Nothing frustrates truck drivers more than discovering the trailer they were supposed to load has lights out or a bad tire. Unless there’s another empty wagon nearby, that driver might spend the next few unpaid hours searching job boards for fleets with more reliable equipment. It’s incredibly counterproductive to have unfit equipment sitting in drop yards when it could have been repaired beforehand.
Aside from unhappy drivers, marooned equipment hurts asset utilization and fleet efficiency. Two of a fleet’s three trailers per tractor sit idle all the time, so what better opportunity could there be to send in a crew to conduct routine maintenance on trailers than when they are sitting in a drop lot?
“One of the beauties of mobile maintenance is that it can be very flexible,” says Drew Kortyna, senior director of operations management for Cox Automotive Mobility Fleet Services. “One of our largest clients has trailers in drop lots nationwide. They will send a list of inspections they want to be done. Then, while we’re on-site, we’ll do walkarounds on other equipment on the lot and send in a report.”
Kortyna says scheduling usually isn’t a problem, as there will always be trailers to inspect. If a particular trailer isn’t on site when the crew arrives, they’ll get to it next time.
“We could be at that site every day or two or three times a week.”
The explosion in trailer telematics equipment means many trailers can self-report certain deficiencies. However, we haven’t yet deployed sensors that detect physical damage to trailers, such as broken door hinges or mangled landing gear. Those problems still require human contact — vigilant post-trip inspections or a mobile maintenance technician.
Since fleets can’t always rely on adequate driver post-trip inspections, the on-site mobile maintenance folks will usually spot the trouble and report it.
Always Something to Fix
Mobile maintenance could be anything from equipment inspections to major repairs. Since fleets seldom see their trailers more than a couple of times a year, having them inspected and repaired at customer drop lots is one way of staying ahead of the maintenance curve.
But these services are for more than just trailers. Kortyna says Cox has mobile service trucks equipped to handle everything from oil changes to suspension repairs.
“We have different service trucks designed for most of the typical repair and maintenance work,” he says. “We have trucks designed to do on-site oil changes, for example. They have a system that will vacuum the oil out of a truck to eliminate environmental concerns. We have trailer service trucks built for trailer repairs. They have a platform on the roof so the tech can stand at roof level for roof and lighting repairs.”
Communication is the key to making the relationship with your mobile service provider work. Most fleets have some internal communication protocols for drivers to contact maintenance staff with alerts and even to submit driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs). Could you share those reports with mobile maintenance service providers?
“It can be, but fleets are often reluctant to share it,” says Kortyna. “Trucks have had telematics for years and can tell you exactly what’s wrong with it, but fleets will not share that information with large service providers. Likewise, the OEs can’t share it without the customers’ permission.”
Cox is building a system that can capture equipment condition data from customers’ trucks and the customers’ maintenance software platforms. He says that’s a tough row to hoe because of the extent of the integration involved, but it’s high on his to-do list.
“I think we'll have a system in place long before we'll have a lot of customers willing to give us the data,” he laments.
DIY Mobile Maintenance
You can have the service provider come to you or bring your trucks to the service provider. The idea behind mobile maintenance, or outsourced maintenance, is to have the necessary work done somewhere where you don’t have hands-on access to the asset.
Love’s and TravelCenters of America offer a broad range of maintenance and repair services, scheduled or unscheduled, at most locations nationwide.
“T/A offers scheduled and unscheduled work in our mobile maintenance portfolio,” says Homer Hogg, vice president of operation of truck service at TravelCenters of America. “We can work with customers to support scheduled work via an API and their vehicle scheduling system. We also offer mid-trip inspections, wheel-end inspections, and many other standard services to help supplement regular preventive maintenance inspections.”
Hogg says T/A’s in-house portal, called eShop, can be used by a customer to reduce phone calls and emails for work requests, estimates, approvals, etc.
That means fleets can schedule specific maintenance and even inspection work en route when the opportunity arises, assuring the truck is fit and ready for its next assignment.
Love’s offers similar flexibility through its Shop Connect View maintenance software. Fleets can see scheduled maintenance items, a full repair management platform, and warranty recovery.
“Love’s Truck Care can provide data to interface with most maintenance software on the market today,” says Eric Daniels, vice president of truck care at Love’s.
Love’s Truck Care offers multiple inspection services for vehicles on the road. Take tires, for example.
“With TirePass, all tires are inspected for tread depth, wear, mismatched duals, and proper inflation in about 10 minutes at any of our locations,” Daniels says. “Lighting, mudflaps, air leaks, and more are visually inspected during the TirePass service. In addition, courtesy inspections are completed on all vehicles while service is being performed to ensure any safety concerns are brought to the fleet’s attention.”
Another option gaining traction with fleets is having a dealership technician on-site doing maintenance repair work. Embedded techs are trained and employed by the dealership but work at the fleet's discretion. These techs have all the tools and training they need to service OE equipment. In some cases, they’ll even maintain an on-site parts inventory.
“Getting to a truck fleet’s core competency, it’s delivering freight, not maintaining parts inventories,” says Victor Cummings, vice president of service operations at Rush Enterprises. “Back in my fleet days, we always ended up with many obsolete parts, which is a drain on the company’s expenses. When the dealer has their inventory, the fleet only pays for the parts they use. And the dealer can afford to manage a broader spectrum of inventory better.
“Access to that inventory results in less downtime,” he adds.
That same access to parts applies to the mobile service trucks as well. Mitchell Skates, Rush’s director of mobile service, says everybody wins when the customers can tell exactly what work they want and what parts they are specifying.
“The success of those missions depends greatly on the upfront communication,” he says. “Where are we going? What are we servicing? How can we be prepared to make just one trip from a part and tooling standpoint? It won’t be perfect every time, but the more communication we have up front, the closer we can get to perfect.”
This brings us back to Kortyna’s earlier remarks about maintenance software integration.
“The more the service provider knows about the assets we are working on, the better we’re able to bring value to the work,” he says.
The Value Proposition
You know immediately that mobile service will cost more per event than doing the work in-house. That’s a stumbling block for some fleets. In other fleets, the maintenance manager might want things done a certain way. So while the inspections can be tailored, there must be a little letting go. That can be a stumbling block, too.
Kortyna says attitudes are changing with the increased emphasis on minimizing downtime and, to a growing extent, increasing driver satisfaction. “Fleet customers are looking to smooth out those bumps in the road that can affect productivity,” he says. “Each piece of equipment we service before the driver needs it is one less the fleet manager has to worry about.”
Cummings has also seen a change in the maintenance mindset over the years. Previously, doing the work in-house was more economical if you had the resources. But he says customers are becoming more astute, business-focused, and logistics-centric. As a result, it’s no longer simply an accounting exercise.
“Back in my days as a shop superintendent, my primary focus was maintenance costs. I wanted to stay within my budget,” he says. “But as I got promoted and went into operations, delivery became my responsibility. So, in addition to the shop, I became much more aware of the revenue loss due to the downtime.”
Is it more expensive to have someone else looking after the equipment you hardly ever see, or is it a good business decision?