Vehicle maintenance is a crucial part of proper fleet management. Like anything, proper maintenance helps things not only last longer, but perform better in the moment as well. Maintenance is like stretching for athletes. The more consistently the athlete stretches, the better they are to perform in the long run, and the fewer injuries they are likely to suffer. Vehicle maintenance is no different, especially for fleet vehicles that travel vast amounts of miles almost daily. Proper maintenance helps trucks last longer, and can help save on things like minor repairs and even fuel costs. And in today’s environment of inflated fuel costs, efficiency is everything, and can heavily impact your bottom line.
With that said, just throwing out recommendations like “maintain your vehicle!” is not as helpful as some may think. How do I know when to get it checked and tuned up? When do I need to do more than a standard service? How do these questions change based on the type of driving each specific vehicle in my fleet experiences? These are all important questions that expose the complexity of finding the perfect and proper maintenance schedule for a specific vehicle.
The Three Main Types of Maintenance
When it comes to maintaining a vehicle (or any piece of technology, really) there are three main versions of maintenance:
Let us take a closer look at each of these and see how they compare.
Reactive maintenance is just like it sounds. This is maintenance performed in reaction to something that happens to the vehicle. For example, if a vehicle breaks down and then is taken to an auto repair shop to be fixed, this would be reactive maintenance. Some may argue that this version of maintenance provides the most production output from the vehicle because the vehicle gets its maximum usage before any service is performed. It also is definitely the easiest to carry out in the moment. The phrase “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” exists for a reason. Why fix something that is working completely fine right now?
Let us go back to our stretching athlete scenario. An athlete can get away without stretching and perform just fine. However, without properly stretching, an injury is much more likely to happen. And even though the athlete saves time every day by not stretching, an injury can sideline them for a long time. In the end, the time saved, and extra production gained by not stretching, is more than lost because the athlete is completely sidelined for a long time.
Likewise, more money is spent treating a big injury compared to spending small amounts of money on injury prevention (ice baths, massages, etc.). And not stretching actually affects daily performance. Trying to perform in basketball, sprint on the track, or weightlift your best while not stretching beforehand never leads to peak performance. The same is for vehicles. Never servicing a vehicle until something breaks also reduces its day-to-day performance.
Preventative maintenance is scheduled maintenance that is performed regardless of whether the upkeep or part replacement is actually necessary. So, while this type of maintenance is designed to always keep vehicles in a healthy condition, it does not factor in the actual state of the part. In actuality, preventative maintenance means a service technician has a predetermined list of things to check/repair/replace and a predetermined calendar to perform those checks and repairs. This is similar to our personal cars having their regularly scheduled services every 5,000- to 6,000 miles. In our athlete metaphor, preventative stretching would be doing a predetermined list of stretches each morning before exercise. For example, stretching hamstrings, quads, chest, and calves every morning. Preventative maintenance takes some time, though, so proper planning needs to happen to cover for the lack of production caused by the maintenance being performed.
In general, this type of maintenance is good and helpful in preventing vehicle breakdowns. However, since preventative maintenance operates on a predetermined list of things to check and replace/repair, and happens on a set schedule (based on either miles driven or time elapsed), critical issues can be missed, which can lead to those long repair times and the big loss of production output that we want to avoid. That is, in fact, why it is called preventative maintenance, because it is supposed to prevent long repairs and vehicle breakdowns.
Let us go back to our athlete. They stretch their hamstrings, quads, chest, and calves every morning before working out and see no injuries or lingering pain during their routine. However, as time goes on and they try elevating their workout by adding more weight, they begin to feel pain in their lower back after certain lifts. But overall, they still exercise fine so they proceed as normal. Finally, their lower back gives and a muscle is pulled, causing the athlete to have a major injury which requires a lot of recover time and money to treat. While those stretches helped with their legs and general looseness, a lingering problem went missing and caused a major injury because it was never addressed.
In the case of a vehicle, this is akin to a driver wanting to get a job done faster, so they accelerate harder, which results in routine harsh accelerations and harsh braking. This difference in driving patterns requires a different maintenance schedule. However, since preventative maintenance works on a predetermined calendar, the issue is not addressed in time (or in some situations, at all) and therefore the car’s brakes are damaged and need to be repaired, sidelining the vehicle for a considerable amount of time. This situation is the worst to have because both time and money are spent routinely on vehicle upkeep, but the vehicle still breaks down in the end and needs an extensive repair, costing even more time and more money to fix.
So, how do we stop this situation? What can we do?
Predictive Maintenance utilizes real-time data to identify any problems before they become serious and halt production. Fleet managers will look at the condition of the vehicle and then repair or replace parts when necessary. This involves regular inspection and ensures repairs and replacements happen before any serious issues arise. And should something need to be repaired or replaced, the downtime is much shorter because the repair is more specific and based on real-time data. In essence, predictive maintenance allows for a process in which systems can reach their full life cycle and repairs can be performed before serious problems occur. It is almost like the best parts of preventative and reactive maintenance in one.
In our athlete example, predictive maintenance involves the athlete constantly checks their body after workouts and addresses issues as they arise. So, when they start feeling lower back pain, they adjust their stretching routine to include foam rolling their lower back and stretching it out.
While predictive maintenance seems like an obvious choice for fleet managers to pursue, there are some minor challenges that come with pursuing this strategy. Since predictive maintenance revolves around obtaining real-time data and consistent inspections, personnel are needed to identify those issues and interpret the data they receive. This could mean more hirings of mechanics/experts and/or more training. Also, fleets will need ways to obtain the data that need to be reviewed. While it is easy for an athlete to feel what hurts in the moment and stretch that area, determining what could be wrong with a vehicle is no easy task.
Predictive maintenance offers the most complete solution for fleets. It allows each part to be used for its full lifetime, and minimizes vehicle downtime when repairs are needed. Because these issues are identified before the they become serious, the repair can be limited to what is actually needed and nothing else.
The process of obtaining the data to accurately conduct predictive maintenance is still improving, but telematics solutions such as Positioning Universal’s FT7500 Advanced Telematics Tracker and PosiVision EdgeTM AI Camera provide many insights that are invaluable for predictive maintenance measures.