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Understanding the Importance and Challenges of Preventive Maintenance

When a busy fleet has dozens of stops to make in a day, the last thing they want is one or more of their vehicles sitting on the side of the road with a mechanical failure. Time is money and for every minute that truck sits motionless, revenue and reputation are lost. It can be even more frustrating if the truck's problem was preventable. Although many trucking companies consider preventive maintenance a top priority, it is still often an overlooked practice. This is unfortunate, as it saves carriers a significant amount of money and time in the long run.

What is preventive maintenance and why is it important?

Preventive maintenance entails making a proactive effort to prevent a negative outcome. For carriers in the transportation industry with fleets of trucks, this means performing routine maintenance to every vehicle in use to help avoid debilitating mechanical failures. In doing so, drivers can do their jobs safely and efficiently, and companies can ensure a cost efficient system that maximizes productivity.

But performing preventive maintenance isn’t just one task one time to make sure vehicles are in working order. A complete program requires establishing good habits of ritual maintenance. Just like most people clean, feed and rest to maintain daily performance, it’s essential to maintain the same level of hygiene for a fleet.

Tasks as simple as making sure the vehicle’s brake systems, lights, tires, suspensions, etc are all in working order are of course major parts of preventive maintenance programs, along with checking emergency exits, exhaust systems, and all other general routine upkeep. Alongside Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIRs), regimented programs help to make the longer, more tedious processes (like DOT inspections) become shorter, and less costly.

Dave Walters, a senior Trimble solution engineer, commented, "Even though these inspections take longer, we are seeing some shops doing annual inspections more frequently, more like 3 or 4 times a year, in order to minimize a potential backlog of repairs.” In addition, preventive maintenance makes a positive impact on the fleet’s overall safety. Increasing maintenance activities greatly decreases danger for everyone on the road by ensuring vehicles in use are functioning at their best. Even something as simple as an overworn brake pad can have dire consequences should a heavy truck fail to stop in busy traffic.

According to a recent report from the National Safety Council (NSC), “The number of injuries in large-truck crashes increased by 5% in 2021, to 155,000 injuries.” Of those injured, 71% were in another vehicle, meaning that unsuspecting citizens were harmed.

Further, in a 2022 study done by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, research showed that roughly 35% of all trucking accidents recorded in the study were a result of lack of vehicle maintenance. Beyond the negative outcomes for carriers, research makes it clear that a lack of maintenance often results in the harm of not just the company and vehicles, but outside parties as well.

What are examples of preventive maintenance, and how can companies track progress?

The commercial vehicles that carriers use in their work vary widely in size, shape and function, and few vehicles are exactly identical. Still, there are some baseline preventive maintenance activities all fleets can undertake to ensure their vehicles are running optimally. Examples include:

  • Checking engine oil and filter - This should be done at least once a month, though it’s often encouraged to check more like two to three times a month.
  • Inspecting fuel system - This can be done annually, but it’s encouraged to check up on it regularly.
  • Inspecting engine and transmission mounts - This should be done within every 60K - 100K miles.
  • Checking coolant system - This should be done generally somewhere between the 30K - 80K mile range.
  • Checking, changing or filling transmission fluid - Ideally, this should be done every 30K - 60K miles.
  • Looking at the drive shaft, CV joints, belts, and hoses - If you’re feeling vibrations underneath your truck, or abnormal noises like squeaking or clicking, these are signs you might need a replacement or tune-up.
  • Performing regular tune-ups - This is something that should be done every 3K - 5K miles, or roughly once a month.
  • Rotating tires - This should be done roughly every 5K - 7K miles.
  • Checking seat belts - This isn’t necessarily something that should need frequent attention, but it’s always better to make sure everything is in working order.

Regardless of what maintenance actions need to be taken, establishing and recording maintenance-related key performance indicators (KPIs) is key to ensuring a program’s success. The two main KPIs that fleets should track are frequency and completion rates. This means tracking the frequency of repairs needed in between PM service events, and monitoring whether these events are happening on a timely, regular basis.

What are some challenges of preventive maintenance?

While it’s easy to digest the statistics, and recognize the impact of preventive maintenance, it may be difficult for companies or drivers to actually incorporate preventive maintenance into their routine.

The first challenge is in determining what kinds of preventive measures need to be taken for the commercial vehicle(s). As we outlined above, the needs of every fleet might vary depending on what kinds of vehicles are being used. A group of vehicles driven short distances for final mile deliveries every day will suffer very different wear and tear than much larger vehicles driving long distances. But there are many common issues with commercial vehicles that can be avoided with some forethought.

The second challenge is then determining who is responsible for what and how the responsible party will perform the maintenance. If a truck is owned by an individual driver, they are predominantly responsible for its upkeep, but they deal with tiring schedules and may not have the time, knowledge or resources to perform the preventive maintenance required, even though they are required by federal law to create and file daily driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs), which are intended to help catch risky mechanical failures before they become problems on the road. In the case of larger carriers, they might have their own in-house team of technicians, or contract with a service center that specializes in commercial vehicles.

But in both cases, they will need to have access to technicians with expertise enough to develop and execute a preventive maintenance program. Unfortunately, the transportation industry has seen a widespread shortage in qualified technicians. “According to Fullbay’s 2022 State of Heavy-Duty Repair Industry Report, more than half of the fleet and independent shops surveyed said hiring technicians was the top challenge, while 65% found hiring “difficult.”” Fleet Owner says.

Right now, it’s difficult to find willing and capable technicians, and even harder to find them in the quantity needed for a large fleet. There’s a number of reasons why this is, including a lack of demand to join the profession, lack of workplace culture and, of course, the compensation, but without technicians committed to a preventive maintenance program, it will fail.

The third challenge is then ensuring parts are secured to make necessary repairs. Automotive Fleet says “The ongoing difficulty of sourcing new replacement vehicles has made the parts shortage even worse for fleets. Many companies have been forced to keep existing fleet vehicles in service far beyond their scheduled replacement dates.” It’s critical that anyone intending to take preventive maintenance seriously plan ahead.

How Trimble Supports Preventive Maintenance

An easy way to stay on top of things, and to practice preventive maintenance is to utilize Trimble’s TMT Fleet Maintenance – a tool that provides organization and maintenance management to your fleet, making preventive maintenance an easier process. TMT Fleet Maintenance helps with both dependent and independent service schedules, and has the ability to manage a variety of challenges like pending repairs, recalls and campaigns. TMT allows shop managers to set dependencies, otherwise known as “nesting” these factors together. TMT then aids in creating a schedule dependent on the timing of these services.

“For instance, if you have a schedule set up for a chassis lube, an oil change and a DOT inspection, managers can create dependencies that say after you get the oil change, in a certain number of weeks the next repair will be a chassis lube, and then in another few weeks it’ll be a DOT inspection, and so on and so forth,” Dave Walters explained.

What’s most important is to start taking care of business now, as preventive maintenance can save time, money and stress down the road. Drivers and companies can do this by starting with an assessment of where their vehicles are now, and creating a plan on how to gradually minimize the issues they will inevitably encounter.

This means scheduling tune-ups, replacements and inspections before it’s absolutely necessary, and keeping communication clear between drivers, fleet managers and the technicians that keep the vehicles moving.

Keep your fleet running at its best with Trimble's maintenance solutions. Learn more here or contact us to see how we can support your maintenance program.