Improve your management of vehicle maintenance

Regardless of fleet size, type and application, all fleet maintenance managers have one common objective: minimal loss of operating time. Nothing is more important than keeping vehicles running and productive. Maintaining vehicles, including repair, upkeep and downtime, has a huge impact on a fleet’s bottom line. A proactive, preventive maintenance program helps fleets keep vehicle operating costs to a minimum.

Many fleets take a reactive approach to vehicle maintenance and that can mean costly repairs and vehicle downtime, say officials with Verizon Networkfleet (www.networkfleet.com), a provider of fleet management solutions for government agencies, small- to medium-sized businesses and enterprise fleets. Fleets need to be able to monitor and collect data on the “health” of their vehicles to fix problems early and reduce costs.

There are three chief elements to reducing vehicle maintenance costs, they say.

1. Scheduled maintenance

Regularly scheduled maintenance is the most effective way to minimize vehicle downtime. Setting preventive maintenance schedules requires knowing the type of vehicle, its usage (mileage, hours and operating environment), OEM warranty, recall status, regulatory requirements, etc.

It is beneficial to know the types of diagnostic problems that typically occur with different vehicle types, note the officials.

2. Vehicle performance

Information on individual vehicle performance on the road is vital to reduce maintenance costs. Having access to statistics on vehicle diagnostics over time is also important to determine if a vehicle is performing optimally.

3. Fuel economy

Vehicles operate more efficiently when they are well-maintained. Therefore, improving vehicle performance through preventive maintenance can improve fuel economy, they say. Monitoring unauthorized vehicle use, excessive speeding, mpg and idling can also greatly reduce fuel usage.

Repairing a vehicle that needs a tune up can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, according to the U.S. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage by as much as 40 percent.

 

TRACK AND MONITOR

Wireless vehicle management systems which merge GPS (global positioning system) technology with wireless coverage give fleets the power to access near real-time productivity and efficiency information on virtually every aspect of their fleet operations via the Internet, Verizon Networkfleet officials say.

In-vehicle devices collect and wirelessly transmit data directly from the vehicle’s engine computer and from a GPS, they explain. Fleet managers can view and monitor online, 24/7, specific vehicle performance data, such as current location, fuel consumption, mileage speed and idle-time.

Some of the systems include remote diagnostic capabilities that notify fleets via email when an exception occurs within the fleet, such as when a vehicle has exceeded a speed threshold or when a there is a diagnostic trouble code from the vehicle’s computer indicating a specific malfunction.

By identifying issues early, managers are able to proactively fix vehicle problems before they escalate into larger issues, the officials say. This keeps vehicles running and performing their functions.

Here are three examples of how fleets are using the real-time information wireless vehicle management solutions provide to cut fuel costs, improve vehicle maintenance and drive down operating costs.

 

BENFIELD ELECTRIC

Based in Aberdeen, MD, Benfield Electric provides residential and commercial electrical contracting services in five Mid-Atlantic States. Faced with unexpected spikes in operating expenses, the company needed to better manage its vehicle fleet and control costs.

It decided to install Verizon’s Networkfleet wireless fleet management system into its entire fleet of vans and light trucks because it liked that it combined vehicle diagnostic monitoring with an online GPS fleet tracking system, according to Jim Tharp, Benfield’s service manager.

Armed with the system’s reporting tools and alerts for tracking vehicle locations, trip details and driving habits, Benfield gained the information it needed to manage its fleet more effectively, he says. Since the installation, the company has reduced fuel usage, total mileage driven per day, speeding and excessive idling.

It was also able to track personal use of its vehicles after hours and on the weekend.

Benfield discovered that 25 percent of field employees were leaving jobs early and taking extended lunches, Tharp says. Eliminating these unauthorized behaviors generated cost efficiencies of nearly $16,000 a year. Meanwhile, reductions in personal vehicle use and idling time, along with more efficient routing, saved close to another $10,000 a year in fuel costs.

Eliminating unnecessary driving while reducing speeding and idling not only keeps fuel use down, it extends the life of the company’s vehicles, he adds.

 

EASTERN MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT (EMWD)

Located in Riverside County, CA., EMWD provides fresh and recycled water and wastewater services to a 555-square-mile area. Forced to establish mandatory water usage restrictions, the district needed to reduce operating and labor costs to make up for shrinking revenues from lower customer consumption.

One of the agency’s initial goals, says EMWD’s maintenance director Mark Iverson, was to make more efficient use of its 350-vehicle fleet. As a part of this endeavor, EMWD extended the criteria for vehicle life from 10 years/200,000 miles to 12 years/250,000 miles.

EMWD installed Networkfleet on all of its 1996 or newer vehicles (300 vehicles). In addition to the potential savings in operating costs, EMWD chose Networkfleet for its plug-and-play installation capability, and because it connects to the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic unit (OBD-II) without cutting or splicing wires.

EMWD can now remotely monitor engine diagnostics and fault codes on those vehicles. Receiving an immediate alert when there is an engine problem allows EMWD staff to proactively repair the vehicle before the problem worsens.

The system also automatically collects emissions data, which eliminates the need to bring vehicles in for biennial smog checks, he says. Proactive maintenance and automated smog checks save both time and money.

Networkfleet’s diagnostic information, alerting and reporting capabilities have also been used to mitigate issues arising from warranties not being honored due to improper maintenance.

Employees had a tendency to continue to drive vehicles even after the “check engine” light went on, says Iverson. Now, the district is notified of all diagnostic trouble codes that activate the “check engine” light and staff can make sure all of its vehicles are maintained properly.

It is also advised of any manufacturer recalls for the entire fleet.

 

Washington County Emergency Medical Services Office (WCEMS)

WCEMS serves residents across the 391,000 acres that made up the Florida Panhandle. Rising fuel costs, along with excessive maintenance and repair bills, threatened the organization’s bottom line and its ability to maintain a high level of service.

To rein in costs, company managers sought a fleet management solution that could reduce wear-and-tear on the firm’s ambulances and emergency response trucks while enabling more control over maintenance expenses. WCEMS also wanted diagnostic monitoring and 24/7 roadside assistance to support its most heavily used vehicles.

Installing a Networkfleet wireless vehicle management system has enabled WCEMS to accurately track response times, as well as the exact location of every vehicle, says Randy Truette, its director of ambulance services.

The system helps to resolve legal issues that can arise for public service agencies like WCEMS. For example, if one of WCEMS’ vehicles gets in an accident, managers can verify its exact speed and position via Networkfleet tracking. If a citizen complains that it took WCEMS too long to arrive at the scene of an emergency, the company can resolve the situation by providing precise details about the route.

He says the solution has also “significantly” reduced fuel expenses and its maintenance reminders have further cut costs by extending brake usage from five to eight months, meaning fewer replacements and associated expenses.

Our overall costs dropped in one year, notes Truette, and that doesn’t count the savings from proactive repairs.

 

DATA USE

Wireless vehicle management solutions provide different types and amount of data that can be used to reduce operating costs and keep vehicle downtime to a minimum.

The true effectiveness of any such solution, however, is determined by how well maintenance and fleet managers transform that data into meaningful and useful information to improve and optimize business decisions and performance.

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