Commentary: Managing your maintenance for maximum benefit

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Updated Jun 12, 2020

Because proper maintenance is the cornerstone of any fleet’s operating success, maintenance intervals and timely performance of preventive maintenance inspections must be managed to help contain costs and keep equipment operating efficiently.

The first step in managing an effective maintenance program is to establish proper PM intervals, which should be based on hours, miles or days. The intervals should be appropriate for your operation.

Consider these examples:

  • A vehicle that is traveling from California to Chicago routinely is going to generate high mileage, so mileage should be the predominant factor used to trigger maintenance intervals.
  • A yard tractor that is operating two or three shifts and running 20-plus hours a day, but only covering 100 miles a day, will be destroyed if mileage is used to determine maintenance intervals. In a case like this, hours of operation is the correct measurement.
  • A truck that is fertilizing lawns in a suburban area may need to keep the truck’s engine running in order to power the pump that sprays liquid fertilizer out onto lawns. In this case, intervals of days of operation makes sense for setting PM schedules.

OEM recommendations should be referenced as a starting point for setting baseline PM intervals for each item, such as oil and filter changes, emissions aftertreatment system service, valvetrain adjustment, etc.

The goal of a good maintenance program is to get the maximum life out of components while at the same time avoiding a breakdown. You are trying to look at utilization of your equipment to determine how far can you go. The maximum point will be far enough but not too far.

Oil analysis, for instance, can help with determining if an extended drain interval beyond OEM recommendation will work within your operating environment. You start out by taking an oil sample at the interval recommended by the OEM. If the analysis comes back showing that the oil still has all its lubricating properties, you can then begin to extend the oil change to perhaps 40,000 miles from the manufacturer’s recommended 30,000 miles.

At 40,000 miles, you take another sample and if the oil still looks good, extend the drain interval further on a reasonable basis. You can continue this process until the interval is optimized and supported by the analysis report.

If your maintenance plan is going to be successful, you need to establish and communicate PM performance goals on a weekly basis to ensure PM currency. Goals, of course, are based on utilization, but the following example illustrates how to determine weekly goals.

A fleet of 200 trucks that has its PM intervals set for every 90 days (or four times a year) will be completing a total of 800 PMs annually. Doing that math, you will see that translates to about 16 PMs each week in order to achieve the annual goal.

For PM performance evaluation, I prefer setting weekly goals because you have 52 periods in which to make adjustments for any PM that might have been missed in a prior week.

However, setting goals and monitoring compliance is not enough. You also need to perform random audits to assess the quality of the service. This can be done whether you do your own PMs or outsource them.

Using your PM inspection form as a guide, walk around a piece of equipment that was recently serviced to determine if the work performed is in line with established maintenance standards.

Let’s say a PM was performed on a trailer. One of the items in a typical trailer PM is to lubricate the grease fittings. Go to the pivot points on the trailer. If you don’t see an area that has been wiped clean and has fresh grease pumped into it, you need to ask yourself if the tech did a good job on the PM. You can use these audits as coaching opportunities to reinforce the importance of quality PMs to your techs. You can also use the forms to rate the quality of any outside service providers as well.

The final element in your PM plan should be to review all road calls to determine if the failure was something that should have been caught during PM service. Not all roadside failures are the result of poor maintenance, but just as you would follow an accident, examine the failure and see if it was preventable.

Follow these simple steps and you should be able to keep your equipment on the road and your costs under control.

Mark Finger is vice president, operations at Transervice Logistics, Inc., and an active member of the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) and the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).