With 514,000 carriers running 9 million trucks and buses to contend with, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has had to develop a more effective way of tracking safety violations. It's called CSA, short for "Compliance, Safety, Accountability."
Building a PM program and tracking maintenance records brings expertise to your small fleet customers that they may not have internally.
Building a PM program and tracking maintenance records brings expertise to your small fleet customers that they may not have internally.

Under this new record-keeping initiative, which went into effect at the end of 2010, the agency tracks carrier violations and uses the records to rate their safety performance. A poor rating can put a carrier out of business. There's nothing new under CSA in terms of the type and number of violations for which a carrier can be cited, but with FMCSA doing a much better job of tracking violations, some carriers are seeing their violation rates spike.

It's not that the carriers have gotten worse, but the process has gotten more transparent. FMCSA has created six categories, called Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) to group related deficiencies. One of them is Vehicle Maintenance, and it's an area where many carriers can use all the help they can get.

According to Annette Sandberg, former FMCSA administrator and now CEO of a safety consulting firm called TransSafe, vehicle maintenance violations in total account for the second highest number of violations of all the BASIC categories.

"Those violations are very easy for roadside officers to find," she said at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week in Las Vegas in January. "On average, about 20% of the trucks inspected at roadside are placed out of service for mechanical reasons."

Sandberg also noted that the largest group among carriers that are put out of service for maintenance problems are those with one to six trucks.

"Small operators are the people who need help the most, because they don't have a big safety management program or staff supporting their operation," she said. "We've noticed three common threads among smaller carriers with poor scores in the Maintenance BASIC: deficient vehicle inspections by drivers, poor maintenance record-keeping and oversight, and lapsed annual inspections."

That presents an opportunity for aftermarket parts and service providers.

Tools of the trade

There are a number of ways a service partner can assist a customer with this emerging threat to their viability.

Sandberg noted that drivers and their daily vehicle inspection reports are a significant weakness in many cases. Drivers often just check off the items on the DVIR without actually conducting an inspection, she said. "Even if they are more diligent, they often miss things that should be noted."

Many drivers have never had any formal training on how to do walk-around inspections, she said, which opens the door for a partner to conduct seminars or driver training sessions, videos, etc.

The other challenge is the reporting and record-keeping architecture. File folders full of work orders are better than nothing, but a good system can help fleets stay on top of maintenance, and even allow for parts failure analysis, warranty tracking and more.

Certain things have to be tracked in a maintenance file, including annual inspections, repairs resulting from out-of-service violations, etc.

"Small fleets probably don't have the IT systems or expertise to support a proper maintenance program," Sandberg said. "If you, as a service provider, have such a system to lease or sell, that could be a big benefit in a relationship."

Lapsed annual inspections are a surprisingly recurrent problem. If carriers had a system to remind them when the inspections were due, or if they got a call from a service provider advising them that the inspections were due, it would help prevent a lot of problems.

As a maintenance or service provider, shops can set up maintenance scheduling programs to handle customers' PM needs, do the inspections and service, and maintain the necessary records as well. You now have a captive customer.

It's now possible for anyone - it's public information - to log into a carrier's safety record and view roadside inspection reports. With that information, a service provider can identify a fleet's weaknesses and take steps to solve them.

You can even drill down to individual inspection reports by truck license plate number, which provides very accurate insight into where the fleet may be falling down.

If there's a pattern to the violations or oft-repeated violations, it's a clue that the fleet could use a little help. Knowing your customers' needs, whether it's brake jobs, an outsourced maintenance program or a little driver training, could help cement a relationship.

"CSA is a game-changer," Sandberg said. "Today, shippers and brokers are watching the carrier's ratings too. They are commonly attaching safety-rating qualifications to haulage contracts. If the carrier loses work to a bad rating, it's a long and difficult road back to a satisfactory rating.

"There are several things service providers can do to help their customers, including showing them that the data is out there for all to see and identifying ways and strategies you can offer to help them improve their scores," she added.

At the end of the day, it's just good old-fashioned customer service.

Click here to see a list of the top five maintenance violations.

From the April/May 2012 issue of Heavy Duty Aftermarket Journal.