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The Cost of Vehicle Maintenance: Now or Later


Maintaining vehicles in a commercial fleet is a lot like going to the dentist. Nobody enjoys it, but ask someone who waited too long between checkups just how that turned out.

The same thing happens when fleet managers neglect upkeep on expensive equipment: suddenly the pain is real, and it’s bad.

When a motor vehicle fails, there is more than the cost of repairs to consider. Forgoing its regular care can also mean the difference between having routine work done on a truck that is in service, and servicing a truck that stopped running.

This is a pervasive problem as well as a pricey one. In a British survey of 500 companies that operate vehicle fleets, more than half (51 percent) said their most recent fix that required a garage layover was caused either by bad driving or neglected maintenance.

The Multiplying Effect

As software provider Decisiv points out, the actual cost only begins with the mechanical work. In their words, “Inefficiencies in the fleet maintenance and repair process have ramifications throughout the entire fleet operation.” According to information they compiled, equipment downtime costs a fleet between $448 and $760. Per day. Per vehicle.

Whether your fleet is large or small, those are serious numbers.

There is another potential loss: the penalties incurred in inspection violations. A lack of proper maintenance can result in an unexpected expense — and worse. As the industry journal Heavy Duty Trucking said, “Vehicle maintenance violations are a huge threat to a carrier's safety record.”

A business with a bad safety rating will find itself running into all kinds of difficulties, which, like a vehicle breakdown, fleets can avoid with a little foresight.

A Formula for Figuring Failure

Another way to assess the real cost of a mechanical misfortune is the “inverse-square rule for deferred maintenance effort,” developed by the Geaslin Group, maintenance analysis consultants. This rule says that when lack of care causes a failure, “the results will be an exponential cost increase that is inverse to the expected savings.”

Note the word exponential. The experts at Geaslin offer an example: a worn-out $40 brake part that leads to a $1,600 repair bill. In other words, the original forty dollars squared. The Geaslin Group asserts that this rule has been confirmed in years of studying the repair costs incurred by its clients. It says that in almost every case, the part cost was the square root of the eventual expense to fix the problem, plus or minus 10 percent.

Other professionals might have different numbers, but even if this is only an approximation of what happens in the real world, it’s an eye-opener in revealing how expensive deferred vehicle maintenance can be. And remember: that’s only the repair cost — it doesn’t include the attendant losses in time, missed deliveries, the necessity of using another vehicle to complete the commitment — either from your company’s own fleet or a rental. And all that time your fixed costs (truck payments, insurance, wages) for that vehicle are not suspended, but keep ticking.

What to Do About It

Maintenance is a necessary expense, and lapses will lead to costly outcomes. Therefore, regular servicing is good business practice. That will help prevent the predictable, but what about the breakdowns that are impossible to anticipate? As it turns out, a solution offers protection against the sort of problems that are likely and the ones that nobody would see coming.

GPS fleet tracking promotes efficiency and productivity in helping map out shorter routes, reducing engine idling and fuel consumption, providing instant communication between driver and office — but this technology confers decided advantages in vehicle maintenance too.

First, as to the predictable — mechanical failures that can be avoided by regular maintenance — the engine data that fleet tracking monitors (for example, miles driven, hours, types of driving) provides a fleet manager an automatic scheduling tool. Many fleet tracking systems include a maintenance calendar function that indicates when service is due, and sends an alert on pending items. Automating the service schedule means that there is less chance to overlook something.

As to the other concern — the sudden problems that could not be foreseen — fleet tracking can actually keep these from being so sudden. Engine sensors combined with telematics can let you know of an issue before it gets serious, to get that truck headed for the shop in time to preclude a dead-on-road situation.

For more information on how GPS Fleet Tracking can help save money on maintenance costs, download our free ebook, “10 Benefits of GPS Fleet Tracking.”

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