Finding the right, highly-trained technicians for more complex fleet jobs is becoming more challenging every day. - Photo: Gettyimages.com/welcomia

Finding the right, highly-trained technicians for more complex fleet jobs is becoming more challenging every day.

Photo: Gettyimages.com/welcomia

Advances and changes to new trucks are impacting overall truck fleet maintenance. Keeping up with these changes can be challenging. And larger service providers can offer the discount power due to scale and size. At the same time, no one knows your trucks and your operation like your in-house technicians. 

So, what’s a fleet manager to do? Send your trucks to the repair shop or keep performing routine, preventive maintenance in-house? 

Benefits of In-House Maintenance

The most crucial benefit of in-house maintenance is often quality control. 

“With equipment that is specialized and specific to your operation, having a mechanic that knows that equipment inside and out can give you peace of mind. If a fleet picks the right partner, there can be a real benefit to handling some repairs in house. At PacLease, we have several customers where we handle the cab, chassis, and powertrain maintenance and the customer handles the maintenance on the body (or trailer) because we’re better at the cab and chassis and they are better at the body,” Jake Civitts, director of Franchise Operations for PacLease. 

It often makes the most sense to utilize in-house services for fleets that run very specialized equipment, where there is maintenance conducted on the truck chassis and body, according to Civitts.

“Plus, you have more control over the schedule for maintenance since it’s up to you what equipment gets priority treatment,” he added.

For fleets interested in keeping maintenance in-house but do not have the technicians to support their needs, YourMechanic.com can act as an outsourced, in-house maintenance provider for fleet customers. 

“Additionally, our in-house maintenance is far less expensive than traditionally outsourced maintenance because we eliminate the drive to and from the shop, and we can provide services after business hours so that work trucks can stay in utilization. Our platform covers every aspect of repair — including parts, labor, and liability coverage. We can do more than 90% of vehicle repairs on outdoor fleet lots. In the ideal situation, if a customer has an indoor facility with a lift, we can provide nearly 100% of repairs on-site,” said Anthony Rodio, president & CEO of YourMechanic.com.

Benefits of Outsourcing Truck Fleet Maintenance

While quality control and knowledge of specialized equipment needs are some of the reasons fleets should consider keeping maintenance in-house, there are several reasons to consider an outsourced provider. 

“The overall benefit of outsourcing fleet vehicle maintenance is increased asset utilization, increased revenue, and stronger compliance,” said Rodio of YourMechanic.com.

Also, time and scheduling are significant benefits. 

“But notice we are not discussing costs. In the real calculation, the dollars saved usually are not as significant as expected. Employees’ salary, facilities overhead, and healthcare, as well as finding a dedicated manager, ramps up the overhead costs,” said William Holden, program manager, Commercial Vehicle Operations for Ford Motor Company.

Fleets cannot ignore the reality that most organizations face real challenges in running their maintenance programs.

“These challenges include overcoming internal bureaucracy and organizational resistance to implement initiatives or make changes, competition with other departments for limited capital and or human resources and the difficulty in keeping up with the very high rate of change in our industry,” said Glenn Sieja, director of business development for Serco Business.

These common challenges can be compounded based on where the vehicles are located.

“If a fleet manages maintenance in-house, who keeps track of the mileage, dates, and maintenance actions for your vehicles? Personnel changes, trucks in different locations across the country can impact the efficiency and accuracy of reporting. Outsourcing these tasks to dealers and a national network of servicing dealers can streamline record-keeping and increase reporting accuracy,” Holden added.

In most organizations, the maintenance department is not an integral part of the company’s operational strategy and, as a result, often gets what’s left of the budgetary and human resources, Sieja explained. 

“A solid contract with an experienced business partner can provide flexibility and control along with cost savings and increased operational effectiveness of the program,” Sieja added.

When it comes to outsourcing truck fleet maintenance for medium and heavy-duty work trucks, every operation is unique. 

