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How To Create An Effective Commercial Truck Preventative Maintenance Program

If you want to get the most out of the commercial motor vehicles in your fleet, it is essential that you have a comprehensive preventative vehicle maintenance program in place.

Preventative maintenance (PM) consists primarily of scheduling service calls, completing inspections, repairs and doing everything one can to prevent potential problems before they arise. You want your vehicles to have maximum on-road time.

A PM program is generally used to proactively avoid or reduce vehicle breakdowns by focusing on several factors:

  • Time;
  • Mileage;
  • Engine hours, and;
  • Gallons of fuel used.

Actions taken in keeping your vehicles in proper condition involve the following:

  • Vehicle inspections;
  • Lubrication;
  • Adjustment;
  • Cleaning;
  • Testing;
  • Repairs, and;
  • Parts replacement.

To get the most out of your PM program, you’ve got to ensure required maintenance is consistently scheduled and performed. By not staying on top of this vehicle lifespan can be diminished.

Depending on the application, some commercial motor vehicles may be prone to breakdowns and in need of repairs more often. A motor carrier can find itself short a vehicle very quickly if it isn’t paid proper care.

When you aren’t properly focused on PM, you also expose your fleet to unnecessary safety risks. PM is as much about prevention from litigation due to negligence as it is preventative “maintenance” in the literal sense.

Fleet managers need to be aware how a lack of a proper PM program can create an unsafe environment and wind up with them held liable. When the vehicle isn’t safe to operate – even if just for maintenance issues – liability can be assumed if a truck driver is forced to drive the vehicle.

If a crash occurs because the breaks malfunctioned, the truck will be impounded and inspected. If the investigation shows bad breaks were to blame, authorities can seek a court order for further maintenance records across the fleet.

Should it come to light that there were PM failures across your fleet, potential litigation costs from a negligent act charge can potentially be catastrophic. A small trucking company not equipped to handle a crisis like this can easily be put out of business.

PM Methods and Effective Approaches

Now that we have shed light on the importance of PM, we want to take a closer look at the different ways PM occurs. There are two primary methods, one of proactive or one of reactive. It’s a matter of answering this question: Which would you prefer, scheduled or unscheduled maintenance events?

Scheduled PM involves a comprehensive approach to scheduling necessary repairs, component upgrades or truck driver inspections.

Unscheduled maintenance primarily consists of the reactive costs of not managing the process proactively.

The point? The only PM method that really counts is the scheduled kind.

To create an effective PM program, you want it to consist of a list of the services that have been performed on the vehicle, a scheduled task interval, truck driver inspections, a facility for technicians – whether in-house or outsourced – and some type of recordkeeping process.

Let’s look at each factor individually to learn more.

What Goes into a PM Checklist?

There are two factors that should influence an effective PM program, that of both maintenance and safety items.

Maintenance items consist of the products required to keep the fleet running in top condition. A good maintenance product list might include:

  • Engine oil and filters;
  • Fluids for the transmission, fuel and cooling system;
  • All belts and hoses required;
  • Body mounts;
  • Drive shafts;
  • CV joints;
  • Steering and suspension system components;
  • Lighting for both exterior and interior systems;
  • Glass and mirrors;
  • Windshield wipers;
  • Seat structures and seatbelts, and;
  • Applicable auxiliary systems.

Beyond focusing on the vehicle, a comprehensive PM program will also include the truck driver. Truck drivers are the first line of defense in preventing unscheduled maintenance from occurring.

Focusing on the Truck Driver

Ensuring truck drivers consistently communicate problems with the vehicle is critical in ensuring all maintenance is scheduled maintenance. Truck drivers themselves should be active participants in the PM program.

Truck drivers have a front-line view of everything from safety items to drivability and other extraneous repair needs. The vehicle operator will have to cover specific items in pre- and post-trip checks.

