At the end of the day, truck fleet managers are tasked with ensuring a company’s truck fleet is able to accomplish the job it is required to do efficiently and cost-effectively. A truck that isn’t well maintained is a recipe for increased downtime, not to mention safety issues that could impact the driver and the motoring public.
We all know that a truck that isn’t on the road isn’t making the company money. With this in mind, fleet managers have a few options to ensure trucks are well maintained and stay on the road: they can perform all maintenance in-house, outsource all maintenance needs, or utilize a combination of in-house and outsourced services.
Work Truck magazine surveyed 147 truck fleets of all sizes to find out more about what they outsource, why, and some of the challenges they face.
Funding & Maintaining Trucks
On average, the majority of truck fleets mainly choose the purchase-only option when procuring their trucks. This percentage decreases slightly in fleets with more than 1,000 trucks, with the percentage choosing to lease and purchase increasing to 22% for the largest truck fleets.
In addition, the majority of fleets also either perform all maintenance in-house or use a combo of in-house maintenance technicians and outsourced services. Fleets with more than 1,000 trucks are more likely to outsource all of their truck maintenance needs.
When a truck fleet chooses to outsource its maintenance needs, the majority select local providers, followed by a specific chain of providers. Larger truck fleets depend more heavily on fleet management companies for outsourcing maintenance needs than their smaller counterparts.
There are benefits to keeping maintenance in-house, with fleet managers citing more control, increased quality, and reduced vehicle downtime.
“Inside maintenance helps ensure the continued integrity of replacement components and accessories. Fleets often spend time trying to standardize items such as lighting needs, but they are then replaced ‘on-the-road’ by a maintenance shop with an off-brand part,” said a quality assurance manager of a 1,000-plus truck fleet in Wisconsin.
But, others see that a balance is needed between in-house and outsourced maintenance programs.
“I believe maintenance is becoming a hybrid where we must use both internal and external means to maintain the fleet. No longer can we do it all in-house and no longer can the vendors handle the entire workload,” said a fleet manager of a mid-sized truck fleet in Virginia.
When looking at what maintenance needs truck fleets outsource, the majority outsource their bodywork and transmission repair needs. Most fleets, regardless of size, authorize most routine maintenance needs in-house and on average, about 37% of fleets outsource preventive maintenance and oil changes, with the majority keeping this job in-house.
In addition, 83% of fleet managers are happy with their current truck maintenance program with no plans or need to change any portion.
The job the fleet needs to accomplish can also impact maintenance outsourcing capability.
“Our fleet is designed for emergency response over 500-plus miles. This creates issues with consolidating facilities while still having the ability to meet customers,” said the maintenance manager of the Pennsylvania truck fleet.
When creating and implementing a maintenance process, fleet managers must consider many factors, with cost and overall efficiency at the top of the list. In addition, the type of equipment the fleet operates, state regulations, and control over costs and repairs also must be considered.
Factors that Impact Maintenance
As noted previously, trucks must be on the road to do their job. Managing downtime is a big part of the maintenance process. While smaller truck fleets had longer downtime, on average, when looking purely at downtime by truck class it’s clear that the bigger the truck, the longer the potential downtime it will experience over its lifecycle.
While all fleets are different, the overall goal of the maintenance program remains steady: control downtime and costs and improve the health of the trucks and extend the lifecycle of the truck fleet.
“Our fleet maintenance program focuses on the lowest cost of ownership, minimizing repeat repairs, and analyzing downtime to proactively identify and address maintenance and repair issues related to vehicle type, make, model, or class,” said a fleet manager of a mid-size fleet.
The type of powertrain also impacts a truck’s maintenance costs, with fleet managers reporting that 70% of trucks with a gasoline powertrain see lower maintenance costs overall.
Several fleet managers reported that they inherited their current maintenance program and processes, with some programs in much better shape than others.
When asked what fleet managers wished would be done differently in the maintenance process, communication topped the list of items impeding progress. In addition, a lack of funds and staff, needed shop upgrades, and overall company politics make increasing maintenance efficiency a challenge.
Another challenge is ensuring trucks get into the shop when maintenance, scheduled or unscheduled, is needed.
“I wish we could get trucks in the shop when scheduled. It’s hard to schedule preventive maintenance around dispatch. We could use more spare equipment,” said the shop manager for a small fleet in Pennsylvania. In addition, overall tracking and reporting can be a challenge, from maintenance and repairs to budget and expenses. Several fleet managers also noted the need for additional technician training time and funds for associated training costs.
Budgeting for maintenance costs can also be a challenge. around half of the surveyed fleets reported they work in tandem with their finance departments to build their maintenance budget, with 41% of fleets reporting they build their maintenance budget on their own. Only a small percentage have the finance department in complete control of the maintenance budget.
Fleet Manager Satisfaction
When looking at overall satisfaction, 26% of responding fleet managers report that they were completely happy with their fleet’s current maintenance program with 60% agreeing somewhat with the statement. Very few fleets were completely unhappy with their fleet’s maintenance programs.
Regulations are also a big component of a truck fleet’s day-to-day concerns and often directly connect to maintenance requirements. The field was split on whether fleet managers felt confident with their understandings of current truck fleet regulations, with 40% feeling completely confident and 44% reporting that they don’t feel too confident in their regulation-related knowledge.
Truck fleet managers are not concerned that fleet will be eliminated in favor of a driver reimbursement plan, with 70% strongly disagreeing with the statement.
When looking at job security, 58% of responding fleet managers do not feel concerned that their work will be given to a fleet management company, with 5% of respondents feeling concerned and 10% somewhat concerned.
The Bottom Line
The final picture is that most fleet managers feel a hybrid approach to maintenance, utilizing some combination of in-house and outsourced services, is the key to success.
Working closely with your outsourced providers can help ensure that the process is smooth.
“If outsourcing, make sure your outsourced provider is on the same page with what you want to have done. On the other hand, only perform work you can handle in-house,” said an equipment fleet supervisor for a mid-sized fleet in California.
And remember, never rest on your laurels and always look for ways to improve.
“Always look for what the most cost-effective way is to complete maintenance. Some things are better outsourced and some are better done in-house,” recommended a fleet maintenance supervisor for a large truck fleet in Ohio.