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How to Properly Manage Truck Maintenance Costs

Maintenance costs for trucking companies run the gamut. Not only do fleet managers need to consider standard diesel technician maintenance, but truck drivers also play a part in managing maintenance costs, policies, and procedures. Are you ready to discuss the best ways to set and manage labor costs for trucking companies?

After all, dealing with truck maintenance costs isn’t necessarily anyone’s idea of a good time, but it is a necessary part of fleet life. When you operate a fleet, no matter the size, dealing with the unpredictability of truck maintenance is something you can’t get away from. So, why not at least try to make it easier and less expensive?

Fleet Repair Shop Considerations

If you are running a heavy-duty repair shop, it is your obligation to try and make maintenance costs as manageable as possible. Being able to properly plan for maintenance costs prevents sticker shock and helps maintain positive cash flow. Even more, we live in an era when contract maintenance costs are further complicated by complex labor rates. So, how do you cover your operational costs while remaining competitive in a tight market?

We get it. It’s hard enough to manage maintenance costs in a typical market, and we certainly are not operating in a typical market. When fleets face uncertainty related to a global pandemic and massive supply chain issues, managing maintenance costs becomes a matter of juggling plates. Questions abound, from what shops are charging to how your techs are performing to whether jobs are getting done in time. “Is my shop profitable?” is a common question asked by fleet managers.

In the end, these questions are better answered using verifiable facts. Don’t just rely on your gut to make revenue-impacting maintenance and labor decisions. With so much being driven by data nowadays, you need to make data-driven decisions when managing labor and maintenance flows. Fortunately, vendors are rapidly developing systems to allow fleet managers to do just that.

Truck Repair Information Software Matures

Truck repair information software has come a long way. Twenty years ago, software-assisted maintenance was not even a thing. Today, fleet managers rely on software to help them crunch the numbers regarding standard labor times, maintenance procedures, and technician benchmarking. Smart fleet managers utilize this software to understand the performance and value their technicians bring to the shop.

Advanced repair software helps technicians pinpoint specific components and operations. Then, they can properly game plan labor times associated with the repair/replacement in question. Technicians can then make on-the-fly adjustments to their repair game plan. After all, not all jobs are created equal, and conditions are not always the same. You also need to make sure you can customize labor rates for different customer types and service operations.

Labor times are meant to be a guide. They are not set in stone. They are set to give shops and customers a realistic view on how long a job should take given normal circumstances. Actual maintenance time is governed by all sorts of factors, from technician experience to vehicle conditions and even the weather. All these factors must be taken into consideration when you are evaluating repair times.

Access to Quick Information Matters for Trucking Companies

Trucking companies must conduct their technological due diligence to take advantage of advances in trucking tech. Third-party vendors have created powerful programs to help fleet managers better manage labor and maintenance costs. Some of the most advanced maintenance software solutions offer truly cutting-edge features.

Look for software that allows your shop technicians to pinpoint specific components and operations and the labor time associated with them. You should be able to track “hours” costs as well as you track “inventory” costs. Then your shop can make necessary adjustments depending on the times involved with each repair or replacement. You need to have flexibility. Customize your labor rates and types depending on your customers and service operations.

It is important to remember that labor times are meant to be a guide. They should give you, your shop, and your customers a realistic look into how long a particular job should take. For shops that service large fleets, consider investing in a Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS) database. VMRS represents a standard developed by the industry to help trucking companies better track lifecycle costs.

Maintenance Costs to Rise in 2022

You must employ strategies like the ones we discuss here if for no other reason than controlling costs. While repair and maintenance costs decreased dramatically in 2019, 2021 and 2022 will be all about the rise in costs for just about everything, including truck maintenance. Still, even the low number in 2019 was not enough to buck the trend. Since 2008, truck maintenance costs have risen by 39%.

The reason for such a considerable rise is due to technology. Trucks are far more advanced today than they were 12 years ago. And when you factor in demand for trucking and trucking-related services in 2020 and 2021, you wind up with a perfect storm of cost increases.

The world is navigating a supply chain crisis, with demand driven by post-pandemic spending a boom in e-commerce fueling the crisis. On the back of the supply chain crisis is rising inflation. Maintenance costs could increase due to more miles being driven per truck, according to an ATRI report analyzing trucking operational costs in 2020 and 2021.

Evaluating Truck Driver Impact on Maintenance

One of the top challenges for many trucking operators is ensuring truck drivers fully support the in-house or vendor-managed fleet maintenance program. The problem is that often when fleet managers evaluate costs, they look first to the vehicle. Far too few examine truck driver behavior in impacting fleet maintenance costs.

You cannot reduce maintenance costs without paying attention to your truckers. Why? Because when truck drivers are directly responsible for using the tools provided to them – and thus accountable for their care – they will be more likely to buy in to the overall program. Engaged truck drivers will work hard to ensure cost containment for the vehicle’s they use ever day.

Speaking of tools, you cannot expect your people to buy into a tool or program that is not right for the job. Fleet managers should provide targeted guidance to their truck drivers regarding everything from repair costs to average repair turnaround time for their vehicles. A truck driver should never be flying blind when it comes to maintenance costs and vehicle upkeep.

Be Clear, Consistent, and Innovative

Smart trucking companies develop policies that bring harmony to their operation. If you want your front-line truck drivers to stay involved, you must make them a part of the decision-making process. Your drivers are, after all, your best source of information for everything from performance to fuel consumption.

If you have a far-flung operation, it could be that maintenance or regional managers cannot always go to a repair facility with front-line truck drivers. As a result, they end up relying on their truck drivers to confirm when repairs are complete.

One quick way to get more information is through a survey. Try to create a survey to get your employees’ input before you institute a new change. Surveying them establishes a favorable mindset and helps you create a sense of ownership in the eventual solution.

You also want to clearly explain what challenges you plan to help you truck drivers overcome. And show them how the solution you have come up with adequately addresses the root problem. Finally, form a plan you are relatively certain your people can rally behind.

Proper Training is Key

Beyond truck driver involvement, focus closely on truck driver training. Training is key to reducing maintenance-related costs while also improving safety. Ensure you include maintenance metrics into your truck driver training routine. This is an essential best practice for fleets who want to improve maintenance costs.

To improve your across-the-board maintenance costs, include maintenance guidelines in your truck driver training materials. This will help your truck drivers understand how their specific performance directly impacts fleet maintenance costs. Some trucking companies have even gone so far as to gameify maintenance, creating a “maintenance score” for truck drivers that everyone tracks.

Other fleets use incentives in truck driver training time. Creating and facilitating training takes time and energy. Incentives can greatly stoke truck driver interest. And it helps create a positive maintenance culture, which is a critical part of an effective maintenance program.

In the end, a smart fleet manager will put extra effort into managing maintenance costs. Whether it be through advanced technology or simply better follow through and training, you too can get our maintenance and labor costs under control.

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