In 2005, maintenance costs, per incident, for fleet cars increased an average of 10 to 15 percent, compared to calendar year 2004, as a result of increases in the cost of replacement tires, oil changes, and brake repairs. These were among the key findings of the 11th annual fleet passenger car maintenance study conducted by GE Commercial Finance Fleet Services, a fleet management company headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minn. The study is based on actual maintenance expenses incurred by 43,128 passenger cars during the 12-month period from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2005. PM Incidents Decrease
The average number of preventive maintenance incidents per vehicle declined during this 12-month period; however, the average cost per incident increased. One reason for the decline in PM incidents is the growing number of fleets that base oil drain intervals on the onboard oil life monitoring system currently installed on all but two GM models. During normal vehicle operation, onboard oil life monitoring systems tend to extend the oil change interval longer than following a months-in-service or miles-driven PM schedule. “Overall, there are fewer oil changes required using the onboard oil life monitoring system,” said Lars Engman, manager of maintenance operations for GE Commercial Finance Fleet Services. There has also been a trend to extend oil drain intervals, regardless of whether a vehicle is equipped with an onboard oil monitoring system. Overall this trend enhances driver productivity based on fewer incidents. “GE recommends customers extend the oil drain intervals closer to the manufacturer’s recommendations,” said Engman. “There are some fleets that follow the 3,000-mile oil change intervals; however, DaimlerChrysler recommends a 7,500-mile schedule, and Ford recommends a 5,000-mile schedule.” PM Costs Per Incident Increase
Cost per incident has increased because of a trend by OEMs to increase the engine oil capacity in newer models. “In the past two years, in particular with new Chrysler products, such as the Chrysler 300, we have seen an increase from a five-quart capacity to six quarts,” said Engman. The increase in engine oil capacity is part of a larger trend in the industry,” said Engman. This trend has been particularly evident with six-cylinder engines. “When Ford’s 3.0L Duratec engine was introduced in 2005, its oil capacity increased to six quarts,” said Mark Lange, customer service specialist for GE Commercial Finance Fleet Services. “The same trend is occurring with truck engines. The new SUV models from GM with 5.3L engines now have a seven-quart engine oil capacity, whereas previously it was five quarts.” One factor influencing greater engine oil capacity is the desire for longer PM intervals. “The larger oil capacaity enables longer life, allowing extended maintenance intervals,” said Engman. Preventive maintenance costs have also been impacted by the OEM decision to recommend a blended synthetic oil to reduce engine wear and increase fuel economy. “For the past four model years, Ford Motor Co. has recommended the use of 5W20 blended synthetic oil for its vehicles,” said Engman. “This adds between $3 to $7 per oil change.” Replacement Tire Costs are Up
The incident ratio for replacement tires increased in all mileage bands up to 72,000 miles. Likewise, the cost per incident is also up. One reason for increased tire expense is the shift from front-wheel-drive to rear-wheel-drive vehicles for some higher volume fleet models and the feedback from drivers as to seasonal tire requirements for RWD models. “There is still a perception among drivers, and some fleet managers, that a snow tire is required on a RWD vehicle, even though the manufacturer does not recommend it,” said Lange. “Many fleet managers err on the side of caution and approve snow tire purchases, even though they may not be necessary. This has increased overall tire replacement costs.” In addition, the industry forecast calls for tire replacement costs to increase in 2006. “We have received some early warnings that tire costs will increase because of the higher cost of crude oil,” said Engman. Another factor leading to higher tire costs is the trend to larger 17-inch and 18-inch wheel sizes. “The bigger the tire, the more expensive the replacement tire, especially with independent vendors with whom GE doesn’t have a national account agreement that presets tire prices,” said Lange. Also, tires on RWD vehicles, on average, wear quicker than those on FWD vehicles, said Lange. “On a front-wheel- drive vehicle, you can expect a tire to last 40,000-50,000 miles. However, with RWD models, we see tires averaging only 30,000 miles. Some RWD models are equipped with a touring size tire, which uses a softer rubber compound that doesn’t wear as well. A softer rubber compound is used to improve the vehicle’s ride quality,” said Lange. Brake Costs Climb
The number of brake incidents for passenger cars remained flat compared to 2004; however, the cost per incident increased. The key reason is the increased use of more expensive ceramic brake pads. “Although ceramic brake pads last longer, it costs $40 more to replace brake pads made with ceramic materials, ” said Lange. Another reason for higher brake costs is the trend by OEM manufacturers to design thinner rotors to reduce vehicle weight, increase fuel economy, and lower manufacturing costs. “Manufacturers are moving to sealed hub bearings and to thinner steel rotors. If the driver accidentally allows the brakes to wear to the point of metal-to-metal contact or if a slight warpage in the rotor develops over time, the fleet manager is forced to replace the entire rotor,” said Lange. “Also, vendors usually charge book time rather than a menu price on labor when repairing these newer brake systems, which has driven up the labor cost on brake repairs.” Click here to view charts