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Minimising vehicle downtime

All fleet operators face the inevitable prospect of Vehicle Downtime. The larger and more diverse the fleet, the more complex the issue and across the Public Sector and Essential Services, unplanned downtime will have a serious impact on vital service delivery and repairs to the infrastructure. Financially, as well as the cost of repairs and vehicle hire, contracts with Government Departments, Local Authorities, the NHS and Utilities can be seriously jeopardised. Planned downtime for regular vehicle maintenance or servicing can be managed, but what are the causes of the unplanned events and how can they be minimised?

Road Traffic Incidents
No Fleet Manager can plan for an accident, but steps can be taken to much reduce the chances and risk of a damaging incident. Assuming that a vehicle is well maintained, the solution lies with Driver Training and education. Drivers who are taught techniques in safe and efficient driving styles will subject vehicles to less wear and tear, obvious issues being the extra wear on brakes and tyres resulting from aggressive driving. They will also be less inclined to take risks that can lead to serious collisions.
Not only is there a wide variety of highly professional training organisations but once this has taken place, reward systems can be put in place via vehicle telematics. As well as highlighting problem drivers, safe drivers can also be identified through the use of data and a culture of “driving excellence” can be created. This will have a positive effect on vehicle downtime and across a number of other important issues. The same reward system will also act as a catalyst to improving driving behaviour where there is an issue.
Drivers also need to conduct daily pre-use checks on vehicles. This is a vital safety requirement and will identify any concerns with the vehicle that may lead to an incident on the road or unplanned maintenance. Apps are available that not only provide real-time reporting during pre-use checks, but also prove that the check is being carried out.

Vehicle Wear & Tear
Any good Fleet Manager will have systems in place for maintenance scheduling and will also have a reasonable expectation as to what constitutes fair wear and tear. Of course this is vital in ensuring that unexpected end-of-life costs are avoided, but it will also help identify if the demands on the vehicle have changed. For example if during a regular check, cosmetic damage may be noticed. This may not seem serious at the time but might indicate that extra demands are being placed on the vehicle and if not addressed, this can develop into serious damage, leading to the vehicle being off the road. It is therefore essential to identify the cause of all types of damage and establish if they are likely to become part of a pattern.

New Vehicle Specification
Fleet Managers could be forgiven for thinking that ordering replacement vehicles, at the right cost from a good supplier and all in plenty of time to take over from those being de-fleeted, is a job well done! However, whilst that is all very important, it is also critical to review the role of each asset. Contract requirements change and it is not always sufficient to order the same vehicle, with the same specification or payload.
A more demanding application can lead to extra strain on the vehicle, consequent damage with the inevitable downtime or even issues surrounding overloading. Even if the vehicle application is principally the same, there may be an innovative piece of on-board equipment that may help reduce wear and tear and consequently reduce the risk of unforeseen downtime. It is also important to replace vehicles at the right time. If they have been outright purchased, their value will be written down over a period of time. However if a vehicle develops issues that often take it off the road, it may be worth considering an early replacement. Although there may be an extra cost associated with the early capital outlay, it may well avoid far greater costs that result from frequent vehicle downtime.

Rigorous SMP processes are essential. Although planned maintenance or servicing will inevitably take a vehicle off the road, they can be carried out at times of low demand on the vehicle, such as evenings or weekends. Mobile servicing units can also greatly assist with reducing downtime and when that is not an option, choosing a garage network with multiple sites near your operational areas will also be of great benefit.

When the Fleet Manager employs technology and communicates effectively with drivers, the most important thing is to act on the information. This will lead to the application of solutions that will prevent unplanned downtime and promote a safe and efficient fleet culture.

Future Opportunities
Fleet operators must embrace the opportunities presented by the unstoppable momentum towards electric vehicles. Where it is cost effective and practical to replace an ICE van with an EV there are not only the huge environmental benefits, but also the prospect of very much simplified maintenance schedules and much lower risk of vehicles developing faults. This results from the relatively low number of moving parts and an EV is, in engineering terms, far less complex than I CE counterparts.




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