-  Images courtesy of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Images courtesy of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

When it comes to vehicle maintenance, are you in the middle of the perfect storm of problems battering the truck and bus industry today? Are you being asked to “do more with what you have?” It may sound like good economic advice, but it has crucial tradeoffs. Extending the lifecycle of existing equipment translates into more maintenance, more breakdowns, higher costs, and less job satisfaction among drivers.

This perfect storm is not clearing away anytime soon. Therefore, maintaining your fleet in stormy seas will require the right tools and preparation.

Unfortunately, the “hold out as long as you can” mentality has led many carriers to put off needed maintenance, keep their existing assets on the road longer, and delay investments in new equipment. Challenges can be downright fierce:

  • Skyrocketing costs for equipment, labor, and fuel;
  • A tight supply of both new and used equipment and parts;
  • Long service delays combined with a loss of qualified technicians; and
  • General economic uncertainty.

The vehicles, parts, and personnel many fleets need are simply not available. However, focusing on drivers, maintenance, and management can help you weather the storm.

It Starts With Your Drivers

Pre- and post-trip inspections are always important, but they become vital as equipment ages. These daily inspections must be thorough, documented, and acted on.

The top three vehicle violations that resulted in the most out-of-service orders in the past year and should have been caught by the driver are:

  1. Bad tires (flat/leaking/worn)
  2. Inoperative/defective brakes
  3. Broken lights

Here are some best practices that you can use to survive the storm:

  • Train drivers on how to perform a proper inspection. Drivers are your eyes and ears on the road. Make sure they know what to look for, especially on older equipment.
  • Give drivers time to do a thorough inspection. Remind them of the potential consequences of overlooking a defect: an on-the-road breakdown, an out-of-service order, citations and fines, costly delays, lost customers, or even a crash and litigation.
  • Conduct random observations of drivers’ inspections to ensure they're not "pencil-whipping" their inspection reports.
  • Have drivers complete a post-trip inspection report (DVIR) every day, whether there are defects to report or not.
  • Expand your DVIR items to cover more than the 11 items required by DOT regulation. The rules’ focus on safety is critical, but you need to focus on keeping all vital components running smoothly.
  • Compare your drivers’ reports to what your technicians and roadside inspectors discover. If a technician or inspector finds a defect the driver should have reported, counsel the driver accordingly. Don’t forget to reward drivers for violation-free roadside inspections.
  • Ensure mechanics and technicians address all issues drivers describe on their DVIRs. Job satisfaction can plummet if drivers think their concerns are not taken seriously.

Consider eDVIRS

You need the right tools to ensure your daily inspection process runs smoothly and efficiently, resulting in safe vehicles on the road. Electronic DVIRs (eDVIRs) support all of these goals. An effective eDVIR system can:

  • Ensure ongoing DOT compliance;
  • Help organize, analyze, and track volumes of inspection data (without paper);
  • Route the correct information to the right people at the right time so that defects are repaired, and vehicles remain in good working order; and
  • Help you spot trends and prioritize maintenance as your fleet ages.

Repair vs. Maintenance

As you think about what you need to maintain your aging fleet, consider the difference between repairing your vehicles versus maintaining them.

What’s the difference? Maintenance is a planned activity based on your fleet's preventive maintenance (PM) program. Repairs are what you need to do when a vehicle is not correctly maintained. One is proactive, the other reactive.

Repairs — often required unexpectedly on the road — will eat away at your bottom line, costing several times more than routine maintenance otherwise would have.

Older units are more prone to breaking down and needing repair, so careful inspections and preventive maintenance are vital to keeping them on the road.

Consider taking these actions as you strive to maintain your fleet in today’s market:

  • Evaluate PM schedules and adjust as needed as your mix of equipment changes.
  • Tailor PM schedules based on asset utilization, with an emphasis on preventing breakdowns. Overuse of a vehicle results in increased wear and tear. Take a look at your data to see which vehicles are used the most and try equalizing usage across the fleet. You may find that particular units need more maintenance than others.
  • Prioritize repairs, focusing on safety first, reliability second, and convenience third. This might mean prioritizing the replacement of a balding tire over a routine oil change or fixing an air conditioner, depending on parts availability.
  • Evaluate your routes with an eye toward keeping aging equipment closer to home, where maintenance and repairs are easier to manage.
  • Technicians should be proactive rather than reactive. Make sure your team finds and fixes minor or developing problems before they balloon into major ones (proactive) rather than focusing on repairing what’s broken (reactive).
  • Remember the relationship between maintenance and fuel usage. Better maintenance generally means better use of fuel, a key benefit when fuel costs are so high.
  • Invest in personnel. Keep your drivers and technicians happy and keep them working. Companies with the best maintenance program and operational vehicles will win.

Choose the Right System

A fleet maintenance program is only as good as the system used to manage it. As with DVIRs, an electronic system can boost your chance of success. An effective fleet management system, like the J. J. Keller® Encompass® Fleet Management System, can help you stay on top of preventive maintenance, eDVIRs, compliance, and much more.

Superior fleet management systems alleviate the complexity of managing paperwork and timelines, alert you to compliance and operational risks, and provide fleet insights from your vehicle's data. They help you track maintenance events, schedules, and costs to keep your fleet compliant and running smoothly.

These are trying times, but with a comprehensive and organized inspection and maintenance program, you can emerge from the storm ahead of the pack — with a fleet of reliable and profitable vehicles.

While an effective (and proactive) inspection and maintenance program won't solve the supply-chain crisis or lower the fuel prices, it can help you reduce operational costs, keep your freight moving, and make a tough economy a little easier to manage.