The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Downsizing Vehicles to Cut Acquisition Costs Will Increase Maintenance Costs & Liability Exposure

May 2004, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

An increasing number of fleets, especially those operating trucks and vans, are investigating the feasibility of downsizing to lower-GVW vehicles as a cost-cutting measure to decrease acquisition costs. For example, some fleets are studying a switch to a less expensive compact pickup instead of acquiring a full-size pickup or downsizing to a half-ton van from a three-quarter-ton van. Fleets are also spec’ing lower-GVW trucks to avoid DOT regulations, which require drivers to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate vehicles greater than 26,001 lbs. GVW. With the ongoing shortage of drivers, those with CDLs are difficult to find. The easy way to avoid this hiring problem is to spec a truck with a lower GVW rating that does not require a CDL.

The Fleet Application Doesn’t Change

The flaw in these deliberations is that invariably the lower-spec’ed trucks continue to perform the same fleet application as the larger predecessor models. Although this downsizing strategy may save money on the front end, the inevitable overloading increases operating costs on the back end and increases corporate liability exposure in the event of an at-fault accident. Consider the following consequences of operating overloaded fleet vehicles:

• Braking distance increases, which can cause drivers to misjudge stopping distances.

• Emergency handling capabilities are reduced, which may cause an accident.

• Tire failure rates are higher because tires run hotter.

• Plus, roadside weight checks (if applicable) could result in overloading fines, and possibly impounding your vehicle until the problem is corrected.

Ways to Avoid Overloading

One consideration to avoid overloading is selecting a different vehicle rather than a smaller vehicle. A cargo van may not be the only vehicle that can meet your fleet needs; a pickup truck with a topper combination and pull-out shelving system may be able to accomplish the same tasks. Another option is to consider using a trailer. However, avoid the temptation to modify a vehicle to accommodate a heavier payload, such as changing tire sizes, adding spring kits, air shocks, heavy-duty brakes, and anti-sway kits. Such modifications create an unsafe situation by changing the integrity of the vehicle. In addition, these modifications may affect the new-vehicle warranty and increase liability exposure if there is an accident. If you’re contemplating the acquisition of an alternate vehicle, but aren’t sure whether it is suitable for your fleet application, have your fleet manager check the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) to ensure it is compliant with FMVSS safety regulations.

Your Drivers May be Requesting the Wrong Vehicle

Also, don’t overlook your existing fleet, which may be operating overloaded vehicles as you read this article. It is not uncommon for drivers to request the wrong vehicle for the job. The best way to identify overloading is to have your fleet manager go into the field and assess vehicle usage. There are several ways for a fleet manager to determine this — a sagging rear-end, irregular tire wear, premature brake wear, and loose, unresponsive suspension and steering. Overloading is a correctable problem and when eliminated, it will reduce your operating costs and minimize corporate liability exposure.

Let me know what you think.

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