Preventative maintenance goes a long way toward keeping truck fleet service dependable, safe, and profitable, but it’s often easily overlooked, according to those in the industry. Regularly scheduled maintenance is essential, particularly if it’s done in advance to prevent disruptions in service.
“Certainly for some of the smaller fleets, the biggest key obviously is focusing on preventative maintenance,” said Bob Douglas, vice president of field maintenance for the Northeast Region for Penske Truck Leasing of Reading, which has a total company-wide fleet size of 215,000. “I’m sure a lot of smaller fleets are taking their trucks to independent garages.”
Those in charge of managing truck fleets need to ensure they meet the original manufacturers’ guidelines, said Douglas. While most fleets use vehicle inspection reports that drivers typically complete, there’s also someone in charge of managing those procedures and scheduling those repairs, said Douglas.
How soon a company replaces a fleet of trucks or a single truck depends largely on the size of the company and also where the vehicle is driven most. Harsh corrosion on roads from de-icing materials often occurs on routes in the Great Lakes region or Northeast, said Douglas. Corrosion and rust damage the structural integrity of the truck and present safety hazards. Often, those who manage truck fleets reach a point where they are spending more money than the market value of the vehicle, said Douglas.
“After the fifth year, it’d be safe to say that maintenance for vehicles increases 23-30 percent,” he said. “Not only is the vehicle aging, it’s requiring more maintenance.”
While lots of factors determine the life cycle of a truck, including city vs. highway driving, climate conditions and mileage, good record-keeping allows truck fleet managers to know the real maintenance costs. With labor, wages and benefits going up every year, when looking at the total compensation, parts prices could increase 2 to 3 percent per year depending on the labor costs for full compensation, said Douglas.
“It really depends on a lot of things, [including] how many miles you put on that truck per year,” said Joshua Tregear, manager of marketing for Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America Inc., based in Logan Township, N.J. “Typically, diesel trucks are more durable and can go longer.”
Treagear said he has some customers who have between 300,000 to 500,000 miles on a truck before they have to replace it. Diesel fuel is also a factor.
The benchmark is that for those fleet managers who need trucks that use less than 20,000 miles per year, it’s best to go with regular gas. For those who drive more than 20,000 miles per year, it’s better to go with diesel fuel.
“That’s what most industries would recommend,” said Tregear.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation follows a series of steps for truck fleet maintenance. In District 5, which covers Lehigh Valley, PennDOT has 210 dump trucks in addition to pickup trucks, backhoes and other vehicles.
“Our trucks are at an average life cycle of six years,” said Jan Wallaesa, district equipment manager for District 5, headquartered in Allentown. “All of our 2001 trucks are auctioned off; that’s how we replace them out of the fleet.”
Wallaesa said all trucks are replaced once they reach the 12-year mark.
The first check for maintaining trucks is through a fuel consumption preventative maintenance plan, followed by a scheduled maintenance check, including an oil change and checklist of items for the mechanics to examine.
Also, all dump trucks undergo a semi-annual state inspection, said Wallaesa.
“Each one of our counties has its own fleet manager and set of mechanics,” said Wallaesa. “Our job is to make sure they are doing their job.”