Part of a fleet manager’s job is to ensure the trucks they are providing drivers with are safe, sturdy, and ready to work. That means doing everything in their power to keep vehicles in the best condition possible so they don’t experience inconvenient breakdowns that delay employees from getting to the next customer.
Here are some precautions to take into consideration when trying to maximize uptime.
1. Spec Correctly
A significant factor in reducing downtime is ensuring trucks are neither under- nor over-spec’ed for the type of job they will be used to perform.
Under-spec’ing can lead to a driver not having the tools they need to carry out their duties properly and will likely overtax the vehicle. If a fleet manager over-spec’s a truck, it can lead to confusion and decreased efficiency, not to mention incur excess fuel and other operating costs.
Overloading a chassis can lead to mechanical failures, difficulties in maneuverability, issues with starting and stopping the truck, and runs the risk of being found non-compliant with local and federal regulations.
An overloaded ½-ton truck performing the function of a ¾- or 1-ton truck can have unplanned suspension, brake, and other repair problems. Just because fully loading an asset and making one trip versus two might seem more productive, overloading is likely to end in unplanned downtime and expenses.
If a fleet manager discovers a truck isn’t being used as often as it should, they may want to consider remarketing idle units and using the money to purchase a vehicle spec’ed for the kind of work the company is doing more of, or find a way to put it to use doing a different kind of work.
2. Invest in Technology
As newer, more advanced technology becomes available such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data analytics software, fleet managers now have incredible tools to help aid them in their quest to increase vehicle uptime.
Outdated paper- and spreadsheet-based systems to track vehicle use and maintenance cycles just won’t cut it anymore. Printing maintenance checklists and work orders only add to clutter and makes the process of keeping track of what has and hasn’t been done more complicated than it needs to be in the 21st century. Implementing a fleet management system eliminates the need for technicians to complete forms and reduces the lag time between the completion of work and it being visible in a data system.
A key to preventive maintenance is knowing what specific parts and components need to be serviced, rebuilt, or replaced, and when this needs to be done. Telematics give fleet managers valuable insights into driver routes, vehicle utilization, and risky driver behaviors that could increase the likelihood of more downtime.
Looking at data collected by telematics programs as well as historical work-order information, a process also known as preventive maintenance data analysis, enables fleet managers to discover the maintenance factors that occur most often and provides the insight needed to adjust accordingly. Detecting trends backed by data is made easier than ever with the right technology tools.
Tracking the severity of common occurrences; the location of those occurrences; the identity, condition, age, make, and model of those vehicles; and the drivers of those vehicles is a cinch thanks to technology and allows fleet managers to do what they must to stop buying and driving behaviors that are detrimental to their bottom line.
Routing software combined with telematics data can help ensure drivers are taking the most efficient route to their destination, which minimizes unnecessary miles. This, in turn, reduces fuel costs, but also the need for more frequent maintenance.
However, something to note is technology is only as beneficial as you enable it to be. It’s not as simple as implementing it and then walking away, expecting it to do all the work for you. Fleet managers must take the time to research and understand how to use it. This is made a lot easier if they pursue deep relationships with technology vendor partners.
3. Implement Better, More Efficient Maintenance Practices
With a solid, well-thought-out maintenance program, fleets can evade easily avoidable causes of downtime. Ensuring trucks are being used for their assigned application and keeping a detailed log of their preventive maintenance history are just a few examples of what fleet managers can do to ensure vehicles aren’t in the shop more than they have to be.
Having the right fleet plan that maps out the type of truck(s) your company runs, how long they typically operate, and the ideal time to replace them will be the best way to plan for future fleet refreshment. Put your maintenance program in writing, and do not deviate from it. In addition to this, fleet managers should also make sure to have a contingency plan in place in the case of unexpected downtime.
Lax maintenance schedules should be avoided, and routine maintenance, such as oil changes, should be scheduled when the driver is not using the vehicle to help them make the most of their day.
Fleet managers may want to consider enlisting the help of mobile services like those provided by companies such as Booster, Filld, RepairSmith, and Spiffy, among others. These companies provide on-site repair, maintenance, refueling, and washing services that streamline vehicle care and get drivers back on the road faster.
Creating a balance of in-house and outsourced maintenance with a dealer you trust will make it so basic repairs and maintenance can be handled right away while more expensive or extensive repairs can be done by a mechanic or dealership who has the equipment needed. With specialized equipment or vocational vehicles, maintenance shops may need to order special parts, which can significantly extend downtime.
Fleet managers should attempt to more strictly adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance intervals. Daily safety inspections should be completed appropriately, and any issues detected should be followed up on. Idling wastes fuel, time, and puts extra hours on vehicles, which increases maintenance frequency and should be avoided as best as possible.
Follow up on technician training to update best practices and fully understand how to work with the new technology you decide to implement.
4. Take Time to Train Drivers
A large factor that impacts how frequently a truck will see downtime is how it is driven. By keeping your drivers educated on how to care for their vehicle properly, they will realize their role in increasing uptime.
With the changes in the technology available on newer-model trucks, many drivers feel as though they can simply get in, turn the key (or push the button), and drive. However, to achieve the full potential in-vehicle technology provides, drivers must be open to learning how to operate their trucks more efficiently.
The more time they must spend taking their trucks in for service, conducting inspections, or completing paperwork is time they lose getting to do what they were hired to do. Not only does vehicle downtime impact revenue and customer satisfaction, but driver approval and retention are also affected.
Possible driver training topics can include the following:
- Seasonal driving.
- Backing up.
- Having an up-to-date policy and procedure for accidents and repairs.
- Distracted/unsafe driving.
- Following designated routes, as ineffective routing can cause a vehicle to be on the road longer than necessary or cause it to be misused (excess breaking and accelerating, speeding, idling, etc.).
Monitoring vehicle and driver behavior with GPS tracking and other systems can help ensure drivers are driving safely and complying with company guidelines, work schedules, and designated routes.