How to Stay on Top of Fleet Vehicle Maintenance

Nov 13, 2020 | Business Insurance

Fleet vehicle maintenance is one of the most important parts of managing a fleet. When a vehicle goes down, its absence costs you time and money. With repair costs on the rise in the trucking industry and so many variables at play in fleet oversight, it’s time to get organized and knowledgeable about the vehicles you oversee.

Build a plan, establish your lines of communication, do routine maintenance, and seek out a little help from technology. As a fleet manager, you’ll be able to mitigate issues with significant repairs and let your vehicles roll.

Read on to learn what you need to do to stay on top of fleet vehicle maintenance!

What Fleet Vehicle Maintenance Means

Fleet vehicle maintenance means taking care of the vehicles that are the core of your business. Owning a single vehicle requires an upfront investment followed by a lifetime of upkeep. It’s easy enough to manage costs and repairs with a single vehicle, but when you’re overseeing a fleet of dozens or hundreds of vehicles, you need to dig into the details.

Service, maintenance, and repair (SMR) costs can add up and cut into your bottom line. So take stock of your fleet. Too many managers are unaware of off-road costs caused by maintenance, so understanding your fleet can help you stay away from too much wasted time.

Are your vehicles new, midway through their life spans, or creaking toward the end? Are they all the same make and model? Know the specs on your vehicles, and you’ll know what repairs to anticipate.

Next, learn what is already in place for your vehicles and what you’ll need to anticipate.

If your fleet is relatively new, check to see if there is a warranty or other program in place that will cover some maintenance costs. Being aware of warranties can save you money if your vehicles are young enough to fall under a protection plan.

Also, take the time to evaluate future needs so that you know when you should upgrade your fleet down the road with more efficient vehicles. If you run a delivery service, bus line, or another transport service, do the research so you know what the trends and upgrades look like for your current line of vehicles.

All of these questions and responsibilities fall under the realm of fleet vehicle maintenance. The best way to handle it all? Map out a plan with details and checkpoints.

Map Out a Plan

Before you invest in anything else, develop a plan for your fleet maintenance. Know each vehicle inside and out so you are on top of when you’ll need to do routine checks of things like brakes, transmission fluid, lights, and engine fluid.

Consult with vehicle manufacturers to make certain you’re not overlooking anything important in your fleet. Then draw up a plan that works for all vehicles in your fleet.

Set specific maintenance checks based on mileage or how many hours a vehicle has been driven. That way you won’t waste time doing the same checks on newer cars that are less likely to have problems.

It’s a good idea to establish a checklist or chart that can be used from one visit to the next. You don’t want your vehicles to travel too long without checking the belts and hoses because this could have devastating repercussions. And checking tire pressure is an easy task to overlook even though it impacts your vehicle’s performance and safety.

Another thing to map out is a contingency plan. What will you do when a vehicle is stuck in the shop?

When a vehicle is in the shop being repaired, that means there is one less active vehicle on the road. Map out a back-up plan so that other vehicles can shoulder the loan or you can use a temporary rental vehicle to fill the void.

Know that you may need to absorb losses at given points in time if many vehicles from your fleet are sidelined. It’s ideal if you can stagger the maintenance checks so you don’t have too many vehicles off the road at once.

Use a Software Program To Keep Things Organized

When it comes to fleet vehicle maintenance, fleet maintenance software can be your best friend. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the checklist of responsibilities, there is an easier way.

Fleet maintenance software is a high-tech way to operate a more efficient fleet. Ditch the pen and paper and switch to a system that offers a number of data metrics for you to evaluate. Take the time to research options and find one with the metrics most helpful for you.

Metrics can include GPS trackers, fuel efficiency, and repair tracking. Similarly to other online platforms in other industries, the system will provide a dashboard on your computer where you can access data clearly and input information as needed. Most systems can be accessed via mobile phones, too, so you can check in on maintenance from the comfort of your own home.

For a fleet of 10 vehicles, you can expect to pay around $3500 to $6500 each year for use of a fleet management system. This might sound like a lot of money, but if it saves you time and keeps all information digitized, it can be worth the investment for your bottom line.

Maintenance software is like having a virtual administrative assistant to add clarity to the complexities of management. You’ll be able to stay on top of repairs and see how they impact the vehicle’s value and insurance premiums over time.

Fleet maintenance software can help you plan for routine repairs and keep track of unexpected ones. The software will file purchase and work orders, track fuel usage, and inventory your parts. Best of all, the software can synthesize all of this information into weekly or monthly reports that will help you plan your next move.

