMC). The precise items on each will vary from vehicle to vehicle.
Start with the manufacturer guidelines based on vehicle model. For example, semis will probably need their U joints greased more frequently than work vans.
The rest of the PMC should be based on the history of each individual vehicle of a specific model: its age, mileage, and the time elapsed since the last regular servicing.
Train your drivers to inspect their vehicles for common maintenance needs, like low tire inflation and burned-out lights, on a weekly or even daily basis.
Depending on your maintenance needs, it may make sense to bring your maintenance services in-house by hiring a fleet mechanic.
Telematics helps you gain a more detailed and holistic look at your fleet operations by allowing you to track your vehicles and monitor their “vital statistics.”
Although various fleet telematics options exist, they all involve installing computerized diagnostic hardware in your vehicles which then uploads data via satellite, cellular, or Wi-Fi networks. You can view the data collected in real-time via desktop or mobile app.
Using the data provided by telematics can help you identify ways to improve your fleet operations in areas like routing and dispatching and driver behavior. It can also be a big help in tracking fuel consumption and maintenance milestones.
Fleet operations involve a lot of record-keeping and other paperwork. Performing these administrative tasks manually is time-consuming, and even the most conscientious administrators will make mistakes from time to time.
Implementing processes for automating as much of this work as possible will improve accuracy and save valuable time. Fleet managers now have a wealth of tools at their disposal for automating administrative processes and eliminating the potential for human error.
Fleet telematics can automatically fill in much of the data which is needed for compliance reporting. Fleet fuel cards can eliminate the need for collecting gas receipts and reimbursing your drivers. And software can track time since each vehicle was serviced and send reminders.
Optimize Your Fleet Operations With Coast
Whatever your business and whatever the characteristics of your fleet, the Coast fleet and fuel card is an effective tool for improving your fleet operations.
Coast offers Visa acceptance with no minimum spending requirements or caps on rebates. We also offer robust controls and security to give fleet managers peace of mind and convenient up-to-the-minute reporting so you always know exactly how much you’re spending on fuel.