Preventative maintenance strategies to avoid major repair costs
Most truck owner-operators or fleet managers understand, at least in theory, the importance of preventive maintenance (PM). But a lot of owners still don’t plan as well as they could for regular repairs.
In this article we’ll look at some of the downsides of not doing regular PM. We’ll also look at:
Some reasons why drivers and managers make PM mistakes
Why setting aside a dedicated PM budget is such a good idea
The downsides of neglecting PM
It’s easy to prove the importance of doing regular preventive maintenance. When you have an unscheduled truck breakdown, it leads to all sorts of potential costs that you don’t have when you schedule regular maintenance.
Some examples of the obvious (and not-so-obvious) extra costs associated with truck breakdowns:
Repair work is much more costly when things get to the point of breaking
Repair work must often be done away from home, by unknown, potentially-bad mechanics, which may lead to more problems and costs
Delivery delays can lead to lost revenue, lost business, and potentially lost contracts
Potential litigation for incidents that damages other people’s property or other people (including hurting the driver if you operate a fleet)
When you consider the big downsides of not doing regular maintenance, it’s easy to see that PM keeps you out of trouble and will save you a lot of money in the long-term.
Why is PM overlooked?
Most people know PM is important, so why is PM often overlooked? Let’s look at a few reasons:
Money and time issues
One reason for neglecting regular PM is due to money; some owner-operators may be in tough shape financially and this may cause them to put maintenance on the back-burner for a while.
Another related issue is being very busy. An owner-operator may have a bunch of jobs in a row and might figure, “Well, I’ll do it soon; the truck will be okay for a little while.”
Both of these reasons, though, are just due to a deeper problem of not understanding how important PM is. If an owner-operator or manager really understand the huge long-term costs associated with lack of PM, they would see PM as essential and never let it slide. If you’re driving a lot of miles without proper maintenance, it’s only a matter of time before something major breaks down on your truck and you learn the true costs associated with not doing PM.
The breakdown may happen way in the future, and that may be hard for some people to imagine when the truck is pretty new and shiny and seems invincible, but sooner or later it’ll happen.
Being lucky and having false expectations
Some owner-operators have just been lucky with their trucks and haven’t had many issues at all. This can lull these owners into a false sense of security and a false belief that their maintenance budget is much lower than it actually is.
This is especially true for younger drivers with newer trucks. When things are going well, it’s easy to imagine that things will stay on that way forever.
Then when things do start going wrong, it might seem to these people like it came out of left-field. They’re hit with a bunch of unexpected problems and expenses and they may think, “I’ve gotten really unlucky!” But in reality it was just things catching up with them. Their maintenance budget was actually much higher than they thought for the whole time; they were just on the good and easy side of things for a while.
Finding PM info
If you don’t know the required PM for your vehicle, here are some ideas on where to get more information:
Vehicle manuals. Most manuals will have the recommended preventive maintenance routines and schedules.
Talk to other O/Os. If you have friends and contacts in the trucking industry, whether they’re fellow truckers or mechanics, get their recommendations on best practices. (Main warning with this, though: just be sure they’re experienced and their advice is definitely trustworthy.)
Manufacturer forums. Some manufacturers will have forums dedicated to specific vehicles where people talk about best practices for the vehicle. The manufacturers might also update their recommended PM schedules.
Trucker forums. There are also online forums for drivers and owner-operators talking about specific models of truck. These are good sources for finding out potential problems with your truck from very experienced owners and drivers. (And again: be sure that the source is trustworthy.)
Staying on top of PM
It’s easy to realize that PM is important. It’s another thing entirely to stay on top of it and make sure it happens regularly.
Automatic reminders are key. If you’re fairly low-tech, a reminder can just be in the form of prominent notes on your office calendar. But you can also get software to give you frequent alerts via email or text. You don’t even need a dedicated truck software; many email systems let you send yourself reminders.
Drivers are the front-line in PM; they are the ones in the position to spot potential problems with a truck and to get work done before it becomes a major problem. If you’re the driver, you should have a routine of things you do at certain intervals. This can include the typical required walk-around inspections, but can also be more thorough. If it’s your truck, you should definitely be motivated to do as much in the way of damage prevention as possible.
If you’re a truck fleet manager, you should have a system in place for making sure your drivers do regular vehicle inspections and PM routines. Checklists (paper or digital) are one way to make sure this happens. Positive and negative incentives for doing or not doing the required checks can also have their place.
A dedicated budget for maintenance and repairs
We recommend setting up a dedicated account for your PM and repair costs. The idea behind this is that there is a certain average amount of money you will be spending on maintenance and repairs per mile for your truck. This average per-mile amount takes into account:
Preventive maintenance costs
Unscheduled problems (which can always happen no matter how much PM you do)
The more frequent problems that your truck will have as it gets older
Of course it’s very hard, if not impossible, to know the exact per-mile-cost of your truck in this way, just because there are so many unknown factors. But the point is that coming up with a rough estimate, and putting that money aside into a dedicated account, will make you better prepared financially for unexpected repair costs.
Many owner-operators make the mistake of thinking about repair costs as an unexpected cost when in fact these costs should be planned for and thought of as just another business cost.
If you don’t factor these costs into your business model, one big problem you can run into is not having a true idea of your profit-per-mile. You may think something like, “Factoring in my costs and revenue, I’m making 15 cents per mile.” But if you’re not factoring in unscheduled work, your actual per-mile profit might actually be ten cents.
On some types of jobs that are very narrowly profitable, factoring in these costs could turn a barely-profitable job into a non-profitable job. So this shows the importance of thinking about these things.
To get a sense of what your true per-mile truck cost might be, here are some tips:
Look at your records and compare the mileage against all of the work (PM and repairs) done on the truck. You might also factor in a rough estimate of time spent on walk-arounds and inspections.
Reach out to experienced owner-operators or managers who have worked with your model of truck. See what their experiences have been and take some notes on what you might expect in future.
Again, you aren’t going to reach a number that is probably the true, exact number. But the point is that once you have an estimate and start putting aside money for these costs, you’re going to be better prepared. You won’t feel stung when your truck needs a big repair; it will just come out of that account and you’ll see these expenses as just another business expense.