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Maintenance 201: Being proactive about vehicle maintenance

Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

One essential element to securing your truck’s lifespan is through what many call preventive maintenance (PM). 

J.J. Keller & Associates, a management company based in Neenah, Wisconsin, considers PM to be “the key to any successful maintenance program for commercial motor vehicles.”

Through preventive maintenance, vehicles are thoroughly inspected, repaired and maintained in a way that prevents the vehicle from experiencing larger incidents, defects or issues on the road. Preventive maintenance is what many people consider to be the most important part of owning a Class 8 vehicle. 

According to TMW Systems, a transportation software company, maintenance costs have increased 50 percent over the past five years, with 20 percent of those costs associated with vehicle breakdowns and unplanned service repairs. This is where preventive maintenance helps decrease the number of those occurrences. 

“Monitoring a truck’s health is like us making sure we eat good food, get vaccinations and avoid getting sick. Preventive maintenance is critical to fleets today, as it can help them schedule repairs well ahead of time, thus avoiding a road breakdown that could end up costing three times as much [as the preventive maintenance],” said Mike Valnev, CEO and co-founder of Fleetpal. 

If vehicles were only looked at when they need something, the program would be reactionary rather than preventive. “The problem with reactionary maintenance programs,” according to J.J. Keller, “is that they are based on failure. For example, you notice something has failed and you fix it. This type of maintenance program is destined to lead to down-time and result in increased costs due to idle equipment.” 

Preventive maintenance, according to Chris Marks, regional director of Ryder System, Inc., is basically a process where vehicles are scheduled at preset intervals to have specific parts inspected. Ryder, a transportation, truck leasing and logistics company, will in some cases do a multitude of inspections on a truck per year. At least one annual inspection is recommended by Ryder to insure your truck’s safety, performance and productivity. 

“We can control the cost of the repair when it’s in the shop,” Marks stated, “but when it’s on the road broken down, we have lost all control and the cost of repairs can skyrocket at that point.” 

So if this is so important in owning a truck, what stops most people from consistent preventive maintenance? 

According to Marks, many truck owners do not want to pay to have their vehicle inspected if they believe that nothing is wrong at the moment. “Preventive maintenance is not cheap, but it’s something you choose to invest in. A truck owner must be aware of the cost of repairs and preventing those breakdowns. Often this ends up saving money in the end,” stated Marks. 

One of the most important things to understand about preventive maintenance is that, while it comes at a price, it is important to weigh what it would cost not to do it. Without preventive maintenance, your truck is more likely to break down. Not only can repairs cost more than PM, but for each breakdown, your company loses money on down-time. When productivity goes down, cost goes up. 

“The idea is to stay a step or two ahead of wear and tear,” Fullbay explained “Consistently changing the oil and filters as well as lubing moving parts accomplishes that and keeps things working smoothly.” 

Ryder believes that “a good preventive maintenance program isn’t just about inspecting the vehicle, but rather repairing it to the best shape possible before sending it back out to work.”