February 2007, TruckingInfo.com - Cover Story
American Central Transport of Liberty, Mo., runs more than 300 tractors and more than 1,200 trailers in the eastern half of the country, yet it doesn't have its own maintenance facility.
Since 2002, the fleet has relied on the Kenworth PremierCare preventive maintenance program to maintain its fleet and keep downtime to a minimum.
As equipment gets more complex and technicians get more scarce, fleets such as ACT are looking outside their walls for help maintaining equipment. Truck OEMs are responding to that need with a variety of programs, including breakdown management (see page 44), quick oil change/PM programs and full contract maintenance.
For instance, both Kenworth's PremierCare and sister Paccar company Peterbilt's TruckCare offer a national lineup of services. One of the driving forces behind setting up a national program was that customers often did not get the same experience on the road as they did at their home dealer, explains Dick Von Lehman, national sales and marketing manager of service for Paccar Parts. "We wanted the customer to have a great experience and a consistent experience, and consistent pricing and the right level of service no matter where he goes."
National programs, Von Lehman points out, are a boon to carriers with operations in various parts of the country or scattered out over a large region. "Say, a lumber distributor with 17 or 18 different retail operations scattered over a two- or three-state area. He has the same maintenance needs as a customer with several hundred trucks operating out of one location, but he doesn't have the same administrative infrastructure to take care of those vehicles."
A program such as TruckCare or PremierCare can provide that company reminders of when service is due on each truck, send e-mail notification to the home office if a truck goes beyond its scheduled service interval, and provide a copy of inspections to a designated person, Von Lehman says. "You can have one maintenance manager and he can effectively cover a wide number of satellite operations and still be sure trucks are inspected thoroughly and serviced on a regular basis."
Other fleets may find it beneficial to outsource just part of their business. "We have some large truckload carriers who have a lot of maintenance expertise who will outsource some portion of their business, and that portion usually is the trucks that don't get home on a regular basis," Von Lehman says. "We've also got some large truckload carriers that have satellite operations - like 90 percent of their trucks operate out of home base, but [a small number] in one or two other locations where they don't have enough trucks to set up a shop, so they outsource that portion of their business to us."
INSPECTIONS & PMS
Making sure multiple vehicles get in on time for preventive maintenance work and inspections is a big challenge, especially when they're crisscrossing the country or even a multi-state region. A national program can help make sure your trucks get in to a convenient dealership location on time for such tasks as oil/lube/filter changes and regular inspections.
Several OEMs offer programs to take care of basic preventive maintenance on the road. For instance, Kenworth and Peterbilt offer a four-filter oil change, complete chassis lube and 20-point vehicle inspection. They also offer express air conditioning services, with a 27-point inspection and a complete evaluation and recharge of the air conditioning system, receiver/drier replacement, up to 5 pounds of refrigerant and compressor oil top-off.
And you can go beyond that. For instance, Peterbilt lists a number of preventive maintenance options on its web site, such as Comprehensive Preventive Maintenance, with lube/oil/filter, up to 147-point inspections that meet annual federal inspection requirements, priority scheduling and service, central recordkeeping and use of Maintenance Manager (an online service for managing truck maintenance and repairs), and more, available in one- to five-year packages.
"Our program is heavily dependent on safety inspections," Von Lehman says. "You have to have a DOT inspection at least once a year, in some states two or four certified inspections a year. A defined program like ours helps you make sure you get those inspections done and are never out of compliance. The other part of that - the reason behind the inspections in the first place - is to make sure there's nothing that's going to cause a breakdown or a safety-related failure."
International's Performance PM program also emphasizes inspections. It offers a Quick Lube with a 30-point inspection, an "A" Wet Service or a "B" Service with more extensive inspections, all for consistent, published rates. You can participate on a job-by-job basis, or can pre-purchase to ensure low prices for an extended period of time.
"This can fit from small customers to large," says Brian Mulshine, manager of service development and marketing for International. "It started out with smaller fleets, but I've actually got very large fleets with over 1,000 trucks on this maintenance program. They don't have maintenance terminals around the country, so they use our dealerships to be their eyes and ears for their maintenance needs."
BUMPER TO TAILLIGHT
Full contract maintenance is another option.
"There are a lot of fleets out there that try to set up [maintenance programs] internally," explains Dan Shirey, Freightliner marketing manager of service. "But when they really look at the indirect costs such as administrative labor and office expense, and what it takes to stock their shop and rent shop space, I think they find out what they lose in convenience not doing it themselves, they gain in tremendous cost savings."
