A recent survey found that the best-in-class fleets were running significantly more miles between breakdowns. What are they doing different?
 - Photo: Steven Martinez

A recent survey found that the best-in-class fleets were running significantly more miles between breakdowns. What are they doing different?

Photo: Steven Martinez

Many fleet managers will not be surprised by recent statistics showing that roadside breakdowns were up 21% in the first quarter of this year compared with the last quarter of 2017.

According to the Truckload Vertical Benchmarking Study conducted by the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council and FleetNet America, truckload fleets that participated in the survey had a breakdown every 9,136 miles, and best-in-class fleets had breakdowns every 33,809 miles. Tires, lighting, brakes, exhaust systems, and wheels/rims/hubs/bearings accounted for 58% of all repairs in the first quarter of this year.

“Understanding what fails on the side of the road is a great way to understand a maintenance operation,” says Jim Buell, executive vice president of sales and marketing for FleetNet America, which provides fleet breakdown, repair and maintenance services. He adds that while some unscheduled roadside repairs are inevitable (such as tire failure after running over debris), fleets need to give some thought to what is failing en route and really consider if the failure could have been prevented.

“That is one of the great things about a study that benchmarks similar fleets. If a fleet is an outlier in one VMRS system, it may be a very good indication that this is an area they can improve — bringing down total maintenance expense,” he says. (VMRS is the TMC-developed Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards, a structured coding system that makes tracking and analyzing maintenance and repairs easier.)

“The point that jumped out at me was the spread between miles/repair for the best-in-class fleet compared to the vertical average,” Buell says. The top-performing fleets ran 3.7 times longer between roadside events than the average fleet.

Except for tires, a best-in-class fleet was four to 13 times better than the average in the remaining five top VMRS systems. “If one fleet can run 1.2 million miles between an exhaust system repair when the industry is only running 139,000 miles, why shouldn’t all fleets get closer to the 1.2 million mile mark? As an industry we need to challenge ourselves to move everyone closer to the best-in-class mark,” he says.

To find out what best-in-class fleets were doing differently, Buell called them to talk about each of the top five systems in the study. “In each case, after giving it some thought, the maintenance leader was able to point to a practice they implemented which they felt drove their superior results.” 

For example, three practices that helped reduce roadside lighting repairs were extra training, making sure butt connectors were heat shrunk during PMs, and providing drivers with “goody bags” of replacement bulbs so they can make that repair themselves.

With exhaust systems, one fleet told Buell it had invested in personnel to monitor fault lights and make careful assessments if the repair was needed immediately or could be deferred. 

“There’s a different best-in-class story behind each VMRS system, which is why I believe the best-in-class meeting at this fall’s TMC meeting will be so very interesting,” Buell says. Fleets that are participating in the benchmarking program will be able to hear firsthand from the individual fleets that are best in class in each system.

To help reduce breakdowns, fleets first need data, he says. “Every fleet needs to understand the miles they are running between breakdowns and repairs, know where they’re best in class so they don’t inadvertently change something that’s working for them, and identify where they can make improvements that will give their company the best return on their maintenance team’s time.”

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