Maintenance practices and part-buying philosophies vary greatly from fleet to fleet, as a recent panel discussion illustrated.
 - Photo: Jim Park

Maintenance practices and part-buying philosophies vary greatly from fleet to fleet, as a recent panel discussion illustrated.

Photo: Jim Park

Having the right truck for your operations is only part of what it takes to operate a successful fleet. During the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue in Dallas, Texas, a panel of four fleet executives shared their thoughts on managing the parts and service their trucks need.

Parts and service is, to a large extent, dependent on the age of the truck, and the fleets on the panel not only kept their trucks for different periods of time and disposed of them in different ways, but also had different strategies for managing their parts and service operations.

Bettendorf Trucking

“We keep our trucks forever,” said Bob Phipps, maintenance supervisor at Bettendorf Trucking, a northern California and western Oregon regional carrier servicing the forest products, agriculture and refuse industries. He went on to explain that the fleet has three groups of trucks: “Really old stuff that performs well, some 2010-2014 models with less than stellar performance, and some newer trucks.”

Bettendorf is phasing out the 2010 models “because they need too much service. We are working out what a good trade cycle is for us.”

Phipps said the fleet does all repair in its own seven shops, even on one of its trucks that has 4 million miles on it. He says his shops are fully staffed with technicians and trucks are on strict maintenance schedule. “We work around the short time of day the trucks are not on the road. Driver time is valuable. We don’t outsource because we think we can do it better, cheaper, faster.”

Phipps buys parts from some warehouse distributors; the rest come from dealers, and in a truck-down situation he will call one of his suppliers. “This is a people-based industry. We look for attitude and initiative. Price is big, but it comes down to who can deliver a consistently good quality part at a price they can make a living with and we can afford.”

When it comes to making parts purchases, “We know what works for us and what doesn’t,” Phipps said. “I do not have a problem with a white box if I know what’s in it and where it came from.” He tries to buy parts based on value, “and that means from the beginning to the end of part’s life. It is not about the beginning cost.” Bettendorf Trucking has a no-substitution policy on key parts.

PepsiCo

Keshav Sondhi, director of fleet engineering and sustainability at PepsiCo, which among other assets has 300 electric vehicles in its fleet, says all preventive maintenance is done in-house. Major repairs are farmed out to both dealers and independents.

When asked how the company determines where electric vehicles make sense, Sondhi replied, “Duty cycle, duty cycle, duty cycle.” The company is using electric Class 6 vehicles in urban delivery with ranges of 80 to 90 miles. The trucks are brought back to base and have a 12- to 14-hour window for charging. Any problems with the trucks are handled by the local dealer.

Since sustainability is part of his title, Sondhi talked about PepsiCo’s view of it. “We have a sustainability objective, and one of our major pillars is greenhouse gas emissions. We will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030 from their 2015 level.” To help achieve that goal, 50% of Frito Lay’s miles are on renewable natural gas, he said.

Ploger Transportation

“PM is the main focus for us,” says Tanya Morrow, president of Ploger Transportation, a family-owned assed-based truckload carrier with more than 60 tractors and 140 trailers. “If you have a truck down, you have a crisis,” she said. “PM is our crisis management.” 

Ploger does all its own maintenance and also is a warranty shop for the OEM. However, it does not do engine or transmission work. Trucks are kept for 700,000 to 800,000 miles. “Hopefully that gets us to a four- to five-year range,” she said. Ploger relies on a base of Mack and Volvo dealers and even has some spare units if needed, although Morrow prefers not to rely on those units.

Ploger is willing to try new technology and different specs, but will abandon a technology if it is not working. “We tried smaller engines and ended up going back to larger ones. The acceptance in the industry is not where we hoped it would be.”

Ploger tends to stick with OEM part brands because of warranty, but Morrow said she looks at other brands.

Werner Enterprises

Scott Reed, senior vice president of fleet purchasing and maintenance at for-hire giant Werner Enterprises, said the fleets sells all of its 7,800 trucks at under 400,000 miles. The average age of a truck in the Werner fleet is 1.8 years, which allows the fleet to eliminate diesel particulate filter service, “unless there is an upstream failure.”

Having a conventional drive train helps with resale, he says, “But that does not prevent us from trying new things.” (In fact Werner recently announced it is testing an electric truck in a pilot.)

When it comes to parts selection, Reed said, “we have to go with quality parts,” and the fleet stays in the OE channel when it needs parts.

Reed said he is not reluctant to outsource maintenance, but the decision is based on the type of operation. “We have to outsource for trucks that don’t come back to our terminals.” Reducing the average age of its trucks from 2.8 years to 1.8 years has meant that the fleet does not have a demand for heavy maintenance and repair work.

He said extended oil drain intervals have made it more difficult to time preventive maintenance services so that multiple maintenance items can be done at the same time. “As technology gets better at predictive maintenance, that will help with the timing.”

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