No Easy Fix

MORE AND MORE, MAINTAINING a truck fleet made up of classes 6 through 8 trucks means looking outside a company's own resources for mechanical repairs. From its low point in 1990, maintenance outsourcing has grown to include almost one-third of all private fleets, and truck dealers have captured almost half (46 percent) of this activity, according to “2004 Heavy Duty Truck Maintenance in the USA,” an annual survey by the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA), Research Triangle Park, N.C. During the next three years, fleet maintenance managers expect maintenance outsourcing to increase by 7 percent.

A finer breakdown shows that in the private fleet category, which includes waste management, 29 percent of maintenance managers surveyed expect outsourcing to increase, while only 16 percent think outsourcing will decrease. The change in maintenance outsourcing in the private fleet sector results in a net increase in outsourcing of 12.5 percent, the HDMA survey says.

“Even with this change, it is expected that outsourcing will remain well below 50 percent of the service activity of private fleet operations,” says Frank Hampshire, HDMA's director of research. “This means that in-house maintenance and repair capabilities will remain an important aspect of overall fleet operation and management.”

Private fleet operations vary in their ability to maintain and repair vehicles. While 63 percent of the private fleets in the HDMA survey claim they can perform most maintenance and repair tasks, only 21 percent say they operate a fully equipped machine shop. This discrepancy may be due to a combination of the longer life expectancy of newer engines and transmissions, better warranties and shortened trade-in cycles, Hampshire says. Routine maintenance and emergency repairs often are conducted in-house, while engine overhauls and transmission repairs are infrequent and generally are outsourced.

According to Hampshire, the shortening of the trade-in cycle from 13 to nine years may be a temporary result of the delay of new vehicle purchases because of changes in emission regulations. More regulatory changes are scheduled to take effect in 2007, so fleet managers are likely to purchase vehicles before 2007 and also to try to keep their vehicles longer than they have in the past, he predicts.

If fleets decide to take on more maintenance and repair obligations, then they will have to reinforce in-house maintenance capabilities. This could mean improving their machine shop, carrying more service parts inventory and increasing maintenance personnel — both the number of technicians and the level of their abilities and training, Hampshire adds.

In a related study, the Research Triangle Park-based Association of Diesel Specialists (ADS) has attempted to explore changes in the scope of its members' operations in the medium-term future. ADS found that the increased focus on reducing diesel engine emissions will mean that more than two-thirds of diesel specialists will increase their emphasis on engine emissions over the next three years. While nearly all specialists anticipate a need for additional training and equipment, more personnel will be needed.

In fact, ADS reports that the most important issue facing the industry will be attracting and training technicians. The association emphasizes that finding well-trained personnel is made more difficult by the lack of young people eager to become diesel specialists, the accelerating pace of technical change and increasing vehicle sophistication.

For more information on HDMA or to order a copy of “2004 Heavy Duty Truck Maintenance,” log on to E-mail: [email protected]. Phone: (919) 549-4800, ext. 872. Copies of the report are $98 for MEMA members or $395 for non-members. More information about ADS is available at