4 Ways on how to Improve Fleet Uptime

With the average cost of roadside repairs at its highest for the second consecutive quarter, keeping trucks up and running and reducing the frequency of repairs is more important than ever.

Between July and September 2020, the average fleet operated 34,629 miles between unscheduled roadside repairs, according to recent data from the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council and FleetNet America’s Benchmarking Report. The report tracks roadside breakdowns of participating truckload, less-than-truckload and tank fleets.

Those numbers are in line with previous quarters of reporting – however, the average cost per mechanical repair was higher.

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The top-performing truckload fleets experience 54% fewer breakdowns than the average truckload fleets. And the top-performing LTL fleets experience 34% fewer breakdowns than the average LTL fleets in the study.

These figures indicate there are maintenance practices and uptime strategies used by the best-performing fleets that are not necessarily being used by the masses.

Understanding the frequency of roadside failures, and the major components and systems that lead to them, may help fleet maintenance managers identify opportunities to improve their operations, and ultimately increase uptime.

Following are four strategies to increase uptime, gleaned from the TMC data and conversations with maintenance managers for high-performing fleets.

  1. Keep on top of preventive maintenance

The top five components/systems that lead to roadside breakdowns across all the fleets TMC tracks are:

  • tires, tubes, liners and valves;
  • brakes;
  • powerplant;
  • lighting system; and
  • exhaust system.

Participating fleets in the benchmarking study managed to improve the miles between lighting system repairs from every 356,211 miles in the third quarter of 2019 to every 898,513 miles in the third quarter of 2020, a 744% improvement. Meanwhile, participating fleets have struggled in the tire department. Fleets experienced a 20% increase in tire repairs in Q3 2020 compared with Q2 2019.  

Fleets are most likely to realize a better return on maintenance time invested by focusing on these top five systems.

  1. Give special attention to driver education

While premature component failures on trucks or trailers can certainly lead to roadside breakdowns, that’s not always the cause.

99% of the things that happen over the road truly are preventable with good pre-trip and post-trip inspections.

That’s why in addition to tracking component and system failures in his breakdown report, he also records the unit numbers and dates of each failure, which in turn can help connect the breakdowns to a certain driver.

Are there certain drivers in a fleet who are experiencing more roadside breakdowns than others? This could indicate that a driver needs more training on what to look for during pre- and post-trip inspections.

During new driver orientation it is important they’re aware of the systems, from aerodynamics to the auxiliary power unit. This ensures that they’re comfortable with the equipment – and what to look for during an inspection – before they leave for their first dispatch.

From there on drivers receive the support and education they need to keep their trucks safe and running.

  1. Use fault monitoring capabilities

Fault monitoring capabilities increase maintenance efficiency by the use of  telematics, engine fault monitoring and remote diagnostics. A plan is set in place to manage the fault codes which will indicate whether a failure will warrant either a tow or the need to direct a driver to a nearby shop or vendor, ensuring that all units can be serviced by one vendor cuts down tremendously on downtime.

  1. Don’t skip diesel aftermarket systems

Twelve years ago, many in the industry were under the impression that they wouldn’t have to touch diesel aftermarket systems up to the 400,000- to 500,000-mile mark. Now they’re seeing that the maintenance requires more frequency in preventive maintenance programs.

While most fleets were prepared to clean diesel particulate filters, they weren’t prepared to clean all the other sensors that can be clogged up as the exhaust goes through the after treatment systems.

Without proper attention, diesel after treatment systems can lead to not only a breakdown, but also to an expensive failure, from the time of the tow after the engine derates to the time a driver can drive out of the shop.