Trucking industry sees spike in unscheduled roadside maintenance in first quarter

A report from the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) and FleetNet America found an industry-wide increase in the frequency of unscheduled roadside maintenance occurrences in the first quarter of the year.

“As the economy improves going into the second half of 2021, fleets need to be vigilant in their maintenance practices to minimize unscheduled road repairs. Our data shows the best-in-class fleets are doing that and others can benefit from following industry recommended practices, such as those offered by TMC,” said TMC Executive Director Robert Braswell.

The TMC/FleetNet America survey found that during the first quarter of 2021, fleets averaged 29,506 miles of operation between unscheduled road repairs – down 18.7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2020.

Truckload carriers averaged 21,856 miles between breakdowns, a 13.1 percent decrease in miles from the previous quarter. The time between breakdowns for LTL carriers dropped 18.7 percent to 44,380 miles in the first quarter from 54,556 in the final quarter of 2021. The tank truck sector saw a slight improvement, running 17,420 miles in the first quarter, down from 19,905 in the previous quarter.

“The data tells us that if, for example, the truckload carriers running the average miles between breakdowns could reach best-in-class performance, they would increase their miles between breakdowns by 89 percent,” said Emily Hurst, manager of data and analytics at FleetNet America, “and that would result in overall lower costs.”

Ernst & Young says maintenance costs increase exponentially each year a vehicle is in service. One company reported expenditures of 2.1 cents per mile during the first year of ownership that increased to 16.2 cents per mile by the seventh year of ownership.

The age of the vehicle, however, is only one predictor of maintenance costs. The quality and consistency of maintenance over the lifetime of the vehicle will also determine maintenance costs.

Advances in vehicle telematics could prevent some unnecessary expenses, according to telematics experts.

Jonathan Bates, executive vice president, MiX Telematics, says advances in his industry can help trucking companies move from a reactive maintenance strategy to a preventive and predictive one.

In an article he wrote for Fleet Equipment Magazine, he said reactive maintenance refers to repairs that are done when a vehicle has already broken down in order to restore it to its normal operating condition.

Preventive maintenance is performed to lessen the likelihood of a vehicle breaking down. Repairs are done while the vehicle is still in working condition so that it doesn’t fail unexpectedly. For example, it can refer to getting a vehicle serviced every certain number of miles or every few months.

Lastly, there is predictive maintenance. Bates says this is where one determines the current condition of in-service vehicle parts to estimate when maintenance should be performed.

Preventive and predictive maintenance strategies are much more desirable. Reactive maintenance might be easy to understand and require less planning or staff involvement, but it is also highly unpredictable, extremely costly and poses a safety risk to your fleet and drivers, according to Bates.

Preventive and predictive maintenance can help fleets:

  • Schedule technicians in advance to allow pre-planning.
  • Identify trends of failure in certain vehicle types or parts of vehicles, which may inform purchase choices in the future.
  • Get support for warranty claims. If a certain part is wearing out too quickly in comparison to the manufacturer’s recommendation, fleets can file a claim.
  • Prevent a string of faults from occurring. Sometimes wear and tear or damage to one part can trigger a chain reaction.
  • Quality check technicians working on the vehicles to assess whether they are providing reliable service.

“Telematics software keeps track of all of the parameters, such as fuel consumption and engine hours, that fleet managers normally need to practice preventive and predictive maintenance,” he said.

Bates said other factors that affect maintenance needs are poor driving behavior, harsh braking, harsh acceleration, and excessive idling.

Telematics solutions can help fleets monitor the driver behavior and provide the data and tools needed to improve or eliminate them.

“At the end of the day, maintenance is the key to ensuring your fleet is given the capability to operate at full capacity,” said Bates. “On-time, data-based maintenance will help to increase the safety of your drivers, reduce overall risk, lessen downtime, save money and prevent future problems from occurring.”