Fleet trucks are tools to accomplish the job. If they aren’t working, the fleet isn’t working. If they aren’t running efficiently, the fleet isn’t running productively.
Top Causes of Lost Vehicle Productivity
There are several causes of lost vehicle productivity, but one of the top problems is age-related.
“One of the top causes for lost vehicle productivity is mainly due to mechanical issues on older vehicles due to the increased volume of breakdowns, using the wrong vehicle for assigned application, and lack of preventive maintenance history. While other less frequent and obvious items contribute to poor vehicle productivity, these represent a large percentage of the problem,” said Jeremy Green, sales & marketing manager for Union Leasing.
Agreeing was Nate Niese, director, national client partnerships for Mike Albert. Niese added that “aging fleet vehicles that are well-worn in appearance and prone to breakdowns, run the risk of missing customer appointments, underdelivering on customer service, and tarnishing the company’s image.”
An aging fleet can significantly impact vehicle productivity.
“Older vehicles are usually near or at the peak of their lifecycle and require ongoing maintenance, making them challenging to operate as efficiently,” said Todd Elmore, corporate rental manager for Enterprise Truck Rental.
One top cause of lost vehicle productivity is unplanned maintenance.
“As a fleet operator, you can plan accordingly for vehicles cycling in/out of your fleet and for routine maintenance, but nothing can disrupt a fleet’s productivity faster than significant unforeseen downtime,” said Ed Powell, manager, Business Intelligence and Analytics for ARI.
These situations can be amplified when the fleet manager doesn’t have a contingency plan in place.
“The contingency plan should address over-the-road repairs as well as relationships with vendors to help provide replacement vehicles if the equipment needs to be down for an extended time,” said Dan Klebba, general manager of PacLease Grand Prairie and Fort Worth, Texas. “For this reason, many fleets shifted their mindset from owning their equipment to embracing more full-service leases in their fleet.”
Keeping up with proper preventive maintenance and complying with company vehicle cycling policy can help reduce the likelihood of significant repairs or risk of breakdowns.
“Mobile maintenance is another option if the fleet operates out of a centralized location. Routine maintenance, such as oil changes, could be scheduled when the driver is not using the vehicle instead of having the driver use part of their day to take the vehicle in for service. Outsourced or automated solutions for items like hours of service reporting can also help drivers be more efficient in their work,” said Lawrence Liu, senior fleet consultant for Merchants Fleet.
Companies often do not have a strategic plan for replacing aging vehicles in their fleet.
“Instead, fleets keep vehicles beyond their productive life and run them into the ground. This usually results in rising maintenance and repair costs, a higher risk of breakdowns and downtime, and diminished reliability and safety. On top of that, newer vehicles are overused to compensate for the downtime of older vehicles, accelerating the wear and tear on newer vehicles,” Niese said.
Overall, unscheduled vehicle downtime is a massive drain on vehicle productivity, and it can often be attributed to lax maintenance schedules, driver error, or driver non-compliance.
“Fleet managers must ensure that daily safety inspections are being completed appropriately, and they are following up on issues noted. Another issue is idling, and while it isn’t always avoidable, it should be minimized whenever possible. Idling wastes fuel, time, and puts extra hours on vehicles increasing the maintenance frequency. Ensure you’re tracking maintenance in terms of hours, and not miles, specifically in high-idle situations,” said James Brand, product manager for LeasePlan USA.
Another issue that is often a drain on productivity is when vehicles are under- or over-spec’ed for their intended job function.
“If a vehicle is under-spec’ed, it may not be capable of effectively performing its intended role within the fleet. Conversely, if vehicles are over-spec’ed, they may not be able to complete tasks efficiently, resulting in potentially costly complications,” Powell added.
Niese agreed, noting, “if a vehicle is not specified correctly to meet the demands of the job, the vehicle will likely be overtaxed. Or, if the vehicle is more than is needed for the job, it may incur excess fuel and other operating costs.”
At its least, improper truck specifications can lead to poor performance and fuel economy.
“At most, improper specifications may lead to unplanned mechanical failures and safety risks. Overloading a chassis may result in mechanical failures, drivability issues making it challenging to maneuver, stop and accelerate the asset, and risk of regulatory non-compliance,” said Alec Walker, senior data strategist for Donlen.
One issue is related to vehicle assignment and overall upfits.
“Drivers assigned to the incorrect vehicle for job applications or one that is not upfitted correctly can result in excess vehicle downtime due to extra maintenance work or the job not being completed efficiently,” said Saad Ahmad, consultant, strategic consulting services, Element Fleet Management.
The seasonality of a business and the speed at which a business is awarded new projects are also significant productivity factors.
“For example, if a business is in its off-season and not able to secure as many projects, they may not be utilizing their vehicles as frequently as they typically would,” said Elmore of Enterprise Truck Rental.
Much like driver productivity, it is equally important to ensure vehicles are compliant and on the road.
