Don't Skimp on Maintenance: A Q&A with Merchants Director of Fleet Services, Diana Holland

In times of economic crisis, everyone is forced to make difficult budgetary choices. Some of these choices are simply inconvenient, while others lead to further difficulties in the future. For fleets, one of the main areas where we’ve seen cuts is maintenance. Fleets are both increasing replacement cycles and increasing time between regularly scheduled maintenance. It’s understandable: On the surface, maintenance is a simple line item to reduce – and one that does seem to save a significant amount of money. But on closer inspection, maintenance cutbacks can actually lead to higher costs in the long run, particularly since fleets are running vehicles longer. With this trend on the rise, we sat down with our on-staff maintenance expert, Diana Holland, to learn more about the dangers of skimping on maintenance.

1. Why should fleets resist the temptation to cut back on fleet maintenance?

Regular maintenance on fleet vehicles can prevent untimely breakdowns, minimize vehicle downtime and control fleet expenses, three crucial aspects that contribute to a successful fleet. In these tough economic times, many fleet managers are running fleet vehicles longer than they historically have to avoid replacement costs.  Vehicles that are higher in mileage have a way of starting to show their age.  Keeping the vehicles fresh and young by having regularly scheduled maintenance done at the appropriate intervals will ensure greater health of the fleet, ultimately mitigating the risk for breakdowns, vehicle downtime, and unforeseen expenses.  Cutting back or skipping is like being a couch potato:  The longer you neglect your body, the more likely you are to have greater health risks.

2. What kinds of benefits might companies see from a professionally-run maintenance program?

Benefits will vary based on the maintenance program a fleet chooses.  They can include:

  • Reduced vehicle downtime, which equals greater uptime to perform business duties
  • Prevention of unexpected breakdowns
  • Reduced repair expenses
  • Increased vehicle life
  • Decreased replacement cycles
  • The ability to make future maintenance, repair, and replacement decisions based on vehicle trends

All of the benefits of a maintenance program culminate to improve the longevity and safety of vehicles while increasing driver satisfaction and productivity.

3. What are the dangers of not having a fleet maintenance program?

Many fleet managers consider a fleet maintenance program a “no brainer.”  Being enrolled in a program significantly helps control expenses and alleviates administrative burdens of reviewing repairs and costs.  Effective maintenance management results in significant cost savings.  By not focusing on maintenance, a company is virtually throwing money out the window and significantly reducing the operating life of their fleet vehicles.

4. What key components should a fleet manager look for in a maintenance program?

Fleet maintenance programs should have a variety of maintenance options to choose from that suit the needs of the specific fleet and the organization’s goals and structure.  Programs should offer flexibility to meet a variety of fleet applications, and should take the vehicles’ use into consideration.  Along with scheduled services and record keeping, programs should accommodate emergency repairs, assist with warranty recovery, grant access to expert consultants, and offer programs that aid drivers in complying with company preventative maintenance policies.

Key components include: 

  • Predictable and consistent costs
  • A full maintenance option
  • Flexibility
  • Expert advice from technical staff with years of experience (which results in transactional cost savings)
  • Detailed record keeping
  • Maintenance history reporting for trending and benchmarking of maintenance expenses
  • Foresight of potential future problems based on experience gleaned from a larger pool of vehicles
  • Assistance with warranty recovery
  • Access to national account pricing for labor and parts
  • Assistance with administrative burdens, especially pertaining to the reconciling of invoices

Merchants maintenance programs are designed for flexibility. That’s why on top of all our maintenance programs, we also offer one custom built by you. If you have unique needs such as specialty vehicles, upfitted vehicles, or prefer to use independent mechanics and specific maintenance providers, we can build a maintenance solution through our Tailored Maintenance services to fit these needs. Yet, we still manage your maintenance needs, while you focus on your business.
Along with our more traditional Administered Maintenance program, which bills for the services as you use them, Merchants Leasing also offers a Full Maintenance option. This option provides all of the maintenance services your fleet needs, including scheduled service, emergency repairs, fleet reports, and more for one flat monthly fee. This program is the ultimate way to protect you from the unpredictable nature of fleet maintenance expenses.

5. What should fleets look for in a fleet maintenance partner?

The partner a fleet chooses for maintenance work is critical to the success of the fleet. The partner should be supportive in providing timely information and services and should be available 24/7. The partner should have experience in serving a wide variety of fleet sizes and maintenance programs.  They should have an established national account network of service providers that are convenient to the fleet drivers.  And they should have a clearly documented transition/enrollment plan, with tools to help curb driver behavior or non-compliance with preventative maintenance schedules.  Most importantly, the partner should be willing and able to understand the vehicle applications and usage and be willing to accommodate those needs.

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