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Retire Or Revive?

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If only fleet vehicles could talk. Then, they could tell us when they’re ready for retirement or fit to stay in service a few thousand miles longer. Where’s the “fleet whisperer” when you need him?

Then again, who needs one? Experts say that fleet maintenance—especially when it comes to the crucial call of retiring versus retooling—follows a set of common-sense guidelines that makes the process work for businesses while maintaining safety for drivers.

“If you’re a fleet owner, the focus is pushing or deploying an effective maintenance strategy,” says Scott Cudini, Business Model Development Manager for Jiffy Lube International in Houston, Texas. “The challenge is to make sure drivers follow those recommendations, and that they’re able to get vehicles in for maintenance in a timely fashion.”

In other words, vehicle retirement depends largely on how well you take care of your fleet. To be sure, that means more up front repair and maintenance costs. But those who dedicate themselves to peerless maintenance see two benefits: later retirements (thanks to longer vehicle life) and more cost efficiency in the long run.

Of course, that means not just routine inspections, but careful ones as well. “Problems can come up when a vehicle is not inspected property,” Cudini says, “If you miss replacing brake pads when they are low, then you will burn through the worn material. Then you have a metal-to-metal situation that destroys the caliper and the disc—and instead of a $200 brake job, you have an $800 brake job.”

Maintenance is only part of the story, though. As you adhere to the recommendations of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), remember to ask key questions as the fleet starts to age, including: Is gas mileage dropping significantly? Are maintenance costs rising beyond projects and expectations? Are vehicles suffering long periods of downtime?

The crux here is economic pressure: If you feel compelled to keep vehicles in service because of shrinking budgets, it will lead to a band aid approach where smart maintenance turns into expensive upkeep.

Fleet Financials, a vehicle management website, cautions against extending the vehicle replacement cycle too far: “Replacing a vehicle in a typical cycle of 55,000-65,000 miles brings the lifecycle cost to its maximum efficiency, with nominal maintenance surprises and better fuel economy.”

But is that figure a bit low? Here it’s useful to look at how the U.S. General Services Administration handles its extensive fleet.

In a publication from September 2014, GSA guidelines run the gamut from standard and hybrid passenger vehicles to heavy trucks and adult work buses. Gas-powered cars, for example, are replaced after a maximum of five years and 75,000 miles, whichever comes first; for hybrids, the benchmark is slightly higher at seven years or 85,000 miles. Heavy diesel trucks reach retirement at 12 years or 250,000 miles; buses at seven years or 70,000 (non-diesel) to 100,000 (diesel).

In the end, experts say it’s a matter of doing everything reasonable to get vehicles to last, without cutting corners of safety or losing sight of diminishing returns.

“If the fleet manager is practicing an aggressive strategy, they’re going to save money,” Cudini says. “It’s about managed costs that preserve the highest opportunity for the vehicle to stay out on the road instead of sitting in the shop for many days.”

Lou Carlozo

Posted In: ACCA Now, Vehicles & Fleets

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