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November 01, 2004  |   Comments (1)   |   Post a comment

Develop an Effective PM Program to Cut Costs

Start with a schedule recommended by the manufacturer, track any component failures, use fluid analysis and train drivers to identify and report problems.

by Michael D. Winter


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Operators of small buses who implement a thorough, well-considered preventive maintenance (PM) program can reap substantial savings. Worn or damaged components can be replaced before they cause costly breakdowns, which also helps to reduce the amount of time the vehicles are off the road and in the shop.

Such a program goes well beyond simply performing routine maintenance procedures on a regular basis. A good PM program includes detailed record keeping and ongoing analysis of the fleet’s operations and the buses’ performance.


Getting started

To develop an effective PM program, start with a baseline for vehicle maintenance. Use the maintenance schedule that the manufacturer of the bus and its various component suppliers (lift, chassis, powertrain, etc.) suggests.

Operators of one or two buses often rely on their bus dealer to establish their PM program. These dealers, in turn, rely on OEMs to provide ongoing maintenance assistance, service advisors and updates.

Most manufacturers offer multiple schedules to accommodate the different ways bus operators use the vehicles. The schedules differentiate between buses driven on short, multiple-stop routes and those employed for long-trip routes. Gasoline and diesel vehicles also require different schedules.

Select the schedule that applies to your situation. Then closely examine how your drivers use their vehicles and adjust the schedule accordingly. A short-trip diesel schedule may suggest changing the oil and filter every 2,500 miles or three months, but if your routes involve more stop-and-go driving through dusty areas, the oil may need changing sooner and you may need to implement an hourly schedule or fuel usage schedule. A less punishing route may extend your service interval. Contact your manufacturer for recommendations.

By refining the baseline schedule, your maintenance department can perform all routine procedures at the optimal interval to produce the best cost savings and the best vehicle performance.


{+PAGEBREAK+} Component strategies

Inevitably, breakdowns do occur. That’s when it’s time to analyze what component required replacement and why. The reason: if a component requires replacement on one vehicle, it may also on others. Look for damage caused by a defective part, overload or driver abuse.

For instance, if your mechanic determines that a diesel engine has a clogged fuel filter, you may have received a batch of contaminated fuel. That problem will spread across your fleet unless you take immediate corrective action.

Another element of an effective PM program is identifying which components and labor operations cost the most money. By ranking components and labor according to their percentage of maintenance costs, you can determine how to divide your resources. In most cases, tires, followed by engines and brakes, account for highest maintenance costs.

Some estimates say tires account for about 20 percent of a vehicle’s maintenance costs. You need to invest in routine maintenance to ensure long-term performance. Therefore, check air pressure and rotate tires on a regular basis. Your record keeping system will tell you the optimum time for tire rotation based on how your vehicles are used.


Fluid analysis

Fluid analysis offers one of the best methods for diagnosing potential vehicle problems. Benefits of fluid analysis include the following:

  • Reduced maintenance cost through optimizing fluid life.
  • Improving life expectancy of vehicle components.
  • Creating an early warning system for mechanical problems.

    A laboratory can perform two different types of tests on oil. One measures contaminants and oil breakdown components in the fluid. A spectrochemical or spectrographic analysis measures certain metallic elements present as microscopic particles. By using the more sophisticated analysis, fleet managers can track wear patterns in an engine and even predict failures.


    Driver’s report

    You can find another element of a good PM program in the driver’s report. Federal law requires the driver to check 10 specific items before the vehicle leaves the terminal. At a minimum, the driver must inspect:

  • Steering system
  • Parking brake
  • Service brakes
  • Tires
  • Wheels
  • Lights and reflectors
  • Horn
  • Windshield wipers
  • Mirrors
  • Emergency equipment

    Your garage must repair any defect or deficiency in these 10 items before the vehicle returns to the road.

    Your maintenance team can take advantage of this daily inspection to further the PM program. Besides inspecting components, your drivers can tell your mechanics about quirks in handling or signs of wear. All can be clues to possible component failure.


    Michael D. Winter is regional service manager for Workhorse Custom Chassis in Highland Park, Ill.


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