If you were to ask any fleet manager about their number one priority when it comes to fleet maintenance, many will tell you that PM or preventative maintenance tops the charts. A survey conducted by Arsenault Associates, Inc. shows that preventative maintenance is the main concern of trucking companies, at least those who are currently using fleet maintenance software for fleet maintenance.
“According to Arsenault, preventive maintenance (PM) scheduling is the main priority of trucking companies that use maintenance management software. It states that 36 percent of respondents conduct PM for expense management.”
The importance of preventative maintenance can simply not be overlooked. Studies show that less than 44 percent of fleets are currently using software programs that are specifically designed for fleet maintenance. Some do use software programs, but not those that are designed specifically for these tasks. Word, Excel and others can only offer so much. The only software that is capable of automating preventative maintenance scheduling are those that are designed specifically for this purpose.
“‘Trying to manage a fleet using less technology is like settling to ‘not lose too much money.' In this troubled economic environment, that just won't do,' Arsenault commented.”
Organizations should focus on the big picture. Choosing a fleet management software program that meets the companies' needs will allow managers to ensure smoother operations. One of the key areas where these programs can help is with cost. Companies that choose a preventative maintenance program may spend a bit more on maintenance but they will come out on the better end in the long run.
Many companies feel that maintenance may get in the way of their operation. Some may feel that lost sales or delivery schedules could cause a profit decrease. Others may argue that they will lose sales to their competitors if they cannot meet their specific delivery schedules. Of course, the cost for towing in vehicles that are broken down or paying fines related to maintenance issues could cost much more in the long run than these minor interruptions. Not maintaining vehicles could mean paying hefty tow bills when those vehicles do break down. This is a particular concern for companies with larger trucks in their fleet.
“‘With a car fleet, you can easily go out and rent a car,' he said. ‘With a work truck, you can't necessarily run out and rent another truck. You've got inventory, tools, and the upfit. It knocks the vehicle out of service.'”
So what exactly is a fleet manager to do? Many experts recommend a strategic program for fleet maintenance. Ensuring that preventative maintenance is done and is done regularly will help to lower the costs associated with broken down vehicles and those associated with fines. Software programs that are designed to help with preventative maintenance schedules can be purchased from a number of companies and they offer varying benefits.
The best rule of thumb is for fleet managers to spend some time getting acquainted with these programs and choosing one that will meet the operation's specific needs. While there are a number of programs available, not all are alike so managers will need to spend time learning more about the software and how it works.
Preventative maintenance is of course, only one consideration when it comes to a fleet but it is an important one. Most fleet managers will say that they are more concerned about PM than they are about cost, alternative fuel sources and many other issues facing fleets today. Fleet maintenance software programs are designed to help ease the mind of managers when it comes to routine maintenance and keeping their fleet on the road.
An analysis of the Maintenance BASIC under the Compliance, Safety and Accountability program from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration showed that a high number of violations are caused by requirements regarding reflective lighting. Broken lamps are another problem for many fleet managers along with wheel part repairs and chafed brake hoses.
“Seventy to 75 percent of all CSA points can be traced back to maintenance or unsafe driving violations”.
In the past, many of these issues may have been overlooked. Drivers and managers would simply have decided that while the issues were in need of repair, they were not extensive enough to actually shut down the fleet. Today however, these are issues that are commonly repaired right away because the points will count against the fleet and could possibly cause a major shutdown of operations.
Larger problems were typically always repaired right away but minor issues would have been overlooked simply because they were costly or time consuming and because they did not threaten the operation, they could be put off for a later time. Today however, the CSA looks at everything that could possibly cause an issue and ensures that managers are focusing on all aspects of operating their fleets.
Many organizations are learning that in order to comply properly with CSA standards, a pre-trip and a post-trip inspection are needed by the driver. Everyone in the organization should be focusing on CSA requirements
in order to ensure that the operation remains on track. This includes every operation that uses trucks.
“The most important thing to note with CSA is that if your business is using trucks, you are subject to it,” stresses Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Greenbelt, Md.-based Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), an international not-for-profit organization composed of local, state, provincial, territorial and federal motor carrier safety officials and industry representatives from the United States, Canada and Mexico”.
Historically, he says, a lot of refuse businesses did not really think of themselves as trucking companies; trucks were just one of many tools to collect trash and recyclables. Under CSA, they no longer have that luxury. Any business operating commercial trucks is going to be captured within this new safety net.
“On top of that, CSA uses real-time data generated from roadside inspections to put together its fleet safety ratings,” says Keppler. That means things like maintenance defects and out-of-adjustment brakes will find their way into in the public eye a lot faster than most fleets realize.
The CSA began in 2010 and since that time, the trucking industry has seen a dramatic reduction in violations, more so than in the last 10 years combined. Driver violations are down by more than 15 percent and roadside inspection violations are down by almost 14 percent. These numbers may continue in a positive direction as more and more fleet management programs are implemented by various companies.
“FCMSA's number one goal is safety: We want to ensure that every trip is a safe trip every time. And we think CSA is bridging multiple worlds in that process. And the nation's fleet maintenance professionals deserve a lot of credit for that; making older equipment work safely while learning to understand and use new technology in pursuit of low CSA scores and consistent safe vehicle operation.”
