April 18, 2020
The last thing you want when making a delivery to customers is to have your vehicle break down.
Keeping your fleet in tip-top shape will help you arrive on time and build a reputation for reliability. Preventive maintenance (PM) is the key to keeping your vehicles road ready. Doing it is inexpensive and easy to do, once you get with a program. Not doing it, however, can cost your business dearly.
“Not having a good maintenance program puts you at risk for liability issues if a component of the car fails,” says Dennis Goodhue, president of the Montrose, CO-based Diamond G Repair, which services several fleets of light- and medium-duty vehicles. “It also causes reliability issues. And if your vehicles are not running — if they’re in the shop or they’re down — they’re not making you any money.”
If you want to avoid those worst-case scenarios, take these steps to establish and stick with a good preventive maintenance program:
If you already have a mechanic you know and trust, you can skip this step.
If not, you should know that picking the right mechanic for your PM is the first step to keeping your vehicles in good shape. Start by asking other business owners for referrals, Goodhue says. Visit the repair shop to interview the owner and make sure the shop has the capacity, the equipment, and the technicians to handle your fleet, he adds. It’s also a good idea to ask whether the shop would be willing to give your fleet priority service so you can minimize downtime. Fleets need their vehicles to “get in and back out in a hurry,” Goodhue says.
If you haven’t stuck to a PM schedule in the past, it’s important to get the current condition of vehicles assessed by the mechanic you plan to use for preventive maintenance. This way, you can catch any problems and have repairs done before they turn into costly problems. For example, changing the lubricants in the rear differential might cost $100 during routine servicing. If you never have it done, it could lead to a breakdown and a repair cost of $2,000 or more, Goodhue says.
Consult your trusted mechanic, as well as the vehicle owner’s manual or a database such as the Mitchell Parts and Labor Database to draw up a list of items that need to be done and how often, Goodhue recommends. Every vehicle is different, but PM lists commonly include the following:
Interview drivers to see if they have any specific concerns about their vehicles. “They will be able to spot things like squeaky brakes, brakes that pull to one side, brake pulsations, loose steering, or a lack of power,” Goodhue says.
Your mechanic should keep track of all service done, know what’s due next, and offer to send you reminders via email or text, Goodhue says; however, it’s smart to keep your own records as well so you can make sure your fleet is getting the service it needs. It may not be necessary for small fleets, but fleet maintenance software can automate tracking and save you time and money. A good fleet fuel card may include maintenance tracking as a free added value service.
The shop that performs your fleet’s preventive maintenance should see your vehicles at manufacturer-recommended oil change intervals, which could range from every 3,000 to every 7,500 miles, Goodhue says. At that visit, the mechanic can change the oil and complete all other PM items. If you get your oil changed elsewhere, your mechanic should see each vehicle at least every 10,000 miles, he says.
Both you and the drivers in your fleet should be keeping regular tabs on the vehicles to spot any problems as quickly as possible. Every day the driver should
Then, you or a trusted employee who isn’t the driver should check the vehicle weekly. This will allow you to verify the condition of the vehicles and spot any issues a driver may have missed.
Staying on a strict PM schedule means you need to have a way to pay for your maintenance that doesn’t rely on your cash flow. Consider getting a fleet card, which can be used to pay for vehicle maintenance, to gas up your fleet, and to save you money through bulk discounts on fuel. A fleet fuel card also can help you to keep track of the maintenance that has been done through detailed reports you can tailor to the needs of your fleet.
So, how do you choose the right fleet card? Some cards are limited to certain mechanics or service stations, so make sure the card you’re considering fits in with the needs and existing relationships of your business.
The right fleet card in your wallet and a good preventive maintenance plan should keep your vehicles running smoothly and save you money down the road.