Medium Duty: Weighing Life-Cycle Replacement Costs

How do you know the best time to replace your vehicles?

When facing tough economic times, NTEA’s Johnson says fleet officials can end up being their own worst enemy.

“One of the things I see that just always drives me crazy is whenever budgets get tight, the first thing (fleets) do is cut back on maintenance, and deferred maintenance is one of the absolute worst things you could ever do, because it’s going to cost you triple,” he says. “You’re going to have to catch up on that maintenance eventually or replace the vehicle, and if you replace it early, that’s going to cost you money. In the interim, you’ve got lost productivity because of the condition of the vehicle. So as the vehicle becomes less and less reliable and capable because of deferred maintenance, its productivity goes down.”

Staying on top of preventative maintenance schedules and not fudging the timing one way or the other is absolutely critical, Johnson says.

“There are a lot of theories on preventative maintenance, and people will schedule them on all sorts of criteria—hours or days, miles driven,” he says. “You can use those as benchmarks, but you don’t want to follow them blindly because if you do that you start to get your maintenance out of cycle. So you’ve got regular PM on your vehicle, if it’s over 10,000 pounds you’ve got DOT inspections and in most states you have safety inspections and emissions inspections in some areas.

“If you get these different things out of cycle, you end up touching the vehicle five or six times instead of once or twice,” Johnson says. “It’s going to cost you an hour of labor every time you touch a vehicle—no matter what you do to it—so if you touch that vehicle five times a year instead of twice a year, you’re going to spend at least three extra hours of labor on that vehicle.”

If every time you bring a truck in for maintenance, it is costing you money, Johnson says, why do it more than absolutely necessary? On the other side of the coin, he says fleets have to keep up with needed maintenance—things like extended oil change intervals seem like a good idea, but do not extend the PM cycle of the vehicle and can end up costing you in the end.

“If you’re not bringing the vehicle into the shop, you’re not looking at it and catching these other little things that are going bad,” Johnson says. “So you may be able to extend your oil cycle, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be bringing it in to lube the chassis and inspect the undercarriage or check the tires—that’s when you catch those things.

“If I have a vehicle up on the lift to look at and it’s got a leaf broken or a spring, I fix it,” he says. “If I don’t bring it in, it’s out on the road and the next thing you know it’s broken down out on the road, and now I’ve got to send the hook out and drag it in with a wrecker. So, instead of replacing one leaf in the stack, I’ve got to replace the entire stack, I’ve got the down-time, the cost of the wrecker and everything else.

“That’s something people tend to overlook.”


At the end of the day, while fleet officials can look to their peers for some answers, it is important to remember that figuring life-cycle replacement is very specific to a fleet and its needs. As much as it might help, (particularly with penny-pinching politicians that government fleet managers have to deal with) there is no magical formula.

Johnson says the best thing you can do is make sure you have all your facts and figures straight during budget discussion times and try to be flexible.

“Just about every fleet has their own theories on how things should be done and I don’t think any two are exactly the same,” Johnson says. “I don’t think there is an answer.”

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