Trucking is the biggest part of the U.S. transport industry, with almost 1.5 million private and for-hire fleets registered with the FMCSA. That’s a lot of trucks that need looking after. What’s more, there are a lot of duties that go along with running a fleet. It takes someone with business and finance know-how and an avid interest in government guidelines plus, they must be safety-conscious. It’s a tricky juggling act, and some managers are better at different tasks than others. Luckily, there are effective tools that make all areas of fleet management easier to deal with.
What is Fleet Management?
A variety of businesses rely on heavy duty vehicles. They have fleet managers to oversee the assets that help the company make money. Fleet management involves keeping the fleet compliant, running safely, and enforcing company rules and government rules. The fleet manager has to do all of that while trying to increase efficiency and profitability.
As you might guess, fleet management requires the skill to see the big picture without losing track of the details. For instance, a fleet manager should be able to set policies that are broad enough to meet several goals. An example would be safety programs that also meet government compliance standards. Additionally, technology and data have become a big part of managing a fleet. That’s why managers need to be tech-savvy, bringing in cutting-edge programs and tools that fit fleet needs.
Breaking Down the Fleet Manager’s Job Description
Buying and Selling Trucks
Not all managers have to build a fleet from the ground up. Still, part of fleet management includes buying and selling trucks from time to time. It also includes knowing when the time is right for both activities. When it’s time to bring a new truck in, the manager will choose the right vehicle for the job. To do that, there are several things to consider. Things like what it will be carrying, where it will travel, and what options and features are available from different manufacturers. Even though the manager will make the decision, some seek input from others in the company. Before making the purchase, the manager will also bargain to get the best price he can get.
Selling a used truck is easier and more profitable if the manager has been doing his job every day. That’s because a clean, well-maintained truck that still has all the accessories it initially came with will get a better trade-in value from a dealer or bring a higher price from a buyer. Fleet managers who track preventive maintenance, stay on top of repairs, encourage safe driver behavior, and keep trucks in compliance have a better chance of getting top dollar when rotating a truck out of the fleet.
Fuel Efficiency and Fueling Programs
In the end, everything about fleet management circles back to the budget. However, fuel is directly related to the fleet’s bottom line. Fleet managers have to budget for fuel, but the unpredictable diesel costs makes that part of the job tough. Some managers opt for on-site fueling for their fleets. Having a fueling station at their location is like buying in bulk, so they get a better price per gallon. Plus, it increases efficiency by cutting down-time for fueling. On the other hand, the price a fleet pays for on-site fuel typically has to be negotiated. Therefore, some managers prefer to avoid the hassle of bargaining each time a contract needs renewing. Instead, they sign up with a preferred network to buy fuel at a discount. Or, they might opt for a fleet card program.
Designing a fuel program is one of the areas of the job where attention to detail comes in handy. Tracking fuel efficiency helps managers make decisions on the best way to purchase fuel. That means tracking the overall fleet and each truck separately. Plus, that data can red-flag other budget issues like excessive idling, aggressive driving, engine performance, and tire inflation.
It seems government rules are constantly changing. It seems more and more is being asked of commercial fleets with every change. A fairly recent example is the 2017 ELD mandate that makes fleets use electronic logging devices to increase accuracy and ensure drivers don’t go over maximum hours of service.
The ELD issue is just one area of compliance fleet managers have to be on top of. There are rules about issues like vehicles carrying hazardous materials, food and refrigerated goods. There’s a limit on how much a fully-loaded truck can weigh. What’s more, whether towing a load or not, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards restricts the stopping distance for semis. At the core, most state and federal rules are safety issues, making safety concerns a priority for fleet management.
Even if the government didn’t have a say about safety, fleet management would still involve setting up safety programs. That’s because accidents on any level cost the fleet, and not just money. Driver health and welfare is vital for keeping the trucks on the road and on time. Beyond that, accidents cost money in asset damage but also do harm to public trust and the company’s brand.
