What is Fleet Maintenance and Why is It Important?
Semi-trucks burn hard and fast.
Although they’re built to be long-lived, with many semi-trucks driving far beyond the million-mile odometer mark, the wear and tear of driving 50,000 to 100,000 miles each year can burn through their components and parts at an expeditious rate.
Are you a fleet manager that needs to reduce fleet maintenance costs? Whether you operate commercial fleets or a government fleet, you must perform routine vehicle fleet maintenance.
In addition to answering the question, what is fleet maintenance? you’ll want to understand why maintenance matters and how it can help you stay ahead of issues before they happen.
The Problem With Fleet Maintenance
Here’s a thought to consider: you shouldn’t be performing fleet maintenance. You read that right.
Hold on, didn’t we just say that fleet maintenance is the best way to protect your semi-trucks?
Yes, and no. It boils down to semantics.
In truth, fleet maintenance is an inadequate term for the topic at hand. The underlying connotation is that it’s a passive posture—you wait for a problem to happen and only then address it.
But that’s not the way to run a trucking business. Not a successful one, at least. If you want to maximize the value of your vehicle investment, you need to be performing preventative fleet maintenance.
The semantic distinction matters. Instead of reacting to problems when they arise, you want to take proactive steps to stop those issues from happening altogether.
Preventative fleet maintenance involves the routine inspection, upkeep, and repair of your semi-trucks. It’s the formalized action plan you must create, instill, then deploy to keep your vehicles operational and safe to drive at all times. It’s about nipping small problems in the bud before they can evolve into much larger, more costly concerns.
Why Does Preventative Fleet Maintenance Matter?
As an owner-operator, your trucks are one of the most monumental investments in your business. But aside from protecting your assets, there are numerous reasons why keeping your fleet in optimal shape is a business imperative. They include:
#1 Abiding By Federal Legislation
Whether you’re the owner-operator of a single semi-truck or command an entire fleet of big rigs, federal legislation governs the safe use of commercial vehicles.
Specifically, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) stipulates that you must “systematically inspect, repair, and maintain all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.”
Put simply, it’s illegal to operate vehicles that are in poor condition and likely to cause an accident or breakdown. Parts and accessories must be in safe and proper operating condition at all times.
The parts you are obligated to maintain include:
- Frame assemblies
- Suspension systems
- Steering systems
Failure to abide by these laws may result in significant penalties and expose your business to legal liability—all of which could ground your entire operation for good.
#2 Maximizing Your Vehicle Investment
The success of your company depends on your vehicle’s availability. If a truck isn’t running, you’re not just losing business for every second it’s decommissioned—you may also need to pay a significant sum to repair or replace it.
As an owner, your goal is to maximize the value of every vehicle in your fleet by preventing downtime and extending its total operational lifetime. To do that, you must proactively counter the damages caused by wear and tear.
By performing routine preventative maintenance, you can extend each vehicle’s lifetime. Addressing small issues before they can turn into bigger problems can save you money on costly repairs or from having to decommission the vehicle.
#3 Upholding Driver Safety
Your drivers are the lifeblood of your business. The trucks won’t run if there’s no one behind the wheel.
As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to protect and support your drivers’ safety. For that, training and education are important. But so too is preventative maintenance.
Taking the proper precautions ensures that the vehicle is operating at full capacity and helps prevent accidents caused by a vehicle breakdown. Preventative fleet maintenance also boosts fleet efficiency.
A byproduct of instilling a fleet safety culture is that it can improve driver retention. When drivers feel cared for—in other words, when they have the working tools they need to do their job properly and safely—they might be less likely to search for greener pastures.
#4 Protecting Other Motorists
It’s important to remember that your vehicles share the road with other commuters. When you perform routine preventative maintenance, you aren’t just protecting the driver’s life. You’re also safeguarding the lives and well-being of countless other motorists.
In addition, an accident can be costly—in more than one way.
On average, the cost of loss associated with a trucking accident is approximately $70,000. But if there’s a fatality involved, particularly to passengers in another vehicle, that figure could balloon into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Aside from the direct costs, if you’re found to be at fault due to negligence, it could result in irreparable reputational damage, costly fines, and even jail time.
Therefore, it’s your duty and responsibility to take all the necessary precautions to protect every driver on the road.
#5 Maximizing Resale Price
Rather than running a fleet vehicle into the ground, many fleet service operators prefer to resell their aging semi-trucks before they pass their prime. Doing so may allow them to recoup a portion of their initial investment.
