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Do you need to lessen your fleet’s downtime? Have you looked back at a particular breakdown and thought you should’ve been able to prevent it? Is your total fuel spend creeping out of control?

Your vehicles and drivers are generating mountains of data daily, and if you’re not properly collecting this data, you’re doing your operations a disservice. For the small truck fleets that fly by the seat of their pants, this article is for you.

This data capture does not need to involve enterprise operational changes such as installing telematics (though a telematics system will automate the collection and analysis of this information). Rather, a simple spreadsheet reporting system should suffice.

Yes, this will take time, and most of us don’t have enough of it. You and your staff need to establish the doctrine of collecting, maintaining, and analyzing these sets of data, and then using the metrics to sharpen both your operations and personnel’s behavior.

These fleet reports are merely ways to harbor and segment sets of data. Your answers to the questions posed will tell you exactly where you need to be concentrating your efforts.

Downtime Report:

Do you have an adequate snapshot of what units are down and when you can expect each vehicle back in service? A downtime report will bring your attention to vehicles that are past their useful lifecycle and help you plan for their replacements. You may be saying, “But I only have 18 vehicles in three operating locations. Why do I need this?”

The answer to that question is found in more questions: Are you visiting each of your operating locations every few days? Can you identify that these units are out of service for other reasons, for instance, non-compliance of regulations such as the ELD (electronic logging device) mandate?

Does your maintenance provider offer this information? Does your maintenance provider advise you or your fleet supervisor when a repair will be delayed due to shop overloading or delayed parts? Will your provider call you to tell you the wait time for the problem to be diagnosed, much less repaired?

What if your maintenance provider is so overloaded that your broken-down vehicle takes from three days to a week to get into the shop?

If the unit will not be available by a certain time, can you “slip seat” (rotate drivers) for one of your operational units? Do you have the personnel to do this? Perhaps you’ll even need to be the slip seat driver in certain circumstances — not an easy circumstance from which to operate your business.

I once reviewed a downtime report and ascertained that a truck was not scheduled to come back into service after a five-day period of downtime. When I investigated with our operational personnel, I found out that this particular vehicle had not even entered the shop to be diagnosed. When I called the shop, the manager told me that the unit was 54th in line to be repaired.

What if one of your units is down for safety reasons but you are unaware that safety is the cause? Many units have been returned to service because they are needed, as requested by your fleet supervisor — but that doesn’t mean that the safety issue has been corrected.

For example, if the driver’s seat belt doesn’t work or the four-way flashers are inoperable, do you only find out about this when it’s too late?

Your operations personnel and line management should be on top of these types of issues, but in some cases, they are not. By getting involved and supervising, you will shorten the downtime and reduce or eliminate rental costs associated with this breakdown. This will have a positive effect on your bottom line.

Unit Damage Report:

This report will identify the type of damage your fleet is experiencing, the associated costs, and the drivers who are at fault because they were careless or distracted. Monitoring and correcting bad driver behavior should be a top priority.

On a recent visit to a small fleet, I was informed that one of their units was down because the driver had driven into tree limbs and damaged the front corner cap. The operations manager immediately sent this driver and a helper to a local rental company; they were back with a replacement truck in less than an hour. Problem solved for the moment, right?

Wrong. The driver drove the replacement truck into the same trees in the same spot.

Taking the time to correct bad driver behavior can be less expensive than the costs associated with the above example, not to mention having two units down due to carelessness and having to pay to repair a truck you don’t own.

Repair Work Order Report:

Do you have a summary of monthly repair orders? Once again, these repairs can have a direct negative impact on your bottom line.

When viewed over a period of time, such as one year, this report can give you a strong indication of your weakest units and those that need to be replaced. Remember, downtime costs money in many ways.

Labor Hours and Overtime Report:

It’s not just the mechanical aspect of trucks and equipment that need to be closely monitored. If you’re spending overtime regularly and you’re not in your peak season, then perhaps you need an additional unit.

If one particular driver is taking too long to complete his or her route, you need to investigate the reason — goofing off or is there simply too much work for that driver and unit? Does the driver use his or her time efficiently? Are your routes sized to your customers’ orders? Do you have to deliver your goods and services the same day or the next day? Can you take your incoming orders and batch them by route, spreading the deliveries out by time and day needed at a destination?

Rental Report:

This is vital in tracking the length and frequency of your rentals and their associated costs. Closely monitor these costs and review them with your staff. While I understand the need for rentals, have you considered buying or leasing a new unit instead? Then your oldest unit — that is still within its operational lifecycle — can be used as a spare.

Sometimes this solution is more economical than calling a local rental company each time you have something as common as a “no start” in the morning.

Efficiency Report:

This report entails scheduling, dispatching, and route management, and should capture your deliveries, miles driven, and number of stops. There is more data that should be included in this report; however, these basic metrics should help identify your best delivery vehicle/driver combination.

A deeper dive into these stats will identify which routes need to be amended. You will also be able to take an initial or “embryonic” look at which chassis specs perform best in each location and on which routes.

Fuel Consumption Report:

This one can be easily compiled and identifies those unit numbers that are consuming too much fuel. If you are doing “wet” (onsite) fueling, your provider can give you this report on a weekly basis. By paying attention here, you can easily find those fuel losses that you are experiencing. Then the question becomes: why?

I once found a driver who was filling up with a fuel card and having his wife in her personal vehicle, with a diesel engine, park close enough to have her tank fueled at the same time. This was discovered after noticing a high average consumption at this operational location.

You may think that wet fueling is foolproof for theft. Beware of fuel tanks being filled on your property that are not fleet units. This can and will happen. A fuel consumption report can identify something that is not right, even if you are using wet fueling.

Tire Replacement and Retread Report:

Tires are a significant cost and a large percentage of your overall fleet expenses. You can save money by identifying replacement tires by unit number, size, type (new or retread), tread, mileage interval since last replacement, vendor, cost per tire, and other data, and reviewing on a regular basis.

Are there chronic offenders among your drivers for tire damage? If you use a fleet tire provider, what percentage of invoicing to your fleet is for tire failures termed “curbed” — meaning caused by the driver?

By paying attention to tire metrics, you will learn a number of things, such as the best tread designs for each of your regions and operational terrains. You can also learn which of your drivers are the most careless and aggressive.

Choosing the appropriate tire for that unit can also save you money. This includes choosing tires with a cut-resistant sidewall to prevent some of the “curbing” damage.

Each one of these metrics can impact your fleet’s bottom line in significant ways. Pay attention to the data — it will tell you what you need to know for cost-saving, coaching, and discipline purposes.

About the Author

Les Smart is president of Smart Fleet Management, a small and medium fleet consulting company. He can be reached at

About the author
Les Smart

Les Smart

President, Smart Fleet Management LLC

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