Alex Keenan │ Fleet Maintenance
2022 Peterbilt 389 SuperRigs

Six best practices to optimize preventive maintenance

June 28, 2023
Optimizing preventative maintenance doesn't just mean properly scheduling intervals and assigning the right techs to the job, it also means ensuring that the shop is well-stocked and prepared to maximize an asset's downtime.

Preventive maintenance is a crucial aspect of fleet management that helps fleets minimize downtime, improve safety, and get the most out of their equipment. These best practices can help fleets optimize their PM programs.

1. Establish maintenance intervals: Creating a schedule ensures equipment doesn’t go too long between services. “You need to have a schedule, and you need to stick to it and not just for oil changes and filter changes but for other things that should be checked regularly,” said Kirk Altrichter, executive vice president of fleet services for Kenan Advantage Group.

Fleets typically take either a time- or mileage-based approach, but Daniel Mustafa, director of technical service for TravelCenters of America, said determining which is best can turn into a “fine science,” especially because a vehicle’s application can alter needs. “If you drive in a dusty environment, you’re going to have to change your air filter more often than somebody in the Northwest, whereas that person in the Northwest is going to have to change their air dryer more frequently,” he said.

Read more: Coordinating and optimizing preventive maintenance

Ben Johnson, director, product management, Mitchell 1, advised fleets to combine OEMs’ recommended maintenance schedules with their applications. “It is blending that information with the actual use of the vehicle, types of payloads it hauls, regions it operates in, and more,” he said.

A. Duie Pyle uses a combined time- and maintenance- approach for its power units. “Trucks on a highway application have a higher mileage interval versus the ones in a more urban environment. For the lower mileage, it acts as a safety net,” Carrano said, adding that trailer and converter dolly maintenance is on time while forklifts go by operation hours.

At Cox Automotive Mobility Fleet Services, performance managers help clients navigate interval changes as new lubricants, equipment, or applications come into play, said Kevin Clark, head of shop operations for the company.

2. Draw on data: Onboard technology monitors the health of most major systems today, including engines, transmissions, body, exhaust treatment, and trailers. “Incorporating this data flow into your preventive maintenance program can be key to solving issues before they become breakdowns,” explained Dave Walters, sales support engineer for Trimble Transportation.

Johnson said data can reveal patterns in vehicles equipped with the same engine, transmission, braking systems, etc., helping fleets get ahead of problems before they occur. “If a vehicle comes in at 150,000 miles for an oil change and brake job but, historically, we know the engine alternator fails about the same time, consider if you’d rather go ahead and replace that alternator during a PM scheduled maintenance event rather than wait for an unscheduled event,” Johnson said.

While data is valuable, shop managers frequently oversee multiple assets and may receive hundreds of fault code alerts daily. “This can easily become a data overload if you don’t have a system in place to help manage the volume,” Walters said.

3. Track critical KPIs: Tracking key performance indicators related to maintenance can help fleets optimize maintenance operations, make data-driven decisions, and maximize performance. Mustafa said unscheduled maintenance is the ultimate KPI used to determine if preventative maintenance is effective. “You should see your unscheduled maintenance trending down,” he said.

Walters recommended fleets monitor KPIs related to the frequency of service repairs that occur between PM service events and PM completion rates. Other important KPIs include PM compliance, employee productivity, and cost per mile.

A. Duie Pyle also monitors driver write-ups. “If we have a location with a high number of driver write ups, we‘ll see if we have a problem with the PMs or if we need to re-train techs,” Carrano said.

4. Sync services: Syncing maintenance needs with scheduled PMs can help minimize downtime. “Any related work that isn’t necessarily needed can be done at the PM as well. It isn’t affecting the driver’s ability to do the job, so if they wait for the time to do the PM, you aren’t doing extra things in between,” Altrichter said.

Fleets often schedule DOT inspections to coincide with a PM. “That is what we see most often together,” said Jason Richards, program manager II for TravelCenters of America.

Read more: Streamlining preventative maintenance operations

Johnson said that as predictive analytics becomes more prevalent, items can be added to PMs, so they are addressed during scheduled maintenance events.

5. Monitor inventory: Fluids, filters, grease, and any other products needed for PMs should be on-hand to minimize equipment downtime. “Those items should all be captured in the PM itself and, as a vehicle is being scheduled, those items should be determined to be on-hand or ordered [and arrive] by the time the truck arrives,” Johnson said.

With supply chain issues still impacting the heavy truck parts availability, planning for and keeping the right inventory of PM-related parts can be challenging. Mitchell 1 has an interface for connected vehicles to be able to communicate to their preferred shop to advise when a service is needed. “The further ‘upstream’ we can understand a need at the shop, the better they’ll be able to be ready for that vehicle with the correct parts and talent to address the need,” Johnson said.

6. Test the oil: Richards recommended taking an oil sample at every oil change, which can identify the presence of wear metals and contaminants in the oil. “Oil analysis and the KPIs, viscosity, oxidation, and iron levels are the driving force behind how far to push the equipment. They can also help get ahead of a major failure,” he said.

Plus, by analyzing the oil over time, maintenance providers and fleets can identify trends in wear and contamination levels to help optimize maintenance intervals.

About the Author

Mindy Long