As much as a fleet manager can try to prevent repairs, they will still be needed. Prioritizing your needs can be tough, but important.   -  Photo: Work Truck

As much as a fleet manager can try to prevent repairs, they will still be needed. Prioritizing your needs can be tough, but important. 

Photo: Work Truck

Keeping vehicles running is how fleet managers make sure businesses keep running. Smaller fleets may not have as many vehicles to worry about, but with smaller teams wearing far more hats, challenges can be just as big as their larger fleet counterparts.

This is where a strong focus on fleet maintenance comes in.

“It is said that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ and that holds with preventive maintenance. Maintenance services tend to be more cost-effective than the repairs they prevent. It seems basic, but many fleets eventually face costly, preventable repairs, like engine replacements due to lack of oil changes, because an effective PM program was not a priority,” said Dawn Schremp, assistant vice president, National Service Department at Enterprise Fleet Management.

She added the importance of fleets forming a shop strategy that fits each of its unique needs.

“Mobile service can reduce downtime when maintenance can be performed while vehicles are out of service but suppose cost containment is a priority over downtime. In that case, it may be better to use independent shops that offer competitive pricing versus quick lube shops or mobile service vendors who tend to charge a premium for quick turnaround and convenience,” she added.

But maintenance also needs to be cost-effective for smaller fleets with smaller budgets.

“Adopting cost-effective maintenance practices is critical, especially given the economic climate. Spiffy advocates for a proactive approach, emphasizing routine maintenance as the cornerstone of fleet upkeep,” noted Garrison Ramoso, vice president of sales and business development at Spiffy.

Ramoso noted that adhering to the specific OEM maintenance guidelines is essential.

“This includes regularly scheduled PMs, tire rotations, comprehensive safety, and general multi-point inspections. Such measures are not just routine procedures; they are strategic investments. By prioritizing these practices, fleet managers can significantly mitigate the risk of more costly repairs in the future, ensuring both the longevity and optimal performance of their fleet,” he added.

Dan Simpson, product marketing manager at Fleetio, noted the importance of using historical inspection and service data to maximize the bang for your buck.

“This data can surface high-cost assets, high-fail components, and imbalanced PM schedules, allowing for more in-depth, tailored PM. Because most service histories include a line item for parts used, fleets can also get an idea of parts brand integrity to determine better which brands last longest and which can’t quite hold up in the face of daily operations,” Simpson said.

Fleet managers should also know the different warranty coverage periods manufacturers offer.

“Understanding which repairs are covered under warranty can help prevent unnecessary repair costs. Monitoring open recalls and completing them on time will also help prevent costly repairs,” Schremp added.

Balancing Truck Maintenance with Business Needs

As much as a fleet manager can try to prevent repairs, they will still be needed.

“Prioritizing preventive maintenance helps reduce the chances of unscheduled repairs, which not only reduces repair costs, but also helps to prevent soft costs like rental expenses, lost driver productivity, and lost revenue resulting from a vehicle’s downtime,” said Schremp of Enterprise Fleet Management.

Small business fleets can effectively balance maintenance costs with the need for continuous truck availability by partnering with mobile repair and maintenance services, such as Spiffy.

“Mobile repair services can perform essential maintenance work during non-business hours, such as during weekly or monthly operations meetings or before or after regular shifts, including off-hours and weekends,” said Tim Lee, business development manager at Spiffy. “This approach minimizes downtime during critical operational periods, ensuring that trucks remain on the road when most needed while still receiving necessary maintenance through convenient, mobile solutions.”

Rental options are also available for small fleets or those with seasonal truck demands needing a backup vehicle when the primary vehicle is down for service.

Holding a spare truck for occasional use only adds to the complexities of maintenance needs. To help offset that challenge, Enterprise Fleet Management clients can easily turn to rental options like those from Enterprise Truck Rental.

“As a comprehensive mobility solution, clients can align their changing business needs with short-term rental options such as box trucks with a ramp or lift-gate to cargo vans, as well as flatbed and stake bed offerings,” said Michael Pugh, senior vice president of Enterprise Truck Rental.

However, truck fleets with specialized equipment, like cranes or utility beds, may be unable to rent a truck with similar equipment easily.

“Therefore, these fleets must weigh the cost of holding spare trucks versus the cost of lost productivity if spare trucks are unavailable. Because trucks are depreciating assets, the second question quickly becomes, ‘How many spares to hold?’ The additional cost of after-hours mobile services may help fill the gap where the cost of spare specialty trucks is too high to hold,” Schremp added.

Prioritizing Preventive Maintenance in Small Fleets

Fleet managers already understand that truck maintenance is important. However, not every need should be prioritized the same. According to Schremp of Enterprise Fleet Management, safety items and big-ticket maintenance needs should be prioritized, like powertrain components.

“A lot of wear and tear happens around the wheels, like worn tires, brakes, and suspension and steering components. Since these are also safety items, pay special attention to these specific areas. Nothing impacts a fleet maintenance budget like replacing a powertrain component that includes an engine or transmission. Extreme diligence with fluid and filter changes also goes a long way toward minimizing these major expenses and preventing added vehicle downtime,” Schremp said.

