Gregg Wartgow
Choosing the most cost-effective filter comes down to matching the minimum performance standards to the fleet’s own internal maintenance expectations.

Truck parts tug of war: Increasing profits through parts purchases

Jan. 3, 2024
Choosing the best wearable items, such as filters or tires, that provide performance and don't drain the parts budget can be a struggle. Here's how some leading fleets have found a balance and even increased profit margins.

This is Part Two of a two-part story. To read Part One, click here.

While fleet managers already know the importance of considering their ROI per asset, the maintenance department can indirectly increase profits by doing the same with vehicle parts. This can mean a little more homework on the maintenance side to determine whether aftermarket or OEM parts best suit a fleet's needs in terms of performance, durability, and availability. The potential dividends in decreased unscheduled repairs can make that additional research well worth it.

For examples of how to maximize the value of specific parts, read on to see expert recommendations on purchasing filters, engine oil, and tires.

Finding the value in filters

Filters represent one area where a fleet will often shop around. Finding the best value requires a product that meets a minimum performance standard and also aligns with the fleet’s own maintenance objectives.

For example, if the fleet is looking to extend a vehicle’s oil-drain interval, paying more for high-end filters makes sense. “Maybe you’re averaging three oil changes over the course of a year,” said Willie Reeves, former director of maintenance at PacLease, Paccar’s leasing company that provides full-service lease, rental, and maintenance programs for Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks. “But maybe the oil viscosity is still at 40-50% and might be able to make it to the next PM. Using high-quality, extended-life filters could help extend that PM and drive uptime.”

Sometimes extended-life filters may not be the best value. Ernest Acevedo, director of fleet maintenance and onboard technologies at Massachusetts-based Boyle Transportation, uses the example of a reefer with a premium filter that’s advertised to last up to 3,000 hours. If the fleet has made a decision to be more proactive and replace that filter every 1,500 hours, paying more for double the life doesn’t make sense. Buying a less expensive filter that’s rated up to 2,000 hours would provide more value in this instance, he offered.

“Whatever you decide with any type of filter, just make sure you have a quality product that will perform to OEM standards,” added Paul Pettit, VP of maintenance for Riverside Transport, who has held various fleet maintenance leadership positions since 2005. “You also want to balance quality with cost. The most expensive filter out there is not always necessary. But you don’t want to go with the cheapest, either, if you’re trying to protect your engine warranty coverage and meet the minimum standards. A catastrophic failure and voided warranty could end up costing a lot more than a high-end filter.”

Engine oil ROI

Fleets also have a lot of options when it comes to engine oil. Making the right choice starts with assessing the performance necessary to satisfy the vehicle’s needs. An API-certified oil is a clear indication of that; however, not all API-certified oils are created equal.

“Other benefits like corrosion protection and liner wear protection could be included in certain oils, delivering another level of performance that gives fleets something else to evaluate,” said Greg Matheson, product manager for commercial engine lubricants at Lubrizol, a specialty chemicals company whose additives are used by a variety of OEMs and aftermarket marketers.

Matheson said fleets must also confirm that the oil they are considering is approved by the OEM. Some oils may only be approved for use in older model year vehicles. Other products may promote the fact that they are “suitable for use in” a certain engine. That doesn’t mean they won’t perform well, but it does mean the fleet needs to do a little more homework.

“It’s important to have conversations with both the OEM and your oil suppliers,” Matheson said. “Ask for data showing how the oil performs from a wear protection perspective. Also ask for data on oxidation control because that can help extend an oil drain or at least maximize performance within the oil drain.

Read more: How to spec the right engine oil for better efficiency and performance

“Understanding these things will help fleets fully understand the performance benefits from one oil to another,” he continued.

Fleets could also realize longer-term cost savings by using a higher-performance oil. Extended drain intervals could help fleets save money by reducing downtime. Better protection of components like camshafts, pistons, and liners can help improve the efficiency of an engine.

“Oils meeting API CK-4 certification are formulated and rigorously tested to withstand high temperatures, heavy loads, and extended service intervals,” said Jeff Harmening, senior project manager at the American Petroleum Institute (API). “CK-4 oils also provide shear stability, oxidation resistance, and aeration control, and they are engineered to meet stringent emissions requirements. API-certified CK-4 engine oils are vital for heavy-duty engine performance, reducing maintenance costs, and complying with industry standards.”

Taking it a step further, Matheson said API FA-4 oils can provide an even stronger ROI advantage despite their higher upfront cost.

“The fleets I’ve talked to said FA-4 oil costs a little more per gallon, but say they are reducing fuel costs,” Matheson said. “They’ve done the ROI analysis, and the savings outweigh the extra cost of the oil. That’s what is most important to a fleet maintenance manager.”

On that note, some lubricant experts advise fleets to look toward synthetic oils.

