You can’t make money in the trucking business if you can’t keep your fleet on the road. If you want to keep your fleet on the road, you must:

  • Satisfy the regulatory requirements imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
  • Take care of your trucks and trailers

Implementing a fleet preventive maintenance program takes care of both of these objectives.

What Does the FMCSA Say About Preventive Maintenance?

The FMCSA is a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), created in 2000 to oversee the safety of commercial trucking. The FMCSA’s mission is to “reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.”

Every commercial trucking operation, from a single owner-operator to a large fleet, is subject to the FMCSA regulations published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Part 396 under CFR Title 49, Subtitle B, Chapter III, Subchapter B covers “Inspection, Repair, and Maintenance.”

The regulations clearly state, “Every motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain . . . all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.”

In other words, trucking companies are legally required to maintain their trucks and trailers. This maintenance should be systematic—that is, it should follow a plan of some sort. For most companies, this means setting up a fleet preventive maintenance program.

The FMCSA also requires trucking companies to:

  • Keep maintenance records dating back one year while a truck is in service
  • Keep maintenance records on file for six months after a truck leaves the company’s control
  • Require drivers to complete daily driver-vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs)
  • Carry out thorough annual truck and trailer inspections (in some states, this requirement is met through annual DOT safety inspections)

What Is Preventive Maintenance?

From the venerable internal combustion engine to the tiny inner workings of a watch, virtually any machine with moving parts requires periodic maintenance and repairs. The aim of preventive maintenance (PM) is to avoid or prevent costly and inconvenient emergency repairs by carrying out scheduled inspections and repairs.

When it comes to trucks, preventive maintenance typically targets two areas:

  1. Routine checks on fluids, tires, brakes, and electrical systems
  2. Periodic replacement of engine parts before they fail

Truck Parts That Require Preventive Maintenance

Thorough truck preventive maintenance covers the entire vehicle, although not all parts are serviced at the same frequency.

  • Some vehicle components, like brakes and tires, should be checked on a daily basis.
  • Oil changes should be scheduled at regular mileage intervals. The optimal interval varies based on vehicle usage—that is, whether a truck is used for short-haul or long-haul trips.
  • Replacement of fluids and filters for other systems (e.g., transmission, coolant, and power steering fluid) is scheduled on a similar basis, though less frequently.
  • Manufacturers publish short-haul and long-haul maintenance schedules recommending when to proactively check, service, and/or replace engine parts.

Why Is Vehicle Preventive Maintenance Important?

Preventive maintenance is a critical aspect of fleet management. Successful trucking companies implement rigorous preventive maintenance programs to avoid:

  • Failed inspections: When one of your trucks fails an FMCSA inspection, you may incur financial penalties, and the truck can even be taken off the road.
  • Emergency repairs: Without adequate maintenance, your trucks are more likely to break down mid-trip. This results in towing costs and expensive repairs at unfamiliar shops in out-of-the-way places. You may also need to send another driver and vehicle to pick up the cargo and complete the route.
  • Truck downtime: Unplanned emergency repairs leave your trucks idle, with neither you nor your drivers earning any money.
  • Dissatisfied customers: When your trucks stop mid-route for emergency repairs, the delivery is unlikely to be on time. Without an effective preventive maintenance program, you may need to get used to making excuses for missing delivery windows.
  • Shortened service life: A truck or trailer that isn’t maintained well won’t last as long as one that’s properly cared for. Your trucks are a serious investment, and preventive maintenance protects that investment.

Semitruck Preventive Maintenance Checklist

Establishing a truck PM service schedule requires a multifaceted approach because of the varying frequency of different maintenance tasks. Your schedule may involve three or more truck PM service levels:

  1. Daily driver-vehicle inspections covering things like tires, brakes, electrical systems, fluids, coupling devices, and trailer systems (e.g., refrigeration units or hydraulic lifts)
  2. Semi-frequent maintenance tasks like fluid and filter changes and on-board diagnostic (OBD) checks
  3. Annual maintenance tasks like DOT inspections and scheduled component replacements

You may want to create separate checklists for seasonal maintenance tasks like winterization and summerization.

