Truck fleet maintenance costs are one of the often-cited top expenses when managing a truck fleet.
“In its simplest form, a maintenance management program is a way to ensure vehicles receive required preventive maintenance services and needed unplanned repair services,” said John Wuich, CAFM, vice president, Strategic Consulting Services (SCS) for Donlen.
Digging into it a little deeper, “maintenance management is the managing of assets strategically to decrease downtime, minimize costs, and maximize profitability for any organization. It involves using statistics, tracking, and strategic partnerships to achieve these goals,” explained Tony Hernandez, team lead – truck maintenance at Emkay.
In addition to connecting a fleet with service networks and roadside assistance, maintenance management programs offer purchase order data, authorization controls, and methods to manage vehicle maintenance history and reporting.
“Programs can also assist with warranty handling, policy management, and adherence, as well as data trending and benchmarking. Depending on your maintenance needs and your partner, programs can be as simple as paying monthly for a narrow selection of services or enrolling in a full-service program that offers total protection,” said Joseph Shinn, technical manager: medium/heavy-duty maintenance for Merchants Fleet.
These programs help a fleet stay on track with the many complex components of truck maintenance.
“A maintenance management program encompasses a schedule of inspections, as well as component, lubrication, and fluid adjustments and changes. These are executed at appropriate intervals to minimize downtime and elongate the useful life of the vehicle,” said Cindy Crawford, Ryder group director of maintenance and engineering.
Program specifics will vary as there is no one-size-fits-all solution for any component of fleet management.
“At its core, an effective maintenance management program provides fleet operators the resources they need to strategically monitor and maintain their vehicles to ultimately keep their assets on the road supporting their business,” said Joe Smith, maintenance account executive for ARI.
Companies that provide a holistic and proactive approach to fleet management offer fleet maintenance management programs to help clients control their fleet maintenance compliance and costs.
“Fleet management companies (FMCs) do this by notifying drivers when preventive maintenance is due and offering a network of service providers who have been vetted and offer pre-negotiated pricing. Additionally, for unplanned repairs, FMCs employ ASE-certified technicians who will make recommendations on repairs that should be done and ensure the work is performed at the right price,” said David Bieber, director, sales & strategic markets for Mike Albert.
According to Wuich, beyond simply ensuring vehicles receive services, a well-rounded program will commonly support these fleet goals:
- Ensure compliance with scheduled services. In doing so, a fleet manager can reduce unplanned downtime and adhere to warranty stipulations.
- Work to eliminate upsell. That is, ensure services performed are safety-related and performance required.
- Support cost management. There should be a review process for the hourly rate, part prices, and time requested to complete the service.
- Work to manage and minimize downtime. This includes a plan for replacement assets when a vehicle is being serviced for an extended time.
- Include an element of reporting, including key performance metrics by which success may be measured.
A mechanical maintenance program is like maintaining personal health. Think of it like this:
“Having routine inspections combined with designated services based on the recommendations of your health provider, preventatively identifying issues before they become major, or consulting when needed if something doesn’t feel right. Being proactive in keeping you healthy and enjoying a long life while keeping medical expenses to a minimum, or in this case, your vehicle,” said Mark Malanca, manager of Truck Department, Mechanical and Maintenance for LeasePlan USA.
Benefiting from Maintenance Management Programs
Maintenance management allows greater insight into maintenance spend and provides more control over that spend.
“Fleet managers can require drivers to go to in-network maintenance locations where they will benefit from account-negotiated pricing and to perform preventive maintenance on schedule. Working with a maintenance management program with ASE-Certified technicians can ensure accurately performed maintenance services and identification of warrantable repairs,” said Shinn of Merchants Fleet.
Plus, Shinn added that you have the advantage of a team of experts who can consult with you and provide repair advice.
Some of the top benefits of a maintenance management program include reduced unscheduled maintenance, breakdowns, and improved uptime.“These all result in improved customer satisfaction and reduced maintenance costs,” said Crawford of Ryder.
For organizations with dedicated fleet managers, a maintenance management program acts as an extension of the fleet manager.