“When asked if it makes sense to outsource, we’ll often say, ‘it depends.’ In many cases, it does make sense for outsourcing, especially if trucking is not a core part of a company’s operation. The cost of operating a shop, parts inventory, technician hiring, and training are all expensive. However, these benefits need to be consistently evaluated against the internal costs for some repairs and to find the right balance of control provided by in-house repairs versus outsourcing,” said Civitts of PacLease.

According to Sieja, outsourcing can be the right solution for those organizations with these general characteristics:

  • Significant budgetary/cost pressures.
  • Organizational changes such as mergers, acquisitions, or major reorganization.
  • Organizations facing a loss of expertise through personnel retirement or other changes in their technical workforce.
  • Organizations with mission-critical assets that are having trouble achieving top-tier performance in fleet availability, PM compliance, and/or regulatory compliance.
  • Smaller organizations that lack the breadth and depth of fleet management expertise

“There are potential cost savings to outsourcing maintenance, such as freeing up high-paid technicians to work on repairs to make sure your vehicles are on the road, not the lifts. Outsourcing maintenance to Ford would also mean OEM trained technicians using the OE lubricants and parts designed to protect your fleet. Maintenance is not the area you want to cut corners. It’s maintenance that, in the long run saves you money and reduces the potential long-term problems,” Holden added. 

And, for many of the same reasons you would want to keep some specialized vehicle maintenance in-house, you may want to consider outsourcing the maintenance needs for your medium-duty trucks. 

“Medium-duty vehicles need specific tools, facilities, and technicians to operate computer diagnostics equipment while performing maintenance. Many of these vehicles have special bodies (upfits), such as booms, winches, and other specialty equipment that an in-house technician may not know how to repair,” Holden said.

Most organizations face real challenges running their maintenance programs. Finding a proper balance is essential to reducing downtime and costs.  - Photo: Paclease

Most organizations face real challenges running their maintenance programs. Finding a proper balance is essential to reducing downtime and costs. 

Photo: Paclease

The Best Approach: A Combination

Probably one of the most often-heard phrases related to fleet is that one size, or solution, doesn’t fit all. Keeping this in mind, consider utilizing a combination of in-house and outsourced services. 

“Parts and FMIS management are two services that can be separated and outsourced to a provider with the owner still maintaining responsibility for maintenance,” noted Sieja of Serco Business. “Another example can be where an owner outsources maintenance for a subset of their fleet such as light-duty vehicles or specialty equipment but retains responsibility for maintaining the remainder of the fleet. Outsourcing can also be done with a geographic focus giving vehicles at remote locations to a provider while keeping vehicles at central locations in-house. The solution that ultimately is the most effective for the organization depends heavily on the unique situation."

There are numerous ways to separate your fleet to determine whether in-house or outsourced maintenance works best. 

“Some choose to split fleets into vehicles with consistent mileage and hours and others that do not have consistent usage or mileage,” noted Holden of Ford. “The consistent mileage vehicles are outsourced, and the vehicles that aren’t consistent are candidates for in-house maintenance, where the urgency to perform maintenance is not as time-sensitive or detrimental to the vehicle.” 

Holden added that diesel technicians are very difficult to find and add high costs to a business. “If you’re a fleet that has a high mix of diesel trucks, outsourcing can be a cost-effective option. The same can apply to medium-duty gasoline engines,” he added.

Current Challenges

The top challenges related to truck fleet maintenance today can be summed up in one word: change. 

“The biggest challenges for those needing maintenance on medium- and heavy-duty trucks is changing technology and the availability of highly trained technicians. Tooling and software are always changing too. There is a lot to keep up with on today’s equipment and staying up to date takes a toll on time management. The changing world of technology is leading many to outsource their maintenance,” said Civitts of PacLease. 

Technology in vehicles is changing rapidly. 

“Historically, the vehicle industry has adopted technology at a slower rate than the industry in general. Recently, technology has dominated the changes in new vehicles. This is particularly true of light-duty vehicles but is also occurring in heavy-duty trucks. The impact on maintenance activities is dramatic,” noted Sieja of Serco Business.

