Cristina Commendatore | FleetOwner
Caitlin Dillion, senior manager of maintenance at Mississippi-based Jones Logistics, details how her fleet has endured ongoing equipment challenges during TMC's 2023 annual meeting.

Fleets share how they’ve endured truck, trailer equipment shortages

March 3, 2023
As fleets continue to struggle with parts shortages, procuring new equipment, and rising maintenance costs, they are forced to think of new, creative ways to keep their operations running.

ORLANDO, Florida—Fleets today are finding more ways to get creative as trucking equipment is still hard to come by.

For Caitlin Dillion, senior manager of maintenance at Mississippi-based Jones Logistics, that has meant acquiring more used equipment and thinking outside the box when it comes to preventive maintenance intervals and parts procurement.

The fleet currently runs 491 power units and more than 2,200 trailers—a mix of dry van, tanker, heavy haul, and flatbed. Because of the parts and equipment shortages that have plagued trucking operations through 2022 and into 2023, Jones Logistics has turned to the used truck market.

From what Dillion told attendees during a supply chain and equipment panel session at American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council 2023 Annual Meeting, the benefit of buying used trucks is the immediate availability of the equipment. There are, however, more challenges than benefits that her fleet has run into, especially when it comes to maintaining some of these older assets.

See also: More TMC 2023 coverage from Orlando

Dillion said Jones has run into various aftertreatment problems with the used trucks the carrier has taken on. As far as PMs go, Jones has stringent standards set up for vehicle maintenance cycles. But the carrier quickly found that not everyone has those same standards.

“Everybody has a standard of how they operate,” Dillion pointed out. “For instance, if the filter isn’t dirty, some people may not change it versus your company standard that might be to replace all the filters during an oil change.”

The ongoing equipment backlogs have prompted a process change for Jones, which traditionally procured only new equipment.

“Now, that is not possible,” Dillion said on buying only new equipment. “It also requires us to have more people because our number of breakdowns have gone up. More frequent repairs is another big one. There are more frequent repairs on these units as you’re starting to get to that 300,000-, 400,000-, and 500,000-mile range.”

See also: Topsy-turvy times for used trucks

The cost of extending older truck life cycles

Allen Jones, senior manager of maintenance for US AutoLogistics, has been in the industry for over 35 years. This market, he said, is the most extreme case of supply chain volatility he has seen.

The Texas-based car hauler has been in business since 1989 and doubled its fleet size by 2018. In 2019, the carrier took on the task of replacing its 500 tractor-trailers, which varied by OEM brand for tractors, engine models, and trailer configurations. The auto hauler decided it was time to implement standard truck specs and trailer specs.

COVID-19 hit, and the carrier had to cancel its 2020 order of units. But in 2021, the carrier received 88 new units, with an ongoing steady supply of trucks. By the end of 2021, the fleet was making progress on its goal, reaching 392 new units.

Then came the equipment challenges of 2022. The carrier received 15 new units in the first quarter. Orders for March and April got pushed back to July and August and then even longer out.

“For the rest of 2022, we received zero new trucks and trailers,” Jones said during the TMC panel session.

See also: The struggle continues for truck, trailer OEMs to manage fleet demand

Currently, US AutoLogistics has hit 57% of its equipment replacement strategy, but the carrier has had to hold onto many of its older units in because new trucks stopped coming in.

Pushing those older trucks longer than expected caused cost-per-mile increases companywide. Shop activity also rose as the fleet had to run its older trucks longer.

Jones said those older trucks comprise 42% of the fleet today, and aftertreatments are the bulk of the fleet’s maintenance costs. 

“PM services went up 40% from the beginning of 2022 through the end of 2022,” Jones said. “After 400,000 miles, we start to see the deterioration of aftertreatment systems. Around 400,000 is when you start spending the most money on your vehicles.”

Upping the maintenance, communications game

For Jones Logistics, the majority of fleet maintenance is conducted by a third-party vendor. The carrier has found success by building relationships, Dillion shared.

“It can definitely improve your unit downtime if you have relationships with your vendors,” she said. “It can help with your cost benefits and staying ahead of recalls and parts shortages.”

“The first thing you need to do is find out who is in charge of all your accounts,” Dillion added. “It’s good to reach out and let them know who you are. You may have a national account with big companies, but do you know the branch managers at those companies?”

Dillion added that it’s important for fleet maintenance managers to make sure vendors know their expectations going into a partnership.

“You need to keep that line of communication open even if there is nothing pertinent,” Dillion said. “But as soon as you know that something is wrong with your fleet, don’t wait until the house is on fire to let your representatives know.”

See also: Maintenance and repair costs rise, but rate of increase slows

Dillion also stressed the importance of communication with drivers and dealer facilities.

And when trucks are already in the shop, Dillion strongly recommends asking maintenance teams to run a full diagnostic analysis. When it comes to parts, she urged fleet managers to ask about parts that are in stock, and if a needed part isn’t there, collect the part number and check out different local vendors in the area or online.

“Keep an open mind,” she said. “Right now, it’s really important to think outside of the box. We may not have gone to eBay to get the part previously, but now that might be something we need to do to keep a truck going.”

Jon-Erik Butcher, the fleet maintenance manager with Best Logistics Group in North Carolina, also pointed out that a lot of vendors can rebuild certain parts. Butcher, who manages maintenance for a fleet of more than 400 power units and 1,800 trailers, said if a part can be rebuilt, that turnaround time can be quick compared to waiting to get a part from the dealership.

He also noted that salvage yards are viable options for older tractors.

“You can get parts at a fraction of the cost,” Butcher said. “The internet is also a wonderful place for parts.”

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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