If a truck driver fails to properly inspect a vehicle prior to hitting the road, they could be uncovered at a state or federal inspection point, and could wind up costing you more in the long run.

Therefore, proper training and coaching is so key. Truck drivers that are properly trained, coached and monitored generally have a greater sense of accountability. Support will have to come from the fleet manager on down. By making a proactive PM program part of a greater team effort, you ensure its success in the long-term.

What Are Your Intervals?

Next, it is important to ensure your shop knows the intervals at which PM must be completed on a fleet vehicle. The owner’s manual for the vehicle will generally outline this information, but one also must consider the operating conditions the vehicle will be working in.

Generally, most motor carriers operate with the assumption that their vehicles are running under what is considered a “severe” duty level. A severe labeling can include the following:

  • Towing a large trailer, camper, or other large vehicle with an object in tow;
  • Long periods of idle time or low-speed driving;
  • Commercial use, such as garbage trucks, taxis or police vehicles, and;
  • Vehicles driven in mountainous or off-road applications.

Fortunately, technology can also help a fleet manage their PM intervals. We now live in an era where trucking has squarely thrown itself into the arms of advanced technologies and PM can now be automated.

Consider that manual systems are tedious and more prone to error. Human intervention is also more prone to error. For larger fleets, automating a PM scheduling task is key to ensuring tasks get done. Whether through an in-house IT department or through an outsourced partner, many fleet management solutions on the market today come with a PM scheduling component.

Still, you need to choose a solution that fits the needs of your fleet. Consider all the following details when choosing a PM scheduling option:

  • Create customized PM schedules;
  • Create a work order;
  • Track a work order;
  • Track fuel usage;
  • Record detailed maintenance histories;
  • Record maintenance logs;
  • Monitor fuel usage;
  • Track accidents and/or accident claims;
  • Manage inventory levels;
  • Track labor;
  • Track and/or create invoices, and;
  • Track and/or monitor reports.

Once you have isolated the different components of your PM program, it will be important to isolate who will be involved in performing it.

Who Implements Your PM program?

Who carries out actions on your PM program depends on whether it is managed in-house or whether it is an outsourced program. Whatever you use, only qualified technicians using the latest equipment can carry out your PM program maintenance requirements.

If you are operating with an in-house shop, ensure your fleet technicians are properly trained on every aspect of your PM program. There must be human intervention at some point, so in some cases the work being done is only as good as the person performing it. Ensure your technicians are proactively servicing vehicles and actively looking to pursue a strategy that will decrease breakdowns or repairs.

If you are outsourcing your PM program, make sure you use a vendor who specializes in maintaining vehicles you are using on a regular basis. You may want to ensure your fleet manager meets with their service manager so that goals can be aligned.

There are a few aspects of outsourcing your fleet maintenance program to keep an eye on:

  • Expectations: What do you expect out of the relationship? Whether this be schedules or costs, they need to be worked out in advance.
  • Requirements: What will be required of both you and your vendor? Conversely, what will they require of you?
  • Intervals: Ensure your partner is supplied with your PM checklist.

Since most shops focus on breakdown maintenance – as opposed to preventative maintenance – it will be important to communicate your expectations to the facility your fleet is in the care of.

It isn’t outside the realm of reason to request that the fleet get discounts on any parts or unscheduled maintenance items. Request information on repairs, breakdowns, emergency repairs, tows and more.

Still, there is no way to avoid some unscheduled maintenance. Whether it be a truck driver accidentally leaving interior lights on and killing the battery or road debris damages a wheel or a tire, sometimes these things cannot be avoided.

Being able to parse out why a particular incident happens provides you with the insight to address it at the source. Keep track of repair costs when compared to variable operating expenses.

Finally, keep a detailed report on PM activities and costs. You should be able to use this data to fine tune your program as changes are needed over time.

In the end, the best way to get the most out of your fleet is to ensure you are proactively – rather than reactively – responding to maintenance needs. Get the most out of your fleet with a solid PM program.

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