Fleet maintenance managers are beset by various exceptions during the workday, from missing or out-of-stock parts to roadside breakdowns and many other unexpected events. Repeat exceptions often become pain points that are felt industry-wide.
Looking through the 35-year experiential lens of Bruce Stockton, the top three fleet maintenance pain points have all been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year.
Stockton is well-versed in all things fleet maintenance. He serves as fleet consultant and principal of Stockton Solutions and director of maintenance at Paul Transportation, based in Tulsa, OK, which runs--and maintains--200 flatbed trucks.
He shared his observations on a trio of current struggles among fleet maintenance teams everywhere:
1. An Imbalance of In-House Talent
Even the most experienced fleet maintenance executives and technicians are often baffled by the complexity of today’s vehicles and engines, particularly when diagnosing and repairing problems related to emission after-treatment systems.
Complexity makes it very difficult for fleet maintenance shops to keep up with dealerships. Fleets generally do not have technicians working on the more difficult types of repairs on a daily basis, unlike dealerships. This imbalance of work creates a divide in technician talent and training.
According to Stockton, dealers also have difficulties keeping up with complexity, and in many cases fleets are paying as much, if not more, for a proper diagnosis than the actual cost in parts and labor for repairs. At times, this makes repair costs almost unbearable.
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are trying to address the complexity of repairs but the process of transferring information and experience to fleets is difficult, especially with COVID-19 limiting opportunities for on-site and hands-on training for technicians provided by OEMs and suppliers.
2. Inconsistency of Third-Party Repair Costs
In addition to being compelled by the complexity of vehicles to outsource a larger share of repair and warranty work, fleets are seeing third-party repair costs rise.
Traditionally, fleets have pricing agreements with vendors based on standard repair times (SRTs). The use of SRTs helps maintenance managers make decisions about what work they will keep in-house versus outsource.
Stockton has been seeing more third-party repairs exceed SRTs and result in extra charges. If the SRT of a clutch replacement is 10 hours, for example, a dealership or service center might bill for 16 hours if the repair takes longer than expected, most likely due to diagnostics time.
On the other hand, if a third party completes a repair under the SRT, fleets are getting charged for the full amount. In a hot freight market, fleets need to keep their assets moving and will pay inflated charges to get their equipment back quickly.
The situation was different in the height of the COVID pandemic, during the first and second quarters in 2020, when many drivers were taking time off from work and fleets had to idle equipment.
Another contributing factor to inconsistent costs is that some dealerships are not fully on board with using their OEM’s software platform to manage the lifecycle of service events, from remote diagnostics to scheduling vehicles for warranty work and repairs. This makes it more difficult to have a transparent communications process for repair costs.
3. Part Shortages are Getting Worse
Last but not least, the COVID pandemic has created global shortages of components and parts due to closures of assembly lines. This pain point could become worse and start to impact the delivery dates of new trucks at some point this year.
Perhaps even more concerning to fleets is whether they will be able to get replacement parts.
Semiconductors are one of the most critical parts in short supply. Without semiconductors, assembly lines will be immediately brought to a halt since nearly every vehicle system — the engine, transmission, infotainment system and more — uses Electronic Control Units (ECUs).
At the moment, standard replacement parts like starters, alternators, brakes and water pumps are plentiful. Fleets are starting to run into problems finding replacement parts for more specialized items such as auxiliary power units (APUs).
Fleets that are spec’ing custom parts on vehicles today are more likely to have difficulties finding replacements in the coming months.
When desperate for a replacement part, a fleet manager could direct a technician to remove one from a truck without an assigned driver. It’s not ideal, but to keep the wheels rolling you do what you have to, Stockton said.
None of the industry’s Top 3 pain points in fleet maintenance will disappear quickly. Fleet maintenance managers can lighten the burden with information systems that:
Proactively identify exceptions
Track parts inventory
Increase visibility with third-party shops and more
Streamline the Maintenance Process with Trimble
All of these strategies will help maximize the amount of time that managers have each day to explore fleet maintenance software technology on the market and work toward pain-relieving solutions.
Connect with Trimble today to learn more about our wide range of maintenance-focused solutions and how we can help you leverage technology to minimize downtime and avoid some of these common pain points in your maintenance operations.