Save cash and lives with basic van checks

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Of all the areas of van fleet management, service, maintenance and repair is the one that tends to be most easily overlooked.

There are two basic problems. Firstly, many vans are used by different drivers, which in turn means that none of them feel obliged to carry out basic maintenance checks.

The second challenge is that vans have, if anything, become too reliable and many now can travel 25,000 miles without needing to go into the garage for a service.

While this fact is a bonus for fleets in terms of money saved, it can lead to serious problems as a lot can happen to the vehicle in that time – brakes can wear out, oil can be used up – and if a major breakdown occurs, that money saved will soon evaporate.

Worse still, an accident could occur, causing serious injuries – leading to even more financial stress and strain on the company.

According to Fleet Support Group, the problem of driver abuse is a major one.

The company’s nationwide network of Masterserve garages are equipped with Masterview – a remote video inspection system that enables fleet managers to view the condition of vehicles and components anywhere around the country, either in real-time or recorded for later transmission.

When vehicles are booked into Masterserve garages for service and repair, a video link allows maintenance experts at FSG’s Chippenham headquarters to view live pictures via a broadband link.

When vehicle abuse is detected, fleet managers in charge of the damaged vehicles are informed and shown the evidence.

Fleet Support Group chairman Geoffrey Bray said: “Masterview has highlighted numerous horror stories to fleet managers as to exactly what damage drivers are causing to company vans.

“On viewing the live pictures, fleet managers are often horrified at the condition of some of their vehicles.

“They then use Masterview to police the situation.

“The technology comes into its own particularly when vehicles are located away from where fleet managers can undertake their own vehicle inspections.”

As a result of the abuse uncovered, FSG has launched a new campaign called ‘Are Your Vehicles Fit For Purpose?’, which supports the company’s RiskMaster work-related road safety programme.

One way of avoiding driver abuse is to fit one of the new devices such as that offered by Trimble, which check the movement of vehicles on the road and report back to the fleet manager any instances of harsh braking, cornering and acceleration.

We can vouch for the efficiency of these systems, having tested one for a month and reported back in the May 2012 issue of Fleet Van.

The only drawback is that the data takes time to collate, so if you have hundreds of drivers on your books you need to set tight parameters and KPIs to ensure you don’t spend all your time assessing the data.

Assuming that your drivers are a fairly responsible bunch of people and aren’t going out to deliberately wreck your vehicles, there is help at hand for the fleet manager in the form of computer software. Software specialist Jaama, for example, offers a system called Key2 Vehicle Management, which is specifically designed to help with the task of maintenance.

Martin Evans, Jaama’s sales and operations director, said: “Extending vehicle replacement cycles has become a trend in the economic downturn, but in many cases it could prove to be a false economy.

“As the age of a van increases, so do maintenance costs, particularly as they emerge out of comprehensive manufacturer warranty cover.

Keep SMR costs under control

“It makes economic sense to ensure that service, maintenance and repair (SMR) costs are not rocketing out of control and overtaking a used vehicle’s residual value as vans move into their fourth and fifth year of operation when three years was often the pre-recession norm,” he said. “To ensure that fleet decision-makers using our system can easily see at a glance whether SMR costs outweigh depreciation, a simple ‘red’ and ‘green’ forecasting graphic has been developed.”

The system not only stores data, but actively manages, monitors and analyses it automatically, with automated tolerance checks and notifications being carried out by the system.

Optimum time for vehicle replacement

Evans added: “Fleet managers can graphically view exactly where vehicle costs move from a normal curve up to a spike via the ‘red’ and ‘green’ graphics and then identify the optimum age of the van when it should be defleeted.

“Fleet managers must also bear in mind that some van drivers are more likely to take extra care looking after a new vehicle than an older vehicle, which can also mean operating costs rise at a faster rate than before.”

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