I got an interesting call the other day from a fleet owner who had read my article “Avoiding Common Maintenance Mistakes” in the March issue. He has a small fleet — fewer than 25 trucks — and said he was struggling with maintenance. He said he knew maintenance was important, but he just couldn’t seem to get a handle on it.
In the course of our conversation, I suggested that he needed some sort of system to track when each vehicle was due to come in for a preventive maintenance inspection.
An overwhelming number of violations — north of 80% — under the federal government's Compliance, Safety, Accountability enforcement system are in the Maintenance BASIC. So it pays to make sure you perform PM inspections on a regular basis so you find problems before the inspectors do.
One of the first steps is to know when you should be doing those PMs. Contact your dealer and your aftermarket parts and components suppliers for suggested maintenance intervals. Make sure you take into account your fleet’s operating parameters, such as miles driven per trip, loads hauled, terrain, etc. Obviously, you can’t bring the truck in multiple times in a short period for maintenance, so you’ll have to aggregate the data you get from your suppliers and find the maintenance interval that makes the most sense for you.
To keep track to make sure that actually happens, I talked with this fleet owner about options. It can be something as simple as a white board in the shop that lists each asset and shows the date the inspection is due. I also told him there are a lot of automated systems out there that will track PM scheduling for him.
Then the fleet owner asked me a really intriguing question: “What do you think is more important, a maintenance system or leadership?”
That’s akin to the “chicken or the egg” question. Does the system come before the leadership? Or do you need the leadership and then the system?
Frankly, I’m torn. Without some sort of systemized, routine way to track whether your trucks are getting in for their regular PM checks, it’s almost impossible to keep track of what’s made it into the shop and what hasn’t. But if you have a system in place that isn’t being used, what good is it?
This fleet owner told me his lead technician was good, really good. But he was a “fix it when it’s broken” guy rather than someone with a preventive maintenance bent. The longer this fleet owner and I chatted, the more it became apparent that the leadership has to start not on the shop floor but rather with the fleet owner himself. He has to be the champion of a maintenance program, whether it is white-board-based or electronic. If the fleet owner himself is not preaching the gospel of maintenance, it’s never going to happen.
In the course of our conversation, I suggested he initiate some sort of maintenance program and then start tracking how often trucks are breaking down between scheduled maintenance. Notice I said scheduled maintenance, not completed maintenance. Then we talked about how he could use this information to show his tech what was happening when trucks missed their scheduled maintenance appointments. We also talked about developing an incentive plan for the lead tech based either on percentage of PM inspections completed or breakdowns that occur when PMs are missed. He liked the idea of an incentive and said he was going to come up with both a scheduled maintenance plan and an incentive program for his lead tech to get his buy-in to the new maintenance program.
That seems like a good way to handle the problem. Leadership without a program that schedules and tracks maintenance isn’t going to do the fleet much good. But neither will having a program in place that no one pays any attention to.
Leadership or a system? Which one is more important? The obvious answer is both.