A primer for proactive maintenance

Ask any fleet operations manager with a preventive maintenance program to describe the “old days” and they will invariably wax on about a litany of incidents that left drivers unexpectedly stranded at the side of the road in between pick-ups and deliveries. They will roll their eyes as they recall the chaos and panic of juggling rescues and rescheduling available resources.

Seems like the old days were more like the “not-so-good days” when it came to maintenance. The only prescription for controlling maintenance expenses was to follow the vehicle’s manual. The necessary technology for building a proactive maintenance program simply had not evolved.


However, things are much different today. Engines have become more complex with the addition of emission controls and more sophisticated technology. They can actually self-diagnose.

Thanks to the evolution of the onboard computer, engines have a way to communicate, via a cable connection and exception alerts, that certain mechanical issues are brewing which could cause a major problem if gone untreated.

These exception alerts, known as fault codes, comprise the strongest component of a proactive maintenance program. They provide early warnings so corrective maintenance can be scheduled to prevent issues from morphing into costly, lengthy major repairs and unexpected breakdowns that disrupt delivery schedules.

Early resolution gives the bottom line a boost with contributions to both expense and income. It keeps major maintenance efforts and towing fees in check, and increases revenue miles driven per day.

Beyond the bottom line, fault-code reporting actually makes for happier drivers. They drive with confidence, more assured of being able to complete their routes without interruption and avoiding being sidelined unexpectedly.

Over-the-road drivers want to make it home on time and safely. It is reassuring to them that maintenance has access to their vehicle’s information and can advise them about what to do when they see the “check engine” light.

In addition, fault-code driven preliminary prognoses helps prevent unnecessary, unplanned trips to, and stops at, dealerships.

Finally, consider how fault codes speed up the maintenance process when it is determined that a fault code merits further investigation or attention. Vehicles can be scheduled for necessary repairs well in advance of their arrival at the terminal or a third-party provider’s location.

By way of example, TMW Systems’ TMW Asset Maintenance (TMT) incorporates diagnostic information from PeopleNet Fault Codes. Technicians can now create repair orders within TMT using data from PeopleNet Fault Codes, listing the default component, complaint and reason for the needed repair.

TMW Systems (www.tmwsystems.com) is a provider of enterprise transportation management software. PeopleNet is an onboard computing and carrier fleet communications provider (www.peoplenet.com).


Electronic driver vehicle inspection reports (eDVIRs) automate the creation of inspection tickets and work orders. An inspection form prompts the driver to complete required information. When a driver notes a defect on the eDVIR, the system automatically red-tags safety-related issues for highest priority maintenance.

The system speeds workflow and getting a truck back on the road by notifying maintenance and dispatch before a truck comes in, instead of depending on a piece of paper that may get lost in an inbox. Dispatch has access to estimated completion time and, therefore, can make arrangements for an additional truck to ensure on-time delivery.

When the vehicle repair is completed, a message is sent to dispatch and the vehicle’s scheduled driver, describing the corrective action that was completed. A complete report, including eDVIRs that do not require maintenance, is stored in the system to provide a comprehensive vehicle maintenance history.

Having a vehicle’s maintenance/repair history helps management make better decisions about future issues and vehicle purchases, as well as avoid fines and heavy penalties associated with roadside inspections under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) initiative.


An automated trailer-tracking system provides odometer readings that accurately represent trailer utilization.

By creating location-based hook and drop events for the trailer and storing date/time, location, vehicle and trailer odometer information for the events, fleets have a history that enables accurate, usage-based maintenance for trailers.

Out-of-route miles cause unnecessary wear and tear on vehicles, as well as costly fuel loss.

To reduce out-of-route miles, start by establishing a variance tolerance and identifying drivers who exceed it in a report that compares actual miles driven with published miles for each trip.

Make the number of times a driver exceeds the threshold within a given period a performance metric on the driver scorecard.


Imagine more productive drivers who drive more, happier customers who receive deliveries on time and a maintenance budget free of surprise and excessive repair costs.

Proactive maintenance helps to achieve all of this.

Rick Ochsendorf is senior vice president of operations for PeopleNet (www.peoplenet.com), a provider integrated onboard computing and mobile communications systems.