Drivers are the First Line of Defense

I'm sure your drivers are pretty well trained as drivers. They spend most of their work life in or around our companies' greatest assets - our trucks.

Most training dollars are spent on making sure they operate vehicles safely and economically. In fact, as you are no doubt aware, drivers are the biggest variable in the operating costs (such as fuel, tire consumption, etc.) of a fleet. Their driving style also impacts maintenance costs (brakes, clutches, etc.) and ownership costs (vehicle life, insurance costs, etc). That puts the driver or operator front and center of an efficiently run fleet.

I want to open up another can of worms. The driver is potentially the first line of defense as a full-fledged member of the maintenance department too.

The pre-trip inspection, as it was conceived, was an operational inspection (answering the question does it work?) that has all the hallmarks of a basic PM. In fact, with some training and support, the pre-trip could be a full on PM inspection. If you add in topping off the oil, brake fluid and antifreeze, it looks more and more like a maintenance activity.

In the test for a CDL in California, for example, all areas of the truck are covered (extra areas for busses). What's more, the candidate must pass the pre-trip inspection before even taking the written or road test. The pre-trip inspection includes the entire vehicle, including lights, wheels and tires, brakes, suspension, cab, trailer, engine compartment, gauges, steering play and many other areas.

These checks, while quick, might mean the difference between a truck on the side of the road waiting for help and an unhappy customer, or a happy customer with on-time, safe, delivered product. And let's not forget about the safety aspects and the potential reduction of serious safety exposures.

Your PM system is the three Ps: prevent failure, postpone failure and predict failure. Small tweaks in the already mandated pre-trip inspection can improve your identification of deterioration.

How much effort is put into training the driver to see like a master mechanic? Remember, the better the inspector, the longer lead time you have to fix the problem before failure. A good inspector will see and report problems before they are even really problems; when they are cheap and easy to fix.

I can imagine a serious effort to transfer some of the knowledge of the master mechanic to the driver with the idea that the pre-trip inspection is fully a PM and is managed by the CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System). The driver is trained to detect impending failure even if the symptoms are subtle.

I see an ongoing class from all the fleet experts designed to upgrade the driver's inspection skills. Imagine the driver being able to tell the condition of the tires almost as well as the tire specialist. I could see fewer road calls for tire issues.

Using photos, videos and descriptions the knowledge can be continually passed on. Once someone is trained, the actual inspection will not take any longer. Oh, and to make it work better, why don't we borrow the aircraft check list (which could be another whole topic).

In industry, the involvement of operators to this kind of activity has been growing. The formal name is TPM (Total Productive Maintenance). In a limited maintenance role, the operators take over basic maintenance. In the field we call basic maintenance TLC (tighten, lubricate and clean).

It is interesting to note that in a factory, 75 percent of all breakdowns are related to problems in one of these three areas. I don't know any research on fleets, but I'll bet failure to tighten, lubricate and clean are at the top of our chart as well.

The maintenance role is only one of the roles taken over by TPM operators. The factories that adopt TPM have also adopted another role. The operator becomes the advocate for unit health and is vigilant against misuse. They don't abuse their unit and will not allow anyone else (including maintenance) to abuse their unit either.

I think the operator is the key to a new world in fleet maintenance management.

For the California pre-trip inspection training booklet with details of how and what to inspect, visit:

Joel Levitt has trained over 6,000 maintenance leaders from over 3,000 organizations. Since 1980, he has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues.