Smart fleet management

Taking care of your vehicles requires a strategic companywide plan
By Nathan Edwards
July 21, 2009
RETAIL : BUSINESS, TRUCKS
Efficient fleet management is critical to any business that relies on a number of company vehicles. It keeps costs in check and contributes to the efficient use of personnel time, safety and quality customer service. Taking care of a vehicle fleet requires a strategic companywide plan to manage repairs, provide maintenance schedules and structure a budget for each vehicle. In this article, I’ll focus on vehicle maintenance. In an upcoming issue, we’ll examine cost-saving measures in regards to fuel and vehicle repairs.
 
Oil changes
At Glass America, headquartered in Chicago, I am responsible for 350 company vans at 94 service centers spanning 22 states. Our maintenance plan includes regular and consistent oil changes. This is an important service that every car, van or truck requires to keep moving parts well lubricated, clean and running smoothly. Often though, taking the time to get that oil changed is easier said than done. When business is good, drivers get sidetracked with back-to-back appointments and focus on keeping customers happy. Regular oil changes get delayed. If a fleet manager has vehicles that are consistently late on oil changes, it negatively affects the health of the vehicles, resulting in more wear and tear in the fleet.
 
To avoid this scenario, create an oil-change schedule for all vehicles in your fleet. Glass America runs oil-change reports for each regional store manager to track when oil changes are performed and when the next appointment needs to be scheduled. Each technician receives a reminder to get the oil changed, and then must report back to verify that it was done on time. The reminders can be done via e-mail or postcard. This simple schedule and sense of accountability can improve the consistency of vehicle maintenance essential for long-term performance.
 
Tire pressure
Monitoring tire pressure is an important component of vehicle maintenance. It’s easy to do with a simple gauge and can prevent excessive wearing of the treads, so that tires do not require replacement as often. Well-inflated tires provide a gentler, smoother ride for vehicles and help to maintain proper driving speeds. 
 
The number of miles per gallon of gas that a vehicle consumes also is affected by proper air levels. Poorly inflated tires can cause a vehicle to drag, requiring more gas to fuel the vehicle and push it forward.
 
Over-inflated tires are more susceptible to getting holes or cuts when running over debris. They are also more likely to rupture when they hit a curb or speed bump, because they do not have as much give as a properly inflated tire.
 
Poorly inflated tires do not perform well in inclement weather. In the rain, even slightly deflated tires can cause skidding. In the snow and ice, poorly inflated tires cannot properly grip the road, and traction can suffer.
 
When drivers are busy, it is not easy to remember to check the tire pressure, even if it is as simple as stopping at a local gas station to use the air pump. Temperature changes can quickly affect the air level of tires. Without constant supervision, tires might be fine one day and low the next day, unbeknownst to the driver.
 
Glass America recently sent new pressure gauges to all of its stores. The simple act of educating employees about the importance of maintaining air levels in tires can prevent tire deterioration, improve safety and save money. Sending out reminders can also go a long way to reduce overall costs and prevent tire replacement.
 
Treads
Tire wear can occur from over- or under-inflation. If the center of the tire is worn, that means the tire is bulging out in the center because there is too much air in it. If the shoulders of the tire are more worn than the center, it indicates they are low on air pressure.
 
Worn treads also can be a symptom of a bigger issue. Depending on the wear pattern, they can indicate wheels that are out of alignment, or steering and suspension parts that are not functioning properly.
 
Toe wear, or feathering, is an indication that the tire rod ends or inner tire rod sockets on the steering gears might be worn or loose. It also can be a symptom of bent steering arms or rear wheels not aligned correctly. If the steering is pulling or loose, that can point to a problem with the tire rod ends, or rear wheel toe or axle alignment.
 
Camber wear, or one-sided worn tires, indicate loose ball joints, the collapse of control arm brushings, a bent or misplaced spindle or strut, a dislocated strut tower, a shifted engine cradle or a broken spring in the suspension.
 
Cupped tread wear results from the tires excessively bouncing around on the road because of imbalances in the weight of the tires. This can be caused by weak shock absorbers or struts, or an imbalance of the wheels and tires.
 
To measure tread wear, place a penny upside down in the tire’s grooves in between the treads. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, the tire is worn out and needs to be replaced. If you can see cords showing through the rubber, or notice bulging, deep cracks, or separation from the casing, replace the tire immediately because it is on the verge of failing.
 
 

 

The author is vice president, business support, for Chicago-headquartered Glass America, one of the largest independently-owned auto glass replacement and repair companies in the country. Write him at nedwards@glassusa.com.