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TowTimes.com - Audio Article: Fleet Forward-Keep An Eye On Tow Truck Maintenance


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Fleet Forward-Keep On Tow Truck Maintenance

from the August 2022 Issue of Tow Times Magazine

Some motorists are allowing their vehicles to sputter to a stop to save money on gas – a questionable move because a) they could be left stranded anywhere, b) the vehicle is sipping up potentially damaging fuel sediment, and c) it’s just not a smart thing to do. When it comes to the trucks, no self-respecting towing operator or trucker would knowingly treat his equipment that way. Or would they? Without a way to regularly monitor a fleet, towing company owners essentially are operating blindly, lurching toward their next breakdown, just like motorists who don’t fuel up. Tow truck fleets nowadays require maintenance software to take the guesswork out of keeping their fleet roadworthy. Keeping the wheels rolling and generating revenue is what every fleet owner aims for. “An efficient maintenance program will translate directly to better profitability,” says Chance Kincaid, shop maintenance supervisor at Sandy’s Towing in Dayton, OH, which has a fleet of 120 tow trucks excluding equipment.

Reactive versus Proactive

Without insight into the mechanical condition of the tow trucks, company owners are “forced into a never-ending cycle of reactive work on trucks,” according to Trucks.com. Enter fleet maintenance software. This software is part of what is called “predictive technology,” essentially a data tool that continually monitors the mechanical health of a fleet before failures occur. The maintenance software helps owners track vehicle data that can be analyzed and – more  important – utilized to keep trucks rolling. “In the past everything was antiquated, everything was paper,” noted Ian Lomax, fleet supervisor for AAA Oregon/Idaho, during a podcast interview. He manages about 60 vehicles ranging from heavy duty to road service vehicles. Lomax said the company has gone from “nearly all paper to nearly all Cloud-based,” meaning truck maintenance data is digitally and securely stored in the Cloud, not taking up unsecured physical office space. “We really had no clue what was going on,” Lomax explains. “What are the chances of paper or word of mouth making it all the way to the repair shop?”

Control of Maintenance Process

Thus, control is an important feature of fleet maintenance software– control and manipulation of the data, control of the data routing channels and, ultimately, control of the fleet maintenance process and costs. “I can say that I keep mechanical failures to a minimum since my trucks are in the shop on a scheduled basis,” says Mike Sena, owner of Mike’s Towing of Bridgewater, NJ, which has been in business since 1980 and has over 40 tow trucks. “If something is wearing out, we catch it before it breaks,” he says, adding that he’s been tracking his vehicles’ maintenance one way or another for 35 years.

What’s on the Dashboard

One of the things Sena does, for instance, is set his vehicle maintenance reminder to change the oil every 5,000 miles, instead of the often recommended 15,000 miles. “That’s three times versus everybody’s else’s once.” Lomax of AAA Oregon/Idaho boasts that his inspection failure rate is less than 1%. “We have all the information we need and can see it from everywhere,” explains Lomax, who created his own dashboard to track the features important to him. AAA Oregon/Idaho is monitoring fuel mileage combined with GPS data, which has become front and center due to higher-than-average gas prices. “We monitor per mile marker to watch our cost per meter,” explains Lomax.

Uptime not Downtime

When vehicles are roadworthy, they are on regular assignment, generating revenue for owners. Downtime means tow trucks are sitting in a shop waiting to be diagnosed and/or repaired. And that translates into fewer dispatches and lower revenue. Lomax says he can track the downtime of his tow trucks, keeping it to a minimum. “We can see downtime of trucks in hours not days.” The worse form of downtime strikes when a tow truck maintenance failure occurs while on the road. Not only is it embarrassing – the tow truck needs a tow – but also may be expensive, necessitating dispatching of additional equipment and staff. “We shouldn’t have to send out two to three different trucks just because equipment doesn’t work,” says Lomax.

Tracking Inventory

In these days of supply-chain issues, keeping track of what items are in stock – from vehicle batteries to transmission oil, tires, and more – has become more pressing. “With the supply chain, anything having to do with transportation parts are an issue,” says Kincaid of Sandy’s Towing. Maintenance software helps company owners track what’s coming in the shop and what’s leaving the shop, keep inventory levels high or low according to the owner’s preference, and eliminate unwanted inventory. “It’s more organized,” says Kincaid. “We can punch a number in and it will tell you if you have the part, where it is in the parts room, what bay, what shelf. It raises the level of efficiency.”

Maintenance Means Safety

Not to be overlooked, tracking tow truck maintenance can be an important part of a company’s safety program. A roadside failure is not the place to find out a tow truck needs maintenance, leaving drivers stranded on a busy road or highway. The predictive technology of fleet maintenance software helps tow operators tend to potential safety concerns, such as engine or brake failures, before they happen, keeping tow truck drivers safe. Many fleet maintenance software programs have mobile app features, which help drivers to conduct inspections, report issues or initiate work orders using company tablets or smartphones. “Everybody nowadays is pretty good with computers and mobile options,” says Lomax. Kincaid says the company has started a small pilot program for drivers to conduct pre-trip inspections using maintenance software. The initial inspections of non-CDL tow trucks took 10 minutes. It’s now down to five to eight minutes. The pre-inspections keep tow truck drivers engaged in the fleet maintenance process. “It makes them think about it, and it’s a way to communicate. They can upload a picture of the defect and we can fix it,” he says. “It makes drivers feel involved. It makes them feel like they’re understood.”

Which Way to Go

Ultimately, fleet maintenance can be either preventive, predictive and pre-programmed or Johnny-on the- spot. It’s up to each company owner to decide, and this decision will determine the longevity of the fleet. Adds Sena of Mike’s Towing, “All I can say is, maintenance is much cheaper than paying for repairs.”

View the full article and more on TowTimes.com

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