Fleet maintenance is expensive. According to the 2021 HDT Fact Book, repairs and maintenance cost between $0.12 and $0.20 per mile. In fact, fleet maintenance is one of the biggest operating costs facing transport businesses. In a time when every penny matters, business owners need to closely monitor their fleet and related expenses to ensure they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck.
Fortunately, extending the runtime of your fleet is one of the most effective and affordable ways to keep costs down. Regular upkeep on your fleet helps keep everything running longer and extends the time between service and maintenance, ultimately saving you money. If you’re responsible for several high-maintenance vehicles, this guide will provide an overview of seven ways to extend the life of your fleet and save money in the process.
- Perform Regular Maintenance
Every vehicle requires regular maintenance to remain in top-tier condition. This includes checking and changing fluids, belts, gaskets, filters, and other moving parts, along with performing checks to ensure everything is working in the engine and drive train. Each test and checkup needs to be done at a specific interval, based on manufacturer recommendations.
Skipping maintenance causes unexpected problems, like clogged lines and leaky gaskets. This can cause the vehicle to stop operating, which could cost your company an exorbitant amount of money to replace the vehicle. That’s why it’s important to stick to the vehicle maintenance schedule recommended by the manufacturer in the user’s manual. Performing regular maintenance ensures that surprise breakdowns and additional costs will be less likely to occur.
- Use Fleet Monitoring Tech
These days, technology rules the roost. Modern fleets are typically monitored and managed by a fleet management system. These systems typically cost around $25-$50 per month per vehicle and provide a host of features for businesses, including providing routing and traffic information, monitoring fuel levels, tire pressure, and more.
With fleet monitoring tech, both drivers and dispatchers can keep an eye on the vehicles. This provides an additional level of security, as you can keep track of every vehicle’s location during operation. This includes hardware sensors and vehicle software that can be monitored from the home base to analyze data for all vehicles. Modern fleet management is one of the most important ways of extending a vehicle’s life because it allows you to spot and fix small problems before they become larger, more expensive issues.
- Keep Tires Properly Inflated and Aligned
Perhaps the most common problem experienced by vehicles on the road is inadequate tire pressure. Because tires are filled with air, they require constant monitoring. Having your tires underinflated or overinflated can cause a variety of problems, including lower mileage, misalignment, and the possibility of a flat that can decommission the vehicle until it’s fixed.
Most rigs have extra tires to ensure safety, but that doesn’t mean they can’t go flat. When the rubber meets the road, things inevitably wear down and need to be replaced. Keep an eye on tire pressure anytime you refuel or start/stop the vehicle for the best possible results. Be sure to inflate or deflate to adjust them properly before moving. Doing so helps cut down on later costs and even helps protect drivers from dangerous situations.
- Maintain the Battery
Your fleet needs batteries to stay moving, regardless of whether they’re electric or fuel. The battery is the core of your engine and keeps electricity moving through it. Many rigs have a separate battery for the cab or interior of the truck as well, particularly in temperature-controlled trucks. Both batteries need to be monitored and maintained for the best performance.
In diesel vehicles, the battery is often lead acid, while lithium-ion batteries for industrial vehicles are very common as well. The maintenance changes a little between them — for example, lead acid batteries may need water refills — but overall, they will both need to be eventually replaced, so it’s important to keep a close eye on battery levels, condition, and health.
- Consider Electric and/or Autonomous
Many fleet owners are considering upgrading to electric or autonomous vehicles, though there are several factors to consider before making the switch. Electric vehicles don’t require gas, but they do need to be regularly charged. This means the routes using them need to have charging stations properly spaced in-between to keep the vehicle moving. Additionally, timing needs to be considered, as electric charges have different timing needs than diesel fuel fill-ups.
When considering autonomous fleets, understand you will still need to have humans involved. Depending on the autonomous fleet, however, one driver can monitor multiple trucks, and this can create more efficiency on certain trips. Be sure to properly analyze cost-benefits before upgrading any equipment. Conducting prior research and taking the time to weigh the pros and cons of any potential changes in technology will ultimately save you time, stress, and money down the road.
- Manage Drive Time
Vehicles wear down faster when they’re in use, so it’s always a good idea to limit drive time. In fact, it’s not just for vehicle maintenance but also to ensure driver health. As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to drive more than 8 hours per day, and drivers should have frequent breaks. This keeps everyone alert and ready to face any issues that may come up.
Your fleet management software should be able to monitor this, and it’s important not to have drivers consistently pushing their limits. Exhausted people are prone to mistakes, and you could be putting everybody at risk by having a tired driver reacting slowly on the road. Although it may be tempting to push people harder, it’s always best to monitor drive times to keep vehicles (and their drivers) running optimally and in safe conditions.
- Understand the Market
Sometimes, you may have no other option than to replace a rig. Although this can be expensive, there are market conditions that may help. Consider selling the old rigs and making some money back. After all, just because a vehicle doesn’t work doesn’t mean it has no value. Even if scrapped for parts, there is still some money to be made from your old vehicles.
It’s important that you understand the market and know when the right time is to replace vehicles in your fleet. Fortunately, you will likely never have to replace your entire fleet at once, and you can typically forecast budgets with a gradual change-out of fleet vehicles.
At the end of the day, fleet maintenance is an expensive and time-consuming task. However, it’s much more cost-effective to perform regular maintenance, ensure the safety of your equipment and drivers, and keep a close eye on any potential problems before they become larger issues than it is to replace your rigs altogether. The most important step you can take as a business is to manage costs. Fortunately, extending the runtime of your fleet is the most effective way to keep costs down and prolong the life of your fleet overall.
Dr. Denis Phares is the chief executive officer of Dragonfly Energy Corp. He leads the company’s innovation and research initiatives, focusing on developing and advancing Dragonfly’s revolutionary technology. Dragonfly Energy is an industry-leading manufacturer of deep cycle lithium-ion batteries and is spearheading conventional and solid-state lithium-ion battery research and development worldwide.
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