“Like virtual assistants, the program allows busy fleet managers to outsource many routine and time-consuming tasks. This makes the fleet manager more effective and it reduces or eliminates the need to hire supporting staff,” said Jamie Grams, national service department manager for Enterprise Fleet Management. “Additionally, a maintenance management program improves vehicle safety and reliability by proactively monitoring preventive maintenance, decreasing driver downtime, and minimizing operating costs.”
For fleets without an in-house fleet manager, a third-party maintenance management program can help.
“This allows them to refocus their time and attention on their core business,” Grams added.
A maintenance management program includes the development of a preventive maintenance schedule, monitoring and following up on the maintenance and repair services.
“Such a program could be developed by the fleet management team in partnership with the OEM,” said Evandro Silva, senior manager Connected Innovation for Volvo Trucks North America.
For most fleets, a comprehensive maintenance management program helps to control costs, improve efficiency, and reduce the fleet operator’s administrative burden, allowing them to be more strategic in focus rather than simply managing day-to-day maintenance transactions.
“Today, many best-in-class fleets are leveraging their maintenance data and powerful analytics tools to better understand their fleet’s performance to identify trends and KPIs. This enhanced insight allows them to evolve their strategy from a traditional ‘break and fix’ model to a more proactive ‘predict and prevent’ methodology that further minimizes operating costs and eliminates downtime,” said Smith of ARI.
A maintenance management program allows a fleet to focus on their core business.
“Other primary benefits of a maintenance management program are that a customer’s equipment often has a higher uptime utilization and overall lower operating cost,” said Lee Brodeur, vice president of leasing operations and contract services for Mack Trucks.A maintenance management program helps minimize the fleet’s total cost of ownership (TCO).
“The implementation of a maintenance management program can avoid excessive maintenance costs caused by over-maintaining a truck while reducing the risk of breakdown costs by ensuring trucks are not under-maintained. It also improves uptime and vehicle availability and extends the useful life of a truck,” said Silva of Volvo Trucks North America.
A comprehensive maintenance management program will keep mechanical expense repairs low while increasing the uptime of the fleet.
“One of the ways a maintenance management program can do this is by identifying and correcting issues before the vehicle is out of service or repairs have become compounded and expensive,” Malanca added.
8 Elements of a Successful Maintenance Management Program
Like a cake that is missing the essential ingredients, a plan without the right elements can fall flat. From being able to adapt to change to ensuring you have the right data — and use it — these eight elements are must haves in any successful truck fleet maintenance management program:
1. Constant Adaptivity
A successful maintenance management program should adapt to the changes in operating conditions, environment/seasons, and aging of the vehicles. All of which have an impact on the maintenance plan of a fleet.
“For a fleet manager to be successful today in building a maintenance management program that can account for changes in the duty cycle, such program needs to be dynamic in nature, so it could adapt and adjust the maintenance intervals as the duty cycle of a vehicle changes over its life,” said Silva of Volvo Trucks North America.Cooperation.
2. Communication & Collaboration
The fleet, FMC, and vendor must have excellent cooperation, communication, and overall collaboration.
“The process involves many different team members from several different areas who combine efforts to build and solidify the program. This is accomplished by employing performance metrics, budgets, and actual hands-on repairs to reduce cost and downtime while increasing profitability and scalability,” said Shinn of Merchants Fleet.
3. Ensure Complete Commitment
A maintenance program can only be as effective as the organization’s strategy for implementing and sustaining meaningful processes.“The organization must have executive/senior leadership commitment, and the fleet manager must have the recognized authority to implement holistic changes,” said Shinn of Merchants Fleet.
Executive sponsorship is key to any successful program.
“Leaders must set a ‘safety first’ expectation and assert that compliance to the program is a key element of performance,” said Bieber of Mike Albert.
4. Full Compliance
A successful maintenance management program should include a plan to ensure that manufacturer recommended maintenance services are done proactively.
“The program should also ensure that maintenance and repair costs are quoted at competitive prices,” said Grams of Enterprise Fleet Management.
5. Use of Expert Expertise
Partner with a company with experience in maintenance management.
