Vehicle quality continues to improve and extended powertrain warranties have covered some expensive repairs at high mileage. Although quality has increased, vehicles are becoming more complex, especially with the proliferation of new onboard technologies. In this context, here are the top 15 maintenance trends facing commercial fleet managers in 2013 and beyond:
1. Escalating Cost of Replacement Tires: A key factor to higher tire prices is commodity price increases for raw materials, in particular the higher cost of oil, which is a key ingredient in tire manufacturing.
2. Larger Diameter Tires: OEMs continue to spec larger tire sizes for increased mpg. The question is currently whether the increased cost of larger tires is offset by the increase in mpg. Larger diameter tires can add $100-$200 in additional expense per set of tires.
3. Shortage of Replacement Tire Inventory: Since replacement production from the tire OEMs does not start up until a year after the vehicle comes out, fleets have to deal with limited inventory and increased pricing due to the small supply of tires. Fleet vehicles incur twice as many miles as the retail customer, thus requiring replacement tires sooner.
4. Extended PM Intervals: More OEMs are extending oil drain intervals beyond the standard 5,000-mile or even the 7,500-mile mark. In addition, oil life monitors are allowing fleets to extend PM intervals beyond traditional norms.
5. Higher Cost of Motor Oils: The new GF-5 and Dexos motor oils have raised oil change prices for newer vehicles that require these motor oils. New GM vehicles use Dexos oil, while Ford and Chrysler are switching to the GF-5 oil standard. These oils cost more, but have superior protection properties, allowing for longer mileage intervals between oil drains.
6. Increased Use of Synthetic Motor Oils: The number of vehicles using specific synthetic oils continues to increase. Also, advancements in engine design require synthetic oil to reduce parasitic draw and increase fuel economy.
7. Use of Re-refined Oil and “Recycled” Lubricants: This helps reduce costs and comply with sustainability initiatives. However, consideration for use should also include compatibility with OEM motor oil requirements.
8. Higher Cost of Replacement Parts: Parts prices increase as raw material costs increase, especially those that are oil-based, such as plastic parts. Also, OEM proprietary systems require vendors to source parts from the OEMs rather than the aftermarket.
9. Increased Back Orders for Replacement Parts: The majority of repair shops can no longer afford to maintain a large parts inventory. Many repair shops now order parts as needed, based on the daily repair occurrences. The back-order of parts has increased some fleet repair downtime by hours, and, in some cases, days.
10. Uptick in Labor Costs: Many repair shops have raised hourly labor rates to cover internal expenses and to make their regional rates align with market conditions. Higher labor rates also result from the need for higher-skilled technicians required to make repairs to new onboard technology and hybrid powertrains.
11. National Account Vendors Step-Up Training and Acquire New Diagnostic Equipment: The complexity of new technologies and industry challenges to recruit and train technicians are being supported by enhanced diagnostic tools, which can more quickly and accurately pinpoint the vehicle repair issue. “Maintenance repair providers are addressing the training and tools required for new-vehicle technologies, such as variable valve timing, turbocharging, and driver alert features,” said Chad Christensen, strategic consultant for GE Capital Fleet Services.
12. OEMs to Remain Stringent with Post-Warranty Recovery Dollars: Manufacturers are looking very carefully at pre- and post-warranty claims and their willingness to return costs has decreased. This more stringent warranty atmosphere is a legacy of the 2008 economic meltdown. Manufacturers continue to increasingly scrutinize pre- and post-warranty consideration claims.
13. NHTSA-Mandated Safety Equipment: Government-mandated safety-related features are driving equipment changes, such as electronic stability control systems, which provide additional control and display features and are standard equipment as of September 2012 for vehicles with 10,000 lbs. GVW or less. “Many of these mandates address safety features and vehicle weight reductions to achieve enhanced fuel efficiency,” Christensen said.
14. Non-Warranty Hybrid Repairs: A number of hybrids in fleet service are operating outside OEM warranty coverage. Hybrid components, such as coolant pumps, fan motors, and charging accessories, remain OEM-only available parts until aftermarket parts providers see increased demand. Despite minimal need for replacements to date, battery prices have dropped significantly.
15. Enhancing the Driver Repair Visit Experience: “Many repair providers have implemented online appointments, courtesy drop-off and pick-up service, extended hours, quick-lube lanes, service reminders and coupons, texting for repair completion status, and e-mail satisfaction surveys,” Christensen said. “These conveniences can contribute to the fleet driver’s productivity.”
An important point to remember: Two-thirds of all fleet maintenance expenses are PM-related or the replacement of wear items, such as belts and tires. Most component failures result from not performing scheduled maintenance. My point? Fleet managers must be relentless in monitoring driver PM compliance.
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