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Three ways fleets can offset rising maintenance costs

Jan. 15, 2024
Though parts and labor costs are up, fleets can lower overall maintenance expenses by looking at tire programs, oil changes, and DPF cleaning.

The recent Decisiv/TMC North American Service Event Benchmark Report found that based on the top 25 Vehicle Maintenance Reporting System Level Codes, parts and labor in the trucking sector were up 1.9% in Q3 of 2023. With the industry contending with inflation, a freight recession, and high demand for technicians, maintenace teams need to find ways to do more with less, but what else is new?

The ways fleets can be more frugal in the shop varies widey, but here are a few general ideas from previous features that any fleet maintenace operation can implement:

Re-evaluate your oil change strategy

This is one of the most common maintenance expenses, and a few tweaks may help save a lot across a fleet.

Greg Matheson, product manager at Lubrizol, said that while API FA-4 oils cost more upfront, they can end up saving fleets money through fuel efficiency gains.

“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.”

For oil filters, seek to reach a balance between price and performance.

“The most expensive filter out there is not always necessary,” noted Paul Pettit, VP of maintenance for Riverside Transport. “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.”

For more details, read: Truck parts tug of war: Increasing profits through parts purchases

DPF cleaning-as-a-service 

A diesel particulate filter’s job is to get dirty so the air we breathe isn’t. That requires routine cleanings, and several machines can quickly accomplish the task and get these aftertreatment components working like (almost) new.

“When cleaning in-house, it’s possible to pull, wash, dry, and reinstall a DPF in a couple of hours,” said Steve Hoke, president of Diesel Emissions Service, the parent company of DPF cleaning brand Filtertherm. "That’s a same-day procedure, and the vehicle is back on the road.”

This helps a fleet’s uptime, but these machines can cost tens of thousands of dollars. To achieve an ROI in about a year, it would need to have about 100 trucks go through that shop, said Jeremy Anderson, VP of sales at FSX Equipment. Even a fleet shop with under 20 trucks can start generating revenue by offering to clean other trucks’ DPFs.

This worked out well for D&I Farms, a 35-truck fleet out of Fresno, California. “I started out cleaning for my inner circle of truck owner friends,” said Daniel Barandalla, owner of D&I. “Word got out pretty quickly and the business has grown. I have my own team of technicians who also handle the DPF cleaning for our customers.”

Kenworth of Richfield, a dealer in Northeast Ohio, has also earned extra money by cleaning DPFs for neighboring terminals.

For more details, read: Regenerating your DPF cleaning strategy

Tire tracking

Every truck has tires, and every tire wears out at some point. Pushing out that eventuality, and predicting when it may happen prematurely, are two keys to deflating tire expenses. This can be done simply by ensuring tires are properly inflated, reducing the risk of blowouts while improving fuel efficiency.

Tire pressure monitoring systems and automatic tire inflation systems are common, yet not ubiquitous solutions designed to enable these benefits. More generally speaking, fleets should take a more comprehensive look at their tire programs, which for any fleet is one of its stop costs.

“Fleets with active tire management practices report fewer tire-related roadside service calls, more successful retread programs, and overall lower cost-per-mile for tires,” asserted Brandon Gray, operational marketing manager, B2B Services, at Michelin North America. “A well-managed program can save a fleet in many ways including fewer violations, less downtime, and lower unplanned expenses.”

The programs often pay for themselves, said Austin Crayne, business development lead at Goodyear North America Commercial

“Some fleets have reported up to an 85% reduction in tire-related breakdowns, while others claim a 2-3% increase in fuel efficiency,” Crayne said.

For more details, read: Tire management solutions that boost performance and lower costs


About the Author

John Hitch | Editor-in-chief, Fleet Maintenance

John Hitch is the editor-in-chief of Fleet Maintenance, where his mission is to provide maintenance management and technicians with the the latest information on the tools and strategies to keep their fleets' commercial vehicles moving.

He is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, and has worked in the B2B journalism space for more than a decade.

Hitch was previously senior editor for FleetOwner, and covers everything related to trucking and commercial vehicle equipment, including breaking news, the latest trends and best practices. He previously wrote about manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest.

Prior to that he was editor for Kent State University's student magazine, The Burr, and a freelancer for Cleveland Magazine. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician, where he served honorably aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723).

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