Spiffy recommends prioritizing PM tasks that are crucial for safety and avoiding costly repairs later.

“Key tasks include adhering to the recommended Original Equipment Manufacturer maintenance schedule. Postponing scheduled maintenance can significantly increase repair costs if not addressed promptly. Regular attention to these tasks is essential for maintaining fleet efficiency and safety,” Lee said.

For small fleets with heavy-duty trucks, consider having an outbound check lane for OTR trucks (if technician staffing is available).

“Having an outbound check lane for OTR trucks can significantly reduce breakdowns and road calls a fleet will experience. The rewards of reducing breakdowns and road calls are quantified by reducing the number of times a driver is stuck on the side of the road and the number of times a technician must make roadside repairs,” said Cam McGill, sr. diagnostic technician at Uptake.

How to Ensure Maintenance Teams Perform at Their Best  

Ensuring your in-house technicians are working efficiently is a major component of a solid maintenance plan.

Schremp of Enterprise Fleet Management noted that using industry-recognized labor guides to benchmark technician productivity benefits fleets with in-house shops.

“Establish a system to identify technicians that are consistently and significantly above the labor guide's suggested repair times and investigate this for possible employee coaching opportunities. It can also be helpful to measure technician utilization by tracking paid hours not attributable to maintenance or training and identify whether an excessive amount is due to a lack of work, seasonal slowdown, or overstaffing,” Schremp said.

Business fleet owners can also optimize the performance of their maintenance teams by partnering with reputable repair and maintenance providers.

“These collaborations not only help maximize vehicle utilization and minimize unnecessary costs but also help them stay on top of the latest trends, like mobile servicing and advanced fleet maintenance technologies. The right partnerships ensure that teams are equipped with cutting-edge tools and knowledge, enhancing efficiency and effectiveness,” said Ramoso of Spiffy.

Equipping technicians with the best tools for the job and ensuring parts inventories are properly stocked are great ways to keep productivity and safety up.

“However, knowing the proficiencies and shortcomings of individuals on the maintenance team enables managers to assign work based on skill and aptitude so that no one is out of depth with an assigned job. This also provides a great opportunity for technicians to advance their skills with hands-on learning from other technicians during downtime in the shop,” said Simpson of Fleetio. 

But repairs are only as good as the data technicians have. Through working directly with customers and work order analysis, Uptake identified what issues shops should prioritize acting on within its system, which can be addressed on a scheduled PM.

“By providing technicians with the supporting data that Uptake has, technicians are better able to make repairs proactively. By doing this, fleets will be able to decrease the amount of return repairs,” said McGill of Uptake.

Top Maintenance Mistakes Business Fleet Owners Make

Many fleets lack effective maintenance tracking and record-keeping systems.

“This lapse often leads to preventable engine replacements due to a lack of proper maintenance or denial of warranty coverage for powertrain repairs due to limited maintenance records that might otherwise be covered,” said Schremp of Enterprise Fleet Management.  

She added that for engine oil changes and fuel filter services, consideration should be given to idle time and engine hours, not just mileage.

“It is best to check with a vehicle manufacturer to determine the number of engine hours recommended between services specific to that vehicle. Oil changes and fuel filter services should occur when the recommended hours or miles are reached, whichever comes first. This is especially important for trucks that accrue high idle time or frequently use power take-off (PTO) units,” she added.

Larger fleets generally have well-documented, robust processes that, once written and implemented, are believed to be followed.

“No matter how robust the process or how good the technician, things will fall through the cracks. Proactively planning for and investing in resources to mitigate those issues is essential to avoiding catastrophic breakdowns that can harm your fleet’s reputation and your business’s bottom line and put a driver’s safety at risk,” said McGill of Uptake.

A common mistake for fleets with diesel trucks is accidentally adding diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) to the fuel system or vice versa.

“If the engine is started and runs with DEF in the fuel, it will likely be necessary to replace most, if not all, of the fuel system. If the mistake is found before the engine is started, do not start the engine until the fuel tank has been drained and cleaned to prevent an even higher repair cost. Be sure to educate drivers not only to know where each fluid is needed but also to understand the importance of not making this mistake, which can easily occur,” Schremp said.

Another mistake business fleet owners make is deferring maintenance due to perceived time constraints or the misconception that they save costs by not adhering to the scheduled service timeline.

“These deferrals often result in significantly higher expenses and increased downtime in the long run. Fleet owners can avoid these pitfalls by prioritizing regular maintenance, recognizing its long-term financial and operational benefits, and finding the best partnership to keep their trucks generating revenue in the field,” said Ramoso of Spiffy.

Simpson of Fleetio agreed that putting off maintenance and being reactive are core mistakes that can lead to excess component damage and breakdowns.

“One way to work around these issues is to have technicians thoroughly inspect high-wear/high-fail components when a vehicle is in the shop for routine PM needs. This allows technicians to surface and proactively address any issues that may cause the vehicle to be back in the shop between PM cycles,” Simpson said.    

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor - Fleet, Trucking & Transportation

Lauren Fletcher is Executive Editor for the Fleet, Trucking & Transportation Group. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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