You can use these reports to assess the vehicle’s future as well as the drivers operating your vehicles. A report will reveal any maintenance red flags that might require you to make personnel changes if you find that a driver has not reported problems.

Most software is scalable, too, so you can purchase the package that suits the needs of your fleet. There’s a learning curve to any new system, but with a strong support network, you can learn to navigate this handy piece of technology.

Assign Responsibilities To Avoid Confusion

Even with the help of technology, a big part of vehicle maintenance rests in how effective the manager or management team is. And a key part of management is good communication.

It’s up to you to delegate responsibilities so everyone from the driver to technician knows their roles. And you’ll want to do so in a way that shows you care and want to hold employees to high standards of excellence. Your employees will respect you more as a leader if they know exactly what is expected of them and where to communicate any issues.

If a driver reports that something in a vehicle needs to be fixed, what is the next step? How does that next step get communicated to the relevant parties? Where it the outcome documented and who does it?

These are all questions that will arise when you are managing a fleet. Know the chain of command in advance and spell it out clearly.

In your employee handbook, make sure that there is a specific protocol for the lines of communication regarding repairs. You’ll avoid confusion and frustration and see a quicker turnaround time with repairs.

Your maintenance people or anyone else you do business with will appreciate the professionalism and sense of organization, too!

Make Sure Your Drivers Do Their Part

Maybe the most critical recipient and deliverer of communication is the driver. Your drivers will have the best sense of whether a vehicle is operating at its best or not.

Make sure that you communicate to them the importance of timely maintenance and urge them to come forward with any concerns. After all, you want your drivers to know that you value their safety and don’t want them driving a vehicle in need of significant repairs.

Instituting programs like driver recall completion compliance can help to ensure that your drivers are staying on top of fleet vehicle maintenance. Use regular check-ins and monitor your driver’s communication regarding all recalls and repairs.

If you see that a driver repeatedly neglects your SMR plan, it may be time to make a change. Have a protocol in place for disciplinary action or, if needed, termination. You don’t want a negligent employee costing your company money!

Document Whether a Maintenance Issue Is Routine Or Unexpected

There’s a huge difference between a routine maintenance check and a catastrophic repair. And it’s important to distinguish between the two in your fleet maintenance documentation so you know how each vehicle is behaving.

If the maintenance issue is unexpected, it likely will cost more and require more labor and time out of commission. If you notice that several of a certain type of vehicle in your fleet experience the same costly issues, you may decide to avoid that model with future purchases.

You’ll be able to track these trends if you use a fleet vehicle maintenance log. This can be part of a software system.

Scheduled maintenance, by contrast, means that you’re trying to avoid future issues and keep the vehicles in good shape. Routine checks include things like tire rotations and oil changes, all of which should happen on a set schedule.

Document any quirks that occur during these check-ups, too, since they might alert you to bigger problems down the road. Communicate with your maintenance team so that they know your expectations and concerns.

Do routine assessments of your maintenance team, too. Are they servicing your vehicles with care and catching problems before they grow? It’s okay to ask questions to discern your maintenance team’s level of competence, especially if you are outsourcing repairs or using a new service team.

And it’s even better to stay on good terms with your maintenance team so your repairs can happen efficiently. Maintaining collegial relationships with employees is as important as maintaining the vehicles themselves!

Keep Track of the Overall Cost

The cost of fleet maintenance consists of repairs as well as other costs such as insurance, the initial purchase price, insurance costs, and fuel economy. By documenting all costs associated with your fleet, you can notice when the overall price of a vehicle starts to tick up — and when repair costs start to eat up a big percentage of that cost.

Over time, your vehicle will start consuming fuel more rapidly and the insurance rates will go up. Do a cost-benefit analysis: is it worth keeping your vehicle in the fleet?

Having this information will inform if and when you decide to retire or resell a vehicle. It’s always wise to time a sale properly to maximize the returns you can funnel toward a new vehicle.

Staying On Top of Your Fleet Is Good For Business

The bottom line is that it is worth your time to stay on top of fleet vehicle maintenance. The last thing you want to deal with is a fleet of unsafe vehicles on the road causing injury — or worse — to one of your drivers or someone else. And you don’t want to deal with productivity losses from too many sidelined vehicles, either.

Tapping into software and using regular communication with your drivers and maintenance people can keep your fleet running smoothly.

When you’re ready to tackle questions and issues related to your fleet, reach out to us and we can help!