5 Ways to Optimize Your Maintenance

Optimize Your Maintenance     

It should be the goal of every transportation provider to be running an optimal maintenance program, one that is operating at the highest efficiency.  No matter the size of the agency or the amount of transportation the agency offers, vehicle maintenance is the only area an agency can utilize to improve service and save money.  A successful maintenance manager will be consistently looking for ways to improve their maintenance program.  The following are five ways to get the most out of your maintenance program:

Be Proactive

Be honest – how much of your maintenance is scheduled maintenance and how much is unscheduled?  Scheduled maintenance includes repairs that are scheduled ahead of time, and not as a result of failure or breakdown. Agencies with optimum maintenance programs perform virtually all of their maintenance as scheduled maintenance.

Many agencies perform preventive maintenance inspections and change fluids and filters at their regular inspection intervals without making other checks or adjustments and make repairs only when something fails.  Unfortunately, these agencies are performing “reactive maintenance.”  Responding to failures, instead of anticipating them, limits the ability of the agency to plan and schedule their maintenance.  This creates a continual cycle of responding to chance failures and making emergency repairs to get vehicles back in service creating an unmanageable and costly situation.

It is time for these agencies to break the cycle!  Take control of your maintenance by actively searching for defects and failures to repair them before a breakdown occurs.  Below are some examples of how your agency will benefit from a proactive maintenance program:

Bus # Type of Maintenance Work Performed Parts Replaced Total Cost
Bus 1 Scheduled Rear Brake Job Pads only $253.40
Bus 2 Unscheduled Rear Brake Job including tow service Calipers, Pads, and Rotors $1,358.88
Bus # Type of Maintenance Work Performed Parts Replaced Total Cost
Bus 1 Scheduled Repack front wheel bearings Front Seals $150.00
Bus 2 Unscheduled Bus towed; replace all front end parts on failed side Spindle, Brake rotor, pads, caliper, bearings, seals, and new wheel $1,630.00

Some managers succumb to reactive maintenance because they would prefer to limit the breaks in service due to vehicle downtime.  However, this line of thinking is harmful to your maintenance program.  By scheduling your maintenance, you will be able to plan for a vehicle to be out of service, and make other arrangements.  You do not receive this same opportunity when a vehicle is out of service due to failure or breakdown.  Why take a gamble?  Be proactive in your preventive maintenance inspections and repairs.  This practice alone will save your agency money and valuable time.

Cover Your Bases

Quality assurance is key with developing an optimal maintenance program.  When a state-purchased vehicle is involved in a serious accident, FDOT may be called to perform an investigation.  Your agency is liable for the vehicles in service and it is the job of the maintenance manager, or the person who oversees maintenance at your agency, to ensure that maintenance inspections and repairs are thoroughly performed and that all inspection and repair documentation is accurate.

A successful maintenance manager will set up a quality assurance system that will monitor inspections and repairs by randomly inspecting vehicles that have just been inspected or repaired, regardless of whether your agency uses in-house maintenance or outsourced maintenance.

Performing a quality assurance check on a recently inspected vehicle can be as easy as performing an identical preventive maintenance inspection on that vehicle and comparing your findings to those that were marked on the inspection checklist.  For example, if you found a defect that was marked “OK” on the checklist, then you know that vehicle component was not properly inspected.  Or if something was marked “Repaired” on the checklist, you could check to make sure that item was properly repaired and that no further defects were found as a result of the original noted on the checklist.

Quality assurance can also be applied to reviewing vehicle repair files.  A maintenance manager needs to be informed on all maintenance repairs, scheduled or not.  If your agency outsources your maintenance, you need to provide authorization on all repairs before they are made.  By doing so, you can avoid a common error such as a repeat repair.

Below is an example of an agency that did not practice quality assurance and that used outsourced maintenance without requiring authorization for repairs:

Unit # Date Miles Complaint Repairs Cost
Bus 101 1/13/2009 99,029 Engine misfiring Ignition coil replaced $254.09
Bus 101 4/23/2009 99,558 Jerking Ignition coil replaced $269.57

Several questions needed to be asked after the second identical repair was made.  Why did the coil have to be replaced a second time?  Did this fix the root of the problem or is it another temporary repair?  In slightly over 500 miles, why was the part not covered under warranty?  There could be a logical explanation for this repeat repair.  If you are not monitoring your shop, mistakes can be made and if the invoice is paid the agency is at a loss.  Remember, not all shops are honest and can easily take advantage of the situation.  Some shops just don’t take the time to look for the root cause of repeat failures.