This also means technicians must be more tech-savvy and keep up with dramatically changing technology each new model-year. 

“The learning curve for technicians is significant, and for older techs who have not worked much with computers and technology, it can be a real challenge. Also, more sophisticated diagnostic equipment is needed to diagnose faults and this equipment is also changing as the vehicle technology changes,” Sieja added.

Scheduling can be tough, especially with driver and technician retention challenges to reckon with. 

“We’ve learned that most light-duty and medium-duty fleet managers have a hard time trying to schedule repair services during off-hours, finding skilled mechanics, and incentivizing their drivers to stay compliant with maintenance schedules,” said Rodio of YourMechanic.com. 

Specific to technician recruiting and retention, the labor market for technicians is very tight. 

“Technician demographics reflect society as a whole and many experienced technicians are approaching retirement age. The industry is not attracting apprentice-level talent in the numbers needed to offset the losses due to retirement and attrition,” Sieja explained. “As a result, the labor pool for technicians is shrinking, which increases labor costs and negatively impacts the delivery of services. Maintenance organizations need to find ways to improve the efficiency of services delivered to counter the shrinking labor pool and to offset the increasing cost of labor.”

While technology presents a significant challenge for maintenance, it also presents an opportunity. 

“Operating data for vehicle systems and components is now available, and analytics can provide insights into vehicle operation that was not available before. Maintenance organizations need to have the expertise, skills, and training to be able to take advantage of this information to make maintenance and operating decisions that reduce total costs,” Sieja said.

Environmental regulations are impacting vehicle technology and maintenance. 

“Environmental regulations, particularly with respect to reducing pollutants from heavy-duty truck exhaust, have resulted in the application of new technologies. These technologies are not yet perfected and are impacting vehicle operations and maintenance. Maintenance organizations need to be on top of these changes and take steps to address the issues they are causing,” Sieja added.

One tip Civitts of PacLease recommended? 

“Ask questions of all your vendors. Do not be afraid of the details. Challenge assumptions about how your fleet is running or what is best for you. Technology is changing so fast that what was ‘gospel’ three years ago may no longer be relevant. Oils, additives, batteries, tires — every part on a truck has improved over the last design cycle,” he said.

Trends & Advances in Truck Maintenance

For those running medium- and heavy-duty trucks, intelligence and communication continue to evolve. 

“Newer trucks have remote diagnostics that can provide information to a fleet or maintenance facility, speeding the repair process. This allows technicians to get the truck back up and running faster than ever before. What’s more, engines today can be programmed with over-the-air updates, giving better engine performance and saving time in the process. As for the future, we see preventive maintenance moving to predictive maintenance. With all the data collected on trucks, we’re not far from seeing the day that maintenance will be conducted on real-world experiences and data versus a static service schedule,” said Civitts of PacLease.

The increased deployment of telematic devices that provide real-time data on vehicle and operator performance has increasingly moved maintenance providers focus to data analytics. 

“Historically, using failure trend analysis to adjust PM procedures was the primary tool to avoid unscheduled maintenance. Now, we can combine historic failure trend tools with real-time data to find depreciating conditions that are the precursors to failures. This enables us to intervene with an efficient planned corrective approach to avoid costly unplanned maintenance actions,” said Sieja of Serco Business.

Fleet managers are also looking for convenience. 

“The main trend we’ve noted is that fleets are looking for the same convenience, transparency, and efficiency that consumers expect from the technology in their lives,” said Rodio of YourMechanic.com.

Holden of Ford noted that some advances fleets should consider from trends currently seen for light- and medium-duty fleets, including: 

  1. Invest in some of the latest diagnostic tools. 
  2. Utilize dedicated commercial vehicle centers for fleet customers. 
  3. Increase use of telematics, synthetic fluids, advanced safety features, hybrids, and battery-electric vehicle (BEV) technology, which are all trends we see becoming stronger. 

Originally posted on Work Truck Online

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