Use Fleet Maintenance Software to Prevent Summer Heat Damage

by:
on June 3, 2015

Whether it’s extreme temperatures, humidity, precipitation or dust, vehicles can be heavily impacted by the environment in which they operate. The challenge for fleet managers and drivers is to maximize the time trucks and cars are at peak performance despite the weather.

“Winterizing” vehicles is a common practice for preventing cold-related maintenance issues, but excessive summertime heat can be just as damaging—so we wanted to see how transportation professionals prepare.

We surveyed a random sample of fleet managers and drivers to find out how often they perform “summerization” maintenance to prevent fleet damage, the most common problems they face and what systems they use to manage this process.

Key Findings

  1. The top-reported issues that can lead to downtime or accidents are engine overheating (20 percent), air conditioning failure (19 percent) and tire wear (15 percent).
  2. While 72 percent of drivers or fleet managers prepare vehicles for hot weather, 10 percent “never” prepare—mostly because they feel it’s unnecessary or expensive.
  3. The largest percentage of respondents (29 percent) use a general, rather than fleet-specific, maintenance software system.

Introduction

Fleet managers base their success on optimizing vehicles or assets to perform at peak levels in the most cost-effective way possible. This requires strategic maintenance scheduling, as well as the ability to capture and analyze fleet data to identify trends.

Weather is an additional factor that many managers and drivers must deal with when making business decisions. Those operating in colder areas of the country often plan for the dead batteries and frozen fuel lines plunging temps can bring, but extreme heat in summer months can be just as, if not more, destructive.

“Contrary to popular belief, heat, rather than cold, is the biggest stressor to your car’s battery and electrical system,” explains Tom Piippo, a repair shop owner and member of the Automotive Service Association.

“Belts, hoses, tires, wipers—anything flexible—has a shorter life span when subjected to extreme hot temperatures and extended exposure to sunlight. If any of these components fail, it could leave you and your car stranded.”

This report reveals how often managers and drivers perform vehicle summerization, addresses concerns about the expense and difficulty of this process and offers tips on how to use software to make it more efficient.

Overheating, AC Issues Are Most Common Problems

The top maintenance issues that respondents experience while operating in hot weather conditions include engine overheating (20 percent), AC underperformance or failure (19 percent) and cracking and wear on tires (15 percent).

Most Common Hot Weather Maintenance Issues

Most Common Hot Weather Maintenance Issues

Dan Muhlbach, operations manager for Derive Systems (which provides software to optimize and customize vehicle performance), has worked in fleet management for 34 years. He describes potential problem areas to inspect during a summerization PM schedule. Creating a work order for summer maintenance within a fleet maintenance system and adding the following items helps ensure they are examined, while giving fleet managers more granular data to analyze:

⇒ Engine overheating. This often results from the radiator not working properly. Make sure fluid levels are sufficient (oil, transmission fluid and brake fluid), and check for bad sensors or blockage of any kind. An engine overheating will almost always grind operations to a literal halt, and could permanently damage the engine.

⇒ AC underperformance or failure. Check Freon pressure and recommended levels; low pressure can cause the compressor to work harder, and potentially fail. This can be performed easily and cheaply during any scheduled maintenance, and leaks in the system can be found using a Freon dye test. It’s important, Muhlbach says, to have functioning AC to avoid putting drivers in danger of heat-related conditions.

⇒ Cracking/wear on tires. Tires can be easily checked for wear daily by drivers themselves. Air pressure should match suggested levels, and the tires should be free of cracks or bubbles.

Any one of the top three problems could, at best, cause discomfort—or, at worst, cost drivers and other motorists their lives. That’s why the federal government has imposed the periodic inspection regulations, mentioned above, on the transportation industry. Fleet software can help managers follow these regulations to avoid issues before they occur.

“As a vehicle ages, components deteriorate, and may operate properly under normal conditions, but will fail under abnormal conditions. The ASA’s Piippo says. “Abnormal conditions could be defined as operating in temperatures constantly over 100 degrees or constantly below zero degrees.”

Tom Piippo, Automotive Service Association

When using a fleet maintenance system, managers can create a specific set of summerization tasks, sometimes called service reminders, alerts or notifications, to be performed routinely. These can then be scheduled as a seasonal task that occurs once a year, and email reminders are sent to managers when tasks are due, says Fleetio CEO Tony Summerville. Piippo notes that it’s best to schedule this maintenance in April or May in preparation for summer.

