Warranty by wire

Timely filing and close tracking of warranty claims can save a fleet thousands of dollars a year, but many trucking operations don’t handle claims well. Whether filing is through dealers or manufacturers, the process is plagued by inefficiencies and delays. And each original equipment manufacturer and component supplier has its own form and process.

It’s understandable that manufacturers would have varying information needs as they use the data to improve their products. And a difficult warranty process may discourage fleets from following through. Customer dissatisfaction and the overhead required to process claims may actually cost manufacturers money.

Fleet managers need a single clearinghouse for filing all warranty claims, regardless of the manufacturer, says Lew Flowers, manager of vehicle maintenance for the U.S. Postal Service’s Oklahoma District. At this year’s fall meeting of the Technology and Maintenance Council, Flowers presented a standard form to file warranty claims. Using the standard form, which was designed by a TMC task force, fleets and their equipment suppliers will benefit through improved efficiency and accuracy of information, he says.

TMC’s recommended practice RP-807 was created in 1999 and uses TMC’s vehicle maintenance reporting codes (VMRS), which are recognized by fleets and manufacturers alike as a universal coding convention for equipment and maintenance management. But RP-807 only offers a short-term fix. The long-term solution is to exchange warranty claim information electronically. “We never intended RP-807 to be a paper form,” Flowers says.

In the late 1990s, OEMs in the heavy-duty market began to allow selected fleets to submit their warranty claims electronically, but these transactions were not based on widely accepted standards, such as RP-807. As a result, carriers that run mixed fleets and file claims with several different vehicle, engine and other component manufacturers, use more than one software system to file warranty claims, Flowers says.

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Lately, however, there has been movement toward a universal system. The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), an independent group representing vehicle manufacturers and component suppliers, developed four electronic data interchange transaction sets for warranty processing. Grouped under E-13, the sets are named 140, 141, 142 and 143. They consist, respectively, of standards for exchanging information on vehicle registration, response, warranty submission and product service notification.

Haldex Brake Products, for example, is in the process of updating its systems to use RP-807 with E-13 transactions, says Don Meyers, the company’s director of quality assurance. The effort is largely due to requests from Ruan, Penske and Ryder, and is available for implementation on a case-by-case basis by Haldex’s suppliers and customers, Meyers says.

Volvo and Mack also are implementing E-13 transactions, says Dwight McAlexander, director of warranty, reliability and quality for Volvo Trucks of North America. Fleets will be able to send and receive E-13 documents beginning in the first quarter of next year, he says.

In addition to using traditional EDI formats to exchange data, fleets will soon be able to file warranty claims using XML-based software featuring drop-down menus to make choices, says Bharat Thacker, president of Universal Computer Applications. At the TMC meeting, Thacker demonstrated how carriers and suppliers could quickly create XML-based applications to communicate with their suppliers without making a major software investment.

Haldex is currently working on making E-13 transactions available in XML by May 2004, Meyers says. Likewise, McAlexander says that Volvo and Mack will have XML documents available by the second quarter of 2004.

The bottom line is that standardized electronic transactions for warranty claims can save real money especially for mixed fleets. But widespread use won’t just happen. For example, fleets that work through dealers and independent repair shops need to press for electronic warranty filing and use these options when they are available. These tools will only succeed if fleet managers make them the norm, says David Foster, director of maintenance for Southeastern Freight Lines. “A lot of individual cooperation is going on to make this possible.”