- Photo courtesy Rotary Lift

Photo courtesy Rotary Lift

The school year looks a little different now with many districts still operating remotely and not transporting as many students to and from school. Yet many districts still have buses in service, and even those that don’t may be looking for ways to keep fleet maintenance costs low and improve productivity and safety in their fleets.

Proper maintenance is key to keeping buses on schedule, not to mention the fact that a well-maintained bus is a safer bus, and having the right equipment to service the fleet can help increase productivity and decrease downtime.

Finding the Right Lift

A vehicle lift is a must for any school bus maintenance facility, and there are several options available — the most popular of them being platform lifts (or runway) lifts or traditional in-ground lifts. Both have their benefits; however, they both require significant dedicated shop space.

A third, space-saving option is mobile column lifts. These lifts come in four or six columns with adjustable wheel forks for different wheel sizes. Mobile columns offer versatility, since they do not require a dedicated bay, and can be moved wherever they are needed and then moved out of the way once a repair is complete. Moreover, some mobile models are remote-controlled, offering even greater flexibility.

Maintenance managers thinking about adding a lift to their facility should consider the following before buying one:

  • Facility layout. Major considerations include space availability, traffic flow, concrete and soil quality, vehicle lengths, turning radius, and whether the facility is leased or owned.
  • Types, sizes, weights of vehicles to lift. Consider lifting capacity and available accessories, too. If the facility is used to service vehicles other than school buses, such as work trucks or other district vehicles, it is best to plan for any new vehicles that might be added to the fleet in the future. Flexibility is key for a mixed-service fleet.
  • Services performed. The style of lifts selected can have a significant impact on the speed and quality of the work performed. Will it be general or heavy maintenance work, or will wheel work like brakes or alignments be done as well?
  • Efficiency, versatility, and productivity. Evaluate equipment user-friendliness, as well as how fast and useful the features are for the brand and model of lifts being considered. 
  • Budget. When comparing the cost of lifts, look at the overall cost of ownership, not just the initial purchase price. The costs of repairs and downtime from a low-priced lift can easily outweigh any up-front savings. Also, consider whether there is local representation to help if needed.
  • Safety. Always look for the gold label that reads: “ALI Certified.” Only lifts that have passed independent safety testing can use this label. Also, compare safety features and systems.
  • Ergonomics. Most technicians prefer to stand up rather than lay on a creeper under a bus because they experience less physical strain and find it makes the process much more efficient. Some styles of lifts do more to maximize operator comfort and productivity.
  • Maintenance. Good lifts require minimal maintenance while offering years of reliable service. Compare the maintenance schedules on lifts being considered because any time a lift is down for maintenance, it cuts into productivity and scheduled rollouts.
  • Installation. Does installation require adding 220-volt or three-phase power wiring to the shop, or does it operate on 110-volt battery power that can be charged with a standard outlet?
Choosing the right vehicle lift is essential to keeping maintenance costs down. One option, mobile column lifts, offer flexibility. They do not require a dedicated bay, and can be moved wherever they are needed. - Photo courtesy Rotary Lift

Choosing the right vehicle lift is essential to keeping maintenance costs down. One option, mobile column lifts, offer flexibility. They do not require a dedicated bay, and can be moved wherever they are needed.

Photo courtesy Rotary Lift

Tire Maintenance

Wheel service equipment. In addition to finding the right lift, another area where the right equipment can lead to major savings is tire maintenance. Adding wheel service equipment to the shop can help improve shop safety, increase productivity, and minimize fleet downtime.

Tire balancers, changers. If you were asked to name the most important pieces of equipment for fleet maintenance, tire changers would likely not be very high on the list. However, one of the leading maintenance and repair expenses is tires.

In fact, tires, tubes, liners, and valves make up nearly 43% of the top 10 costs in maintenance. With tire maintenance taking up such a large portion of repair costs, it stands to reason that the right wheel service equipment can help prevent surprise maintenance expenses in the future.

While many technicians use jack stands and sledgehammers to do the job, a heavy-duty tire changer can help improve safety, reduce technician fatigue and injury, minimize tire damage, and increase productivity.

When deciding on a tire changer, it is important to consider factors such as the type of wheels typically serviced, the frequency and speed desired to change tires, and the physical shop space available, as the physical size of tire changers varies greatly. The more options, the easier and more efficient your technicians’ task will be, translating to more dollars per day and a quicker return on investment (ROI).

Individual tire balancers have varying ranges of tire sizes and weights they will accommodate. Look for a balancer that is easy to use and quick to operate. In any maintenance shop, time is money, so a machine that is difficult to set up or operate translates to lost revenue.

Tire wear or replacement is directly related to tire balancing, so look for a balancer that can handle the entire fleet, from the small sedan to the 22.5 or 24.5 wheel rim size typically found on buses and one that comes standard with a wheel lift. This can help increase efficiency and potentially reduce back injuries.

Doug Spiller is the heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift, which is owned by Vehicle Service Group. - Photo courtesy Rotary Lift

Doug Spiller is the heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift, which is owned by Vehicle Service Group.

Photo courtesy Rotary Lift

Alignment Equipment

Wheel service equipment is normally thought of as tire changing and balancing; however, the ability to perform wheel alignments is a vital part of any maintenance facility. To fully service today’s high-tech fleet, maintenance facilities need the ability to perform all three services since many repairs now require alignments for procedures as simple as windshield replacement.

Adding alignment equipment and regularly performing alignments on the fleet can help lower fuel costs, improve tire life, and keep fleets out of the shop. By bringing alignment in-house, fleet owners can prevent tire wear. This can pay big dividends in a fleet’s tire and fuel usage.

However, some shops are unsure of the ROI for adding alignment or other wheel service equipment. To determine whether it makes sense to bring alignment work in-house, figure out the average number of miles driven per bus per year, the average miles currently on the steer tires, the average miles per gallon and the price of diesel per gallon. Then plug those numbers into an ROI calculator such as Rotary Lift’s Alignment ROI calculator.

With the increasing complexity of today’s fleets, investing in the right equipment now can mean not having to invest significantly more down the road. Then, should a need for a repair come up, the facility will be prepared to get the bus safely back on the road.

Doug Spiller is the heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift, which is owned by Vehicle Service Group.

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