by Tim Brady, Business Editor

Putting a maintenance program in place for times of slow freight can help keep trucks on the road

feb businYou have many options on how to deal with slow periods of freight. One of the most beneficial is to bring trucks and trailers in for a good going-over by mechanics.

In today’s world, your files are an open book. That means ever-increasing scrutiny by Dept. of Transportation (DOT) inspectors, insurance underwriters, and others looking at not just your CSA BASIC score, but also your files to see if you’ve really completed the maintenance and repairs necessary to run a safe operation. It’s important to keep in mind that if one of your trucks is involved in a serious accident—even if it’s not your driver’s fault—the DOT, insurance companies and others are going to look over your maintenance records. Applying the old “ounce of prevention” rule can help minimize potential problems.

Preventive maintenance is the consistent and continuing inspection, replacement and repair of all components of a piece of machinery, with the objective being to prevent or reduce future breakdowns or malfunctions of the machine in question. Spend your preventive maintenance dollars wisely and use a planned schedule.

There are also financial gains to be had by having a planned maintenance and repair schedule in place when business is slow.

The first is the ability to reduce unscheduled downtime. By having your local shop inspect and repair your trucks and trailers, you avoid putting your company and driver at the mercy of an unknown repair shop that has no stake in your operation. Working with a local shop builds trust and gives you control over what you’ll spend on repairs.

The relationship with the shop manager and shop mechanics should be one where they’re interested in your continued business, rather than just making a flash-in-the-pan profit. In other words, they have a vested interest in taking care of your needs without overcharging you or doing unnecessary repairs or diagnostics.
The ability to schedule when your truck is in the shop gives you the chance to maximize revenue and cash flow opportunities by eliminating lost or delayed loads.

AVOIDING OTR REPAIRS
In trucking, nothing hits the bottom line harder than having equipment break down while under a load or having a driver call in with a mechanical problem while the truck is in a revenue-producing groove. One of the hardest calls for a trucking company owner to make is the one to valued customers telling them that their pickup or delivery has been delayed due to a mechanical breakdown.

The cost of on-the-road repairs isn’t just calculated by the higher repair and/or towing costs. Your biggest financial hit is from the loss of revenue while the truck is in the shop. Add to this the cost of having to pay for lodging for a driver. It’s far better for your trucker to be cooling his heels at home than in a motel room not earning any pay. It definitely makes for a happier employee.

Second, taking proper care of a truck and trailer helps both hold their value. Tracking and recording complete maintenance and repair records is the first step to maintaining the value of your equipment.

STEP-BY-STEP APPROACH
Following are seven steps on how to inspect, perform necessary maintenance, replace and/or repair deficient components:
  1. The driver must communicate to the mechanic anything noticed during day-to-day pre- and post-trip inspections, along with any oddities, strange noises or vehicle behavior experienced while driving.
  2. The trucker and mechanic should take a short 20-mi. round trip. The trucker should drive the first 10 mi., and then the mechanic should drive for the return 10 mi. During this excursion, the passenger makes notes as to the performance of the truck, along with any items that need attention, i.e., odd noises, shimmies, strange smells, or slow responses.
  3. The mechanic takes the list of all minor or major deficiencies that were noted from both the conversation and the evaluation drive and conducts a complete DOT-type inspection to determine if anything might have been missed.
  4. The next step is for the shop to do needed maintenance and then repair or replace all items found during the three-step evaluation.
  5. Torque wheel lug nuts and frame bolts to factory specs, align wheels, and balance tires.
  6. Repeat the 20-mi. test drive with the mechanic and trucker assigned to the truck to make sure nothing’s been missed.
  7. If your inspection falls during the spring or fall months, prepare your vehicles for the pending summer or winter driving season. Check coolant levels, tire tread depth, correct complement of tire chains, and heating and cooling systems.

ON YOUR SCHEDULE
Trucks and trailers have maintenance requirements that must not be ignored. The truck driver and owner of the truck are the ones ultimately accountable for maintaining the truck they drive and/or own. By pleading ignorance, they become responsible for any subsequent and catastrophic failures that result, including any financial consequences.

Utilizing slow periods to perform a thorough inspection and taking the time to make the necessary repairs will reward you, your drivers and your company with years of on-the-road, trouble-free service. The cost of this is minimal when calculated against the cost of an out-of-service order or an unexpected breakdown.

Add to this the advantage of using the program to improve your CSA BASIC scores, reduce the risk of a negative inspection, and increase revenue, and you will find the time and trouble is well worth it.

Contact Tim Brady at tbrady@write­uptheroad.com or call 731-749-8567. Join Brady in the Trucking Business Community at www.truckersu.com.