The integration of regulations by the CSA has required a number of changes within many organizations. Poor performers have been replaced and this covers every base from technicians and drivers to entire fleets. Even law enforcement officers who are tasked with carrying out vehicle and driver inspections have begun to adhere more to CSA standards in an attempt to make the roadways safer for everyone.
A recent survey provided by GE Capital Fleet Services suggests that the major concern for fleet managers today involves the safety of drivers. More than 36 percent of all fleet managers cite driver safety as their main concern.
Just last year, only 23 percent of managers cited driver safety as their main concern. In last year's survey, the most important concern facing most fleet managers was cost efficiency.
“Cost savings is still among the leading fleet priorities. To help manage costs, fleet managers are using a number of different tactics. Forty-two percent cited vehicle purchasing decisions as the greatest opportunity for savings”.
While cost is still a major concern for many fleet managers, driver safety is still at the top of the list for most. Drivers of any vehicle are prone to be distracted while driving. Certain distractions like texting or using a mobile navigation application causes more than 80 percent of all crashes according to the NHSA or National Highway Safety Administration.
Field technicians are on the road for much of their workday so they have to understand that driving while distracted can cause a number of negative consequences for fleet management as well as their own safety.
“According to a 2009 NHTSA study (in conjunction with Virginia Tech Transportation), commercial service vehicles and trucks are more prone to the effects distracted driving; texting while operating a complicated maneuver in a service vehicle, for example, almost quadruples the chance of a crash or near-crash”.
Drivers should be offered instruction on the importance of safety while driving. Distractions such as cell phones and tablets should never be used while driving. Experts agree that not having a cell phone on when driving could help many to avoid crashes or near crashes. While mobile technology has certainly helped drivers to keep in touch with home offices, organize their day and communicate with customers, their use should be avoided when the driver is actually operating a vehicle.
Minimizing the paperwork that needs to be done in the vehicle can also help to keep drivers from being distracted. Software programs that help to minimize actual written paperwork can make the process faster. Paperwork should be managed before the driver begins driving or it should be saved for a later time, when the driver is not behind the wheel. Digital programs that allow drivers to instantly send back their paperwork can be very beneficial in these cases.
Preventable accidents are common. The definition of a preventable accident is one that could be avoided but is not because the vehicle driver has failed to act in a manner that would have prevented the crash. It can be difficult to determine whether or not a driver actually had reasonable actions for avoiding an accident.
“Preventable accident on the part of a motor carrier means an accident (1) that involved a commercial motor vehicle, and (2) that could have been averted but for an act, or failure to act, by the motor carrier, or the driver”.
A fleet safety management tool that will establish the safe driving standard for drivers and evaluate drivers could help to solve many preventable accident issues. Programs that are designed for management could help to monitor the effectiveness of programs implemented to enhance fleet safety. They could aid in the implementation of recognition programs for drivers who meet certain safety criteria and evaluate the performance of individuals and the fleet as a whole with regards to safety.
Fleet managers that are concerned about driver performance and safety should take the steps necessary to ensure that all fleet drivers are practicing safety habits and trying to avoid being distracted when behind the wheel.
In a tough economy, both government and private fleet operations face a lot of pressure to cut their costs. One of the most popular solutions is to outsource any non-core business functions, including fleet maintenance. Many companies find outsourcing to be an attractive option because it brings about direct cost reductions as well as long-term cost savings. However, this decision should not be made lightly. Any time you turn a portion of a company over to a third party, there is risk and reason for concern.As you consider this solution for your particular fleet operation, weigh both the pros and cons of outsourcing fleet management.
Pro: The valuable expertise is an asset to the company.
When companies are under pressure to reduce their budgets, having an outsourcing partner who brings insight, experience, processes, and skills into the business can accelerate growth plans. It is important to keep in mind that this outsourcing relationship should be a partnership. A third party must work with a client to learn why they want to grow and what goals they have for their business in order to create a successful plan of action.
Pro: Outsourcing does not have to be limited to procurement handling
If you don't have a lot of experience with outsourcing or do not have any contacts in the fleet industry that use outsourcing, you may not have a clear understanding of the sorts of tasks that you can delegate to a third party. Many companies have their outsourcing partners handle any number of different jobs including daily rental vehicles, end-of-term vehicle checks, reallocation and storage of vehicles, and fines management.
Pro: Outsourcing leads to measurable, increased efficiencies and improved company focus
When you outsource fleet management and maintenance, you will see increased efficiency for any number of different aspects of the company. Rate of efficiency is dependent upon current maintenance management systems. However, it doesn't take most companies a long time to realize that when they're spending less time on their fleets, they have more energy to focus on core business tasks. Fleet operations see multiple benefits, including heightened fleet availability and reliability, higher cash flow, and increased productivity.
