The landscape of fleet maintenance is navigating through a series of challenges, amplified by inflation and escalating shop labor rates driven by an ongoing technician shortage.
“Inflation, combined with rising shop labor rates due to the ongoing technician shortage, are some of the most recent maintenance challenges facing fleets,” said Dawn Schremp, assistant vice president, National Service Department at Enterprise Fleet Management.
And, in the ever-evolving world of fleet maintenance, small fleets face unique challenges.
“Small fleets are often caught in the delicate dance of balancing capital expenditures with operational costs. They must navigate the initial capital outlay for vehicles while strategically managing the ongoing maintenance expenses to optimize their long-term financial health. These challenges demand innovative solutions and a proactive approach to fleet management,” said Garrison Ramoso, vice president of sales & business development at Spiffy.
Schremp also noted, “While the supply chain has improved since the pandemic, there are still delays with certain replacement parts.”
Also, small fleets often rely on third-party shops.
“Often, these shops will only fix the original complaint that brought the truck there. Without a team proactively fixing other things that may be important to the vehicle’s uptime and fuel economy, smaller fleets are more susceptible to breakdowns,” said Cam McGill, sr. diagnostic technician at Uptake.
And, like their larger counterparts, smaller fleets are also looking to electrify, creating a unique set of challenges.
“Fleets looking to an electric future can also be challenged to grow their understanding of charging infrastructure, necessary shop tools and safety equipment, understanding of EV service vendor networks, and technician training,” Schremp added.
Driver behavior is also a major challenge that impacts small fleet maintenance needs.
“One of the most prevalent issues is harsh driving habits, which deviate from recommended guidelines and make adherence to maintenance timelines a complex task,” Ramoso added.
Prioritizing Maintenance Tasks for Small Fleets
Smaller fleets must be strategic with how they allocate their limited resources.
“These smaller fleets should keep maintenance in-house when possible. I’d encourage teams to consider investing in technology to prioritize maintenance tasks and flag other potential issues that can be proactively addressed instead of outsourcing maintenance to a third-party shop. Those shops can often be significantly more expensive than an in-house repair, and while technology may seem like a large investment upfront, its long-term benefit is well worth it,” said McGill of Uptake.
Small fleets that perform maintenance in-house should prioritize repairs when trucks are on-site.
“Technology can play a pivotal role in ensuring your vehicles are repaired when you have them instead of paying for third-party repairs that can be up to triple the cost of an in-house repair,” said McGill of Uptake.
Prioritizing maintenance in a small fleet with limited resources is crucial.
“Safety must always come first, so tasks directly impacting vehicle safety are prioritized. Following this, focus on maintenance that enhances productivity. The key is to schedule maintenance in a manner that ensures safety and minimizes downtime,” said Tim Lee, business development manager at Spiffy.
Collaborate with a maintenance partner who can work flexibly — outside of regular service hours, like before shifts, on weekends, or after hours.
“This approach allows for efficient use of resources while maintaining fleet availability,” Lee added.
The ability to surface and see asset issues in real-time makes issue prioritization and management easier.
“In essence, communication is key. Efficient prioritization relies on promptly assigning a priority — critical, high, medium, low, etc. — to each issue as it arises and setting clear expectations around the timeframes in which each priority level should be addressed, such as 24 hours for critical issues or one to two business days for high-priority issues,” explained Dan Simpson, product marketing manager at Fleetio. “Regularly triaging issues allows fleets to assess issue urgency, attribute the proper priority level, and allocate resources accordingly.”
Self-managed fleets can also greatly benefit from forming an effective shop strategy to optimize advantages with limited resources.
“For example, a first step is to take major repairs, warranty repairs, and recalls to the dealer, to seek their expertise and to secure possible warranty or goodwill coverage,” Schremp recommended.
She added that using independent, national accounts or quick lube shops for routine maintenance and light repairs can help with faster turnaround times and lower costs for non-warranty repairs.
“Many dealerships are now offering quick lanes and competitive pricing on maintenance and light repairs, so finding a dealer who can provide all these services can be an ideal solution for a one-stop shop and to build a solid working relationship with that dealer/vendor. When uptime is a major priority, consider the benedits of a mobile vendor,” Schremp added.
But, whether a fleet is small or large, safety items, like tires and brakes, should always be a priority and area of focus.
