Trucks at Work

The simple stuff

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Talked to Darry Stuart last week about trends in truck maintenance, focusing on the rapid increase in technological complexity of trucks, plus the computers and other electronic the tools technicians use to take care of them. While he freely admits that you can‘t properly take care of trucks, nor run today‘s modern shop, without the aid of computers and related technology, it‘s still “the simple stuff” that costs fleets the most money in terms of maintenance - and generates the most vehicle downtime.

“Tires and brakes: those are still the top two maintenance items, in terms of dollars and out of service rates,” he told me by phone from his office in Boston. “The most basic things on trucks relate to the highest maintenance cost. That‘s the reality of life in this business.”

Tires, for example, are typically the third-highest cost in any fleet‘s budget - right behind labor costs and fuel. Then there‘s brakes: according to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), brake-related citations remain the number one reason for putting vehicles out of service (OOS), with 30.1% of OOS citations pertaining to faults in brake-adjustment in 2005, with another 25.2% involving brake systems. By comparison, in 2005, lighting problems accounted for just 11.8% of OOS citations, tires and wheels 8.9%, safe loading 8.5% and suspensions 5.1%.

“The basic stuff - the non-computerized stuff - is what keeps the truck up and running,” Stuart said. Part of the problem revolves around how maintenance is being conducted in this computerized day and age, too, as fleet managers today are more likely to be holed up in their offices hour after hour, glued to computer screens and data files, rather than walking around the shop to see how things are going.

“Even today, with all the electronic data available, I still firmly believe ‘management by walking around‘ must remain a key part of the maintenance manager‘s day,” Stuart said. “You‘ve got to be out on the floor where the work gets done, to see what‘s going smoothly and what‘s not.”

That also applies to the part‘s room, he stressed. “You need to know not only what parts you have but where they are located,” Stuart emphasized. “A computer does not keep a part‘s room neat and clean. It may tell you what‘s in the room, but what good is that information if you can‘t find it?”

It‘s a reminder indeed that no matter how technologically advanced trucking gets, keeping a close eye on the simple stuff must remain a bedrock management principle.