A parked truck is an unprofitable truck. While some fleet downtime is necessary—you wouldn’t want to skip scheduled maintenance just to haul another load, for instance—you can only maximize trucking company profits by keeping preventable downtime to an absolute minimum.
So while you can’t avoid truck downtime entirely, there are plenty of ways to manage it. (Most of these strategies dovetail with best practices for running a trucking business because they support profitability—not just because they control downtime.)
Below we take a brief look at the main causes of an idle truck, and suggest seven things fleet owners can start doing today to minimize downtime.
Cash flow problems contributing to excessive fleet downtime? Factoring can help. Try it with a free trial of Bobtail, the factoring app by truckers, for truckers.
The Three Major Causes Of Truck Downtime
All your equipment will need some time in the garage—that fact is inescapable. It’s the nature of machinery to wear down.
So here’s what you really want: to reduce unnecessary downtime (the kind you don’t plan for) while managing the necessary downtime with an organized plan. To do both, it helps to understand the main factors that lead to downtime (avoidable and otherwise).
Typically, the causes of downtime fall under one of three categories:
- Planned maintenance. Like any piece of complicated machinery, your trucks need regular maintenance schedules. That includes everything from the pre-trip inspection to changing brake pads to installing new auxiliary power units. The good news is that planned maintenance is, well, planned. You know when it has to happen and about how long it will take, so you can factor this downtime into your budget from the start. Planned maintenance is an example of unavoidable downtime.
- Unplanned maintenance. A busted tire, a blown gasket; these things happen. Unplanned maintenance is troublesome and costly. Ironically, the best way to avoid these delays is to stick to the planned maintenance schedule so mechanical systems run smoothly. While repairs are certainly necessary, keeping your trucks in great condition will reduce the likelihood of unplanned maintenance, so we’ll consider this category to be unnecessary downtime.
- Personnel availability. Drivers take vacations. They’re limited to strict hours-of-service rules, so they can only drive up to 11 hours per shift. They might get sick or need training or even up and quit. When you don’t have a driver, that truck sits idle. This is also necessary downtime, but good planning can keep it from driving up costs.
If you can’t entirely avoid downtime—and no one can—the next best option is to manage it well. Here are some tips for keeping downtime to a minimum and getting the most out of those occasions when a truck simply can’t haul freight.
7 Tips For Managing Fleet Downtime
1. Budget a few weeks of yearly downtime into every truck.
Trucks can’t move all the time. If you know your driver will have a week of vacation, and the truck will have 14 days of planned maintenance, you can safely assume that truck will be unavailable for three weeks out of the year. Knowing that, you can set prices to meet income goals accurately. You can arrange to have another driver fill in for another’s vacation time, and rent substitute rigs if you know one of your trucks will be out of commission for a few days at a time. Building this necessary downtime into your business plans allows you to avoid unpleasant surprises, and create a more efficient operation overall.
2. Consider a full-service lease or a third-party maintenance contract.
There are lots of advantages to owning your own trucks, but a full-service lease can make it easier to control downtime. A full-service lease is just what it sounds like: the leasing company takes care of the trucks and keeps you posted on scheduled maintenance. That creates more predictability in your calendar so you can plan around downtime. Even better, it ensures you’ll never miss a maintenance task, reducing the risk of unplanned repairs on the road. Full-service leases also typically include 24/7 roadside assistance and—a huge boon—sub units to keep your drivers moving when a truck does need unplanned repair. If you’d rather own than lease your trucks, you can get some of the same advantages through a third-party maintenance contract; it’s generally well worth the cost.
3. Train drivers to be vigilant about truck inspections.
Pre-trip and post-trip truck inspections should be a routine part of every driver’s shift. These inspections can reveal maintenance issues before they grow into big problems—the kind that lead to repairs and even longer downtime. Make sure your drivers stay on top of these inspections by building them into your training programs.
4. Keep your team happy.
A truck without a driver doesn’t do much good. To keep your fleet moving, you need to keep your drivers satisfied. That requires frequent, open communication; competitive pay and benefits; and ongoing investment in driver comfort, from in-cab amenities to fuel cards with perks (free coffee, anyone?) That’s just a quick introduction to driver contentment, though. Learn more about recruiting and retaining truck drivers here.
5. Use digital tools to uncover truck performance issues.
Today’s telematics systems collect data on performance, both for trucks and drivers. Sensors transmit performance data to a centralized fleet management system, allowing fleet owners to spot mechanical issues before they result in downtime for repairs. Get real-time alerts about potential issues, then address them with planned maintenance. That way you can avoid the breakdowns that lead to serious downtime—and arrange to rent a sub unit to avoid lost revenue on current contracts.
6. Choose the right vehicles for your business.
As we discussed in our post about buying your first semi truck, newer rigs typically have fewer maintenance requirements than a used vehicle with sky-high mileage. The general rule is: the older the vehicle, the more downtime you’ll face. But you don’t have to buy a shiny new truck every other year; a good lease agreement can keep your fleet up to date without requiring the serious capital demands of continual replacement.
7. Maintain steady, reliable cash flow.
If you run into a cash flow problem, you can’t keep gas tanks full; you also can’t make payroll or invest in new equipment. In short, without money rolling in, your trucks can’t roll out. But brokers and shippers may take weeks to pay an invoice. Factoring—a financial tool in which a third-party pays out your invoices and collects from your customer—bridges the gap. Here’s how factoring works with Bobtail:
Unlike other factoring services, Bobtail doesn’t require contracts. We don’t charge hidden fees. We don’t require you to factor a certain volume of invoices; factor just what you want to factor, with no demands on our end. It’s the simplest way to get funded on your trucking invoices—and with reliable cash flow, you can avoid the unnecessary fleet downtime that harms your business.