“Paying special attention to these areas in particular increases driver safety,” Schremp said.
Partnering with a fleet management company can also benefit small fleets with limited resources.
Tips for Reducing Maintenance Costs
How does Spiffy recommend small fleets effectively reduce maintenance costs while ensuring their trucks remain in good condition? By adhering to the manufacturer's recommended guidelines within the suggested timelines.
“Often, we observe fleets deferring maintenance to save money, but this approach can backfire, leading to higher costs in the long run. For instance, delaying a recommended transmission service or preventive maintenance might save costs in the short term. Still, it can result in the need for a full transmission replacement later, which is significantly more expensive. It's crucial to stay on top of regular maintenance to avoid such costly outcomes,” said Lee of Spiffy.
Fleet management systems can also help fleets improve maintenance schedules to reduce unplanned downtime and work replication, contributing to cost increases, productivity, and profitability loss.
“Preventive maintenance can be tailored to each asset or asset group using information gleaned from inspections and service histories, which can surface high-wear and high-fail items. Service reminders in fleet management systems ensure that anyone who needs to know about scheduled maintenance is automatically alerted. This vastly improves PM compliance rates and reduces pick-up and drop-off delays, as well as delays in the shop,” said Simpson of Fleetio.
Remember, budgeting for a fleet involves strategic planning and proactive measures to ensure efficient and safe operations.
“Prioritize regular maintenance tasks such as oil changes, tire rotations, and fluid checks. These routine procedures contribute to the overall health of the fleet and can prevent more significant issues from arising,” according to Richard Jacko, adjuster and maintenance manager for Fleet Response.
A few additional tips Jacko recommended for small fleets when it comes to reducing maintenance costs include:
- Choose the correct vehicle by selecting vehicles that are well-suited for your fleet's intended tasks and operating conditions. Consider factors such as load capacity, fuel efficiency, and the specific needs of your business.
- Adhere to the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule for each vehicle in your fleet. This includes oil changes, tire rotations, fluid checks, and other routine maintenance tasks. Following these guidelines helps ensure optimal performance and longevity.
- Implement a comprehensive preventive maintenance program. Regularly scheduled inspections and proactive repairs can identify and address potential issues before they escalate, reducing the likelihood of costly breakdowns and unplanned downtime.
- Implement a comprehensive driver education program to ensure drivers are well-informed about their vehicles. This includes educating them on the functions of various systems, such as safety features, and encouraging proper usage for accurate data and optimal performance.
- Conduct regular inspections of each vehicle in the fleet. This includes checking tire conditions, fluid levels, brakes, lights, and other critical components. Promptly address any issues identified during inspections.
Making Sure Drivers Do Their Part
Actively involving drivers in the maintenance process, ensuring accountability for inspections, and leveraging technology will contribute significantly to your small fleet's overall health, safety, and efficiency.
“Daily inspections and behaviors behind the wheel are two main ways drivers can positively — or negatively — impact an asset’s maintenance needs,” said Simpson of Fleetio. “Digital inspections allow managers to include instructions and descriptions for inspection items so drivers get a deeper understanding of what and how to inspect certain components, while capturing inspection location and time-to-complete discourages pencil whipping.”
Simpson also noted that small fleets can choose from several driver behavior monitoring solutions depending on whether they want to track the basics — speeding, harsh braking/acceleration — or more in-depth behaviors like distracted driving.
Providing proper training for pre/post-trip inspections as a part of the onboarding process for every driver is also essential to making any fleet safer, large or small.
“The more detailed resources you can provide, like an inspection prep checklist, including pictures of a component that passes inspection and one that fails, the more equipped drivers will be to help maintain vehicles,” said McGill of Uptake. “Holding drivers accountable for pre/post trip inspections is equally important for day-to-day fleet operations.”
Schremp of Enterprise Fleet Management also noted inspection benefits.
“These inspections can help catch fluid leaks and spot potential safety issues like worn or low tires,” Schremp explained.
Additionally, Ramoso of Spiffy recommended that to ensure drivers contribute effectively to maintaining their trucks, small fleet owners can adopt a two-pronged approach.
“First, implementing GPS and metrics monitoring solutions helps track vehicle usage and maintenance needs. Second, fostering a culture where drivers are encouraged to adhere to preventive maintenance notifications, perform regular basic safety checks, and promptly report any issues,” Ramoso noted.