Centralizing Fleet Maintenance: Sharpening the Focus
If your fleet maintenance program is managed at the local level, your vehicles and your company may not be getting the service they deserve — and might not be compliant either. A centralized fleet maintenance program can calm the chaos, bringing your fleet into focus.
Maintenance may not be one of the most glamorous aspects of running a fleet, but it’s certainly one of the most valuable investments a fleet can make — it keeps vehicles safe, compliant, on the road, and extends vehicle life. If you’re not paying attention to maintenance, you’re doing your fleet a disservice.
But maintenance is about more than deciding which service should be performed when. For large, complex fleets, the way maintenance is managed can be the difference between a successful program and a dysfunctional one. So it’s important to understand the differences between a centralized and decentralized program.
Centralized vs. Decentralized
In a decentralized fleet maintenance program, maintenance for large fleets spanning multiple cities and states is managed at the local level — and often by individuals whose core specialty is not in maintenance. In this model every city has its own processes, its own service providers, its own standards, its own billing procedures. Nothing is standardized — everyone simply does their own thing.
“When fleet maintenance is decentralized and individual general managers or business owners own fleet maintenance, we find that quality is an issue, compliance is an issue, and cost is an issue because in some cases you have hundreds of different people touching the maintenance piece,” says Bob Brauer, president, Amerit Fleet Solutions.
With so many moving parts and inconsistencies, a decentralized maintenance program can be chaotic. Local managers can miss out on fleet-wide efficiencies, and have no way of guaranteeing vehicles are properly maintained or stay compliant. And without someone with expertise in maintenance — someone who understands its importance and champions the program — it simply might not get done.
“If you’re a corporate fleet person, you understand that shortchanging your maintenance program doesn’t make sense for your fleet on the long term. A local guy trying to sell a product doesn’t really care about those things. He’s trying to get product out the door and meet a budget rather than worry about whether tires need to be changed or if a vehicle is DOT compliant,” Brauer says. “It’s counterproductive because if a fleet goes out of compliance or the assets deteriorate, it’s likely their costs are going to rise, their downtime is going to increase, and it’s ultimately going to cost the company more money.”
Now, imagine a single company is in charge of maintenance. Its sole focus is ensuring your maintenance program is running its best and vehicles are properly cared for. That’s a centralized program. In this model, such as that used by Amerit Fleet Solutions, an expert oversees maintenance across the entire fleet, ensuring it is completed in a timely manner, and vehicles are on the road and compliant.
What to Expect from Centralization
Better Data, Better Reporting
In a decentralized program, multiple people update data in multiple systems, making it hard to understand fleet-wide maintenance trends, or even get consistent, complete data from vehicle to vehicle. With a centralized maintenance program, you’ll have a single platform to access data for every unit in your fleet. When everyone is on a single platform, you can consolidate the data, view trends across the entire fleet, and get reports for any and all vehicles.
“We’ve invested a lot of money to make sure our customers have online portals to access data and to provide live information from the shop floor they can view at any given time,” Brauer says. “Most fleets that handle maintenance themselves or are decentralized do not have that. Sometimes we see that their technology is severely outdated, but usually we see inconsistencies in data and recordkeeping. We also often find that there is no data at all because the local manager has chosen multiple, small third-party vendors and those vendors simply have no way of transmitting data beyond the actual invoice.”
Instead of being bombarded with bills from various providers, a single fleet maintenance provider like Amerit, provides a single bill for your entire fleet.
Fewer Compliance Qualms
It’s easy to fall out of compliance with state and federal regulations, especially if the person responsible has other duties at the top of their to-do list — or worse, isn’t knowledgeable about the requirements. Decentralized fleet maintenance programs often fall into this trap, which can be costly to fleets and jeopardize the safety of drivers.
For instance, one of Amerit’s clients had previously relied on a combination of in-house maintenance and a handful of providers. But the decentralized program proved faulty. “City managers were trying to run fleet maintenance operations, but they didn’t know DOT compliance, they didn’t know some of the technical things about fleet maintenance, and they were relying on local places or dealers that didn’t have the company’s best interests at heart,” Brauer says. “As a result, the company was not only out of compliance, but also had so many trucks out of service that they were falling behind on deliveries.”
Beyond DOT compliance, choosing a centralized fleet maintenance provider to manage your in-house operations can ensure shop compliance, removing serious and costly liability for OSHA violations from a fleet manager’s plate.
“At Amerit, we ensure that the actual physical shop is in compliance with OSHA so a company isn’t responsible for violations,” Brauer says. “We take over the liability for shop operations, technician training, HAZMAT and safety compliance and all local, state and federal environmental regulation compliance. We have dedicated experts whose sole focus is making sure that everyone and everything operate as safely and effectively as possible.”
Better Vehicle Uptime
Amerit finds that one of the first improvements when taking over a program is better uptime. As a single provider, Amerit can set up operations where your vehicles are located, so less time is spent traveling to and from the repair shop. Plus, you won’t be left waiting in line behind other customers for repairs while vehicles sit idle. Likewise, when vehicles are being maintained to a consistent standard, there’s less likelihood of breakdowns, which directly reduces downtime.
Even specialty vehicles can be serviced at these shops — no need for outsourcing to a distant provider. “We had a customer who had CNG delivery trucks, so we set up a shop right next to their location and made sure it was upfitted to handle CNG equipment,” Brauer said. “Before, 40 percent of their fleet was down because their local provider wasn’t trained — and was trying to take care of 100 other customers in the meantime. But in our case, our Fleet Service Center is dedicated solely to this customer. Our local manager focuses entirely on them rather than trying to take care of everyone in the market. And now we have nearly 100 percent uptime.”
With staff dedicated to your account, you’ll get better customer service too. And if there’s a problem or your mission changes, you’ll only have to make a single call.
What’s the Risk?
Having a centralized fleet maintenance program comes with many benefits, but is there a risk in putting all your eggs in one basket? Brauer says companies are welcome to run a pilot program to ensure they get the benefits they expect. “Through the pilot program, we can demonstrate the benefits to customers who have concerns about whether a centralized program will work. Most customers start small and roll from there to mitigate the risk,” Brauer says.
A Seamless Process
When centralizing your fleet, Amerit doesn’t fly blind. They’ll perform an in-depth analysis of your business including:
- Site visits
- Meetings with local managers
- Identifying goals and metrics
- Interviewing technicians
- Assessing downtime
- Comparing in-house vs. outsourced work to identify efficiencies
- Reviewing expenses and budget
In the end, you’ll get a better-managed maintenance program designed for your specific needs. “Between our Fleet Service Centers, Mobile Service Centers, and our Onsite Workforce platforms, we can deploy services in a variety of ways,” Brauer says. “It’s all designed around being where customers need us, not making them drive to wherever we’ve got a shop.