“An effective program can minimize downtime by utilizing service vendors who are familiar with the needs of fleets, following up on lengthy repairs, and leveraging industry partnerships to expedite backordered parts and diagnosis of challenging vehicle problems,” said Grams of Enterprise Fleet Management. “Look for ASE-certified professionals to tackle hands-on work or review of repairs.”
6. Use All the Data & History
There are many important elements essential to a successful maintenance management program, but two areas stand out above the rest to Smith of ARI: data integrity and strategic partnership.
“Data intelligence and analytics drive your maintenance strategy and empower you to make informed decisions that ensure the long-term success of your program. Building on that, you need the right strategic partners and vendors that will help you act upon this information and implement the changes necessary to continue to improve and refine your holistic maintenance management solution,” Smith said.
Additionally, Grams of Enterprise Fleet Management recommended the program have a process in place to archive maintenance and repair history easily.
“Archiving this history helps identify needed maintenance, prevent duplicate services, and prove vehicles were properly maintained when requesting warranty or post-warranty cost recovery,” Grams said.
Don’t just gather and archive data but analyze it.
“Analyze the data captured from your maintenance transactions to spot trends, monitor the total cost of ownership and driver behavior, and make decisions regarding vehicle selection and replacement/cycle strategies,” said Bieber of Mike Albert.
Take the time to evaluate current data and expenses from your fleet to identify why maintenance levels are not being achieved or what can be further improved.
“It could be simple issues that need to be resolved, such as the driver not having time, but once this baseline is set, it’s possible to identify areas of improvement. Implementing a planned program, setting dates for inspections and PMs, and adding telematics to get a close view of fleet data helps make a maintenance management program successful. Setting up good company culture and offering training can help your drivers to understand why adhering to the program is important, but it may need to be enforced to ensure the program is being followed,” said Malanca of LeasePlan USA.
7. Clear Payment Processes
Your maintenance management program should include a method of paying service vendors to eliminate the need for driver reimbursements and company-issued credit cards.“This can help consolidate billing to eliminate multiple billing statements and provide a clearer picture of fleet operating expenses,” said Grams of Enterprise Fleet Management.
8. Up-to-Date Technology
Traditionally, maintenance management was just scheduling equipment for maintenance after a set number of miles and reacting to breakdowns.
“With the advent of telematics, dynamic maintenance, and other advanced tools, managing maintenance on a static miles driven schedule and reacting to potential issues is no longer acceptable,” said Brodeur of Mack Trucks.
A well-run maintenance management program proactively monitors the equipment during operation.
“When fault codes are identified, the fleet maintenance manager can diagnose and proactively resolve issues, sometimes without taking the equipment into the shop,” Brodeur added.
Additionally, when dynamic maintenance tools are used, instead of the traditional static maintenance, maintenance is more effectively tailored to how the equipment is being used in its daily operation.
“These attributes drive higher equipment uptime for the customer and overall lower cost of maintenance and repair,” Brodeur said.
Common elements of a successful program include tools and procedures used to manage compliance.
“With today’s fleets, historical paper coupon booklets stored in glove compartments are being replaced by e-notifications driven by predictive models. These models predict what services are required and when, as well as prescribe where services should be completed,” said Wuich of Donlen.
The Bottom Line
It is crucial to keep in mind that a comprehensive maintenance strategy is just one facet of effectively managing your fleet’s TCO.
“Fleet management is cyclical in nature with how you buy, drive, service, and sell your vehicles all playing a significant role in your TCO, and each of these individual areas influences the others. Ideally, your overall fleet management strategy is holistic in nature, and your maintenance program is in sync with and supports the other areas of your vehicles’ lifecycle,” said Smith of ARI.
At the end of the day, there are both measurable and unmeasurable elements that make up a successful maintenance management program.
“Decreased downtime, increased efficiencies, and proactive approaches to maintenance and repairs are a few of the expected benefits. The unexpected benefits I have seen from putting a program like this in place has been the knowledge and behavioral changes in drivers/employees. The more they know and the more these rules and guidelines are followed, the more likely they are to keep up with the scheduled maintenance,” said Hernandez of Emkay.