When it comes to maximizing the potential resale value of a semi-truck, regular maintenance is paramount.
Performing regular preventative maintenance gives you greater visibility over when a big rig is ready for sale. It also ensures that the vehicle will be in the best condition possible, despite any accrued mileage. And when new vehicle acquisition is required, hopefully, you only need one or two units.
There’s never been a better time to resell a semi-truck. According to J.D. Power’s January 2022 “Commercial Truck Guidelines,” used truck retail pricing in 2021 reached historic highs. The average sleeper tractor was 73 months old, had 468,285 miles, and sold for $90,398.
#6 Reducing Operational Costs
Fleet maintenance costs can be pretty hefty, but routine maintenance can help minimize them. Issues like delays, idling, or downtime can impact your bottom line. But these days, plenty of tools exist to help you take control of these issues. Utilizing a preventative maintenance program empowers you to track driver behavior and performance.
This information, in turn, can save you money by:
- Preventing accidents
- Increasing fuel efficiency (and inadvertently reducing fuel costs)
- Decreasing emergency repairs and reducing repair costs
- Reducing over-time labor costs
- Avoiding the need to purchase more expensive replacement parts
- Increasing the overall productivity of your fleet
Tips for Preventative Maintenance
Knowing the importance of preventative maintenance, what can you do to champion this initiative? Need some fleet maintenance tips? Your fleet maintenance checklist should include the following actions:
- Set a maintenance schedule – It’s important that you regularly inspect and perform upkeep on your semi-trucks. Setting maintenance schedules helps systematize the process, ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks. Depending on your operation, you can base this schedule on various triggers like:
- ~Engine hours
- ~Fuel usage
- ~Manufacturer’s factory scheduled maintenance recommendations
- Incorporate automated tools – There are dozens of technologies you can incorporate to streamline your maintenance schedules and processes. As WorkTruck Online notes, “Fleet maintenance can be automated to streamline processes and quickly get your vehicles in and out of the shop. From receiving service reminders for an upcoming PM to viewing work order status in real-time, fleet management software helps you reduce downtime by creating workflows that suit your fleet.”
- Spec and triage vehicles – If you have a large fleet, you likely can’t perform preventive maintenance on all of your vehicles simultaneously. Instead, you need to prioritize the vehicles that need the most attention. Once you have taken stock of your fleet, you can plan a unique preventative maintenance schedule for each truck.
- Daily operation check – Your drivers spend more time in and around their trucks than anyone else. In doing so, they must act as the front line of your preventative maintenance program. You can have them perform pre-trip inspections to quickly flag issues that crop up ahead of schedule. Their fleet maintenance checklist should include:
- ~Fuel supply
- ~License plates and paperwork
- ~Windshield wipers
- ~In-cab technologies
- ~Lights and signal devices
To make it easier to monitor this checklist, consider installing fleet management software.
- Hire skilled technicians and mechanics – All of your preventative maintenance efforts could be in vain if you don’t have skilled gearheads capable of effectively and efficiently fix the problems that do arise. Retaining and training your talent can have a positive impact on the overall success of your program.
- Designate a fleet inspector – Particularly for larger fleets, managing maintenance can be a full-time job. You may want to designate a person responsible for overseeing the process, documenting the actions, and reporting to company leaders. Nominating a trustworthy fleet inspector can promote accountability across all levels of your business.
- Train drivers – How your drivers treat their vehicles can impact the wear and tear they accrue over time. Bad driving habits like speeding, harsh braking, quick accelerating, excessive idling, and improper warming up can all take their toll. But if you educate drivers on the importance of careful driving, they can help to reduce damage to the vehicle and prevent accidents that result in costly repairs or replacements.
Preventative Fleet Maintenance with AtoB
To run a successful fleet, you can’t wait for unexpected issues to occur. You must instead deploy all of your resources and efforts to stop them from occurring at all.
A successful, smooth-operating fleet starts with preventative maintenance. It’s how you can stop small issues from transforming into hazardous problems. By implementing such measures, you can protect your vehicles, your drivers, and your business.
At AtoB, multi-service fuel card can save you money and can be unlocked to pay for repairs, parts, insurance, and more. But that’s not all.
Let us play a part in your preventative maintenance program.
FMCSA. 5.2 Inspection, Repair, and Maintenance.
Automotive-Fleet. Commercial Fleet Accident Rate Reaches 20%.
J.D. Power. Commercial Truck Guidelines.
Work Truck Online. Truck Fleet Maintenance Guide: 3 Strategies for Success.