Carriers are increasingly wary of lower fares and heeding growing warnings about a possible freight slump. As these companies develop their budgets for the next fiscal year, many will be looking for ways to cut costs and maximize profits to weather a continued market downturn.
While reducing the maintenance budget may seem like a reasonable cost-saving measure at first, carriers should be wary of neglecting their equipment in order to save a few bucks. This technique could easily lead to overlooked issues and roadside breakdowns, which end up costing carriers much more in the long run.
“Unplanned outages can send fleets into a tailspin,” said Jenna Dobrovolny, senior director of business strategy at Uptake. “You have a stranded driver, a load that is going to be delayed or damaged, a possibly angry customer, and the safety hazards of a truck on the side of the road.”
All of these things add up to a big bill, and that’s before the actual cost — in dollars and days — of fixing the truck during a parts and mechanic shortage is factored in. Dobrovolny noted that some fleets have even been forced to create entire teams, called “breakdown services,” to handle the challenges that come with road incidents.
On average, trucks experience roadside failures about every 10,000 miles, according to a 2018 benchmarking study conducted by the American Trucking Associations Technology & Maintenance Council and FleetNet America. The number of breakdowns per truck is expected to increase in the coming years as fleets keep older trucks longer due to delays from newer trucks.
The easiest way to control this number and protect profits is to invest in predictive maintenance technology up front. While convincing carriers to adopt new tools during a downturn can be difficult, spending a little now could mean saving a lot later.
“Time and again we see studies that show predictive maintenance costs only 30% of reactive maintenance costs,” Dobrovolny said. “The best way to avoid these problems is to anticipate and prevent them.”
Historically, carriers have tried to do this through scheduled maintenance or fault codes. This approach, however, does not take into account the unique experiences of each truck. According to Dobrovolny, a holistic solution must consider a variety of factors, including how the truck was driven, the environments it passed through and the quality of the existing parts.
“We often hear that because a part is covered by warranty, reactive maintenance is okay,” Dobrovolny said. “The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t take into account the cost of setting up a driver at a hotel, sending a new driver to save a load, waiting for a bay , the wait for a part, and the hours of work spent managing this scenario.
Implementing planned maintenance – and ensuring safeguards – is certainly better than doing nothing and hoping for the best, but leveraging modern technology to avoid costly problems can reduce reactive maintenance in a way that traditional efforts simply cannot.
“Uptake’s approach is simple, yet the science behind it is sound. If any component or part shows signs of failure or deviates from optimal performance, we will let you know,” Dobrovolny said. “We’re going to advise you on how to fix it, and we’re going to do it across your entire fleet, so you can prioritize which trucks need which repairs when.”
Additionally, these warnings from Uptake often precede error codes, which can overwhelm a maintenance department.
Although the cost of an individual incident is easier to calculate, the long-term human cost of roadside breakdowns should not be underestimated.
“We’ve also heard from fleets that they risk losing a driver if that driver only experiences three breakdowns,” Dobrovolny said.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average long-haul truck driver travels more than 100,000 miles each year. This means that if a truck breaks down every 10,000 miles, a driver can expect to experience up to 10 incidents each year.
Replacing drivers is expensive and time-consuming. The number of qualified drivers on the market doesn’t match the number of positions available, and convincing them to join – and stay with – a company with a history of excessive breakdowns is no easy task.
Breakdowns cost far more than the dollar amount on a maintenance bill. Whether a carrier finds itself understaffed, lacking functional equipment, or both, it will not be able to optimize its operations, increase its profits, or provide a high level of service to its customers.
“Uptake is passionate about supporting fleets and maintenance crews to get them back into the freight business,” Dobrovolny said.