A fleet’s operating costs, number of breakdowns and trips to the shop depend on how that business nurtures its fleet, which means ensuring all the vehicles get the attention they need through preventive maintenance (PM).
Most of the work in getting started on a PM plan is figuring out where your vehicles stand in their state of maintenance, and then writing that all down. The last chunk of the plan is practicing ongoing PM — a process that will save your fleet money over the long run.
So Where Do You Begin?
“When I started here there was a filing cabinet out in the garage that had files in it, but there was nothing current from more than five or six years ago,” says Joe Boyd, fleet technician, Model Coverall Services in Grand Rapids, Mich.
For more than nine months Boyd has been the sole technician and helps manage Coverall’s fleet of 44 vehicles, including a mix of 21 delivery step vans, older model Sprinter Vans, Ford trucks and a variety of cars such as the Chevrolet Impala for company managers. The fleet also includes one semi leased through Star Leasing.
Boyd works out of a maintenance shop located across the street from Model Coverall’s factory, which makes uniforms, towels, restroom products and other cleaning and safety products. He knew his first task was to bring the fleet up to par and create an updated maintenance database.
“I did a complete shakedown of each truck — changed the fluids, looked for any leaking seals — anything that needed attention, that truck got that attention,” Boyd says. While there are fleet maintenance database programs available, for the most cost effective process, he created a folder for each vehicle, and uses Microsoft Excel to keep track of fluid changes.
Boyd, the sole fleet technician for Model Coverall Services’ 44-vehicle fleet, had to first update the company’s maintenance files. He also uses two large white boards in the shop to help keep track of vehicle maintenance statuses.
Model Coverall Services also decided to invest in Venture GPS, which allows Boyd to put maintenance tags on each vehicle. Any time a vehicle hits a maintenance mileage mark, Boyd receives an alert on his computer. “Some of the managers were running a couple thousand miles over the oil change, so that’s helped with that,” he says.
Once Boyd got every vehicle into the shop, he established that his vehicles’ fluids needed to be flushed once a year, but this will vary by fleet application, Boyd says.
(Click on the photo at the top of the story to read "8 Quick Steps to a Small Fleet Preventive Maintenance Plan.")
What about the Driver?
Boyd tries to get into each vehicle once a week. “Drivers are notorious for not telling me something is wrong until it absolutely doesn’t work anymore, so to keep that from happening I drive them myself,” he says. “I have a little route I take that allows me to do some highway driving, starts and stops, sharp turns and some rough terrain.” He also makes sure that he’s talking with the drivers.
Bill DeWitt, manager of Fleet Advisors of Missouri, also suggests maintaining a good relationship between the mechanic and the drivers. “When the driver becomes part of the maintenance process, they start to care,” he adds.
If a driver is possibly the cause of a certain maintenance issue, such as brakes wearing quickly, DeWitt says that the supervisor should be the one to talk to the driver, not the mechanic. “We want those two to be able to talk to each other without throwing rocks at each other,” he says, adding that the mechanic had better be 100% sure it’s a driver problem before going to the supervisor. “Drivers are hard to get, and sometimes it doesn’t take much for them to reach that tipping point and leave.”
For the very small fleet, the driver can be given the directive to head up the maintenance of the vehicle. Mike Zalatoris, owner of Alexandria, Va.-based Everclean Maid Services, says each of his drivers are also the supervisor of that cleaning team and vehicle; they’re responsible for making sure the vehicle gets into the shop for any scheduled services.
Everclean’s fleet includes four Ford Focuses, two new Honda Fits and a 1999 Honda CR-V that is used on an as-needed basis to move larger equipment.
Zalatoris uses a maintenance shop to keep his seven-vehicle PM plan recorded and managed — though drivers are asked to keep track of it as well. “We have a standing directive with the mechanic that if you see something that needs to be done when it’s in for the oil change, call us and we will address the issue,” he says. (You can read more here on how Zalatoris manages the Everclean Maid fleet.)
Maintenance through Leasing
Brian Washnock, president of Summit Ice, a Salt Lake City-based ice distribution company, has full-service leases through Ryder and Penske on 14 of his 15 trucks.
Summit Ice runs International and Freightliner tractors with 36- to 48-foot trailers and six, 20-foot straight trucks from International with reefers. Some are under six-month lease programs to meet summer ice demand. “When people ask me why we don’t own our trucks, I always say we’re an ice company that happens to do trucking,” Washnock says. “We’re not a trucking company that happens to do ice. And I live and die by that because maybe we pay a little more to do full-service leases, but I get the peace of mind if something breaks.”
In addition, through his leasing plans, Washnock gets help through Penske and Ryder to stay on top of Department of Transportation regulations. “They shoulder a portion of that burden,” he says. “And that helps tremendously. I can’t imagine having to do everything ourselves.” (You can read more here on how Washnock manages the Summit Ice fleet through rental and leasing plans.)