As the adage goes, “A stitch in time saves nine.”
I think we all know that ignoring any fleet maintenance concern, such as a small leak or a check-engine light, only results in additional repair costs and time in the shop down the road. There's also an increased risk to your drivers and the general public should a vehicle breakdown occur.
That's why it is important to have a fleet maintenance plan. While small delivery businesses depend on their vehicles to transport products to their final destinations, they often lack the resources – like back-up vans or dedicated fleet maintenance staff – that larger delivery businesses have access to.
How does a small business ensure that its delivery fleet is in good health and operating at 100%?
Before we dive into some tips on how to effectively maintain your delivery fleet, let's talk about what fleet maintenance is, and how an effective fleet maintenance program can make or break your small delivery business.
What Is Fleet Maintenance?
Fleet maintenance, at the most basic level, is simply ensuring your vehicles are properly maintained. This includes recommended maintenance required by automakers for safe and efficient vehicle operation as well as handling unforeseen breakdowns and repairs.
To reduce downtime and decrease accident potential, every fleet must take the time to ensure it has an effective fleet maintenance program.
“The most common missed component in fleet maintenance is ensuring accurate preventive maintenance (PM) schedules for your vehicle. Successful maintenance programs measure and hit their PM schedules,” said Pete Silva, a consultant and retired fleet executive with National Express, Aramark, and PepsiCo. “After that, it becomes a quality of work, and as your business grows, it's important to standardize PM schedules across the organization."
Why Is Fleet Maintenance Important?
First and foremost, small delivery businesses must put the safety of their drivers and the public first.
Every fleet manager can immediately conjure horror stories of what could happen should a delivery vehicle’s brakes go out, or should a tire blow out while speeding down the freeway. Those are worst-case scenarios. But even best-case situations have your vehicles down-and-out for some time.
Repairs are expensive. Vehicle downtime, even more so.
Maintenance and repair costs are forecasted to continue to rise, due mostly to increased costs for labor rates, according to a January 2020 forecast in Automotive Fleet magazine. In addition to the costs associated with maintaining and repairing a vehicle, there are additional costs, such as those related to downtime when a vehicle is not on the road. Element Fleet estimates that downtime can cost on average of $448 to $760 each day a vehicle is down. Multiply this by even five vehicles, and the costs add up quickly. A vehicle’s maintenance cost is a part of calculating total life cycle costs. A dependable vehicle will require less overall maintenance than a less-dependable counterpart.
We feel a bit odd to mention this last point, but we think it prudent to do so given that we live in an extremely litigious society. Some individuals believe a business or large company has more money for an insurance payout and scam artists also target branded vehicles for this purpose. They stage an accident and believe that a jury of their peers will believe their story and fine the corporation, filling their pocketbooks. Missed maintenance is a key element in proving a company was negligent and could have avoided the incident. To avoid additional liability in a situation like this, have a well-documented fleet maintenance plan. This can help prove that your business performed its due diligence.
How Do You Maintain A Fleet Of Vehicles?
When looking at fleet vehicle maintenance and repair, you need to look at both back-house operations and day-to-day operations.
Back-House Operations Matter
On the back-house operations side, the first step is creating an effective fleet management program that includes set maintenance schedules for each vehicle. Unless your company single-sources and operates a single model, you’ll need to ensure your schedules take into consideration the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance to ensure warranty coverage.
Consider partnering with a fleet management company for maintenance management. These companies have the experience and relationship with major providers to enable quick repairs, can help monitor scheduled maintenance needs, and provide actionable advice for struggling fleets.
But you will still need someone, such as an in-house fleet manager, to hold any provider accountable.
“If you are outsourcing maintenance, then hold your provider accountable for schedules and quality of work. For in-house programs, set realistic budgets for planned maintenance and hold mechanics accountable for achieving quality work on schedule and within budget,” Silva recommended.
Accurately speccing the correct vehicles for your needs will reduce unnecessary maintenance. If you purchase a light-duty truck but are constantly overloading it, the maintenance and repair costs will far outweigh the difference in price for a larger vehicle.
In Day-to-Day Operations, the Driver Is Key
Be sure your drivers are trained in basic maintenance, and that they know that a vehicle walk-around is a part of their everyday responsibilities, both before and after the vehicle is used.
Here are some other basic fleet maintenance tips for the driver:
- Use a checklist to help drivers remember what to look for on walk-arounds. The list should include steps like these:
- Look for any leaks under the vehicle.
- Check tires for wear and pressure.
- Check oil and fluid levels.
- Ensure fuel is full, and that the gas cap is on tightly.
- Ensure oil changes and other scheduled maintenance are performed on time. Delivery fleets with vehicles that idle often should also track vehicle hours: some maintenance, such as oil changes, may need to be done more frequently than mileage alone indicates.
- Drive the vehicle responsibly. Aggressive acceleration and braking are hard on a vehicle and wear down brakes and components faster. Crashes and other incidents damage components much more easily than regular use.
- Reduce vehicle idling. An idling vehicle gets 0 miles per gallon, obviously, but the vehicle components are still working.
- Reduce miles driven. Reducing the time spent on the road is one simple way to reduce maintenance expenses. Route optimization software can help you plan efficient routes, helping your drivers complete more deliveries while minimizing miles driven.
A vehicle is an essential tool for any small delivery business; a fleet maintenance plan is a critical component in keeping that tool working correctly.
“At the end of the workday, we want safe, reliable vehicles on the road," Silvia, the retired fleet executive, said. "Maintenance management is not necessarily the activity of doing maintenance, but rather the oversight and leadership maintenance leaders provide to have a safe, reliable fleet."
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