A significant category of unnecessary fleet cost is equipment damage caused by user abuse or neglect. Abuse is by far the most expensive form of equipment failure. Fleet managers tell me there is no limit to the ways equipment can be abused. Abuse can range from damage caused from fluid levels being low, missing PM intervals, driving on underinflated tires to extreme situations of jumping curbs or scraping the sides of buildings. These represent significant costs. One fleet manager reports that the aggregate cost of these acts, or failures to act, cost almost half as much as on-road crashes before subrogation payments.

This isn’t a new problem. Many fleet managers have pretty much thrown up their arms in frustrating acquiescence. However, steps can be taken to minimize equipment abuse. The first step to reducing abuse is identifying abuse. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. The culprit of abuse is often difficult to pinpoint and some abuse may overlap between operators. I’m sure many of you can relate to seeing a crunched fender on a vehicle and nobody knows anything about it.

Accountability Difficult to Track
Abuse is more easily identified on a unit in like-new condition. Operators are more likely to abuse an old, poorly maintained unit. There are ways to minimize this. If you keep vehicles and equipment properly maintained, you can diminish the operator mindset – “If they don’t care, why should I?”

Sometimes equipment abuse is simply the result of improper training. Incorrect or improper use of equipment is extremely expensive to a fleet operation, especially with off-road equipment. For instance, an inexperienced seasonal operator can trash a backhoe in short order, causing thousands of dollars in damage. Always ensure that only properly trained employees operate off-road equipment.

Another very common form of equipment abuse is vehicle overloading. In fact, overloading is the number-one cause of unscheduled maintenance for most fleets. Overloading can occur due to operator ignorance. For example, a parks and recreation truck may be spec’d to haul a certain volume of grass cuttings, but when the grass is cut after a rain, the increased weight of the wet cuttings may exceed the vehicle’s payload threshold. In other situations, overloading is intentional, as is sometimes the case with garbage trucks. In these instances, drivers overload vehicles to minimize the number of runs needed to offload collected garbage.

Similarly, at-fault accidents go hand-in-hand with user abuse of equipment. Often there is the lack of operator accountability. One tool to increase accountability is to establish a fleet users committee to address the operational issues that arise between fleet management and fleet customers. Establishing a fleet safety and accident committee is helpful in examining incidents to assess preventability and fault, with the ultimate goal to reduce the frequency of at-fault accidents.

Implement Service Level Agreements
The best way to combat equipment abuse is with a service level agreement. The majority of public sector fleets do not employ service level agreements between the fleet department and internal customer departments. A service level agreement is a formal, intra-agency agreement between the fleet service provider and fleet customers. These agreements define not only the fleet services to be provided, but also the costs and priorities of these services. Most importantly, in terms of this discussion, they explain mutual responsibilities of the parties involved.

When developing a service level agreement, address those areas where a deficit exists, such as equipment abuse, and the need for improvement. From the fleet customer’s standpoint, these agreements describe such responsibilities as complying with preventive maintenance schedules, reporting vehicle malfunctions promptly, and providing repair authorizations on a timely basis.

Give Operators a Sense of ‘Ownership’
A fleet manager should seek to instill in operators a sense of “ownership” in the equipment they use. Challenge department heads to keep operators accountable when unreported damage is discovered to vehicle when it is brought into the garage for maintenance.

Establish and monitor a procedure whereby operators must do a “walk-around” check on vehicles before beginning each shift or workday. If operators are provided with well-maintained vehicles, they take better care of them than those that are poorly maintained. Don’t give operators the opportunity to say: “Why should I care? Nobody else does.” It takes ongoing education, supervision, and proper reporting to reduce the frequency and volume of vehicle abuse. But it can be done.

Let me know what you think.

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