The vocational fleet owner must guard against losing sight of the “truck” in “work truck” by staying too firmly fixed on getting the work done. And just to start thinking about trucks as necessary evils — mere tools at best — is to court disaster.

On the other hand, vocational fleet owners who make the effort to establish a solid preventive maintenance (PM) program will easily be able to stay on top of the care and feeding of their trucks from day one, ensuring they get the most bang for their buck on these rather expensive rolling assets.

“A solid preventive maintenance program can help keep vehicle repair costs and downtime to a minimum,” points out Robert Johnson, fleet management liaison for the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA). “But an inefficient, poorly designed program can cost time and money.”

But, according to Johnson, there are five key areas vocational fleets should review to determine if their PM programs are up to the job of keeping their vehicles highly utilized at the lowest possible operating cost:

  1. Analyze fleet maintenance records. Is enough of the right information being tracked to make informed maintenance decisions? “Simply recording that ‘front end work’ was completed on a vehicle does not give you enough information to detect failure trends for individual front end components,” says Johnson. “Your records should indicate at least the make and model of vehicle, date and mileage at time of service, and services performed to specific components. But all the records in the world won't do a thing for you if you don't analyze the data.”

  2. Examine unexplained “demand maintenance” required between scheduled PM intervals. “Look for trends,” he advises. “If a number of particular failures occur on certain vehicles, determine if it is possible to adjust your PM program to eliminate those failures in the future. One generic program may not work equally well for all fleets, or even for all vehicles within a particular fleet.”

  3. Measure the efficiency of a PM program by the number of “touches” technicians have on a vehicle. “You may have a vehicle scheduled for PM three times a year, but find that it was actually pulled in for service six times - the three scheduled services, plus another three times for various other services such as government-required safety and emissions inspections. Proper scheduling would have enabled these inspections to be handled at the same time as the PM. On average, every vehicle ‘touch’ takes a minimum of an hour of labor. Proper planning can minimize these costs.”

  4. Determine whether a better job of predictive maintenance can be done. “Use your records to calculate your fleet's average service life for various components, so you know when to proactively replace them. If you find that Brand X alternators on Brand Y vehicles fail at around 85,000 miles on average, your PM schedule should include alternator replacement as part of the first service after 77,000 miles.”

  5. Don't set PM intervals too close together. “Intervals should be based on the type of vehicle application, usage (mileage, hours, operating environment, etc.), OEM warranty requirements and regulatory requirements. Review by going back to the manufacturer's recommendations. If your PM intervals are more frequent than the manufacturer recommends, try conducting a lubricant analysis, primarily of engine oil.”

Johnson is slated to lead a session on fleet PM programs during “The Work Truck Show 2006” at NTEA's 42nd Annual Convention at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta from March 1-3. For more information, go to or call 800-441-NTEA.