Mismanaged maintenance can become a huge cost. Pay attention and monitor this essential fleet component.  - Photo: Gettyimages.com/Scharfsinn86

Mismanaged maintenance can become a huge cost. Pay attention and monitor this essential fleet component. 

Photo: Gettyimages.com/Scharfsinn86

It’s well known that a telematics solution will go a long way toward improving safety and overall operational efforts. But one commonly missed attribute of a telematics solution is its ability to help enhance a fleet’s overall fleet maintenance efforts, too. 

From trouble tracking to help identifying underused assets, there are several added maintenance-related benefits to a telematics solution that fleet managers should take advantage of, as well as a few challenges to overcome. 

Using Telematics for Maintenance 

No matter how cautious and safe a fleet’s drivers are, ensuring overall safe operations begins with proper vehicle maintenance. Commercial fleet managers must think about properly managing their entire fleet while being proactive with driver safety. 

“Our telematics solution allows businesses to gain visibility on outstanding or hidden maintenance issues that could threaten the safety of a driver,” explained Sherry Calkins, vice president, Strategic Partners for Geotab. “Our system provides raw fault data pulled from the API platform and translates into detailed instructions. This makes it easier to understand faults and help prioritize repairs. Many areas inspected regularly include but are not limited to, brakes, tires, windshield, battery life, air filter, and fluids.”

At the top level, a telematics solution can help take away some of the monitoring and reporting burdens from drivers. 

“Beyond manual checks to brakes, the battery, and tires, advanced fleet management software equipped with GPS tracking technology can monitor fuel usage and mileage. This monitoring can indicate how long a vehicle has been in service and alert fleet managers when maintenance is needed or upcoming,” said Kevin Aries, head of product success for Verizon Connect. “Using data as a guide, a fleet manager can quickly make a call on the health and safety of a vehicle. This not only helps boost productivity, but fleet management software can also alert fleet managers of maintenance issues before such risks as severe weather hits. Not only does telematics help improve vehicle health, but it also helps to improve the accuracy of preventive maintenance to control costs.” 

Monitoring diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) helps ensure vehicles don’t break down on the road, limiting downtime by getting them in for timely service. 

“You no longer need to rely on drivers to remember to tell you when their vehicles need service. This can significantly reduce your maintenance costs and keep your vehicles safe to operate,” said Ryan Driscoll, VP of marketing for GPS Insight. “Also, using a driver vehicle inspection reporting (DVIR) app, fleet managers can also ensure drivers share vehicle defects with the fleet’s maintenance team immediately.”

Charlie Mahoney, business development for Derive, also noted the value of DTC monitoring. 

“Having key DTCs alerted to the team that handles maintenance provides you peace of mind and puts you in a proactive role. No longer will you start your day with dead batteries or faulty charging systems. For example, our technology includes a last ping should a driver leave the lights on. Time is money, so be proactive with asset preparedness,” Mahoney explained. 

Beyond safety, video telematics can also provide fleet managers with data and insights needed to identify habits or issues that may affect the maintenance of their vehicles. 

“We know many risky driving behaviors can increase wear-and-tear on a vehicle, including accelerating too quickly, hard braking, speeding, or hitting curbs. By identifying and then reducing these types of behaviors, fleets can increase the longevity of their brakes, transmissions, tires, and suspension parts,” said Del Lisk, vice president of Safety Services for Lytx. “Maintenance savings vary by fleet based on a number of different factors, but overall, Lytx clients saved an estimated $305 million in fleet maintenance in 2019.” 

Telematics also allows fleets to see the hours on their equipment so they can see when maintenance is coming up. 

“Some systems, like ours at Stellar, even provide proactive reminders on preventive maintenance. This means one less thing for fleets to have to remember as they are notified when it’s coming up and when it’s time. This can help fleets better plan for preventive maintenance ahead of time,” noted Adam Oppermann, product manager for Stellar Industries Inc.

Maintenance needed to get a vehicle back on the road is expensive. 

