Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

Preventive Maintenance from 40,000 to 400,000 Miles

Three small fleet administrators and a lessor share tips on preventive maintenance, from sensible PM for low-mileage vehicles to strict guidelines to help get your vehicles to 400,000 miles.

May 2009, by - Also by this author

Doug Flesher of Wessin Transport takes damaged vans and does a "part out" of every usable part-from doors and steering columns to relay switches and transmissions-and inventories it.

How to Get 400,000 Miles Out of a Van

Wessin Transport makes deliveries from 12 branch locations throughout the Northeast and Midwest and runs its Chevy 1-ton vans up to eight years and 300,000-400,000 miles. With those expectations, preventive maintenance must be down to a science. 

"We're religious when it comes to our preventive maintenance program," says Doug Flesher, fleet manager, who has been perfecting his system since he started at the Minnesota-based company in 1991. "We have a lot of uniformity in fleet so I see a lot of repeated problems. Things just started to make sense over time." 

The fleet-all owned-consists primarily of 1-ton cutaway vans, a mix of Isuzu FRR cabovers and Kodiak C5500s with gas and diesel engines. The oldest van is MY 1998. 

The company pays the vans off after 60 months, and Flesher looks to run them up to three years after that. Compared to replacing with a new van, those three years could save as much as $18,000 per vehicle in fleet costs-hence the importance of a good maintenance program. Flesher says he's lost only one engine and three transmissions in the past three years. 

Get Under It

Flesher schedules oil changes every 4,000-6,000 miles using regular (non-synthetic) oil. He recognizes that many vehicles now have oil life monitoring systems. "As good as our drivers are," he counters, "I can't leave it up to them when that light comes on in the dash." 

Flesher could extend oil change intervals, but the benefit to going shorter is having the mechanics get under the vans regularly. Greasing the front-end components such as tire rod ends, ball joints and idler and Pitman arms is important to prevent excessive wear and sloppy steering. Tires are rotated and brakes are inspected.  

"In the long run, it minimizes downtime on your vehicles, and downtime is huge," he says. "If you can't look at it, and you don't see it, how can you catch something before it breaks?" 

He'll have some oil changes done at a retail quick-lube store, but won't get sucked into an upsell on replacement work and parts. Flesher buys PM replacement parts in bulk and ships them to his local mechanics.  

The Used Parts Store

The company uses both dealerships and independent shops for maintenance services, depending on the area. "It's about finding the right shop that appreciates a commercial account," he says.  

For a transmission replacement, though, Flesher relies on the dealership rather than a transmission shop because of the longer warranty. "You're probably paying $200-$300 more, but it's worth it," he says. 

Flesher makes field visits to his outsourced mechanics, and he'll inspect repair jobs. "It's easy to see the quality of work you're getting in terms of wiring repair and brackets not hooked back up like they were from the factory," he says. 

A big cost-saver is Flesher's in-house used parts store, culled from vans damaged in accidents. For those vehicles, Flesher does a "part out" of every usable part-from doors and steering columns to relay switches and transmissions-and inventories it. "When a major component fails in later years, I've got a whole shelf of components that I know the history on," he says.  

Flesher organizes his preventive maintenance schedule in common groupings based on mileage. 

Because routes vary widely in terms of type of driving and frequency of stops, basing PM solely on mileage is not completely accurate, but it's still a safe bet, Flesher says. 

Company policy is to replace certain expensive parts such as alternators and fuel pumps on a schedule, whether they show excessive wear or not. Flesher could roll the dice, but history says not to. A fuel pump breakdown will incur a towing charge to the dealer, who will charge $100 to simply diagnose the problem, then $200-$300 in labor and $500-$600 for the pump itself. 

On a PM replacement, Flesher buys the fuel pump in bulk for $200-$300 and ships it UPS ground for $10. The mechanic charges $100-$200 in labor on a routine service call. 

"If it dies on the road you've got packages not getting delivered and twice the bill," Flesher says. 

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