New work order

Creating a new work order for regular maintenance and summerization
 

As shown in the screenshot above from Fleetio, users can add sub-line items to this summerization plan, which can be updated by the mechanic (if they are given access to the system) or by a fleet manager using a mechanic’s summary. The manager thus knows each task was completed, and can capture prices per item and for labor.

Summerville says this detailed level of information can also be analyzed with reporting functions, so managers can identify what repairs or parts are most costly across the entire fleet.

Nearly 75% of Respondents Prepare Vehicles for Hot Weather

Next, we asked respondents how often they perform summerization on their vehicle or fleet. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of those we surveyed say they “always prepare” vehicles for hot weather conditions, and 18 percent say they “sometimes prepare.” Another 10 percent say they “never prepare.”

Frequency of Vehicle Summerization

Frequency of Vehicle Summerization

One of the key tenets of fleet maintenance is that it’s always better to prevent problems before they occur: It’s about being proactive and getting ahead of issues instead of reacting to them after the fact, when they’re usually more costly. This approach is referred to as preventative maintenance (PM).

Overall, our results show that most drivers and fleet managers know that vehicles are susceptible to maintenance problems when operating in hot weather. However, it’s significant that a full 10 percent don’t take any steps at all to prepare for summer heat; Leaving assets sitting idle in such conditions could potentially cost a company thousands of dollars.

For commercial fleet vehicles, PM is especially important, not only because it can save money—it’s also necessary for compliance with federal regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enforces a requirement for companies to perform what is generically called a “periodic inspection” at least once a year, and to maintain records of this maintenance. This applies to any commercial motor vehicle, defined by the FMCSA as “any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property” that meets certain additional criteria.

In addition to helping companies schedule and track periodic inspection maintenance, fleet maintenance software can store these maintenance records in the profile for each vehicle so reports can be generated to verify compliance.

Next, we asked the 10 percent of our sample who don’t prepare fleet vehicles for summer conditions why they refrain. Forty-one percent say it’s unnecessary, 26 percent say it’s “too expensive” and 15 percent say they routinely forget to perform the maintenance.

Top Reasons for Not Summerizing Vehicles

Top Reasons for Not Summerizing Vehicles

Looking at which states respondents in our sample hail from, the top three are California, Florida and Texas, where temperatures are relatively warm and stable all year. This could explain why some don’t enact a specific summerization schedule. One fleet manager from Florida, for example, says he doesn’t prepare because he doesn’t experience any maintenance issues specifically related to changes in weather.

29% Use a General Maintenance System for Summerization

The largest percentage of respondents (29 percent) in our sample use a generic maintenance management system to track fleet maintenance. Close behind, 28 percent use a fleet-specific maintenance system. Manual methods are less common: 19 percent say they use spreadsheets, while 11 percent use pen and paper.

In Software Advice’s fleet maintenance BuyerView report from July 2014, we found that more than 60 percent of buyers who contacted Software Advice about fleet maintenance solutions were using manual methods. This year’s findings represent a significant decrease, as a combined majority of fleet managers are already using some type of software solution.

While many generic maintenance management systems can be customized to track and manage any kind of equipment, including vehicles, a fleet maintenance system is pre-built to do just that. As such, implementation time for a fleet-oriented solution can be quicker. In addition, some systems designed for fleet maintenance offer built-in functionality or optional modules specific for fleet vehicles, such as:

  • Vehicle and driver profiles: Maintain individual data on each vehicle and driver that can be easily searched. Vehicles can often be linked to specific drivers.
  • Accident and claim management: Manages the insurance claim process in the case of a vehicle accident, and monitors drivers’ habits to identify potential risks.
  • GPS tracking: Provides maps and directions to help drivers reach their destinations, as well as location tracking so managers know where assets are at all times.

Perhaps the most important benefit of a fleet-specific system, Summerville says, is having historical maintenance records of vehicles on hand, in one place.

“[With] a spreadsheet or task management system, you could go out and blindly perform maintenance without knowing the history of the vehicle, and you could do more work than you really needed,” he explains.

For example, let’s say a manager knows that two of his trucks are scheduled to have air conditioning (AC) service soon. Using a fleet maintenance system, he looks back at the trucks’ previous coolant services, and notices that one of them had an issue that required AC work twice as often as the other within the past six months. With this information, the manager may choose to schedule the underperforming vehicle for a closer inspection, while lengthening the service intervals for the better-performing truck to save money.

