The Importance of Sound Fleet Storage Practices

Many fleets – both public and private – unknowingly undermine the usefulness of their vehicles or cost themselves thousands in unnecessary repairs because of improperly stored vehicles. An improperly stored fleet vehicle is typically in an exposed area that is not intended or designed for heavy equipment or vehicle storage.

Vehicles stored in exposed areas may be exposed to harsh seasonal conditions, accelerating weather-related deterioration and reducing the life expectancy of multi-million dollar equipment investments.

Oftentimes, the maintenance of vehicles stored in exposed areas also takes place out-of-doors, potentially compromising staff safety and the surrounding environment.

A best management practice for fleet maintenance management is indoor/protected vehicle storage that is specifically designed for such a task. Such indoor/protected vehicle storage provides safe, long-term cost-efficiencies and benefits in seven main areas.

1. PUBLIC SAFETY

Vehicles and equipment used for emergency response purposes, such as responding to snow and ice storms, water main breaks, sewer pump failures and fallen trees, are temperature sensitive. If stored outdoors during the cold weather months, they may be subject to starting problems or damage that could delay response time during an emergency. This can result in unsafe conditions for the public.

Because vehicles and equipment stored outdoors may experience problems starting up, employees and first-responders may be required to waste valuable time warming up vehicles and cleaning off snow, ice or debris prior to responding to an emergency situation.

2. EMPLOYEE SAFETY

For fleets with motorized equipment and non-motorized towed equipment or equipment attachments, storage of the larger vehicles outdoors during inclement weather may require an employee to climb around the exterior of the vehicle to clean off and prepare the vehicle for use. This exposes the employee to unnecessary risks associated with slipping or falling from the large equipment.

In addition, employees must also access and connect smaller non-motorized equipment attachments, such as plows, mower attachments, towed compressors, etc., that may also pose risks when conducted in inclement weather or in areas with inadequate lighting.

3. COST SAVINGS

Cost/benefit analysis identify the most cost-effective, efficient and safe storage of fleet vehicles and equipment based on a comparison of the cost to construct, maintain and operate a new storage garage versus the additional costs incurred by storing vehicles outdoors (increased maintenance, reduced vehicle life expectancy and non-productive labor for vehicle preparation). The data show that the cost to store vehicles and equipment outdoors over the life of the building will cost approximately three times the cost to construct, operate and maintain a new vehicle/equipment storage garage.

For example, for a fleet with 60 vehicles, the cost to construct, maintain and operate a new +/- 41,000-square-foot storage garage over a 50-year anticipated life span is calculated at $13 million. The cost to store vehicles outdoors over the same time period is approximately $38 million, not including the costs associated with:

  • Potential injuries to the public due to unsafe conditions resulting from inclement weather and/or delayed response times.
  • Impacts to abutters.
  • Property damage or infrastructure damage resulting from delayed response times to emergencies, such as water main breaks or sewerage system blockages.

4. EFFICIENT AND COST EFFECTIVE OPERATIONS

An analysis of fleet management practices shows that on any given day, 95 percent of fleet vehicles should be in working order to achieve operating efficiencies. Storing vehicles and equipment in a minimally heated and well-lit storage garage results in efficient operations by providing an environment that is conducive to both vehicles and the employees.

It also allows employees to quickly access vehicles and connect to the necessary equipment needed to meet the immediate service needs, thus eliminating the loss of productive labor associated with preparing vehicles and equipment for operation.

A minimally heated environment enhances the performance of fleet vehicles, eliminating potential delays associated with cold engines and frozen equipment, and reducing the incidents of unscheduled maintenance.

Interviews with fleet managers confirm a higher rate of unscheduled maintenance services for fleet vehicles stored outdoors. These unscheduled maintenance tasks affect routine preventive maintenance tasks, ultimately reducing the amount of scheduled preventive maintenance performed, which decreases fleet efficiency.

5. PROTECTION OF EQUIPMENT

One of the most important reasons to store the vehicles indoors is to protect the investment in equipment. Many municipalities and businesses have millions of dollars invested in this equipment.

Locating vehicles indoors helps reduce maintenance costs, protect the vehicles from corrosive conditions, extend the useful life of the vehicles and protect vehicles from exposure to potential vandalism.

Current studies show that in fleets where engine and hydraulic oil analyses are conducted, vehicles and equipment stored outdoors have higher counts of metal particulate in the samples taken. This information illustrates the relationship between cold weather starts and a shorter equipment lifespan.

6. IMPACTS TO ABUTTERS

Outdoor storage of vehicles can jeopardize good relations with abutters due to the noise output and exhaust emissions, especially in instances where vehicles require extended periods of idling.

For fleet vehicles on-call for emergencies or storm events, these extended idle periods could take place late at night or during early morning hours, increasing the inconveniences already imposed on neighbors.

7. IMPACTS TO THE ENVIRONMENT

Storage of vehicles and equipment outdoors increases potential impacts to the environment associated with oil or grease entering the stormwater system. Engine fluids from leaks or hydraulic line breaks have the potential to be washed into the stormwater system if a vehicle is stored outdoors.

Conversely, any leaks that occur within a vehicle storage garage will be captured in a closed floor drain system that will prevent potential contaminants from reaching the stormwater system which, in turn, assists in protecting the environment.

SUMMARY

Ironically, a vehicle and equipment storage garage is one of the most inexpensive spaces to construct, but it is responsible for protecting the single largest investment in equipment in many communities and businesses. Some communities and businesses have already realized the benefit of indoor fleet storage.

A survey of departments of public works managers of recently designed facilities indicates that planning for indoor storage of all vehicles and equipment was the number-one priority of the project.

To determine the most cost-effective ways to incorporate best management practices for indoor fleet storage into your program, visit with operations and maintenance experts. They can help provide objective recommendations for long-term storage and management options.

Jeffrey Alberti, LEED AP (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional), is an engineer and team leader at Weston & Sampson. (www.westonandsampson.com.) He has 20 years of specialized experience in service facility programming and design. Michael Hicks, AIA (American Institute of Architects), is a principal architect at the company, with more than 40 years of specialized experience in the design of fleet buildings. A former fleet manager with more than 25 years of comprehensive fleet management experience, Roger Thompson is a fleet management specialist with the company. Weston & Sampson is a full-service environmental and infrastructure consulting firm that offers capabilities ranging from project development and planning through design, construction and long-term operation and maintenance.

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