Many operators have held onto their trucks for longer than usual due to the economic downturn. Here FleetWatch reminds operators that it essential that proper maintenance procedures be followed if those trucks are to remain efficient and profitable.
Why are you in the trucking business? Each one of you will have your own reasons , or a combination of reasons , and I’m sure if we put you all together in one room and asked that question, the answers would be as fascinating as they would be varied. You are primarily in the business to make bucks and the tools which will allow you to make those bucks , the trucks , should be selected, managed and cared for under the banner of lifetime costs.
As Dave Scott, FleetWatch technical correspondent and independent trainer and fleet auditor to many organisations in the trucking industry says: “Any business – big or small – is based on successful lifetime costing of capital equipment – vehicles, computers, buildings, and machinery. Everyone in the business must understand that they are ‘asset care managers’ in achieving the lowest lifetime cost of capital assets within their control. It is not the purchase price that counts but the durability, reliability, productivity and resale value of transport equipment that must be measured.’
Note his words “Everyone in the business must understand that they are asset care managers in achieving the lowest lifetime cost of capital assets within their control.’ If this is true, why then are there so many trucks driving around in such a sorry state of repair? Why then are basic ‘˜best practices’ not followed in many fleets , like having every driver of every truck do a pre-trip vehicle inspection to a specified list of items? Early detection, identification and fixing of faults before they get worse is all part of achieving lowest lifecycle cost.
If transport operators are practicing asset care management, why are the brake settings on most trailers not set correctly? Why are so many load sensing valves disconnected? Why are far too many ABS systems disconnected? Why do some trucks travel on tyres which are downright dangerous and could result in costly accidents , especially when the ‘˜boss’ has been notified of the fault. Why are the lighting systems on all trucks which travel at night , especially those hauling long distances on dark and busy roads – not 100% functional? All this hardly tells of ‘˜asset care managers’ at work. Rather, it tells of a large sector of the industry which does not rate ‘˜asset care’ very highly and therefore does not rate highly what should be one of the most critical inputs into the lifetime cost equation, namely, vehicle maintenance.
Max Braun, past and present independent consultant to many transport companies and also a FleetWatch correspondent, says that understanding and managing vehicle maintenance is a vital element to consistently achieve cost-effective trucking. He agrees that maintenance deserves a lot more recognition than most managers give it.
Braun reckons the word maintenance should convey “the work we do to conserve and preserve our vehicles in a safe and roadworthy condition at all times regardless of kilometres or age. This means reliability, availability, performance and appearance will at all times be according to agreed customer service and operating cost levels.’ He also points out that it s of paramount importance that all staff involved with transport operations – and especially those responsible for the maintenance of vehicles – fully understand the differences between servicing, maintaining and repairing vehicles. This is how he defines the three disciplines:
Regular, scheduled services according to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations and the operating conditions have the aim of keeping vehicles on the road (vehicle availability). For this to be achieved, he says, certain sacrificial parts must be replaced from time to time. These include items such as filters, fan belts, batteries, lubricants, globes, windscreen wipers, reflectors, etc. It is important to note that this is regardless of the vehicle’s age or condition.
Braun says this is the work done to preserve and conserve the condition and performance of vehicles. A vital aspect in achieving the expected economic life of the major components is the prudent replacement of certain parts that are subjected to wear. These include items such as brake pads, discs and linings, injectors, king pins, bushes and shock absorbers etc.
These take place when failed parts and components which are no longer serviceable are replaced as a result of premature failure, abuse or breakage. Repair costs are the only variables in the overall maintenance budget and reflect how well a vehicle has been maintained. And here’s the real punch line. “Regular planned and scheduled maintenance and its related activities guarantees vehicle availability and is the foundation on which profitable, safe and legal transport stands,’ says Braun.
Maintenance Policy is imperative
Braun says it is imperative to establish in the minds of management – at all levels – the need to formulate and consistently apply a sensible maintenance policy and adhere to the agreed procedures. On this latter point, Dave Scott concurs wholeheartedly saying that standards and discipline come from laid down policies that are committed to writing and trained into the staff where it becomes a ‘cultural thing’ and a way of life.
“Where maintenance is not carried out in line with policy, then anything is acceptable and can be compromised especially where safety critical items are concerned,’ he says. “There has to be a policy for everything – lubricants, tyres, service drain intervals, reportable accidents, recording of maintenance arising from driver abuse, clutches, brakes, trailer connectors and everything that makes a truck operate without downtime.’
Why not standard practice?
I ask again: If maintenance is such a critical part of cost effective trucking, why then are so many operators not applying these practices? Why are maintenance policies not in place as standard trucking convention?
According to Braun, based on discussions he has had with a number of experienced managers, the reasons include:
‘¢ Management’s failure to recognise the importance of transport in the context of distribution and logistics functions.
‘¢ Lack of resources, especially trained and motivated technicians.
‘¢ Demotivated staff , the result of geriatric, shoddy vehicles,
‘¢ The calibre and attitude of available technicians.
‘¢ Poor quality workmanship and the unacceptable cost of some outside service providers
There is also the view that over the past two years of economic downturn, many operators have cut back on maintenance preferring to put the buck in the tank to keep the wheels rolling. It is the wrong thinking because the folly of ignoring maintenance will eventually catch up with them when their trucks break down and they lose customers due to repeated delays.
There are also those, of course, who just don’t care about any standards and run their trucks into the ground with no maintenance done and no moral conscious exercised towards the safety of their own drivers and other road users. We have seen many of these on our Brake & Tyre Watch exercises and they need to just get out of this industry.
Cost of ownership
According to Scott, because of the tough times, there has also been a trend to buy cheap, imported components instead of original parts and he reckons this is because the concept of cost of ownership is not fully appreciated by some operators. “Cheap to buy can turn into costly to own and this is not often understood by technical staff. A rebuilt clutch may be much cheaper than a new original part but may require more frequent replacement and more often than not the total cost of downtime is not calculated into the equation. When labour rates are compared, for example, a missing issue is the flat rate, or time taken to do the job.’
“Also,’ he asks, “when sub-grade lubricants are used in the interest of reducing the costs of servicing, is the impact of component service life being considered. Operators should measure the cost of lubrication and not the price of oil.’ This writer can vouch for the fact that cheap can be nasty as almost every Chinese imported slack adjuster we have inspected on trucks taken off the road has been broken , and we have the photographs to prove it. You might be saving a few bucks up front but at what cost over the long term?
Absence of law
As for those who just don’t care about the roadworthiness of their trucks and are just out there to put money into their pockets, Scott says the absence of law enforcement and the lack of respect for the law, mixed with a touch of corruption, lets sloppy operators, fleet supervisors and drivers get away with badly maintained vehicles.
My sincere wish is that this article acts as a prompt to all operators to take a fresh look at the maintenance procedures in their companies. There are far too many unroadworthy trucks operating on our roads – and I assure you it is not only the uncaring, sloppy operators who are at fault. Through the various on-road inspection projects FleetWatch gets involved in, we have found faults on trucks operated by the more respected and ‘˜professional’ companies which point to a slack off of maintenance standards.
It’s not just about road safety but also about your bottom line. Improve your maintenance procedures to the point where you implement strict maintenance policies and you will improve your bottom line. You will also sleep easier at night knowing your trucks are operating to ‘˜best practice’ standards that take into account the safety of your brother, sister and best friend’s wife and kids who share the roads with them. These are recognised givens.