“Last-minute repairs can be up to four times the cost of scheduled ones. Regardless of your fleet size, real-time vehicle diagnostics and preventive maintenance planning can help decrease vehicle downtime and maintenance costs,” said Rushil Goel, VP and GM of fleet management at Samsara.

Also, data can help fleets identify assets that are heavily used and switch them with assets in underused areas. Oppermann of Stellar noted this could result in leveling the use of assets and help avoid costlier maintenance down the road.

Commercial and vocational fleets also often operate mixed assets and a variety of pieces of equipment, including trailers. 

“Without visibility into actual trailer use and productivity, fleet operators will typically set static schedules for trailer maintenance, regardless of the miles traveled. While this predictable scheduling ensures high-mileage/productive trailers are maintained in a timely and proactive fashion, it is extremely inefficient for the low mileage trailers that require little to no maintenance on such frequent intervals,” said Christopher Plaat, SVP and GM for BlackBerry Radar. “Next-generation asset tracking systems can accurately measure miles driven and idle time to help determine a more cost-effective maintenance cycle based on actual usage.”

Fleet operators are responsible for thousands of dollars’ worth of critical equipment and assets required to deliver their services to end customers. 

“Supply chain visibility solutions utilize the latest smart sensors, cloud-based platforms, and cellular technology to monitor and provide data on cargo, vehicles, and other assets in any mobile environment. Telematics increase efficiency by allowing fleet managers to monitor and assess vehicle diagnostics in real-time, enhancing maintenance efforts. Fleet management technology makes it possible to locate every truck in the fleet, and know how it is used and whether it needs immediate maintenance or service. Monitoring the vehicle also makes it easy to find the nearest driver when there is an unexpected maintenance call or problem,” said Jeff Clark, senior vice president of Product Management for CalAmp. 

Video-based systems can also help identify when vehicles are encountering adverse road conditions, such as poor weather, rough roads, construction areas, etc.

“Adverse road conditions may lead to increased maintenance issues. If fleet managers see the truck has encountered these situations, then they may proactively make additional steps to navigate and minimize risk in the future,” said Adam Kahn, president of Netradyne.

Ultimately, telematics solutions make a big difference in overall maintenance efforts. 

“If you want to be more proactive and reduce maintenance costs overall, linking your devices to a robust fleet management software solution can save you a ton of heavy lifting and maintenance dollars. By pulling down odometers and DTC codes from a vehicle’s hardware automatically, PM reminders and potential issues are surfaced in real-time. This makes it much easier to schedule service, reducing downtime and unplanned costs proactively,” said Laura Maxwell, product marketing manager for Fleetio.

Mismanaged maintenance can be a huge cost. Telematics can help track and enhance a company’s fleet maintenance efforts if utilized correctly.  - Photo: Gettyimages.com/Scharfsinn86

Mismanaged maintenance can be a huge cost. Telematics can help track and enhance a company’s fleet maintenance efforts if utilized correctly. 

Photo: Gettyimages.com/Scharfsinn86

Challenges Using Telematics to Enhance Maintenance 

When implementing telematics to enhance a company’s fleet maintenance efforts, there are a few common challenges that organizations may face.

“One of these challenges is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the data provided. Having access to data can be helpful; however, it can also have adverse effects if you do not know how to utilize it properly. If you are not sure how to maximize fleet data, work closely with your telematics providers who will give you the support needed to understand how to utilize the information provided to improve your fleet’s efforts properly,” said Calkins of Geotab.

Having integrated diagnostics from various manufacturers is key to ensuring fleets are getting the most data available, according to Calkins. 

“Vehicles today are made up of hundreds of parts that are increasingly adding sensors and the ability to monitor and diagnose issues remotely. Geotab continues to work with automotive manufacturers and tier-one suppliers to ensure we are providing the most data available to customers, all in one platform,” she added.

One of the most common challenges when it comes to fleet maintenance in the utility sector is keeping up with customer demand when breakdowns occur. 

