Technology can take the guesswork out of reducing a fleet’s downtime.
By Don Woods
There are two ways to approach vehicle downtime when you are responsible for a company fleet. Traditionally, a fleet manager had to guess how long repairs were going to take based on arbitrary milestones, like when a vehicle entered the shop, when the repair is finished and when it was returned to the driver – if they could even determine when these things happened.
It’s a long-accepted standard practice, but it’s less than ideal. What this guesstimate doesn’t do is account for the amount of time a vehicle may sit on the lot waiting to be serviced or waiting for pickup after the repair was completed.
Fortunately, technology has created a better – and more cost-effective – way to manage downtime. New solutions can serve as a fleet manager’s eyes and ears in the field to eliminate this unaccounted time in their downtime projections.
GPS technology has revolutionized downtime tracking, giving companies more information and greater visibility into where their vehicles are, which in turn gives them the capability to move vehicles from the shop back into service quickly. A fleet manager can be notified the instant a vehicle enters a repair shop thanks to geo-fencing technology.
With geo-fencing, the shop is surrounded by a virtual boundary that triggers a notification when the vehicle crosses it. This real-time notification that a vehicle is not on the road allows a fleet manager to pick up the phone and get the repairs going as soon as possible, instead of waiting for the repair shop to call.
Geo-fencing can also be helpful in ensuring a vehicle is back on the road ASAP. In some instances, drivers may be lax in returning a newer model rental vehicle and let their everyday vehicle sit in the shop for an extra day or two. That only means that rental costs are higher than they should be. But with geo-fencing, a fleet manager can now know if a repair has been completed but the vehicle has not been picked up and take action to get that vehicle back on the road.
In addition to the rental costs, the expense of towing it to the shop and the repairs, it’s important to consider the cost of your employees being on the sidelines and not performing their job duties, which puts a pause on their profitability. As an example, consider a sales representative with an annual salary of $50,000 (plus $15,000 in benefits), who is responsible for $100,000 in profits each year. Assuming this person works 260 days per year and eight hours a day, it is costing the company $79.32 (in hard and soft costs) for every hour this employee sits idle without access to a vehicle. There could be additional downtime costs on top of this if the employee is generating revenue for the company by performing a service or making a delivery.
What’s the easiest way to start reducing the costs associated with downtime? A strict preventative maintenance schedule is a great first step. Often, in an effort to reduce costs, fleet managers extend the intervals between simple but important preventive measures like oil changes and tire rotations – sometimes well beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations. Although that may save a marginal amount of money in the short-term, it can have drastic and profound effects in the long-term. These long-term effects can impact a company’s budget more significantly than the simple cost of regular preventative maintenance.
It is important to be mindful of the manufacturer’s maintenance schedules. A company should never take a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead of assigning an oil change interval across the entire fleet, group vehicles by segment or class, specific job function and operating conditions. If you have a good working relationship with your repair shop, try to schedule preventative maintenance off-hours or when the driver won’t be on the road, perhaps during a vacation.
Finally, knowing when a vehicle has served the company long enough is important to reducing a fleet’s downtime. Big Data and statistical analysis can pinpoint small issues that, over time, could develop into larger problems and extended downtime. Using that insight to develop a solid replacement cycle that supports the functional needs of your fleet will lead to vehicles remaining in good working order to better support the business and its customers.
In short, downtime probably can’t be completely avoided, but it can be managed – effectively. Through a combination of new technology and old-fashioned common sense, the number of hours a vehicle sits at the repair shop can be minimized, reducing costs and allowing the driver to continue earning revenue.
Don Woods is the director of information technology at ARI in Mount Laurel, N.J., the world’s largest family owned fleet management company, managing nearly 1.5 million vehicles in North America, the UK and Europe. Visit www.arifleet.com for more information.