Fleet maintenance expenses for passenger cars remained flat in 2003 after a 3-5 percent increase last year that was primarily the result of increased national account pricing.

The factors contributing to the stability of fleet maintenance costs in 2003 were low inflation, price restraint by national account vendors, and longer preventive maintenance (PM) service intervals recommended by manufacturers. These were among the key findings of the ninth annual fleet passenger car maintenance study conducted by GE Fleet Services, a fleet management company headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minn. The study is based on a survey of actual maintenance expenses incurred by 37,136 passenger cars during the 12-month period from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2003.

In the current survey, several maintenance categories were changed from the format employed in prior studies, said Mark Lueck, data management and ad hoc reporting specialist for GE Fleet Services, who developed the program to track the maintenance data. For instance, last year’s maintenance category, major mechanical, has been separated into engine and transmission expenses.

In addition, last year’s electrical category has been divided into three different categories: charging systems, starting systems, and miscellaneous electrical, which includes lighting and wiring. “We eliminated four maintenance categories - emissions, driveline, miscellaneous mechanical, and major mechanical,” said Lueck.

“In addition, a new mileage band was added for maintenance expenses incurred at 96,000 miles and over since we had a fair amount of data on higher-mileage cars,” added Lueck. Click Here to view Charts 1 and 2

Most Expenses are in 3 Categories

The majority of the maintenance expenses - approximately 68 percent - continue to be spent on preventive maintenance and wear items such as replacement tires and brakes, said Eric Strom, manager, maintenance and accident for GE Fleet Services. “When we think about PM, we immediately think of oil changes, but there also needs to be more emphasis on brake and tire inspection as a PM item,” said Strom.

The average wear life for tires on an intermediate-size car is around 45,000 miles, said Mark Lange, customer service specialist for GE Fleet Services.

Tire rotation is critical to extend tread life. The recommended tire rotation interval is every third oil change or an average of every 15,000 miles, said Lange. Company drivers can extend tire life by regularly monitoring and maintaining the recommended inflation pressures in their vehicles’ tires. In addition, drivers should be encouraged to perform a periodic walk-around inspection to examine tire wear pattern that may be caused by a worn suspension or an alignment problem.

“By performing tire and brake PM, you will decrease your frequency of replacement,” said Strom. Click Here to view charts 3 and 4

Brake PM
The average brake pad life for a typical sales vehicle is between 30,000 and 50,000 miles, depending on the geographic location, said Dale Nicholson, manager, maintenance services for GE Fleet Services. Brakes should be inspected with every tire rotation.

Drivers should learn to listen for brakes squealing and grinding. These sounds, if heard, should be evaluated by a mechanic as soon as possible since they are warnings of potential rotor damage.

In the future, it will become less likely that a vehicle’s rotor can be cut more than once. In fact, some manufacturers are recommending not cutting rotors. “Manufacturers are trying to produce a rotor that weighs less to reduce the overall weight of the vehicle and reduce manufacturing cost,” said Lange.

Maintenance at Higher Miles
One finding for vehicles with 96,000 or more miles was that the incident ratio and their cents-per-mile expenses decreased.

“The decline in CPM in these higher mileages may not be due to better vehicle performance, but because fleet managers are pulling vehicles out of service that require expensive repairs. This will skew maintenance expenses downward,” said Strom. “What is not included in the cost of higher mileage vehicles is the cost of downtime.”

Survey Methodology The term “incident ratio,” used in the accompanying charts, reflects the number of repairs per hundred vehicles. For instance, an incident ratio of 30 percent indicates 30 repairs per 100 vehicles. It is important to note that the figures shown in Charts 1-7 reflect expenses above and beyond any manufacturer’s warranty coverage. The study tracked cost data and number of incidents from January 2003 through December 2003, regardless of the miles traveled during this 12-month period. Click Here to view charts 5, 6, and 7