Fleet maintenance and management is a difficult and hectic undertaking. On top of taking care of vehicle purchasing and driver training, you also need to comply with lots of legal requirements and safety regulations. All the while, there is bound to be pressure on cutting expenditure, maximising productivity and increasing efficiency.
But in spite of all these persistent and critical issues, vehicle downtime remains one of the most frustrating aspects of fleet maintenance and management. Whether it is because of a road collision or breakdown, having to go without certain vehicles can prove incredibly costly.
Even so, several public institutions and private companies still fail to address the potentially damaging long-term consequences of mismanaged vehicle off-road (VOR) time. According to a FTA Van Excellence survey, only 36 per cent of respondents measured their fleet VOR time.
For some organisations, this could result in a significant loss of turnover. Others may not be able to service the public or local community, leading to a tarnished reputation, which isn’t always easy to repair.
Therefore, in order to ensure this worst case scenario doesn’t happen, establishing a cohesive and comprehensive vehicle fleet downtime policy with outsourced providers is becoming the norm. But before taking this step, you might want to consider mentioning some of the following ways on how to reduce vehicle fleet downtime.
1. Regular servicing, maintenance and repair
This is arguably the most important and effective method of minimising VOR time. Even though the accidents and breakdowns that require repairs are difficult to manage, these have been identified as the biggest unplanned disruption to vehicle availability.
Therefore, it is vital to have a strong working relationship with your fleet maintenance and management provider to ensure turnaround times are kept to a minimum. Sometimes, delays at repair agents and dealers are unavoidable, but if your provider has an in-depth understanding of the business, problems can often be avoided. For example, vehicle servicing or essential maintenance can be completed out of hours, reducing the overall impact on your business.
Fundamentally, a regularly serviced vehicle that is maintained and repaired to a high standard is less likely to breakdown or cause problems. But remember, employers are legally obliged to ensure all work equipment, which includes vehicles, are in good working order.
2. Purchase new vehicles
Even though purchasing new vehicles might seem like a costly expense, the potential long-term money saving and VOR time benefits are well worth it. A new vehicle will have been built using the latest technology to high modern standards, meaning breakdowns are much less likely. What’s more, new vehicles will always come with a warranty as standard – usually a minimum of 3 years.
Even if your current fleet of vehicles has served you well and continue to do the job, regular and constant breakdowns become a distinct possibility. More maintenance will be required too, which takes up valuable time. Parts could also prove difficult to get hold of and cost more as a result.
Your business or service might not cover many miles throughout the course of a year, but constantly being on the road or in use will severely affect older vehicles.
3. Opt for vehicles that are easier and cheaper to repair
Again, a lot will depend on your type of business or service, as specialised vehicles are often required in certain fields. But, the choice of vehicle can make a huge different to the cost and time of repairs.
Even though manufacturers are reluctant to tell buyers how much their vehicles will cost to repair, insurance companies are now starting to reveal this information. The consumer car market is different to commercial vehicles, but the same basic principles can be applied. Expensive and valuable vehicles typically take longer to fix, as both parts and the main dealer labour rate is higher. Also, vehicles with additional equipment and extras have more things that can go wrong.
Insurance companies recommend mass market brands and manufacturers like Ford and Vauxhall, as there are several of these vehicles on the road, parts are easy to source and cheap to fix.
4. Install speed limiters
Fleet operators don’t want to see their vehicles breaking the speed limit while out on the road. This increases the risk of an accident and subsequent downtime, puts other road users at risk and can cause damage to the vehicle. Therefore, speed limiters have become an attractive proposition.
Even though these sound like a foolproof idea, less than 5 per cent of fleet vehicles are fitted with a speed limiter according to manufacturer Cobra. Some feel that objections from the driver, which could lead to an unhappy and frustrated workforce, is the main reason why more do not adopt it.
However, restricting vehicles to the national speed limit will inevitably lead to fuel savings, safety improvements and fewer accidents. Jobs and journeys might take a bit longer, but downtime will be minimised.
5. Flexible hire vehicles during seasonal peaks
During certain times of the year, you’re bound to have busy and quiet periods. A lot of the time, this can be attributed to the seasons or public holidays. But ensuring you have sufficient vehicles to cope with fluctuating demand is of the upmost importance.
If for some reason you have enforced vehicle downtime, a solution will need to be found. Purchasing additional vehicles is both expensive and risky, as they might not get used during off-peak times. Contract hire vehicles are another possibility, but the terms and agreements might not be ideal in all situations.
Therefore, make sure your fleet maintenance and management provider can arrange some sort of flexible hire. You may have to spend a little bit more money each month, but you’ll eliminate seasonal downtime and always have available vehicles on the road.
6. Courtesy vehicles
Popular with an abundance of motorists when their car requires servicing, maintenance or repairs, courtesy vehicles provide invaluable reassurance and a solution to unavoidable downtime.
For contract and flexible hire packages, you may automatically qualify for a courtesy vehicle while repairs are fixed and rectified. But things might be different if you own your fleet of vehicles, so it is best to check with the fleet maintenance and management provider.
In all instances, courtesy vehicles ensure jobs and journeys will still be completed in spite of downtime.
7. Operate a double working shift
This might not be possible for some companies or institutions, but maximising the use of your vehicles will ultimately be more productive and efficient. Even if a vehicle is being repaired or serviced, you can rest assured that the loss of work would be made back at another time.
Just remember that employing drivers to work during unsociable hours could be more expensive, as they would require a bigger wage. What’s more, vehicles that are being used twice as much might require more maintenance and may need to be replaced sooner.
Another advantage is that the roads are much quieter at night, meaning the chance of an accident is reduced. No traffic will also result in jobs being completed quicker too.
8. Driver training
Even though you can rely on the majority of drivers to do a good job, as it is their profession and they are bound to have thousands of miles experience, you can still implement effective training courses and initiatives.
A well-trained, knowledgeable and confident driver is much less likely to be involved in an accident. What’s more, vehicle wear and tear will be reduced by smooth and careful driving, resulting in fewer breakdowns.
But it isn’t just driving that can be improved and taught through training. To ensure there are no problems with the vehicle, drivers can be trained to carry out daily checks and simple maintenance tasks. In fact, the Road Safety Authority sets out and suggests some of these responsibilities and checks in its commercial vehicles guide.
9. Downtime data analysis
If one or more of your vehicles keeps breaking down because of the same reason or a particular driver is continually involved in accidents, then it is imperative to get to the root of the problem. This can be achieved through downtime data analysis.
Any fleet maintenance and management company worth its salt will have some sort of system to see what is causing prolonged or repeated VOR time. From here, you will be able to address the problem with appropriate maintenance, additional driver training or different scheduling.
Future issues or problems should then be eliminated, which will not only reduce vehicle downtime, but also lead to a more efficient, productive and successful business.
The importance of minimising vehicle fleet downtime
As we have seen, no company that relies on a fleet of vehicles can cope with excessive downtime. Along with costing thousands of pounds, it can also severely impact on established reputations.
Therefore, it is of vital importance to implement certain means and measures to ensure VOR time does not get out of hand. Otherwise it may become detrimental to the daily operations of a business.
From vehicle-based plans to work scheduling and driver initiatives, there are various ways to minimise vehicle fleet downtime. While fleet maintenance and management companies carry some of this burden, the ultimate responsibility falls on you. Even though this might seem fairly daunting, working together to find the most appropriate and successful solutions will deliver positive results.