That’s why all fleets on U.S. roads today require pre and post-trip inspections. True, the inspections are another government mandate. However, the visual assessment, engine check, and gauge readings also help ensure vehicles won’t have surprise breakdowns on the road. At the bottom of it all, that saves the fleet money.
Managers also impose rules about safe driving behaviors. Most fleets require safety-belt use and staying on-route. Plus, speeding and hard braking is discouraged. Behaviors like those are not just safety issues, but also affect fuel use, insurance costs, and vehicle lifespan. In the past, such rules were hard to enforce. However, GPS technology has made it easier to know whether drivers are following the rules or not. It does more than track trucks’ courses so managers can see trucks aren’t going off-route. It also alerts the home office when other safety policies get broken.
Tracking a fleet is another safety issue. Furthermore, advances in technology have increased what fleet tracking means for fleet management. Thanks to GPS tracking systems, on-board video monitors, and navigation programs, fleet managers can keep tabs on entire fleets. They can even drill down to individual vehicles if needed. Managers are aware at all times where trucks are and if they’re running on schedule They also know what weather and road conditions drivers are facing and even how the trucks are operating. Fleet tracking offers useful data that allows managers the ability to make decisions and corrections as issues arise. That keeps the fleet on the road and increases profitability.
Telematics is one example of vital cutting-edge tech for fleets. It can be used to snapshot all the info in each truck in a fleet. That includes data like where it is at any given time, its fuel-efficiency, and when it last had maintenance.
Fleet tracking goes beyond being aware of driver behavior and knowing where trucks are. It includes keeping track of service and repair history. This is where fleet tracking overlaps with maintenance and repair programs, another fleet manager duty we’ll cover in a moment. The tracking part of maintenance and repair is vital for managers to keep all vehicles in a fleet in top running, safe condition. That goes for fleets of 5 as well as 500 trucks. Well-maintained semis that routinely undergo repairs run better and don’t break down as much. What’s more, by tracking PMs, managers can schedule downtime when it’s most convenient, making typical upkeep duties cost-effective.
Maintenance and Repair Programs
Heavy duty trucks get worked hard, so they need more maintenance and repair than most other types of vehicles. Designing good preventive and predictive maintenance programs help fleet managers keep repairs to a minimum. In setting up programs, managers consider things like manufacturer and industry standards, vehicle type, and use. Typically, fluids, belts, and filter changes are what most people might think of as maintenance. However, fleet management also involves routinely rotating and replacing tires. Plus, windshield replacement and repair as well as warranty recalls are also part of maintenance and repair.
Even well-thought-out PM programs need to be run without a hitch. Once a manager has set up a schedule, he has to make sure every truck in the fleet sticks to it. Skipping one scheduled PM puts the truck at risk of an unscheduled breakdown. That’s because regular maintenance is often used to identify potential repair issues.
Finding the Best Fleet Management Tools
With so many things to oversee, it helps to find efficient, effective fleet management tools. We’ve talked about a few of them here: GPS, nav systems, and ELDs. There is fuel tracking software, and video monitors offer a view of what’s happening on and around trucks, too.
Many fleet managers look for a single tool to do it all. Some software programs do offer multiple features that solve several issues. But, you may find you lose quality in some areas. For instance, you may not be able to customize reports. Or, you might be limited when it comes to moving data from one area to another. Don’t go searching for one-size-fits-all software. Instead, find a couple of programs that do different things great. We call it the “best of breed” approach. Look for good on-board software and gear, for example, to fill the fleet tracking, GPS, and route planning needs. But look elsewhere for the best tool to track and manage your fleet’s condition, truck-by-truck.
Fullbay is the fleet management software that keeps track of all the aspects of every truck in your fleet. We compare it to a medical history for trucks. That’s because it stores all the vital info, such as PM and repair dates, parts used, and upcoming services. Fleet managers have all the data they need to customize a range of reports. Plus, it also manages inventory including ordering, and allows managers to request services. That makes Fullbay great for fleets that have on-site repair shops. What’s more, you can even use Fullbay to assign work and check on jobs in progress. Fleet management is a big job. Let Fullbay lend a hand keeping your fleet up and running.