“Customer service in the utility industry relies heavily on speed - how quickly you can get to an outage and restore service. You can improve how efficiently you respond to outages by maintaining the health of your vehicles. By investing in telematics solutions that enable better preventive maintenance, quick dispatching, and real-time ETAs, you can increase customer satisfaction by providing greater visibility into your efforts to restore unexpected service outages,” said Goel of Samsara.

Another common challenge related to fleet management is a failure to define key metrics to measure success. 

“Once you have a fleet maintenance program in place, you have to determine whether or not it’s working. Tracking your fleet availability will show you how downtime is impacting your operations. To make sure the ratio of planned to unplanned vehicle maintenance is moving in the right direction, you must find your preventive maintenance (PM) ratio. A good benchmark to aim for is 70% preventive tasks and 30% non-preventive tasks,” Goel added.

Another challenge is poor communication between drivers and the maintenance team on vehicle/trailer defects. 

“Using telematics, management doesn’t have to worry about that communication challenge. Forced workflows in mobile apps allow for drivers/techs to share pictures and send notes of any issues with a vehicle. These show up on the maintenance team’s log and can be reported on every day/week/month to ensure proper maintenance is taking place and that your high-value assets are safe to operate,” said Driscoll of GPS Insight.

The multitude of telematics providers in the market can also complicate things. 

“There’s no standard way we communicate with them all. That can be a challenge for maintenance, so it’s important that when selecting a telematics provider, maintenance solutions will be able to access the data and absorb it into other business information systems,” said Dave Walters, senior solutions engineer for Trimble Transportation. “Some ways that fleets can address this is before selecting a telematics provider, ask them how they make data available to integration partners – do they have an open architecture or web APIs? Can we send data back to the device? These are all touchpoints in the way that we exchange data, which would be mission-critical to the provider selection process.”

The enormous amount of information fleet managers have from telematics technology is also daunting. 

“Imagine looking through the logs of miles driven for every vehicle. It’s important to find a fleet management software that can provide a historical analysis of daily data, and that is user friendly so fleet managers and owners can quickly pinpoint vehicles in need of maintenance,” said Aries of Verizon Connect.

Fleet managers are trying to do more with less, by prioritizing their maintenance efforts, putting their dollars where they will be most effective. 

“At this time, businesses are prioritizing the successful transportation of essential goods. The maintenance of fleets is critical due to fewer workers available, and health restrictions prohibiting managers from conducting business as usual. Fleets at this time cannot have unexpected downtime. As a result, fleet telematics is leveraged to alleviate the stress of unexpected maintenance issues and minimize downtime,” Clark added. 

A top goal is ensuring there isn’t a data overload.

“Data has to have a clear purpose for collection, and it has to be manageable to do something with once collected. We recommend starting with a smaller dataset that focuses on the top five key maintenance events and then over time evolve the program to incorporate the next tranche of key events,” said Jonathan Bates, Head of Global Marketing for MiX Telematics.

If you’re using separate software for maintenance tracking, it can be very challenging to see the full picture of maintenance and even harder to keep up with PMs. 

“Look for a maintenance management solution that has an integration with your telematics provider so data can be shared between the systems easily. That will help you keep your maintenance efforts in-sync with what your vehicles are doing in real-time,” said Maxwell of Fleetio.

The Bottom Line 

Mismanaged maintenance can become a huge cost.

“Ignoring small issues allows them to escalate, often leading to substantial repair bills that can far exceed the cost of proactive maintenance,” said Aries of Verizon Connect. “For example, monitoring oil condition is critical for diesel engines, and timely oil analysis that identifies potential problems earlier rather than later can mean the difference between a $2,500 EGR cooler repair and a $30,000 engine rebuild.”

Advice before you get started? 

“Cleanse your data before it is brought into the maintenance system so you’re not getting inaccurate information. You want to have a high-quality data stream coming in. Luckily, the quality of telematics data being fed into maintenance systems is extraordinarily good when it comes from the engine ECM,” said Walters of Trimble. 

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