Many dealers offer contract maintenance, particularly those allied with leasing programs. But national OEM programs make it easier and more consistent for fleets that want to have trucks worked on in multiple locations or on the road.
Freightliner LLC is in the process of rolling out its Alliance Service Advantage program, which will expand the availability of contract maintenance programs available through Freightliner, Sterling and Western Star dealers. The dealer is the point of contact for the customer in this program, but Freightliner LLC provides the scheduling and prepares the contract based on the options the customer wants, then works with the dealer to help provide the service contracted for.
"There's one entity running the program and reminding the dealers that this customer needs to get in for his PM services and that kind of thing," Shirey says. "We provide all the tracking, the contracts, keep all that centrally located, and let our dealers do what they do best in their local market."
The pilot program has been in place for about a year with 25 dealers, and will be expanded to about 75 this year. Eventually it will be available to all dealers in the network.
The system will make contract maintenance a better option for fleets with multiple offices, Shirey says. "There are some fleets with multiple locations who really haven't looked at this in the past because they might have a regional fleet - say one location in Birmingham, Ala., and one in Dallas - and we didn't have the system put together in such a way that we could serve both those fleets."
Freightliner also offers contract maintenance for used trucks purchased through its SelecTrucks program, MileMinder. Customers can buy cost per mile maintenance, which covers all aspects of maintenance - preventive, predictive and unscheduled - including breakdown management.
Kenworth and Peterbilt also offer contract maintenance through their programs. Peterbilt's Managed Preventive Maintenance Program, for instance, provides optimized PM intervals, warranty management, spending controls, PM and repairs billed at net, full system and administration support, and use of Maintenance Manager, all for a fixed monthly management fee. Both companies will customize a maintenance plan for your fleet, ranging from intermittent "dry inspections" to comprehensive, bumper-to-taillight service packages.
American Central Transport reports several benefits from using Kenworth's PremierCare program to handle its maintenance, according to David Warner, vice president of fleet services. "From a financial standpoint, we have negotiated rates so we know what our costs will be. By having more predictable costs, we are able to budget more accurately. We get centralized monthly billing, which our accountant loves."
TRUCKBUILDERS HELP WITH PARTS PURCHASES
For fleets that handle their own maintenance, several OEMs offer programs that can help with parts purchases.
For instance, sign up for Freightliner's FleetPack (fleets under 500) or Pinnacle (500 and up units) program, and you'll get an open parts account with centralized billing, a parts price cap, and caps on hourly labor rates and labor time limited to an industry standard guide.
There are purchasing card programs, such as International's Fleet Charge (for larger fleets, usually over 100 trucks) and Diamond Advantage (for owner-operators and smaller fleets).
Fleet Charge gives fleets instant credit within their purchasing profile to get trucks back on the road as quickly as possible. It offers simplified billing, allows fleets to tailor the card to their purchasing needs, and guarantees consistent national pricing on International and International All Makes parts.
Diamond Advantage card holders get instant credit recognition through the International dealer network with the same benefits of membership that Fleet Charge card holders have, such as guaranteed consistent pricing on parts.
"Say you need an alternator replaced on the road," says Brian Mulshine, manager of service development and marketing for International. "You will have a predetermined price on the alternator. Fleet Charge will audit the invoice, and even if they charge you more than they were supposed to, you will never even see that. You'll only be charged at your established pricing level."
Peterbilt's TruckCare cards and Kenworth's PremierCare Plus card help track and control over-the-road expenses for both maintenance and fuel. For fleets of two or more, these cards simplify accounting and cost control with a single invoice that can detail purchase and payment activity by driver, by vehicle and by expense category.
Volvo recently introduced the MV Preferred fleet purchasing program, designed for fleets with 50 or more trucks. The program uses automated processes to validate purchase orders and invoices, to ensure that transactions are complete and that customer-specified spending controls are met. MV Preferred eliminates errors and omissions from the ordering process through an automatic validation process.
Each fleet enrolled in MV Preferred is given a unique identification number. The customer provides that number to their Volvo dealer when ordering parts or service. The dealer then checks the customer's profile to ensure the order process meets the customer requirements.
The program also verifies the correct price for all qualified genuine Volvo and vendor all-makes parts purchases. Each billing invoice gives fleets a record of all transactions made against their accounts, and purchase activity and history can be checked 24 hours a day online.
In addition, MV Preferred gives fleets the ability to set pre-determined spending limits for parts or service repairs for individual terminals.