While synthetics typically carry a heftier price tag, the longer-term savings could prove to be worth it.

“A full synthetic or a synthetic blend provides advanced engine protection and enhanced performance,” said Karin Haumann, OEM technical manager for Shell Global Solutions. “These cutting-edge lubricants guard against the damaging consequences of metal-to-metal contact, high loads, cold starts, and prolonged idling. In addition to safeguarding your engine, synthetic oils can enhance fuel economy and operational efficiency in addition to helping reduce CO2 emissions.”

Viscosity is also one of the most important properties to look at, asserted Steven Bowles, Sr. lubes product specialist at CITGO.

“New low viscosity heavy duty engine oils (HDEOs) serve double duty,” he explained. “They go low enough to flow at low temperatures and high enough to protect and perform at high temperatures.”

He added the resulting gains in engine performance also yield significant fuel savings. “A switch from 15W-40 to 10W-30 can result in up to 3% fuel savings through outstanding oxidation performance,” Bowles noted.

For example, construction fleet Brundage-Bone changed to the CITGARD 700 Synthetic Blend SAE 10W-30 on its concrete pumping trucks, and telematics revealed a 2.5% annual fuel savings, according to CITGO. Bowles did advise that chasing better fuel economy with lower viscosity oils should not come at the cost of engine durability or  emissions system compatibility.  

Overall, fuel efficiency is a benefit that’s relatively simple to measure. Some of the other benefits of using a premium-quality oil aren’t so easy to put a number on.

That’s why Matheson is a proponent of oil analysis. “At a minimum, it’s a good idea to draw an oil sample when doing an oil change,” he said. “Send that sample to a reputable third party for analysis. The results will tell you about wear metals and other things going on with the oil. This helps fleets understand how the oil is performing.”

Tire price vs. tire cost

Much like with brakes, tires represent one area where a fleet may want to tread cautiously when it comes to price shopping. The ramifications of tire performance on safety, fuel economy, and driver satisfaction can have a huge impact on lifecycle ROI. “Plus, given the cost of rubber and availability of tires these days, tires are something a fleet definitely doesn’t want to take too many chances on,” PacLease’s Reeves said.

Identifying a tire with the most value is somewhat dependent on a fleet’s overall mindset.

“There are price fleets, and there are cost fleets,” said Kevin Rohlwing, chief technical officer at the Tire Industry Association. “Cost fleets want to know how much a tire is going to cost per mile, or maybe per 32nd in a severe-duty application. Price fleets want to know how much money is being taken out of their pocket right then. They don’t really care about brand name, where the product is from, or the warranty.”

Linehaul fleets should adopt a cost-per-mile mindset, according to Rohlwing.

Pilot testing is a key part of that analysis but also requires a commitment from the maintenance team. All tires across the fleet, not just those being tested, should be regularly measured so an honest comparison can be made.

Read more: Tire makers discuss spec'ing commercial tires by duty cycle

“Check tread depth and tire pressure, and note the odometer readings,” Rohlwing advised. “When you can get to where the level of maintenance on a regular tire is just as good as a test tire, you’ll be able to determine the lowest cost-per-mile tire every time.”

Cost per mile for a linehaul fleet will include a couple of retreads, along with all of the maintenance costs in between. For fleets that aren’t interested in retreading, such as vocational applications and city delivery where the risk of casing damage is much higher, value is attained by balancing that initial tread life with tire cost.

“Where it gets interesting with these types of fleets is with steer tires,” Rohlwing said. “Even some price-driven fleets will spend money on name-brand steers.”

What’s the thinking here?

“If one of the four tires on the rear axle blows out, they feel like they’ll be OK,” the tire expert said. “But if they lose a steer tire, that’s a whole different animal for both the driver and the cargo. So this is another tire strategy some fleets choose to follow to balance performance and cost.”

Availability impacts downtime and cost

If a sound replacement parts strategy is about balancing cost and downtime, product availability deserves strong consideration. Building partnerships with reliable vendors can help limit downtime by improving access to key parts.

Focusing on a handful of key vendors can also help fleets leverage some buying power for more favorable pricing on certain items. That is why Pitt Ohio, an LTL trucking fleet that covers the Northeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic, likes to standardize the same brake system across all vehicles in its fleet.

“Then we only need to stock one type of OE brake pad, brake shoe, and so on,” said Kurt Dunn, senior fleet technical adviser at Pitt Ohio. “By leveraging our relationship with the manufacturer, we can really stock up and get the best pricing. Some people say it’s not smart to put all of your eggs in one basket. But for us, with most of the supply issues during COVID behind us, standardizing and streamlining is working very well.”

Pitt Ohio—and any other fleet, for that matter—just needs to make sure they are standardizing with the perfect part that balances cost, performance, and downtime. That’s what winning the truck maintenance tug of war is all about.

About the Author

Gregg Wartgow

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