Big Van on Campus

How to manage a fleet of low-mileage university vehicles.

With 55,000 students in just a five mile radius, University of Colorado Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) Bryan Flansburg knows all about maintaining small spaces. "Most universities are like a city inside of a city," Flansburg says. "We have anything from golf carts, to trash trucks to buses and everything in between."


For David Carr, University of Washington's CAFM (a certification based on the National Association of Fleet Administrators education and training program), the university setting is particularly unique since it involves so many different maintenance trades, and therefore a multitude of types and applications of vehicles. "The university is really old and we have really old buildings, so we have a lot of maintenance people and trades-people—carpenters, plumbers and masons. We have a lot of vans and pickup trucks for them," he says. "Grounds are severely important on a college campus, so we have a lot of gardeners, and arborists; we have a lot of different equipment."

This is not to mention the various buses, refuse vehicles, cargo trucks, dumps and cars that the university fleet includes for its daily operations. "It's like a small city," Carr says. "We have about 700 vehicles on a 650 acre campus."


Carr's biggest concern for now is the same as everyone's: "The concern in the future will be with diesel trucks and the '07 emissions standards," Carr says. "We're concerned since the trucks never go very far or very fast to get up to temperature."

The necessary temperature for passive regeneration on the new engines—the process of soot burning that is a replacement for an exhaust system—is easily obtainable in a highway application. In these cases, the regeneration occurs while the vehicle is operating, often even unbeknownst the driver. But in low speed applications where the engine is at or around an ambient temperature, it is often necessary to initiate "active regeneration" to burn the accumulated soot in the engine. "Active regeneration" mostly demands a monitored, parked and running vehicle.

"We're going to have to idle for extensive periods of time," Carr says, skeptical of the estimates engine manufacturers have given. "They say only ten or fifteen minutes, but you do that every day or every couple of days… I take it with a grain of salt; it might take a half an hour," he says. "You're taking a driver who's got a CDL, and you're going to pay him to idle his truck. And we have extensive policies against idling, because we don't want people to idle."


Both Flansburg and Carr discuss the difficulties in maintaining a consistent turnover policy in a fleet that doesn't rack up the miles like your typical over-the-road trucks.

"In most campus environments, the utilization of a vehicle cannot be judged by mileage alone. Because of how small the campus is, you just don't get enough miles on vehicles," Flansburg says. "The vehicles get very low miles on them, but it's a very abusive mileage."

So imagine a reasonable-seeming policy where vehicles are replaced every 50,000 miles. "We got rid of an 11 year-old van with 20- to 30,000 miles on it," Carr says. "That's not a hundred and twenty thousand—that's twenty thousand. The door hinges wear out, and the door handles wear out and the seats wear out… and then the rest of the vehicle—you drive it every day, but you're driving two miles a day—one mile to the job site and one mile back."

Carr explains the transition in the policies for University of Washington's vehicle replacement program. "We had planned on replacing cars at five years and trucks at ten years, and we just now reevaluated that.

"Selling a five-year-old car with 30,000 miles on it doesn't make any sense. And selling a ten-year-old truck with 20,000 miles on it is really hard to do," he says. "Particularly, they're building the vehicles better—right now our strategy is to get rid of all pre-1996 vehicles, because that's when OBD emissions standards came into effect. So everything prior to 1996 goes away, and anything newer—light duty—we're going to keep 12 or 13 years. Then it becomes more case-by-case."

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