MONTREAL, Que. - To err is human, nobody will deny that. And the heavy-duty truck manufacturing business is no exception. After some research, I found out that every single heavy-duty truck manufactur...
THERE TO HELP: Most manufacturers have a 24-hour call centre such as this one, operated by Volvo.
SAFETY FIRST: MacKinnon’s Richard Sharpe said he would ground the fleet immediately in the event of a major recall. The company operates 270 power units, including this International.
MONTREAL, Que. –To err is human, nobody will deny that. And the heavy-duty truck manufacturing business is no exception. After some research, I found out that every single heavy-duty truck manufacturer active on the North American market has issued at least one recall for their products over the last 12 months.
Of course, the defects that were found were of different levels of significance and, luckily enough, as far as we know, no serious injuries resulted from them.
The idea here is not to throw the stone at any truck maker, but to better understand how a recall campaign is organized and how fleet managers and owner/operators should be dealing with it to protect their assets and the safety of their drivers, as well as other motorists. After all, a truck manufacturer issuing a recall notice can be seen as continuous after-sale quality control.
Before going into the field to ask fleet managers how they manage recalls, we went to the truck makers themselves. Volvo Trucks North America and Daimler Trucks North America were kind enough to share some valuable advice.
We first asked what is the proportion of recalls that are initiated by customers that discover a problem themselves, as compared to those initiated by the manufacturer. Tim LaFon, manager of regulatory affairs for Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks says: “A very high percentage of problems are discovered by the vehicle manufacturer, who regularly monitors warranty claims, customer complaints, and field reports for potential safety defects. Dealers are also a source of information.”
At Daimler Trucks, Timothy Blubaugh, director of government and technical affairs, agrees, estimating that “About 80% of Daimler Trucks North America recalls originate internally, while 20% are discovered by customers.”
This is quite re-assuring, but still, what should this average 20% of trucking professionals do when they suspect a potentially widespread defect?
According to Daimler’s Blubaugh, they should contact the manufacturer through the field sales personnel or their local dealer. The specialist from Volvo and Mack agrees, adding: “Most manufacturers have call support centers that are open 24 hours per day, seven days per week that assist the owners with problems.”
But once a recall determination is made, how do the “mechanics” of it work?
According to LaFon:”The vehicle manufacturer is required to report the safety defect first to the government (i. e. NHTSA and Transport Canada). The report contains a description of the defect and potential consequence, the class of vehicles affected (make, model, model year, and number of potentially affected vehicles), the repair, and the date that the owners will be notified of the defect. Within a few days after receiving the report, the government makes this information available to the public through their Web sites.”
Truck News had the opportunity to verify that and we were pleasantly surprised to see how user-friendly Transport Canada’s Web site is. To verify if one of your trucks has been recalled, try this: www.tc.gc.ca/roadsafety/Recalls/r ecintro_e. htm.
Information technologies are also of great help when it comes to managing recalls. They allow the truck manufacturers to communicate quickly with their dealers and replacement parts providers.
Better yet, if you bought a used truck and the original owner didn’t bother to inform you of the recall notice he received, the dealer’s computer can “recognize” the truck when it comes into the shop for regular maintenance, identify the recall work that needs to be done and inform the maintenance personnel to do it, free of charge. Warranty databases are also used to track the new owner of a truck.
Ignoring a recall is never a good idea. Of course, taking one or more of your trucks off the road means they are not generating revenue. But safety is at stake and, besides, the manufacturer could revoke the warranty based on consequential damages associated with ignoring a recall.
Above all, planning the eventuality of a recall is the key to success. Of course, “A larger fleet can be a direct warranty customer and perform those repairs in their own shops at their convenience,” says Blubaugh, adding that if that’s not the case, “they can have repairs performed at multiple locations since every DTNA dealer is authorized to address a recall.”
Volvo-Mack’s LaFon adds “Good communication and planning between the fleet owner and company representative (the fleet service manager or district service manager) is paramount. Recall repairs and repair times vary widely based on the circumstances; therefore, it is important to share information and plan accordingly.”
Real life experience
Jean-Claude Menard is the fleet manager of Transport J. E. Fortin, a fleet of 85 tractors and 140 trailers, located in St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., merely inches away from the US border. The power units are about 65% Freightliner, the rest being International, Volvo and Kenworth trucks.
Fleet harmonization is often said to be an advantage but what happens if a recall is issued? Isn’t the fleet more vulnerable since there are many trucks of the same brand?
“Not really,” says Menard, adding,”When a recall notice is issued, it’s very rare that it affects a large number of our trucks. Usually it’s only a particular series. And since we buy only about half a dozen new trucks per year, it has never been an issue here. But it might be for much larger fleets that buys a huge number of trucks at a time.”
He also agrees that the quality of the relationship with the manufacturer’s representatives is crucial. Menard says that he obtains great service from his local Freightliner dealer.
“If I ever am in a recall situation, I call them to make sure that they have the replacement part and the technician to perform the job and I take an appointment between two trips of the driver to whom the truck is assigned to (to make sure not to cut into his miles) and the dealer comes to take the truck with a jockey and returns it when the work has been performed. The only expense, which is minimal, is the fuel consumed to go to and from the dealership.”
If facing a situation where the recall repair is urgent and the truck is away on the US East Coast, J. E. Fortin’s dispatchers will get in touch with the driver and, using a dealership’s directory, tell him which dealer is the closest to his location and ask that he has the problem taken care of without any delay.
Based in Guelph, Ont., Richard Sharpe is vice-president of fleet services at MacKinnon Transport, a fleet made up of 270 power units and 502 trailers of various configurations.
Right from the start, Sharpe declares: “In the past decade, I’ve been exposed to remarkably few recall events. I believe manufacturers are, at least in my experience, doing an excellent job of engineering and field trials.”
He agrees with Menard that fleet harmonization remains a good strategy.
“A recall in a 2005 model, for example, is a standard installation process in a 2006. So, spreading equipment replacement/acquisition over a replacement cycle helps minimize the number of units affected.”
Should a serious safety recall affect his fleet, Sharpe wouldn’t hesitate for a second:”I would ground that fleet until the necessary upgrades were made. If the recall could disable the equipment, and risk customer service failure, I’d impose on operations to remove as many pieces as viable, and still support operational needs. In both of the above cases, rental units are an option, and may even be available, at discount, from a dealer. On a cosmetic or convenience recall, whenever possible, I would schedule repairs at the next service interval.”
And even though MacKinnon is quite a large fleet, Sharpe still feels dealers are most precious allies.
“There is absolutely no question in my mind that a good fleet/dealer relationship is essential for handling
a recall in the best possible manner. The dealer having an understanding of your fleet requirements, lane demographics, maintenance schedules and operational needs substantially eases the pain of the recall. We make it a priority to maintain open and direct communication with our dealers. This pays dividends, not only under recall scenarios, but also in the day-to-day operation of your fleet. Dealers that know their fleets, in my opinion, are the best resources for overcoming a recall event.”
Norita Taylor is a spokesperson for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), an organization that groups 160,000 owner/operators from Canada and the US.
She says that proper planning of a recall is even more important for an independent driver, since he has (most of the times) only one truck to rely on.
Taylor gives owner/operators this advice:”When you get the recall notice, before showing up at the shop or the dealership, make sure that they have the replacement part and that a qualified technician is available to make the repair.”
She also recommends keeping all receipts for expenses incurred because of the recall (meals, lodging, etc.), as there might be taxes deductible.