The Ultimate Guide to Fleet Maintenance

Alexia Smith

June 4, 2018
March 29, 2021
Last Updated

If you own or manage a fleet, you know that maintaining your vehicles is key to ensuring they remain operational and on the road. Any vehicle downtime can cost you time, profits, and potential customers. You also know that maintaining a fleet can be costly and time-consuming.

To make the most out of your fleet, and ensure maximum vehicle availability, you need a comprehensive preventative fleet maintenance plan. Here are six tips you can use to take the headache out of fleet maintenance.

1. Make a Preventative Fleet Maintenance Plan

Preventative maintenance is the most important ingredient for maximizing the availability of your fleet, extending the useful lifespan of your vehicles, and limiting the costs of major breakdowns and repairs in the future. Regular preventative maintenance also ensures that your vehicles are safe, both for your drivers and for other drivers on the road, and can protect you from losing a negligence lawsuit.

The first step towards effective fleet maintenance is to develop a comprehensive, actionable preventative fleet maintenance plan.

What should be included in your Preventative Maintenance Plan? At a minimum:

• When preventative maintenance should be performed. This can be based on mileage or operating hours.

• What preventative maintenance actions or inspections should be performed.

• Who is responsible for preventative maintenance. This will likely be a job title (e.g. Fleet Manager, Driver, Technician), rather than an individual’s name.

• Notes, including potential problems to keep an eye on or driver complaints.

• A place for the person responsible to sign or initial that the maintenance items were performed as scheduled. This can be done manually or electronically.

As far as scheduling your preventative maintenance activities, it makes sense to form a tiered approach. You may want to change the oil and perform a safety check every 3,000 to 5,0000 miles, but you don’t necessarily need to rotate your tires or check your fuel line that often.

Here’s what a tiered approach could look like (see helpful chart below):

Tier 1 Preventative Maintenance Checklist (every 3,000-5,000 miles)

• Oil and filter change

• General safety check

• Inspect brakes, lights, tire condition and inflation, wheels and rims, and fluids

• Check air filters

• Inspect cooling system

Tier 2 Preventative Maintenance Checklist (every 10,000-20,000 miles)

• Rotate tires

• Check the transmission fluid

• Inspect brakes

• Inspect drive belt

• Inspect exhaust system

• Inspect steering and suspension system

• Inspect windshield wipers

Tier 3 Preventative Maintenance Checklist (every 30,000-50,000 miles)

• Inspect fuel system

• Inspect engine and transmission mounts

• Inspect drive shafts or CV joints

• Inspect belts and hoses

• Inspect electrical system components

These are just guidelines for setting up your preventative maintenance plan. Your own plan will need to be customized based on your fleet's vehicles, usage, and requirements. We put together a handy Preventative Fleet Maintenance Plan [spreadsheet] to get you started and help you keep records.

Even with regularly scheduled maintenance, you’ll likely find that maintenance (and fuel) costs increase significantly for vehicles more than three years old. In fact, Fleet Advantage's Senior VP, Mike Spence says that “maintenance costs for vehicles aged 4-6 are 2.75 times higher than they are in years 1-3.” Knowing this, it’s important for leadership to agree on the useful lifespan of a fleet vehicle and budget for vehicle replacement on a regular basis.

2. Understand Your Fleet

There’s no such thing as a “correct” preventative maintenance plan or a “standard” preventative maintenance plan. The only right plan is one that works for your business and your fleet. So you need to understand your vehicles to develop a preventative fleet maintenance plan that works for you.

The standard benchmark for when you should perform preventative maintenance on light-duty fleet vehicles is every 3,000-5,000 miles. However, vehicles have changed significantly over the last 10 years. Engines are more efficient. Synthetic oils can go more miles without being changed. And more systems (engines, transmissions, suspensions, tires, etc.) are tied to electronic monitoring that’ll let you know when something has gone wrong. Considering all this, you should think about adjusting your maintenance schedule based on the ages, types, and usage of the vehicles in your fleet. You should also document each vehicle’s history (including minor repairs and major breakdowns) so you can start developing a track record for your vehicles. Over time, this will help you establish more customized baselines for your preventative maintenance schedule.

