Communication, honesty keys to driving uptime

ATLANTA, Ga. – Working closely with your dealer and being honest about when repairs are actually needed are a couple ways fleets and service providers can work together to improve uptime.

That was one note from a Technology & Maintenance Council technical session on Shop Scheduling for Maximum Uptime: Fleet and Service Dealer Perspectives.

“If he doesn’t have to have it right now, he’ll let me know,” Scott Dixon, director of operations for Four Star Freightliner said, gesturing to co-panelist Benny Whitehead, president of Benny Whitehead Trucking. “That’s something you don’t see a lot of and it really helps the service provider out.”

But that same level of honestly is in turn required of dealers, added Tony Morthland, director of equipment and facilities for Nussbaum Transportation.

“If the service provider is honest and says three days, two days, whatever it is, it is,” he said, adding he has a bigger problem with providers who say the truck will be ready soon and don’t follow through. “We can’t plan anything. It’s really frustrating when people do that. We try to stay away from those dealerships if we can. We’ve got to work together, be honest, say whatever it is.”

Constant communication between the fleet and its servicing dealer is helpful in ensuring they understand each other’s needs.

“We do a call every Tuesday,” Dixon said of his relationship with Whitehead, noting Whitehead’s salesman and even an OEM representative are involved. “He gets to tell his issues directly to the factory. We also have a customer advocate in those meetings.”

Travis Dunn, general manager for Truck Centers in Troy, Ill., advised fleet maintenance managers to visit their local dealers and build relationships.

“Put a name to the face,” he suggested. “Just reach out, it’s all it takes. Know the team. We’re all going after the same goal – we want to get the customer rolling and we have to work together.”

Dunn said at times he’ll have a customer’s truck towed to another shop to get it on the road faster in the event of a backlog.

Service providers are increasingly focusing on workflow management to expedite repair times.

“We measure throughput from the time the repair order opens, to the last touch of the technician, every single week,” said Dixon. Four Star Freightliner has dedicated teams assigned to jobs that should take less than four hours, which has improved throughput, with more than 60% of repairs now finished within 24 hours.

But another challenge is keeping the shop adequately staffed. Whitehead’s own shop seeks out mechanically included prospects and puts them to work initially on smaller jobs.

“We treat them good and we pay them good,” he said of the company’s technicians.

Dixon added Four Star puts on Touch-a-Truck events to get young people interested and aware of the opportunities that exist.

“A lot of times we’re talking to parents to let them know about the opportunities technicians have these days for an extremely great income they didn’t know was available,” said Dixon, adding the dealership is currently building a technical school in its store to promote the trade and recruit talent.

“We have to grow our own,” agreed Morthland. “We have had to generate our own programs.”

A survey during the panel session revealed aftertreatment-related issues continue to be a leasing cause of downtime. Morthland said Nussbaum has had success reducing one-box (diesel particulate filter) failures by investing in a smoke testing machine that can detect leaks. The machine is used during every PM and has virtually eliminated one-box failures in the field.

The use of mobile mechanics is another way service providers have gotten more efficient.

“It definitely helps if we have a recall campaign and they have 30 or 40 trucks in one location,” said Dunn.

A poll during the discussion found 75% of respondents feel a strong preventive maintenance program is a key ingredient to keeping vehicles running. One audience member said his fleet has created a five-page PMI checklist.

“I came from a leasing company I worked 20 years for. Leasing companies have very strong PM systems and I’ve kept it that way in all the places I’ve been,” replied Morthland. “You can’t just set up a PM program and let it go 10 years. You have to look at it every year and make adjustments.”

Whitehead said longer oil drain intervals mean it’s easier to let trucks go too long between preventive maintenance inspections.

“Every one of our trucks, when it comes into the yard, goes to the shop and they’re checking tires, lights…we’ve seen tire problems on the road drastically go away. We run it through the wash system,” Whitehead said.

This strict attention to PM sometimes means in-house battles with other departments.

“Dispatch doesn’t want to give you the time to do a PM,” said Morthland. “You have to coach them and teach them to understand the truck needs to be down. It’s pay me now or pay me later. If it breaks down on the road, they’re the first ones to complain. You have to teach everybody in the company how important it is to do a PM and how long it takes to actually do it.”


Avatar photo

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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.