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Breakdowns cost more than just dollar amount on maintenance invoice

Predictive maintenance allows carriers to sidestep mounting costs

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Carriers are growing wary of falling rates, and they are heeding the growing warnings about a potential freight recession. As these companies build out their budgets for the next fiscal year, many of them will be looking for ways to cut costs and maximize profits in order to weather an ongoing market downturn.

While shaving some money off the top of the maintenance budget may seem like a reasonable cost-saving measure at first, carriers should be wary of neglecting their equipment in order to save a few bucks. This technique could easily lead to overlooked issues and roadside breakdowns, which end up costing carriers far more in the long run. 

“Unplanned breakdowns can send fleets into a tailspin,” said Jenna Dobrovolny, Uptake’s Senior Director of Sales Strategy. “You’ve got a driver stranded, a load that’s going to be delayed or damaged, a possible angry customer and the safety hazards of a truck down on the side of the road.” 

All of those things add up to one big bill, and that is before the actual cost — in both dollars and days — of repairing the truck during a parts and mechanic shortage is taken into account. Dobrovolny noted that some fleets have even been forced to create entire teams, dubbed “breakdown departments,” to manage the challenges that accompany highway incidents. 

On average, trucks experience roadside breakdowns about every 10,000 miles, according to a 2018 benchmarking study conducted by the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council and FleetNet America. The number of breakdowns per truck is expected to grow in the coming years, as fleets are keeping older trucks longer due to new truck delays. 

The easiest way to keep that number in check — and protect profits — is to invest in predictive maintenance technology upfront. While it can be difficult to convince carriers to adopt new tools during a downturn, spending a little now could mean saving a lot later. 

“Time and again we see studies that show predictive maintenance costs just 30% of what reactive maintenance costs,” Dobrovolny said. “The best way to avoid these issues is to predict and prevent them.” 

Historically, carriers have tried to do this through scheduled maintenance or fault codes. This approach, however, does not take the unique experiences of each truck into account. According to Dobrovolny, a holistic solution must take various factors into consideration, including the way the truck has been driven, the environments it has driven through and the quality of existing parts.  

“We often hear that because a part is covered under warranty, reactive maintenance is acceptable,” Dobrovolny said. “The problem with this approach is it doesn’t take into account the cost of putting a driver up in a hotel, sending out a new driver to rescue a load, waiting for a bay, waiting for a part and the labor hours spent managing this scenario.”

Implementing scheduled maintenance — and securing warranties — is certainly better than doing nothing and hoping for the best, but taking advantage of modern technology to prevent costly issues offers cuts down on reactive maintenance in a way that traditional efforts simply cannot. 

“Uptake’s approach is simple, although the science behind it is robust. If a component or part is showing signs of failure or deviating from its optimal performance, we’re going to let you know,” Dobrovolny said. “We’re going to give you guidance on how to repair it, and we’re going to do this across your entire fleet, so you can prioritize what trucks need what repairs at what time.” 

Additionally, these warnings from Uptake often come in advance of fault codes, which can overwhelm a maintenance department. 

While the cost of an individual incident is easier to calculate, the long-term human cost of roadside breakdowns should not be underestimated.

“We’ve also heard from fleets that they risk losing a driver if that driver experiences just three breakdowns,” Dobrovolny said.

The average long-haul truck driver logs over 100,000 miles each year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. That means that, if a truck breaks down every 10,000 miles, a driver could expect to experience up to 10 incidents every single year.

Replacing drivers is expensive and time-consuming. The number of qualified drivers in the market does not match the number of available positions, and convincing them to join — and stay with — a company with a history of excessive breakdowns is no easy task. 

Breakdowns cost a lot more than just the dollar amount on a maintenance invoice. Whether a carrier ends up understaffed, lacking functional equipment or both, it is not going to be able to optimize its operations, increase its profits or provide a high level of service to its customers.

“Uptake is passionate about supporting fleets and maintenance teams to allow them to get back to the business of moving goods,” Dobrovolny said.

Ashley Coker

Ashley is interested in everything that moves, especially trucks and planes. She covers air cargo, trucking and sponsored content. She studied journalism at Middle Tennessee State University and worked as an editor and reporter at two daily newspapers before joining FreightWaves. Ashley spends her free time at the dog park with her beagle, Ruth, or scouring the internet for last minute flight deals.