“Work smarter, not harder” is an old adage, but it’s still good advice. For fleet managers, working smart includes paying attention to a couple of key areas, such as maintenance or communication, and translates into substantial reductions in costs.
The first step is to think of everyone involved with the vehicles as a team, including the manufacturer and any third-party service providers. And since a good team communicates well, getting information from all these people is key. Each of these people has a different relationship with the vehicle and therefore has different information about it. Ideally, the fleet manager should have access to a complete and organized archive of data on each vehicle gathered from every possible source. The idea is to avoid surprises, since, when it comes to vehicle maintenance, surprises range from expensive to dangerous.
All this vehicular intelligence makes preventative, even proactive maintenance possible. Smart managers can use analytics to figure out when particular components are likely to fail for each type of vehicle. Then, instead of waiting for a failure—something that might cause a work stoppage or even accident—it’s easy to watch a vehicle’s mileage and replace parts before they break.
A further advantage of proactive maintenance is that the vehicle can go into the shop when it is convenient for the owner. That means scheduling repairs for the driver’s day off, or, if the car or truck isn’t dedicated to one driver, on days when the vehicle might be off the road for other reasons. Then, routine maintenance, recalls, proactive replacements and any other necessary work can all get done at the same time without losing any time on the road.
Managing maintenance efficiently is only one part of managing a fleet well. Another part is eliminating redundant or over-sized vehicles in order to keep per-vehicle costs and fuel use in check. There is an art to right-sizing as well as a science, since the fleet manager must consider human resources demands on top of equipment needs. For example, sharing cars or trucks among several employees can be a great way to trim down the fleet and reduce costs, but sometimes letting each driver have his or her own dedicated vehicle improves employee morale and retention dramatically. And sometimes the more efficient vehicle might be wrong for the job for reasons that are not initially obvious—the bed of a compact pickup truck might be too short for a piece of equipment, for example. The trick is to take a good hard look at vehicle usage and find out what the company or agency really needs and what it doesn’t.
Finally, fleet managers can use GPS tracking to keep track of where vehicles are and what they are doing in real time. These systems are great for routing and for security, and make it much easier to spot unsafe or inefficient drivers who might need additional training and other interventions.