Effective maintenance reports are all in the details

Avatar photo

Kirk might have been grinning a bit behind his mask. It’s hard to tell. But I’m sure the owner of my go-to automotive shop has heard descriptions like this before.

As I handed over the keys, I was mimicking the annoying sound coming from my car’s front end. The repetitive “whomp, whomp, whomp” increases in frequency as the speed climbs. A steady pulse telegraphs through the steering wheel — a sensation I demonstrated by shaking clenched fists in the universal positions of 10 and two o’clock.

“Pretty sure it’s the tires,” I say, trying to be somewhat helpful. “Or maybe an alignment issue?” I always feel pressure to add some guidance because of what I do for a living.

lightbulb in human head
(Illustration: istock)

The added insight is likely as helpful as a self-diagnosing patient who visits their doctor with medical advice gathered from a Facebook wall. Kirk will track down the real cause of the issue. He always does.

To an experienced mechanic, a truck driver’s description of grinds, whines, thumps and whomps can focus attention as effectively as the fault codes downloaded from an electronic control module. Perhaps more so. This is how maintenance teams track down wearing parts before outright failures, or simply end the rattles that will otherwise push drivers to their wits’ end.

It isn’t the only way drivers convey maintenance requirements. Schedule 1 reports or similar documents completed during a circle check will point to immediate needs that must be addressed to avoid extended stays at a roadside scale.

As important as such insights are at the time of an immediate repair, I wonder how well some fleets are capturing, recording, and comparing such details. Completing comprehensive notes and work orders can seem like a chore at times, but the underlying data plays a vital role in drawing attention to recurring issues. The reports which emerge can be used to refine equipment spec’s and shop procedures alike.

Clear comparisons will also require technicians to speak a common language, of course. That’s where Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS) come in.

Thank the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC), which is the keeper of such codes that apply to trucks, tractors, trailers, shop equipment, and more.

Developed in 1970, the related two-digit codes offer a way to quickly record every aspect of a maintenance event. The nature of the work can be described in terms like Code 02 rather than the varied adjectives for “cleaning”, and Code 22 to tighten. Preventive Maintenance activities are expressed through more than 35 clearly defined codes.

Under Code Key 18, failures are described in terms like Code 10 (bent) or Code 60 (noisy). Was something cracked? That’s a 14. Seized? Record a 37.

Like any language, it takes time to learn, but VMRS Codes have been integrated into several software packages to make quicker work of such tasks. Simple wall charts used to highlight system codes and descriptors will make a difference of their own.

Once details are loaded into the correct digital bucket, shop managers can have a higher level of confidence when they begin to search for trends. For example, an increase in downtime related to EGR coolers, which take more than six hours to replace, might deserve earlier attention than a surge in tasks that require less time.

Shifts in the nature of work can be used to guide tool choices. An increase in a particular type of failure can support decisions to upgrade particular components or even reschedule a specialist’s activities.

To repeat a popular lesson in management classes: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Capture all the details you can, record them in a common way, and you’ll be able to track the benefits which follow.


Avatar photo

John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.


  • First step would be to get operators to report anything at all. This has been time immemorial problem – The proper reporting process has us doing a DVR every day and documenting a list of needed repairs preparing them and then seeing an invoice to cover the repair.
    But, talk to almost any fleet supervisor and you will see that every fleet in the country has immaculate equipment going down the road. They are repair invoices so thousands and tens of thousands of dollars worth of repairs. Their driver reports so little if any types of repair complaints except perhaps, a light is out, or the A/C doesn’t work.
    Too many drivers don’t care or understand the communication process. What they do understand is when their truck is put down for repair and they don’t make money or get their week started properly.