“Lost vehicle productivity may commonly occur from improper specifications, non-compliance, unmanaged downtime, and driver downtime,” Walker said.
For work trucks and vocational trucks, limiting downtime is critical to ensuring productivity.
“Downtime can be a much bigger factor for companies that rely on larger trucks. You can usually get a rental car for most passenger vehicles, but large trucks (especially with custom upfit) are harder to find an appropriate replacement,” Walker added.
In some areas and with certain truck types, driver demand may outweigh driver availability.
“This can occur with specialty assets and trucks requiring certain licensing. Where a company cannot fill this driver role or where that driver has been grounded, vehicle productivity may be lost,” Walker said.
Joshua Swanberg, fleet partnership team lead for Element Fleet Management, added this final concern: Idle assets are not generating revenue for the business.
“Remarket idle units them or find a way to put them to use,” he said.
Top Tips to Increase Vehicle Productivity
While there are clearly many challenges to ensuring a productive fleet truck, there are many ways a fleet manager can help improve overall productivity with a little planning and a lot of patience.
Creating a policy and procedure for scenarios the drivers encounter will minimize downtime and ensure compliance.
“A properly executed telematics program will enable the fleet manager to see their whole fleet ecosystem and make informed decisions. Daily vehicle inspections can identify problems with a vehicle before it goes out on the road,” said Green of Union Leasing.
And make sure your plan fits your fleet needs.
“Having the right fleet plan, including the type of vehicle, how long to operate, and the ideal time to replace has an enormous impact on productivity. As vehicles age or experience downtime related to maintenance or accidents, having a plan to minimize the time in the shop plays a big part of an effective fleet plan,” said Frank Thurman, VP of operations for Enterprise Fleet Management.
Telematics is one of the best ways to track and manage the productivity of your truck fleet.
“Telematics gives fleet managers valuable insights into driver routes, vehicle utilization, and risky driver behaviors that could increase the likelihood of non-preventative maintenance and more downtime,” said Liu of Merchants Fleet.
Connected vehicle data allows fleet managers to act immediately when they see any signs of driver “abuse” or negligence.
“By tracking this data and picking out any information ahead of time, fleet managers will be able to identify events before they become productivity issues,” said Brand of LeasePlan USA.
Vehicles do not have an unlimited useful life. Instead of running them into the ground, the more cost-effective and safer solution is to implement a vehicle replacement strategy.
“With the help of fleet lifecycle experts, fleet managers can forecast the optimal time to remarket each vehicle and budget for its replacement. By identifying a specific mileage band for each aging vehicle that pinpoints when it should be cycled out of the fleet, fleet managers can decrease operating costs and prevent downtime,” said Niese of Mike Albert.
Predictive and regular vehicle maintenance can improve performance, lower fuel costs, fend off major repairs and downtime, and help retain a higher resale value, Niese added.
Another tip to help minimize unforeseen downtime is to adhere to the recommended preventive maintenance (PM) schedules.
“Successfully minimizing PM variability is among the most effective ways to improve reliability and maximize productivity. Regularly completing minor PMs such as oil changes, brake services, and more dramatically reduces the occurrence of costly, more significant component failures. It is also important to keep in mind that your PM strategy needs to extend beyond the vehicle itself to include upfit components and equipment as well,” said Powell of ARI.
In terms of optimizing vehicle specifications, it may seem obvious, but it must be repeated: ensure each unit is appropriately spec’ed for its intended job function.
“You’ll need a comprehensive understanding of the role each vehicle plays within your business, and this insight will help you determine the ideal specification — both vehicle model and upfitting — to maximize productivity. You’ll also be able to pinpoint the optimal replacement intervals for your fleet. One best practice is to keep vehicles in service long enough to space out capital expenditures, then cycle them out right before operating costs begin to rise,” Powell added.
Vehicle age has a huge impact on downtime.
“Replace vehicles on time to optimize the life of the vehicle in addition to increasing vehicle utilization. Downsize the fleet if not all vehicles are required,” said Swanberg of Element Fleet Management.
Elmore of Enterprise agreed, adding, “To minimize lost vehicle productivity, fleet managers should also equip drivers with new vehicles that operate more efficiently and have less wear and tear.”
Know the vehicle application and understand the operating terrain and environment.
“Know the maintenance environment and replacement options for when that asset is grounded. Obtain feedback from the owner, operator, or driver — those closest to the truck and job. And use a specification checklist to ensure that asset is built to the specifications to ensure maximum efficiency and productivity,” said Walker of Donlen.
Walker also noted the value of a third-party to help.
“Consider utilizing a third party to manage regulatory compliance or use automated tools and technology to be alerted of upcoming compliance regulations, what services are needed, when, and where a driver may take a vehicle can save on time and effort while keeping the asset compliant and on the road,” he said.
From fleet management companies to leasing providers and other transportation-related companies, don’t forget to lean on your industry partners and suppliers for help and advice.
A productive truck is just one element to a productive fleet. Make sure your fleet manager and drivers are as productive as possible as well.