Attendees at the first Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue in Las Vegas recently got some anecdotal insights into fleet parts and service buying trends via a panel discussion with three fleet representatives, including thoughts on OE vs. aftermarket parts, training, new vs. reman, and price.

Paul Higgins, director of maintenance for Prime Inc., said while they buy a lot of parts wholesale, they're also loyal to local vendors who provide great service, especially when they need a part they don't have in stock. Although the dealer is "probably the easiest for our parts department people," he said, they also turn to aftermarket distributors locally.

"We get such great service from our local vendors," Higgins said. "They know exactly what to do, they're Johnny on the Spot. Those special deals they can make, a phone call and the parts are over here in 15 minutes, that helps us out on our warehousing issues. There's something to be said for that local presence and having the parts availability."

From left, Prime Inc.'s Paul Higgins, Republic Services' Roy Svehla, and Ahern Rentals' Jon Cain discuss their parts-buying habits during Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue.

From left, Prime Inc.'s Paul Higgins, Republic Services' Roy Svehla, and Ahern Rentals' Jon Cain discuss their parts-buying habits during Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue.

Roy Svehla, director of fleet maintenance at Republic Services Inc., said a decade ago, he probably bought 90% original captive OE parts. Today, he said, that's only about 40%.  One reason, though, is that OE dealers have expanded into aftermarket all-makes replacement parts.

"The aftermarket folks seem to be able to react quicker, and be able to introduce some innovative products that sometimes the OEs do not," Svehla said.

"Another important piece was the ability to implement electronic parts ordering," Svehla said. "The aftermarket I think has done a really good job of stepping up to the plate."

In addition, he said, parts shortages have forced the fleet to look places it normally wouldn't have.

Prime's Higgins also said shortages of OE-supplied parts has "really opened the door for aftermarket stuff."

Jon Cain, director of fuel services at Ahern Rentals, says his fleet is probably about 50/50 OE vs. aftermarket parts.

"I'm hesitant to try the non-OE parts sometimes, because we know how the OE parts are going to handle themselves on our trucks."

Ahern has made some changes in its warehousing that relies more on local vendors. "I've tried to reduce our cost and overhead of having parts sit on the shelf," he said. "We've seen success with that. Sometimes we've had to change what we generally want or use, but most things are available at three or four locations locally. Some of the smaller markets are more dealer driven."

Rebuilt and remanufactured parts and components are also seeing increased use among these fleets.

Ahern's Cain says on some of the large components, they aren't even able to get them new. "We'll go rebuilt I'd say 50 or 60% of the time, depending on warranty and our experience. A lot of times we'll look for a local facility where we have recourse and support. I can get a similar warranty on some reman stuff and I've got a guy in front of me who wants to see me succeed."

New or Reman?

Republic's Svehla says the question of new vs. reman depends largely on what component is involved.

"Rarely do we have to buy a new engine unless we've lost the core value of the old engine," he says, noting that remanufactured engines, differentials and transmissions are standard fare for the fleet. For smaller pieces like alternators and starters, if manufacturers are offering a good deal where for just a little bit more they can buy a new one with a better warranty, they'll go with new.

"The repair options are also tempered by the age of the truck, that influences our decisions." Older trucks are more likely to get reman and rebuilt parts.

When asked what the biggest parts expense is, the answers clearly demonstrated that each fleet is unique, illustrating the importance of parts salespeople truly understanding their customers' needs and pain points.[PAGEBREAK]

Prime's Higgins said although a lot of what they have is under warranty, problems with aftertreatment systems create a lot of downtime. In addition, because of the nature of the drop-and-hook business, there's a lot of trailer damage.

For Republic Services, as would be expected, it's brakes. "Some of our newest technology, the automated side loaders, they serve 1200 loads a day, each will do at least two brake jobs a year," Svehla explained. "In Michigan it's not uncommon for those front loaders that run heavy to do four brake jobs a year." However, he noted, "Next year, when our [DPF-equipped] trucks go out of warranty, I think when we all start paying for these aftertreatments, they will give brakes a run for the money."

At Ahern, Cain cited brakes, clutches and transmissions, but noted, "Our biggest expense comes from the truck being down. We'll use the dealer for some of those things, but sometimes the truck will sit at the dealer for days."

Price vs. Value

While distributors often complain that fleets buy too heavily on price, these panelists seemed to understand the value of looking at total life cycle costs rather than just pennies up front.

"The value of the piece that I purchase is offset by the number of times that I've got to do the job," Cain said. "If I've got to pull apart and redo it, it's not worth it to me. Sometimes buying the cheaper part is just going to buy you more work. We don't look for the most expensive part, but we do look for a part that's going to last."

Prime's Higgins agreed. "I am on our folks to buy the highest quality product at the lowest cost. We recognize the difference between cost and price – [we look at the] lowest cost of ownership."

They also agreed that they saw value from vendors who supply training, but that it needs to be structured to meet the time constraints of the fleets better.

"Our local vendors will bring manufacturers' reps in," said Ahern's Cain. "I would do more classes if I could do a 30 minute class over a two-hour class. I don't have three hours for a class for my shop, but we can definitely do a shorter version of it. Shoot us a DVD occasionally and give us a quick rundown."

Republic's Svehla said the company relies heavily on vendor-based training. "Our schedules are very difficult to free up a lot of guys to go to training, so we've been pushing them to develop some online interactive on-demand training."

"Quick training, we need to do more of that," agreed Prime's Higgins. "You just can't do enough to stay on top of this for our mechanics. Some failure analysis, as well. I think [suppliers] probably do a lot of failure analysis, but maybe bring it back to us and show if if there's something we're doing" that is causing parts to fail early.