How to Make the Most of Your Preventative Maintenance Program

Keeping all of your trucks on their routes and out of the shop does not have to be a crap shoot. Savvy fleet managers realize that preventative maintenance (PM) contributes to safety, reduces failures and breakdowns, lowers cost, extends equipment life and improves trade-in/resale value.

However, any old PM program won't do: If intervals are off, repair schedules are ill-timed or work is redundant, PM programs could harm a fleet as well as help it.

Solid PM programs should be reasonable, clear and specific, and be customized to the particular fleet, operation and equipment type being inspected. The work must be performed by qualified technicians, not "shop help." Placing your PM inspection (PMI) under a microscope can tell you how effective it truly is.

For example, Bob Weiler, fleet manager for Batesville Casket Co., Batesville, Ind., reports that when he analyzed his PM program, he discovered that 27 percent of all his fleet's repair needs were found during PMI, and 11 percent of those repairs were made during the inspection.

When assessing the value of your current PM program, Weiler suggests that you don't try to prove how "good" your program is. "Look for 'over/under PM' and for repeat failures [especially following a PM]," he suggests. "Also, train your technicians in your PM philosophy. Never refer to PM as an 'oil change'; use the manufacturer's recommendations as a starting point and adjust your checklist and intervals as required."

Have specific goals when you implement or evaluate your PM program. For example, Jimmy Mathis, fleet manager for Federal Express Corp., Memphis, outlines the PMI tasks to be performed for each vehicle class in his fleet, calculating out-of-service hours and days/miles between roadcalls.

Of course, the ideal PMI mileage or time intervals are fleet-specific calculations. It would be impossible to set different intervals for all the vehicles in any fleet that has a diverse mix of truck ages and operations. However, by using oil analysis and maintenance history, you can determine the parameters that fit the majority of vehicles in each class.

Quality Check When evaluating your PM program's performance, check the following:

* budget goals (maintenance cost per truck);

* roadcall goals;

* PM compliance percent; and

* scheduled vs. non-scheduled repairs.

Note the OEM's recommended service and repair schedule, and compare that to the work order history for PMI-related items, such as a non-scheduled repair to replace a water-pump, between PMIs. Also, calculate the vehicle's downtime.

Seek ways to reduce timed component changes that can be caught during PMI. By evaluating repair order history and using a maintenance tracking database, technicians can identify potential failures instead of just replacing components that are still in working order on the assumption that they might fail.

To avoid backtracking, PMI forms and procedures should have a logical format. Additionally, managers, employees and vendors should be trained thoroughly and then evaluated while they are performing the procedures. In companies that have a pay-for-performance criteria, the employees' overall performance evaluations are tied directly to their pay incentives; the PM evaluation is generally a portion of that total evaluation score.

The following are four performance criteria that can be used to evaluate your PM program's quality:

1. Establish road call goals based on historical data. Then, each year, gain a certain percentage of reduction.

2. Try to achieve a 100 percent on-time goal for PMI compliance. However, the reality is that trucks are not always available for a scheduled PMI due to accident damage or operations. Therefore, make the work schedule flexible enough to accommodate such scenarios.

3. Use budget goals to gauge whether your PM program is on target. Reviewing the per-truck cost will identify vehicles that may have ill-timed intervals.

4. Analyze scheduled vs. non-scheduled repairs to pinpoint the improvements that should be made in the inspection criteria or methods.

Steve Smola, a fleet manager for Pepsi Cola General Bottlers Inc., Chicago, says that he aims to maximize asset life by maintaining vehicles within specs - both safety and mechanical - and to maximize equipment availability. He also tries to schedule repairs in a way that optimizes the mechanics' labor hours and thus, minimizes operating cost.

A good way to set up a PMI system is to diagnose key areas for premature failures and to test components to identify potential failures before occurrence.

In Smola's fleet, the PMI includes a systematic inspection of components, chassis lubrication, oil and filter change and tire inspection and inflation. This is done at 5,000 miles, 90 days or 250 hours.

To Outsource or Not to Outsource? Managers of both small and large fleets are beginning to realize that it is not always economical or feasible to maintain their trucks in-house - especially in today's high-tech and regulated equipment arena. Leasing companies, OEMs and independent garages are filling this need, offering increased maintenance services and dealer networks.

The following changing dynamics affecting equipment maintenance are spurring more fleet managers to outsource their PM:

* OEMs are producing trucks with extended service intervals;

* annual truck service hours are dropping;

* fleets are buying extended warranties and turning trucks over after three years; and most vehicle downtime up to 350,000 miles is for PM reasons only.

Fleet managers' decisions on whether or not to outsource are as varied as the fleets themselves. In-house PM proponents cite three main benefits to in-house servicing:

* Timing. Some fleet managers believe that an in-house facility can complete the work faster than an outside source.

Also, while the vehicle is being fixed for one problem, it can be checked simultaneously for other repair needs. If necessary, an in-house shop could work around the clock to get a vehicle up and running.

* Control. Because the mechanics are employees, and thus are accountable to the company, the repair quality is thought to be higher and cheaper, because the third-party profit is eliminated.

* Cost. Some fleet managers believe that outside shops do not offer enough flexibility and reliability at a reasonable cost.

Enterprising fleet managers can enhance their in-house PM programs by servicing other fleets that have decided to outsource.

If you decide that outsourcing PM is the best choice for your operations, be sure to outline your program's key elements before choosing a vendor:

* vehicle types to be inspected;

* inspection frequency;

* checklist of items for each PM level;

* process for modifying PMI scopes and frequencies, and

* responsibilities for scheduling and notifying vehicle users about PMI intervals.

Also, stipulate that all vehicles and equipment units be inspected within six months of the contract's signing, starting with those vehicles that are designated as "deficient." (Generally, the contractor is reimbursed separately for the costs incurred to bring these units to a safe and serviceable condition.)

Summarize the contractor's repair responsibilities, such as the repairs identified through PM inspections, by users or by breakdown/malfunction.

Finally, highlight the protocols for various repair-related services, such as repair prioritization, hours of service, cost limitations, road calls, "quick fix" service, warranty maintenance, repeat repairs, outside repairs, vehicle commissioning/decommissioning and accident services (including appraisals, repair bids and processing).