A Brutal Life

Keeping a delivery fleet clean and on time.

If you ask Rob DuPriest to name the biggest challenge to keeping his fleet of 65 delivery trucks on the road, delivering office supplies and office furniture to his customers in Virginia, he'll tell you straight out that it's the drivers who treat the trucks as though they're rental cars.

"It's an ongoing nightmare," says DuPriest, fleet manager for The Supply Room Companies of Ashland, VA. "I don't know what other companies do, but your drivers don't tend to take care of vehicles like they're their own. I don't care if you give them an older model truck or a brand new truck, they don't treat the new one any better. They treat it just like they're driving an old one; it's a rule of thumb, unfortunately."

It doesn't help that DuPriest is responsible for trucks domiciled at eight locations in Virginia and one in Maryland. At his base location, he can only keep his eye on 14 of the 65 vehicles in his fleet. For the rest he's dependent on his supervisors to watch for problems in between coordinating customer deliveries.

"Everything I can hear that could possibly go wrong with the vehicles I'm hearing it over the phone," he explains. "They'll say, ‘Oh, the brakes are making a little grinding noise now.' Well, obviously the brakes were making a noise long before they started grinding. So it leads into another problem of not just putting a pair of brake shoes on the disc brakes but it's rotors, it's the whole nine yards. I try to think that I have control over that, but I'm only as good as when the driver calls me up and says, ‘I've got a problem with a vehicle.'"


Dennis Soch also manages the maintenance activities for a fleet of delivery trucks that he rarely ever sets eyes on. But in Soch's case, we're talking about 132 straight trucks (in addition to 262 Class-7 tractor-trailer combos) delivering Keebler and Kellogg's brand snacks to thousands of grocery stores across the country.

"We depend on our field management at our distribution centers to watch over our equipment," says Soch, who operates out of Kellogg's Corporate Headquarters in Battle Creek, MI. "Last year I visited all 48 distribution centers. This year I'm staying in the office, reviewing and watching over expenses and repairs. It's hard when you've got oil samples coming in every day, and I have to review repairs and accidents and all those other goodies."

At the moment, Soch's concern is analyzing oil samples to establish efficient PM intervals for the 600 International 4300s and 4400s and 30 Freightliner M2s the company "pre-bought" in 2006. Even though the new trucks are running on EGR technology that's been on the road for nearly four years, Soch finds that there is still confusion in some shops about what type of engine oil to use.

"We are finding some vendors that aren't using the correct oil, even though I put out an approved list," he says. "We still get guys who get confused about different API ratings. The CI-4 classification is important because of the EGR valves. You have to have CI-4 when you're running EGR engines, and we're finding that some of the locations aren't doing that."


Both Soch and DuPriest contract out their maintenance, and both rely on thorough PMs to avoid costly breakdowns and repairs.

What neither can avoid is the constant damage that comes from demanding P&D work.

"To get to some of these grocery stores, it's tough," Soch says. "We're constantly getting hit by somebody who knocks a mirror off and such. We try to spec low-profile lights and mirrors that aren't as susceptible to damage, but sometimes, no matter what you put on there, even with Lexan lenses, well, a tree limb hits it and just knocks the whole lamp right off the body. And it's not the driver's fault."

"With our box trucks it's true that with backing up you crack a lot of lenses. We do replace a lot of those," DuPriest echoes. "They're not high dollar items, but when you replace a lot of them it begins to be. Those vehicles deliver office furniture, but there are low-lying branches that people don't see, or think they can get under. You get the side of the truck scratched up, or even opened up when you get too close to something and it cuts through the metal box."

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