Dealing with downtime

by James Menzies

The trucks on the market today are better than they’ve ever been before, and their engines also are remarkably efficient – when they’re up and running, that is. Excessive downtime has become the elephant in the room that OEMs and service providers will need to take a more proactive approach in addressing.

If you haven’t already done so, read Lou Smyrlis’ column below. He had the good fortune of attending a Volvo press event while I was putting the finishing touches on the issue you now hold in your hands. The event featured a candid discussion about truck downtime. This may be one of the most crucial issues facing fleets today, right up there with the cost of new trucks and the inability to find drivers. Excessive downtime can kill a trucking business.

I take a lot of calls from readers who are just looking for a sympathetic ear as they lament their troubles with new trucks. Some of these guys have sworn off new trucks altogether and are now scouring North America for low-mileage used trucks in decent shape. One guy I talked to has replaced his entire fleet of new trucks with low-mileage, older model year used trucks bought online and imported from the US.

Not all new trucks are lemons – most aren’t – but a disproportionate number of them are spending way too much time in the shop rather than generating revenue for their owners. Most blame the EPA and all the additional electronics, sensors, etc. that have been mandated in the pursuit of cleaner air.

How quirky have some of these trucks become? The other day I was told about a so-called ‘ghost truck’ that would start up all on its own in the middle of the night. Something to do with electromagnetic activity in the air. Okay, so I may have fallen for a tall tale, but these days you never can tell.

Yes, nearly everyone in the trucking business has suffered from downtime. It hits where it hurts – right in the pocketbook. But just how real is this issue?

I recently read a blog from Decisiv, provider of a popular cloud-based service management platform, that detailed a survey conducted at its annual Maintenance Summit that indicated excessive downtime is not an issue to be taken lightly. More than two dozen American fleets participated in the survey and the findings were startling.

The average repair time for trucks repaired in-house was 5.4 hours, but it took an average of 2.7 days to complete the work, with wrench time (the time spent actually working on the equipment) accounting for just 17.9% of total downtime. The results at external facilities were even worse, with an average repair time of four hours, but taking 4.5 days to complete with wrench time accounting for just 10.4% of total downtime.

According to the survey, downtime cost fleets an average of US$448-$760 per day. Extrapolated over the entire US, this could cost the industry some US$35 billion per year. As you can see, the problem here is two-fold. New trucks are down too often, largely due to new sensors and electronics required to comply with EPA emissions mandates. The other issue is that fleets themselves and their maintenance providers need to do a better job of improving the wrench time-to-downtime ratio.

When one hour in every 10 a truck sits idle is spent working on it, you know there’s lots of room for improvement, whether it be from better allocation of staff resources or improved parts inventory management.

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