Developing a good quality assurance program is all about staying informed.  By analyzing inspections and repairs, you will be reassured that your maintenance inspections and repairs are being performed properly. Preventive maintenance checklists should not always come back with all items marked “OK.”  That is a big clue that your preventive maintenance inspections are not being performed thoroughly.  Repairs due to preventive maintenance inspections should be made fairly regularly.  It is your job to reinforce that the service your agency is paying for is expected to be completed correctly.  Most garages are repair facilities and are not familiar with fleet preventive maintenance but once your shop develops an understanding of your system the better quality of service you will receive.  Until you begin reviewing repair invoices, tracking data, and reading failure patterns your agency is at the mercy of what your shop is doing.

Start a Campaign

Once your agency begins to track maintenance activities, repair patterns will start to surface and maintenance becomes more predictable.  You do not have to be a maintenance expert to oversee a maintenance program.  The key to developing good preventive maintenance is being able to analyze failure trends and use this information to predict future failures.

Some examples are:

Alternators:  You find that the alternators on a particular order of buses are failing at 65,000 miles.  With each failure there was a road call involved resulting in a tow charge, the bus was down until parts were shipped and the emergency repair could be made.

To avoid the unscheduled repair and added costs, the alternators can be scheduled to be replaced at 60,000 miles.

Brakes:  Say your buses run an average of 20,000 miles until the rear brakes are re-lined.  At close to this mileage you should expect the brakes to be re-lined at an upcoming inspection.  Notify your shop of the anticipated brake lining replacement and ask for an estimated mileage of the life of the pads if they are not changed.  As discussed earlier, the price of total failure can lead to over $1,000 in unnecessary costs.

Transmissions:  This is another component that has predictable failure patterns.  Pay close attention to the failure mileages on transmissions to avoid tow charges, unscheduled down time, and possibly higher shipping charges for the emergency repair.

There are instances when new vehicles are placed into service and unforeseen problems occur that you may not have experienced on your existing fleet.

Example:  you notice that you have a belt on the engine that seems to fail twice the rate than you can remember.  This is when you need to notify the dealer and see if this is a known problem and if there is a fix for the premature failures.  Until the solution is found, you should start a campaign on changing the belt at a predetermined mileage before it is noted to fail.

Reduce Your Costs

The task of beginning a preventive maintenance program with an existing fleet can be overwhelming at first, and many may be confused about how to begin this process.  You should start with your next upcoming preventive maintenance inspections.  If these inspections have not been thorough in the past, the amount of defects that are initially found will increase with the improved inspections, along with the cost of your maintenance.  This is due to the extra labor hours and parts cost to repair mechanical problems that have escalated due to minimum maintenance performed in the past.  This increase will depend on the size of your fleet, the age of your fleet and how many repairs need to be made.  But this increase in maintenance costs is temporary!  Once this period of adjustment is over, the unscheduled repairs decline increasing efficiency which results in a better control of costs.

By implementing a thorough preventive maintenance program, you will be avoiding several hidden costs that arise when dealing with unscheduled repairs.  These costs are often found in administrative duties such as:

  • Contacting wrecker services to arrange towing
  • Rescheduling trips to cover routes
  • Notifying clients of the delay
  • Extra invoicing
  • Opportunity cost

Scheduling your repairs will put an end to these hidden administrative costs and give you valuable time to plan for purchasing the parts needed for such replacement repairs, whereas when unscheduled repairs occur there is no time to plan for new parts.  Having this unique opportunity to plan major purchases will help you control your maintenance budget.  Also, being able to plan for scheduled repairs gives your operations team time to make other service arrangements while the vehicle is temporarily out of service.  The amount of down time for the vehicle is reduced when the repairs are scheduled.  All of these advantages to preparing for scheduled repairs will help reduce your overall maintenance costs by improving fleet efficiency.

Take Advantage

The last suggestion for optimizing your maintenance program is utilizing the tools and training opportunities that have been made available to you.  Our Preventive Maintenance program exists to serve as technical assistance for transportation providers who choose to use our services.  There are other technical assistance programs that will benefit your agency.  Lively Technical Center has a program that offers free component training classes that are available to agency personnel and technicians.  These training classes are provided by various vendors whose equipment are used on Florida’s paratransit buses and are offered at numerous locations around the state so each region has an opportunity to attend.  To learn more, click here.

CUTR offers training classes directed toward Florida’s maintenance technicians through the Transit Maintenance Analysis and Resource Center.  These classes are held at various locations throughout the state and room, travel, and meals are paid for by CUTR for participants traveling more than 50 miles to the training location.  The maintenance training classes focus on vehicle components and best maintenance practices.  These classes are ideal for in-house maintenance technicians as well as outsourced technicians.  For more information on this program, click here.

Lastly, each agency should ensure that they are getting the most out of their state and federal financial assistance.  Agencies are encouraged to be proactive about their search for financial aid.  This link describes many of the financial aid programs available through FTA and FDOT.  There may be financial opportunities available to you that you are unaware of.  If you have any questions about these grant programs, please contact your district representative to discuss them further and determine the eligibility requirements.