-  Image Courtesy of J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Image Courtesy of J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

A properly managed vehicle recordkeeping system is a vital business asset. While the management of records and documentation may seem a tedious task, it is a powerhouse of data that your organization can use to drive an efficient operation. Your records provide an inventory of all equipment as well as their related compliance and operational status. They answer questions like, “What’s my capacity in January?,” “What units will be serviced in December?” and “When will this asset be back online?”

Those responsible for vehicle recordkeeping understand the job comes with tremendous complexity. There are daily, monthly, quarterly, and yearly vehicle documents and timelines that must be reported, tracked, and stored, along with numerous city, county, state, and federal agencies to keep informed. It’s no wonder companies can find themselves in trouble during audits. Fleet professionals simply want to focus on keeping the wheels moving, not sift through paperwork. But inadequate record management could bring those moving wheels to a halt.

At least 65% of all critical violations found during 2021 audits are related to recordkeeping, including 7 out of the top 10.1

If you face an audit, litigation, or another test of your compliance practices, your records alone may seal your fate. They allow you to verify and prove compliance with laws and regulations. Poor record management — or an inability to provide complete, accurate documentation upon request — could open the door to violations and stiff penalties from the DOT, State Patrol, or other enforcement agencies, not to mention costly settlements in court. The DOT alone could charge you up to $13,000 in fines for each missing document. 

Additionally, more auditors are expecting near-instant access to your vehicle records, and they expect those records to be organized, up-to-date, and complete. If you haven’t already done so, store your records electronically. This makes data more accessible and more likely to be reviewed, analyzed, monitored, and shared.

Let’s take a look at the more common records typically managed by the maintenance area.

Inspection & Maintenance Records

The most obvious is a vehicle maintenance file. It must include:

  • Vehicle make, vehicle number, serial number, year, and tire size
  • Who furnished the vehicle
  • A record of all inspections, repairs, and maintenance
  • Preventive maintenance schedules
  • Bus inspection records

Proper and accurate retention of documents is an essential aspect of compliant recordkeeping. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires motor carriers to retain various documents to prove that their vehicles are properly maintained. Records must be kept for 12 months.

Additional documents that must be retained for specific time periods include:

  • Daily vehicle inspection reports for three months
  • Annual inspection forms for 14 months
  • Roadside inspection forms for 12 months
  • Evidence of inspector qualifications for the duration of employment plus one year
  • Accident register information for three years
  • Records of engine changes until three years after the vehicle leaves your control

Don’t forget about retaining common legalization records, including bills of sale, smog inspections, lease agreements, proof of insurance, lien security agreements, title, registration applications, and the like. Proper vehicle legalization records ensure your vehicles are legally cleared to be on the road. DOT registration must be updated every two years and emissions and annual inspections performed every 12 months.

Vehicle Taxes

There are also vehicle taxes to consider, such as state weight-mile taxes and the federal heavy-vehicle use tax (HVUT) filed annually or whenever vehicles are added. The recordkeeping rules for the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) and the International Registration Plan (IRP) are extensive. IFTA requires quarterly tax filings as well as annual renewal, while IRP involves yearly registration. Keeping reliable records and avoiding things like missing receipts or unaccounted-for gap miles in mileage reports is vital when the auditors arrive.

Staying Off the Radar

Maintaining accurate fleet records is essential to keeping your Vehicle Maintenance CSA BASIC score under the threshold. That is why the FMCSA recommends motor carriers use the Safety Management Cycle (SMC). It helps them evaluate their safety program, ensure compliance with the safety regulations, and reduce the risk of accidents, and provides additional insights into operations.

The SMC incorporates six key operational areas (see image). We suggest examining your safety management controls - defined as a motor carrier’s policies, programs, practices, and procedures - to ensure they address all six SMC areas.

 -  Image Courtesy of J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Image Courtesy of J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Your maintenance team is probably responsible for performing all maintenance inspections, preventive maintenance, and repairs, and for generating supporting records. If your organization is trending towards more breakdowns, violations, and out-of-service events, good recordkeeping can help you follow the paper (or digital) trail and identify any gaps in your procedures, policies, training, etc. Without proper documentation and monitoring, you’ll continue to struggle with compliance and operational hiccups. Worse yet, your fleet could have a greater likelihood of accidents, expensive litigation, fines, and lost productivity due to out-of-service events.

For more insights and how to improve your vehicle recordkeeping and maintenance program, download our newest eBook, The Vehicle Maintenance CSA eWorkbook. It’s filled with expert guidance on applying the Safety Management Cycle to your maintenance area and includes interactive worksheets to help you build a strong program.