Fleet-Specific Software Manages Summerization Schedules

Regarding concerns that summerization maintenance is too costly, Muhlbach says that during vehicles’ warranty periods, all necessary repairs are typically covered by the manufacturer—so long as a preventative maintenance schedule is followed and documented.

Most manufacturers have a suggested preventative maintenance schedule for their vehicles, which is available in the owner’s manual. For example, the PM schedules for various Volvo trucks (shown below) recommends when to change liquids and perform PMA services by mileage.

Service intervals Volvo trucks

A sample of service intervals for Volvo trucks
 

Without software, scheduling summer maintenance might go something like this: A fleet manager finds his vehicles’ recommended PM schedule, then marks on a calendar the date he wants it performed. He must then remember to check the calendar, and arrange for the truck to visit a shop when that date arrives. The shop would send a summary of the work performed by email or on paper to the manager, who would file the summary away.

All of this is performed manually, and none of the systems are integrated, increasing the potential for human error: Paper work orders can get lost, data in spreadsheets can be entered incorrectly and the manager has no real-time data or visibility over operations. Information must also be compiled from various paper documents and analyzed manually to find trends about the fleet.

Using the suggested PM schedule—or a customized variation—with a fleet maintenance software system makes these processes simpler and less prone to error. First, the manager creates the recurring maintenance in the system (more on this later in the report). The system will then alert the manager and driver by email when the service is almost due, and will automatically create a work order in the system.

Lori Sullivan, marketing director for Fleetio, says some users will give a third-party mechanic access to the system if the company regularly uses the same one. Once work is complete, mechanics can enter costs and update the system themselves. Alternatively, the shop can email or fax a service summary to the fleet manager, who will then input the information.

In this way, software helps managers maintain accurate records and save money on repairs for a vehicle, reducing initial summerization costs. For those managers who struggle with remembering to prepare vehicles, scheduling and notification functionality can help them stay on target. For example, maintenance schedules can often be defined by mileage or time.

A set of service reminders in Fleetio

A set of service reminders in Fleetio
 

In the above screenshot, the user has scheduled a PM-A, often called a “safety check,” for every 5,000 miles. (Summerization can also be scheduled using this functionality.) The system will automatically send email alerts to the manager and employees reminding them that service is due soon. Meanwhile, mileage can be tracked in a few ways:

  • Drivers manually enter odometer readings into the system periodically
  • A vehicle monitoring device is connected to the vehicle that feeds information directly into the system
  • A fuel card integrated with a fleet system updates mileage in the system every time a driver fuels up

Since the system reminds the user several days ahead of scheduled work, a simple way to reduce costs and increase efficiency is to combine summer maintenance with regular service, Summerville says. This means the truck can get all necessary work done in one visit to the shop instead of two, decreasing overall operational downtime.

“So, you may see a PM-A is due soon on truck 22, and that summerization is due soon on the same truck,” Summerville explains. “You can then add that service to the work order, and the system updates both tasks automatically.”

Conclusions

The types of maintenance problems that can arise when operating in hot weather are not only hazardous to a company’s bottom line, but also to company drivers and other people on the road. Scheduling maintenance without software places an unnecessary burden on fleet managers, who then must remember a number of dates and keep track of paper work orders.

While some find hot weather maintenance processes difficult to track, fleet maintenance software offers a way to efficiently schedule summerization maintenance alongside normal recurring maintenance to keep assets performing more consistently.

Buyers concerned about the expense of performing extra maintenance each year should know that the cost to fix any of these hot weather-related problems after they occur can easily dwarf the investment needed for summerization.

As Muhlbach notes, “It may be a little costly in the short term, but in the long term, I strongly believe it will save you money.”

Demographics

Among respondents in our sample, 24 percent are commercial truck drivers, while 19 percent are owners and operators of their own trucks. The third-largest group is composed of taxi drivers (17 percent), while 12 percent are fleet managers.

Transportation Industry Respondents, By Role

Transportation Industry Respondents, By Role

Methodology
To collect the data in this report, we conducted a five-day online survey of eight questions, and gathered 2,179 responses from random fleet manager or fleet drivers within the U.S. We screened our sample to only include respondents who are fleet managers, commercial drivers or independent owner/operator drivers. Software Advice performed and funded this research independently.
Results are representative of our survey sample, not necessarily the population as a whole. Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent client vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.

If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact taylorshort@softwareadvice.com.

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