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Fleet Management: Handling Vehicle Breakdowns

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The old saying “Anything that CAN happen WILL happen” is often ignored by business owners who rely on company owned vehicles (COVs). This can be an excruciatingly costly mistake and experience especially when the fleet of COVs are piling on mileage daily. Increased mileage plays havoc with a fleet of COVs due to normal wear and tear from frequent use, as well as idling in heavy traffic and severe weather. 

When vehicles break down, the usual cost is twofold:
1. Cost of repair or replacement
2. Cost of lost business and sales

The best way to handle vehicle breakdowns is to have a plan. Once you accept that there is not a way to predict when a vehicle will break down or is involved in an accident, your response will be less stressful, confident and effective. All vehicles break down even when some have just rolled off the manufacturing line. A small manufacturing defect not apparent at time of sale can become a big, very costly headache. In most cases new vehicles with defects are covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. This assumes the business owner fully understands the terms of the new vehicle warranty. 

Managing Vehicle Breakdowns for Used Vehicles

The problem with used and older COVs is that they should be properly maintained based on the frequency of use. 

For businesses that do not have a company vehicle repair shop on site, the maintenance should be done by a reliable, experienced vehicle mechanic. This inevitably requires planning and scheduling in advance for regular maintenance.

Create a maintenance calendar that rotates the schedule when each vehicle is to be maintained. Choose each vehicle based on age, frequency of use and mileage. Then simply select a schedule that is flexible and will cause minimal loss of time, labor and expense to the business. 

For example, choose a vehicle from the fleet that is idle when employees are on vacation or when there is a holiday business shutdown. Scheduling maintenance well in advance helps the mechanic make faster repairs and reduces downtime. Also replacements, should they be necessary, can be processed and all paperwork can be expedited. 

What About Unexpected Breakdowns?

Since it is not possible to control unexpected situations or have prior knowledge of when to expect a breakdown, the next big issue is reaction time and efficient management of the unexpected.

For instance, should a vehicle breakdown at the side of the road, make certain the driver has the necessary information on driver safety and contact information to report the breakdown quickly. It may also be a good idea to coordinate vehicle “pairs” so that the vehicle that has broken down can be assisted by another company driver whose daily route is within the route or the same area. 

Many companies with fleets of vehicles use the “buddy system” to ensure driver safety and to allow the driver of the downed vehicle to get back on the road. This system helps comply with business liability insurance policies. Be sure the terms of business liability policy meet the specific needs of the business, drivers and vehicle fleet. 

Defining a Fleet

Most business liability insurers define a fleet as five or more vehicles. It may also depend on what type of vehicle is covered. There are price differences based on light and heavy-duty vehicles, weight and overall sizes. A policy may also include substitute rentals in the interim when a fleet vehicle is in repair or needs replacement. Check with the insurer regarding this coverage. Not all policies offer rentals. If rental is covered, seek the services of a reliable rental service that specializes in fleet vehicle rental. These can be found online and may require a service contract that can bring the rental to the driver or appointed site. 

It’s important to know the policy terms regarding fleet collision coverage. Many business owners of fleets find collision coverage can be a cost-effective measure. However, collision coverage tends to increase in cost incrementally as vehicles age and/or increase in mileage, frequency of use, and distance. 

Fleet Tracking Systems

Many fleet managers find digital fleet management systems cost effective, efficient and an effective way to coordinate fleet management. 

A fleet management system is one that has a dual purpose. It is a digital platform that tracks and manages vehicles and fleet technicians and monitors transportation utilizing GPS. Thus, the systems help quickly determine the location of drivers at the time of a breakdown. 

In addition, other features of this digital system include:
-Information and insight regarding daily and/or hourly vehicle availability
-Weather alerts
-Updates on deliveries
-Driver accumulation of on-road hours
-Strategic transport route changes

A fleet management system also provides instant access to a variety of historical reports that include:
-Driver and technician summaries
-Weekly mileage and fuel logs
-Ongoing maintenance costs

If the desired result of handling vehicle breakdowns is to reduce business costs and increase efficiency, a fleet management system in digital platform can be a big savings when manually collecting fleet data can be costly and time consuming. This method of fleet management can also track regulatory compliance to keep fleets on the road and provides a reminder of when licensing renewals and compliance reports are due. 

Steps to Handling Vehicle Breakdowns

Ideally, a business should hire professional drivers of fleets who are sufficiently experienced and licensed according to CDL specifications and grade levels. However, it is also important that the business owner provide adequate support with regularly scheduled retraining adapted to the needs of the daily business operation. When drivers know the business expectations for handling a breakdown, reaction time is faster and more comprehensive.

Beyond that, have a plan to get a temporary replacement vehicles if there is an immediate business need. Having a trusted company that can offer crane rentals when your crane breaks down and you have an important contract deadline to meet can make a huge difference in your revenue. 

This added support includes what the driver should do in the event the rig needs towing or is no longer operable and is a traffic hazard. Businesses should inform fleet drivers of what to do should they be pulled over by police for a vehicle or a driving violation. Fleet drivers and business owners need to know what their duties and resposibni8lities are in the event of a vehicle breakdown.

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