How to keep older vehicles on the road, without compromising safety or increasing risk.
With the current supply chain mess, fleets have no choice but to keep their old vehicles on the road longer than they had planned. Vehicles that were acquired in pre-pandemic times are ripe for remarketing now, but with a limited supply of new vehicles in the pipeline, fleet managers are forced to stretch lifecycles.
According to Wayne Rose, Senior VP Sales – Fleet Services at Jim Pattison Lease, the supply pipeline may not get unplugged until 2023, which means fleets need to do all they can now to extend the useful life of their existing vehicles, and do so with driver safety in mind.
“No one knows when things will get back to normal,” Rose says. “We haven’t seen anything like this before. Although we can’t be sure, we’re hoping 2023 will be more normalized from a production capacity standpoint.”
With that thought in mind, it’s more important now than ever to make sure your vehicles are properly maintained. “With an older vehicle you’ll want to make sure you’re properly maintaining it to reduce downtime,” Rose explains. “Safety is paramount, and you don’t want one of your drivers to be in a remote part of Canada when it’s minus 26 degrees and the vehicle dies because it hasn’t been properly maintained.”
Your fleet may have roadside assistance, “but if they’re stuck in the middle of a snowstorm then it may take many hours for help to arrive,” Rose adds. “So you need to properly maintain your vehicles. That’s what will help with safety and downtime.”
Rose notes that, “in today’s world, it’s imperative to properly maintain vehicles, including preventive maintenance,” because that means you will reduce any potential driver safety issues, downtime, and costly major repairs in the future.
Fluid maintenance schedules
In order to reduce the risk of stranding one of your drivers on the road in a vehicle that has broken down, Joseph Smith, Supervisor, Truck Account Administration at ARI recommends what he calls a “fluid” preventive maintenance schedule.
“It is important to keep in mind that PM schedules shouldn’t remain stagnant,” Smith says. “They need to be fluid and flexible. They should be reassessed regularly and adjusted based on your fleet’s utilization.”
Smith adds that fleet managers need to monitor vehicle data in order to determine when maintenance is necessary, and notes that closely adhering to recommended PM schedules is the best way to reduce the risk of a breakdown.
“Take a look at what your vehicles are really telling you,” Smith adds. “Look at your utilization. See how far your vehicles are actually traveling. Make sure your vehicles are being utilized properly, and not over-utilized. At the other end of the spectrum, make sure vehicles aren’t sitting idle for too long. Rotate them into your fleet. That’s very important.”
Too little, too late
One of the challenges some fleets might be facing now is the fact that they weren’t as diligent with their PM schedules in the past as they should have been, simply because fleet mangers never thought they’d have to keep their vehicles beyond the typical lifecycle. Now, these neglected vehicles aren’t as well maintained as they could have been, exposing the fleet to the possibility that things could go wrong in the near future.
Dave Broadwater, Manager, Truck Account Administration, ARI explains: “Let’s says, for example, you operate a typical pharmaceutical fleet that keeps their vehicles in services for three years or 100,000 kms. The exposure is so minimal, because the basic vehicle warranty covers them for the bulk of that vehicle’s lifecycle.
“And so what a lot of fleets will do in that situation, knowing that they have a short lifecycle, is extend their maintenance intervals, and perhaps cycle vehicles out before they require service such as a transmission fluid exchange.
“Now, with these vehicles remaining in service longer than originally anticipated, it is important to review your PM schedules to potentially add the important services that typically occur later in a unit’s lifecycle, to mitigate the risk of catastrophic failures.”
Now, as COVID continues to disrupt the supply chain and forces fleets to hold on to vehicles longer than planned, you need to be more vigilant to the possibility of problems down the road. “You’re certainly more at risk,” Broadwater adds. “Although today’s vehicles are better than they were 20 years ago, they still have a shelf life, and how you’ve maintained them to this point determines how far you can stretch that lifecycle.”
If you find yourself in the position where you need to remarket some of your vehicles and keep others, you’ll need to perform a simple triage to determine which ones are the keepers and which ones should go.
Knowing your vehicles’ maintenance history is key to determining which vehicles you’ll want to hold onto. “It’s all about PM variability,” Broadwater explains. “In other words, how consistent were you with the maintenance of this vehicle?”
Broadwater recommends measuring PM variability across your fleet. “If you’re going to extend the life of your fleet, you’ll want to look at the vehicles that had a very low PM variability, which means they were maintained consistently over their lifetimes, versus the vehicle that didn’t get an oil change for 30,000 kms, for example. They’re still running, but clearly, they’re on borrowed time.”
Although “30,000 kms” is an extreme example, the point is that some vehicles in your fleet are likely better maintained than others, and if you’ll want to keep the better maintained units, if you’re able to make that choice. “I think that’s a calculation that becomes really important as you determine which of your vehicles are probably best suited for that extended lifecycle,” Broadwater concludes.
Most experts agree that a good PM schedule is based on OEM recommendations, whether that’s severe or normal usage. If you’re keeping your vehicles longer than expected, Broadwater says you should take a fresh look at your PM strategy to ensure it accounts for the additional utilization late in the vehicle’s lifecycle.
“But what is important,” he adds, “is the quality of the PM. You’ll want your vehicles maintained with a full-service repair facility, as opposed to a quick lube facility where you just get a basic oil change done. You really want a thorough PM service that includes a multi-point vehicle inspection where the brakes are inspected, wheels are pulled, and so forth, to make sure the vehicle is in a safe operating condition. That’s what’s going to reduce risk and mitigate breakdowns that can occur in-between PM cycles.”