Maintenance Best Practices – Part 1: The Right Specs for the Application

By March 3, 2016 Maintenance

When you talk about maintenance best practices, specifications, supplier selection, and preventive maintenance should always be part of the conversation. This 3-part series details how the choices you make can make a major difference in your fleet’s performance and cost.

Technology in the truck industry has changed drastically over the last several years. In order to spec the right truck for the application, you need to know a lot more information than you did years ago. Now, fleet owners and managers must be able to assess the total life cycle cost of each vehicle in order to truly optimize their fleet. Selecting the right vehicle, components, and ECM settings is critical to this mission, and it doesn’t just happen by chance. First, you must do a thorough application and duty cycle needs analysis.

The things to consider to assess total vehicle life cycle costs are many and varied and include idle time, distance between stops, percent of time fully loaded, electrical/air supply demands, the balance of fuel economy vs. performance, safety technologies, terrain, and so much more. With so many component options available to meet the specific duty cycles and application needs, how do you choose the one that’s right for your needs? The right selection can considerably reduce fuel and maintenance costs; however, the wrong selection could prove catastrophic. Choosing a technology that helps save on fuel costs may sound perfect, but put in the wrong application, that technology could, in fact, have a profoundly negative affect on your maintenance costs.

Although reducing the vehicle acquisition investment is always a goal, fleet managers should always feed the following into the equation: reliability, downtime, maintenance costs, fuel and CSA expenses, driver acceptance, resale value, and on-time delivery. Negative outcomes in these areas can far outweigh a few thousand dollars that you may save up front.

Here are a few recommendations

  • ECM settings can significantly impact both fuel efficiency and maintenance costs; projections estimates can range as high as 3% to 7% fuel savings. Many of the settings are basic, like progressive shifting, torque limiting, cruise control options, idle shut downs, auto elevate, etc. Other settings can be much more complex and may or may not be necessary. What is critical is for fleet professionals to understand the demand and to set the parameters for a specific application.
  • In general, OEMs spec batteries and alternators to meet the demands of the cab and chassis, and a little extra. But, add in other power demands like a high liftgate cycle count, high APU demand, or lights which are required to be left on during unloading and things change. The situation is compounded even further when high electrical demands are matched with shortened drive times between stops. The result is more power is being removed from the batteries than is going back in. Batteries can only take many deep cycle discharges and they will fail – how many depends on the battery type and quality. The result of mis-spec’ing an electrical system may not show up for a year or so and can sometimes be mistakenly blamed on a poor maintenance practice or a defective battery. It doesn’t take too many failed batteries, road calls, or upset customers throughout a vehicle’s life cycle to justify upgrading the electrical system. A few hundred dollars spent on upgrading electrical components up front can end up saving thousands later on in maintenance costs, downtime and substitute vehicle expenses.
  • Make sure you have the right extended warranty for the situation. It doesn’t take too many shop visits to offset the investment of many extended warranty packages. In general, extended warranties may hold less value when it comes to less demanding duty cycles and mileage applications; however, when it comes to high demand applications, the warranty can be much more valuable. When considering an extended warranty package, ascertain the duty cycle, load demand, stop-and-go vs. line haul, terrain, and away-from-home service options.

Making the right decisions up front will save you in costs and time later on.

Joe Puff

About Joe Puff

Joe Puff is the Vice President of Truck Technology and Maintenance for NationaLease. He has more than 35 years of experience in complex sales and fleet operations, including extensive experience in commercial vehicle maintenance. Joe is responsible for advising NationaLease members and the National Account team of new truck technology, industry trends, and maintenance best practices.

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