You also need to understand the operating conditions of your vehicles. Odds are good that you’re using your vehicles in severe conditions. If you’re towing trailers or carrying heavy cargo, making deliveries in urban settings that require extensive idling, low-speeds, or stop-and-go driving, or if your vehicles are being used by multiple drivers, you might want to consider altering your preventative fleet maintenance plan and shortening intervals between maintenance actions.

3. Train and Listen to Your Drivers

Your drivers are your first line of defense if you want to stop a minor issue from turning into a major breakdown. Your drivers spend the most time with your fleet vehicles, and they can monitor issues like worn tires, bad alignment, braking problems, misfires or rough idling, body damage, heat and air conditioning issues, the list goes on. All of these issues need to be addressed to keep your vehicles safe and operational. And they could be signs of larger problems that, if you don’t deal with them early, could lead to major breakdowns, expensive repairs, and extensive downtime.

It all comes down to training and accountability. You might consider developing an inspection checklist for your drivers and a system for reporting any issues they notice before, during, and after they use a vehicle.

Here are some of the things your drivers should look out for:

• General vehicle safety (tires, wipers, horn, steering, brakes, etc.)

• Vehicle driving behavior (misfires, idling, squeaky brakes, etc.)

• Vehicle condition (body damage, glass, debris)

• Miscellaneous (radio, heat and air conditioning, etc.)

You’ll then want to train your drivers on this checklist and make sure they’re held accountable for reporting any issues. If your vehicles have electronic monitoring, they also need to immediately report any indicator lights that need attention.

4. Think About Outsourcing Your Fleet Maintenance

If you don’t have in-house technicians and don’t want to add to your payroll by hiring and training a team of mechanics, you could think about contracting with a local vendor for your fleet maintenance needs. A service center specializing in fleet maintenance can help you manage your maintenance plan, perform routine inspections and handle vehicle repairs. You can reduce your costs by discussing fleet discounts.

You’ll want to be selective when you’re choosing your maintenance partner, and make sure expectations are clear. Service centers and mechanics tend to focus mostly on repairs, not preventative maintenance. When you start discussing your service contract, share your preventative maintenance plan with the service center to make sure they have the time and capacity to perform the actions in your plan.

5. Explore Fleet Maintenance Software Solutions

It can be time-consuming and cumbersome to manually develop a fleet maintenance plan, log maintenance activity, and track vehicle issues. With years of paper files, it can also be difficult to organize your records and find the maintenance history for a specific vehicle when you need it.

To get the most out of your plan, you might want to consider a fleet maintenance software solution that automates oversight and the management process. This will help you keep track of your records to monitor success and start developing metrics. The software can also help your fleet management team work more effectively and efficiently. Here’s a list of fleet maintenance software solutions, with ratings and reviews, to get you started.

6. Consider Partnering with an On-Demand Courier

Of course, the reality is that fleet maintenance is costly and time-consuming. Between fixed costs (initial investment, depreciation, insurance, etc.) and variable costs (fuel, maintenance, and repair, etc.), a conservative estimate for the Total Cost of Ownership, yearly, for a single light-duty vehicle starts at $9,000 and goes up from there depending on the vehicles you need. And this doesn’t including hiring, training, and paying drivers and fleet managers.

If you’re starting to think that the expense of fleet maintenance doesn’t make sense for your business, you might want to consider partnering with Dispatch. Dispatch is a technology-based on-demand courier solution connecting you to independent drivers for all of your delivery needs. Our easy-to-use platform offers GPS-tracked drivers, real-time notifications, accurate wait times, and speedy delivery. With Dispatch, you’ll be able to simplify your logistics, eliminate overhead waste and reduce your expenses.


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