Pro: Outsourcing leads to heightened human resource productivity
Con: Employees don't have anyone to talk to within the company
Some companies have found that keeping an in-house fleet manager instead of outsourcing the position actually saves the company money. An in-house manager talks directly to the drivers whenever they have questions or concerns. When a well-qualified individual holds this position for many years, he or she builds solid relationships with the drivers as well as the local dealerships, insurers, and account managers. This level of personal contact is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with outsourcing.
Con: Companies can lose valuable insight when they fully outsource vehicle management or absorb it into another position, such as finance or HR
As businesses weigh the pros and cons of outsourcing fleet management, budget is often their first priority. While budget may drive the decision-making process, you cannot discount the notion of insight and expertise. For example, a fleet specialist has cross-business expertise and extensive experience that allows a business to increase its efficiency and to save a significant amount of money every year. Fleet specialists also have a strong understanding of a company as a whole and are frequently some of the first individuals to know about a business's new developments.
Con: Outsourcing can come with a loss of accountability.
The bottom line is that directors are always responsible for their drivers. Even when you use outsourcing for some of your fleet management tasks, you must maintain in-house procedures for monitoring performance, analyzing risk, and working with providers to ensure a safe, compliant operation. You cannot simply hand over all of the responsibility and hope for the best. Most companies find that best practice is to keep an in-house staff member for policy and oversight and to outsource interactive tasks including accident reporting, purchase handling, and taxes.
Implementing and maintaining a fleet management system that is just right for your particular fleet operation is a balancing act. Successful outsourcing is dependent on multiple factors, including organizational culture, in-house expertise, and cost imperatives. HR must maintain some level of responsibility no matter what solution a company chooses.
About the author:
Robert J. Hall is president of Track Your Truck, a leader in GPS vehicle tracking systems and software for small and midsized companies.
Every year the trucking industry deals with a combination of familiar issues, old issues with a new twist, and brand new problems. From the truck cab to the truck company boardroom to the government committee room, there are any number of different places where issues can occur. It is important to stay on top of today's top fleet management issues as well as new truck regulations that are in the works. The following list includes just a few of the top issues that the industry is facing right now.
At the end of 2012, driver wages and benefits were the highest motor carrier cost for trucking companies, and fuel and oil were the second highest cost. With high fuel prices, it is not surprising that this is one of today's top fleet management issues. It is unlikely that the per-gallon fuel price is going to change significantly before the end of 2013, but that doesn't change the fact that fuel prices are higher than normal. Even though the prices may become less volatile, they will most likely remain high.
California-based trucking companies may run into problems with the new low-carbon fuel regulations that went into effect on January 1, 2013. The state may see an increase of $1 per gallon for gasoline and $2 per gallon for diesel. The current fuel prices and the new regulations may push companies to consider vehicles that use natural gas fuel.
As of late 2012, 90 percent of for-hire U.S. truckload carriers are not able to recruit a sufficient number of drivers who can meet DOT requirements. With approximately 750,000 trucks in use, the shortage numbers run in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 for-hire drivers. If you think that these numbers are bad, consider that with the current driver trends, the shortage could skyrocket as high as 239,000 by 2022.
Government regulations are not going to help this problem. There will be hours-of-service regulation changes within the next year that will most likely bring motor carrier productivity down as much as three percent. As such, carriers will have to increase the number of drivers and trucks in their forces to compensate for it.
A number of prominent truck carriers stress that a large part of the driver shortage issue stems from high turnover rates. There are very few wage increases available right now, and the increases that are available are minimal. Given the GDP growth of the past few years, that is not likely to change any time soon. Drivers become frustrated with the low rates and turn elsewhere for higher pay.
As previously mentioned, there are new regulations taking effect every year, and this is also not likely to change in the near future. More regulations mean more complexity and potentially higher costs. Fleets must stay on top of what they need to do to stay compliant, which is a never-ending effort.
For example, the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration launched a Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program. This program took the place of the SafeStat system. While the CSA is considered to be an improvement, there are a number of details that are a major concern for fleet managers. The Department of Transportation is under scrutiny to open its decision making process up to the public.
In response, there are plans to put together a committee of industry executives that will do a comprehensive review of the CSA program. The review will include the priorities, focus, and objectives of the program as well as specific details such as risk prediction and how effectively the data mirrors safety performance. Additionally, the review committee will consider regional disparities in data reports, how shippers and brokers use the data, and how insurers use the system.4
Lack of sleep
One of the longstanding battles between federal regulators and truck drivers is the issue of sleep. The recent regulation changes decrease the workweek hours to 70 (down from 82), require periodic rest breaks throughout the day, and limit the number of nights that truckers can be on the road. This is the most substantial rule overhaul in relation to truck driver hours that we've seen in the past decade.
The government administration believes that these new regulations will decrease the number of crashes that occur due to sleep-deprived drivers. Fleet managers believe that the changes will cost them money by necessitating higher numbers of trucks to move the same number of loads, which will have little benefit for the trucking companies.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration plans to enforce these regulations by conducting periodic driver work log check-ins and charge fines for every offense. The fines may run as high as $2,750 for individual drivers and $11,000 for trucking companies.
About the author:
Robert J. Hall is president of Track Your Truck, a leader in GPS vehicle tracking systems and software for small and midsized companies.