Drilling Down on Fleet Maintenance: Part 1 of 3

Brad Barker
Posted on July 1, 2008

Maintaining a fleet of vehicles is much more involved than twisting wrenches and changing fluids. Operating a reliable and safe fleet of vehicles demands attention to some very important factors. Although the list of factors is quite long, there are three that I feel are the most important. You must have:

1. Qualified/trained personnel
2. Guidelines, a PM program, specifications, policies and rules to operate by
3. Regimented documentation and data recording

Other factors include having a garage, office area, work shop, parts storage area, clean work area and adequate tools and equipment for personnel to use in order to perform their respective jobs.

This article will concentrate on my No. 3 factor, with minor references to the other two.

Documentation is key
The degree of reliability and safety of any given fleet of vehicles is directly related to the effort put into the factors listed above. Vehicle reliability and safety also have a direct correlation to the quantity of scheduled maintenance inspections being performed. Obviously, a vehicle that does not make routine visits to the garage for preventive maintenance is going to be in worse shape and less reliable than one that does. Frequent and expensive repairs due to failed components are sure signs that something is amiss in the fleet maintenance program.

Most fleet maintenance shops will compile some sort of documentation that gives reference to the work that needs to be performed and the work that has been performed. After the work has been performed, documented and filed, how you use these documents can make a significant difference in your overall operation.

For the most part, this documentation provides reference to work already performed. It also gives substance to our efforts in the case of a legal claim. But there is more that these records can be used for if one takes the time to analyze the recorded data. However, accurate analysis cannot take place unless accurate information is recorded from the beginning.

You should include space somewhere in your reporting format for the method or source from which jobs come into your shop. The source, which describes how the problem came to your attention or how the work was generated, becomes a strong indicator of how your PM program is working.

Know your sources
I utilize 10 repair sources in my documentation, and I recommend that you use at least some variation of these in your fleet. My repair sources are:

1. Accident
2. Department
3. Drive-in
4. Inspection
5. PM schedule
6. Rebuild
7. Road call
8. Scheduled
9. Vehicle condition report
10. Warranty

I formally started using these repair sources in 1995 when I purchased my first electronic maintenance program. Your operation — whether large or small, whether using an electronic maintenance program or handwritten documentation — should include a similar labeling system for all work performed.

Labeling repairs lets you categorize the work being performed and allows you a means by which to gauge your operation. I will further describe these 10 sources in Part 2, but first I need to explain what I term “undesirable operational costs” and where they come from.

The undesirables
On-the-road breakdowns, major component failures and routine part failures (of the same types of parts) are counterproductive to the maintenance operation. If you are finding repeat problems with any number of vehicles, a thorough investigation is in order. The investigation should cover the maintenance process, driver habits, geographical and physical demands on the vehicle, and design of parts and bus specifications.

You may be experiencing a mass component failure due to a manufactured defect that affects several of the buses in your fleet. Or you may have experienced routine component failure due to the physical operating conditions that your buses run in. Any way these failures occur will require labor hours that may be better spent elsewhere. More parts than necessary will be used, and the combination of these parts and labor is counterproductive to your operation.

High numbers of reported accidents or damage caused by drivers are also counterproductive and hard on the pocket book. If this problem is apparent at your operation, your driver training program and behind-the-wheel critiquing need serious evaluation.

Performing a high number of rebuilds is not necessarily counterproductive, but it can be if unnecessary rebuilds are taking place. This is an area that needs to be scrutinized very closely.

Certain types of rebuilds consume large amounts of labor and cause unnecessary use of parts. This labor may be used more beneficially in other areas. Many times, parts end up being robbed from the rebuilt component before they are used, and the rebuilt component may become obsolete before it is needed. Also adding to the cost are the specialized tools and specialized technical training that can be needed to properly perform certain rebuilds. This can be an inefficient use of parts, labor and funds.

Also, certain types of rebuild repairs may give you false impressions. You may see that a technician is always tied up performing rebuilds, thus causing you to be shorthanded performing routine maintenance. This may cause routine maintenance times to be extended beyond the norm, especially if a technician has to stop his work to rebuild a part needed for the bus he is working on.

The false impression is that this may indicate that a new technician needs to be hired to fill the gap. Perhaps you really do not need that extra technician if you adjust how and where your labor is used. An examination may indicate that more work can be completed with existing personnel if time is managed differently.

The point is that there are many distractions from routine work that cause you to operate counterproductively. You may encounter slowdowns and wonder what is causing them. Accurate documentation, reporting and analysis can give you answers to improve your overall operation.

In the next part of this series, I will illustrate how to figure labor costs, compare desirable and undesirable work sources, and delve into the essentials of data gathering.

Brad Barker is shop manager at Park City (Utah) School District and a member of SBF’s editorial advisory board.

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