Many drivers view the company vehicle as an entitlement rather than a tool to perform their job. Fleet managers say this entitlement attitude is often more pronounced in younger generational groups, with a generation gap more apparent between drivers in their 20s or early 30s versus those who are in their 40s and older.
However, entitlement attitudes appear on both sides of the generational divide. Many seasoned employees likewise have a sense of entitlement, believing they have “earned” the perk of a company vehicle based on their longevity. Included in this group are senior managers. Many fleet managers often have a “hands-off” approach to these executive drivers, who often believe they are “too busy” to be held accountable and “too important” to perform mundane fleet tasks. In fairness, more than 95% of all drivers are appreciative of a company vehicle and conform to fleet policy. It is the minority 5% who I am addressing. The abuse or neglect of corporate assets by this 5% represents a significant fleet cost.
The Consequences of Vehicle Abuse
Many times employees who have an “entitlement mentality” do not have a sense of responsibility to take care of the company asset as if it was their own. This impacts fleet costs. The resale value of a vehicle is determined by three factors: the unit’s age, overall mileage, and vehicle condition. A company vehicle in poor condition because of driver abuse or neglect will result in lost resale value or incur unnecessary reconditioning expense at auction.
Another aspect of vehicle abuse occurs with drivers who smoke. All companies have no-smoking policies while driving company vehicles; but nevertheless furtive smokers are notorious about ignoring this prohibition. When taken to auction, a smoker’s car, on average, results in deducts of several hundred dollars on resale because of the pervasive tobacco odor and, invariably, cigarette-burned upholstery.
Abusive employees have little regard for the company asset and often use the interior of their vehicle as a convenient garbage can. While a vehicle is in company service or personal use, a littered interior represents a potential safety and liability hazard if a driver’s foot movement for braking and accelerating is impaired by a bottle or soda can rolling on the floorboard. This can and does happen. I’ve heard the stories.
Just as egregious as vehicle abuse is vehicle neglect, such as not changing the motor oil, which results in engine damage.
Vehicle & Equipment Abuse in Vocational Fleets
Abuse is more easily identified on a unit in like-new condition. In vocational fleets, 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?"
Another very common form of equipment abuse is vehicle overloading. In fact, overloading is the No. 1 cause of unscheduled maintenance for most fleets. Overloading can occur due to operator ignorance. Abuse is by far the most expensive form of equipment failure. Often, equipment abuse is the result of improper training. Damage caused by incorrect or improper use of equipment is extremely expensive to a fleet operation, especially with auxiliary add-on equipment. Fleet managers tell me there is no limit to the ways equipment can be abused and can recount numerous stories to substantiate this belief.
Instances of vehicle abuse are wide-ranging, running the gamut 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. The aggregate cost of this abuse and neglect represents a significant hidden cost.
Lack of Fleet Policy Enforcement
Fleet policies dealing with vehicle abuse and the need to follow the prescribed preventive maintenance schedule are very important in helping to determine the ultimate resale value of vehicles. Fleet managers who have clearly articulated policies to employees about vehicle upkeep and misuse receive a better quality product to take to auction.
Most companies already have prohibitions about vehicle misuse in their fleet policies. The problem is that the majority of companies do not enforce these policies, except in the most egregious circumstances. Asking drivers to take better care of their vehicles is sufficient for the overwhelming majority of drivers. However, there are other employees who simply pay it lip service, especially when they know that there are no consequences to doing otherwise.
Even with written policies in place, managers are sometimes reluctant to penalize abusive drivers, especially in situations that involve executives or top sales performers. Plus, there is a significant borderline gray area since there is no industry consensus delineating the difference between normal wear-and-tear and abuse. All of us recognize blatant abuse, but is a torn seat or scraped bumper abuse or normal wear-and-tear?
Another enforcement problem is that although these policies are "on the books," they have not been adequately communicated to new-hires or employees assigned a company vehicle for the first time. As the fleet manager, you need to communicate these policies to employee drivers. Communication does not mean simply having an employee sign a statement acknowledging the receipt and reading of the fleet policy document. It involves a campaign of ongoing communication. Not only should your drivers be aware of these rules, but they must also understand what actions will be taken for non-compliance.
Some companies charge the driver responsible for vehicle damage; however, as a word of caution, many states deem such payroll deductions as illegal. It’s best to check with your legal department beforehand. Other fleets assess financial liability to the operating department instead, which is typically the most effective strategy to curb future abuse.
In the final analysis, penalties are the most effective deterrent to vehicle abuse and/or neglect but they must be vigorously enforced.
Let me know what you think.