Fleet Car Maintenance Costs Increase 7 Percent in 2012-CY
Although costs have increased, many fleets continued to cycle vehicles early to take advantage of still favorable resale market conditions. This strategy has reduced average vehicle age and helped minimize maintenance expenses.
Vehicle Quality Remains High
Vehicle quality, from all OEMs, has been steadily improving, which has had an ongoing positive impact on fleet maintenance expenses.
“Vehicle quality is expected to be further enhanced, which is good news for fleets by requiring fewer warranty-covered repairs,” Strom said. “While fleet managers are keenly watching vehicle pricing, EPA mileage ratings, and the resale market, vehicle safety test results are also being incorporated into many fleets’ annual vehicle selector decisions.”
One factor contributing to recent quality improvements is due to changes to the crash test star ratings conducted by NHTSA. “The side crash, front crash, and rollover tests measure the likelihood of injury or death. The tougher test standards have pushed several OEMs to make design changes,” said Strom. “The other recognized testing agency, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), tests for damage to the vehicle structure and impact to the occupants.”
The average cost of preventive maintenance (PM) per vehicle increased from 2011 to 2012. The uptick in PM expense is driven by higher oil change prices and a shift to synthetic and semi-synthetic oil recommended for some models. Chart courtesy GE Capital Fleet Services.
Maintenance Forecast for 2013
The forecast is for passenger car overall maintenance expenses to rise slightly in 2013, according to GE. “Stabilization of tire pricing will help offset increased labor costs and added cost of more expensive vehicle component technology,” Christensen said. “Oil change intervals will continue to be extended and the individual cost per oil change will increase, but the cost per mile should remain steady and drivers will have less downtime.”
Vehicle replacement cycle timing is also a paramount factor in forecasting passenger car maintenance costs. “Skipping one or two cycling periods can create havoc for a bell-curve of vehicle cost data. Replacement tires, brakes, and major component repairs can occur in addition to the added downtime and fleet driver lost productivity,” said Christensen.
Strom cited the trend to keep abreast of the new technologies and providing technician training as a major focus for many single-repair facilities and large national chains, such as Sears Auto Centers. According to Robert Santor, director of commercial sales for Sears, “Our investments include new technician training modules, new diagnostic equipment, and more ASE master certified technicians.”
Average per-tire costs are up 15 percent over the past three years, due mainly to increased raw material costs. Chart courtesy GE Capital Fleet Services.
Santor added, “In addition to our new alignment equipment that performs a free alignment check in about 90 seconds, we launched a new automatic text messaging service to drivers when their repairs have been completed. We also added electronic work order authorization, which has eliminated phone calls, improved data quality, and gets drivers back on the road faster.”
Other national providers have inquired about the use of text messaging with drivers and are working towards incorporating this feature during the service check-in.
“Enhancing the driver’s experience has also received attention with Chrysler as they are bringing new technology to the service advisor desk,” Strom said.
For instance, Mopar has designed a state-of-the-art tablet-based tool called wiADVISOR. “This revolutionary tool brings multiple processes and data streams together for a seamless, improved experience for the customer, as well as for the service advisor,” said Chad Schwenker, regional service & parts manager for Mopar Fleet. “It integrates and automates the work processes, data collection, and data handling, which dealerships have desperately needed. The wiADVISOR tool transforms the scheduling, write-up, and service sales experiences. Immediately after plugging into a customer’s vehicle dash port, it provides VIN-specific maintenance menus for use with customers along with vehicle system vitals that alert the service advisor if the vehicle has available open recalls, flash software updates, and/or if diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) are detected.”
As of press time, the wiADVISOR rollout has started in many Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge and Ram dealerships and is scheduled for completion in 2013. According to Mopar, the customer experience is improved by making the customer-service advisor interactions:
- More efficient: Efficiencies of data management and collection enable quicker scheduling and write-up tasks, which creates more time for service advisors to care for the customer’s concerns — as well as review additional needed services.
- More transparent: Enabling the customer to see all relevant information on the tablet builds service advisor credibility and customer trust.
“Some dealerships are using tablets to take photos of worn or damaged components and sharing the photos with the customer so they can better understand the need for the repair,” Strom said. “The estimated repair costs are also displayed so the customer has the complete picture.”
Firestone’s Complete Auto Care is expanding its internal WiFi network in its stores to allow improved access to repair, parts, and other technical information in real-time. “We are also expanding our vehicle diagnostic programs and we have a hybrid education program and certifications in place for our store technicians,” Waltzek said.