Let’s look at how to develop a truck PM service schedule in more detail below.

Gather Information on Existing Equipment

First, you’ll need to compile specific information on all existing equipment in your fleet. List each truck, recording the make and model, model year, vehicle identification number, registration information, and mileage.

Maintenance needs vary based on a few fundamental factors:

  • Manufacturer: Whether they’re Freightliner, Kenworth, Volvo, or Mack, your trucks have unique maintenance needs depending on who made them. Every make and model has its quirks.
  • Mileage: Maintenance needs change as vehicles age. In general, the higher the mileage, the more maintenance is required.
  • Usage: Maintenance needs are different for short-haul versus long-haul trucks.

Create PM Service Schedules

There are a few free and reliable resources you can turn to when creating PM service schedules at the three service levels mentioned above.

First, FMCSA regulations specify what systems and components must be included in daily or pre-trip inspections for trucks and trailers, making the FMCSA rules a good starting point for building driver checklists.

Second, all vehicle manufacturers include detailed recommended maintenance schedules for service levels 2 and 3 in their vehicle manuals. If you don’t have the original vehicle manual, you can usually access it online.

Third, the truck shop or chain of shops you use for maintenance and repairs may have truck PM service schedules you can follow or use as a jumping-off point for creating your own.

Teach Drivers Inspection Protocols

Your drivers are an essential part of keeping your fleet in top condition. Training your drivers—and ensuring they follow through—on truck and trailer inspection and maintenance is an investment that will pay dividends in higher profits, increased uptime, and customer satisfaction.

FMCSA regulations require drivers to conduct pre-trip vehicle inspections (DVIRs). Their reports must be signed and kept on record with the trucking company they work for.

The FMCSA specifies that DVIRs must cover:

  1. Service brakes, including trailer brake connections
  2. Parking brake
  3. Steering mechanism
  4. Lighting devices and reflectors
  5. Tires
  6. Horn
  7. Windshield wipers
  8. Rear vision mirrors
  9. Coupling devices
  10. Wheels and rims
  11. Emergency equipment

A similar FMCSA regulation with a separate inspection checklist applies to trailers.

Record and Document Truck PM Service

Because many preventive maintenance tasks are scheduled based on the date or mileage at which the previous service took place, documenting each vehicle’s inspections, service, and repairs are essential to a good PM system.

Records and documentation are also essential to stay in business, because the FMCSA has stringent record-keeping requirements.

If you’re an owner-operator, you might be able to get by with paper records. If you have a small fleet, you might be able to keep track of things on spreadsheets. For larger fleets, it’s probably advantageous to use software designed to keep digital records of vehicle inspections and maintenance.

Building a Truck Preventive Maintenance Schedule

To stay competitive in the transportation industry, companies use software like Syntelic’s Route Planning, Load Planning, and Transportation Analytics applications to optimize routes and loads, identify weak points in their processes, and continually streamline their operations.

When you set out to build a truck preventive maintenance program, it’s important to keep the same focus on efficiency.

You can use the constraints feature in Syntelic Route Planning to schedule preventive maintenance activities during DOT-mandated driver breaks. In the same way, Syntelic Load Planning helps with regulatory compliance by preventing overweight fines and reloads, your preventive maintenance program should ensure compliance with FMCSA maintenance and record-keeping rules. And you can quantitatively track the effectiveness of your PM program using Syntelic Transportation Analytics, which tracks your operating expenses and vehicle utilization.

You may be able to save money on maintenance and repairs by taking advantage of fleet services offered through a vehicle manufacturer (especially if your fleet is all one truck make or model) or a national truck services chain.

Benefits of a Fleet Preventive Maintenance Program

A fleet preventive maintenance program positively affects your company legally and financially, as well as in terms of safety and employee/customer satisfaction.

  • Meeting legal requirements: Putting a fleet preventive maintenance program in place goes hand-in-hand with trucking industry regulatory compliance. As you put together your PM program, you can ensure you’re meeting FMCSA maintenance and record-keeping requirements.
  • Reaping financial rewards: In the long term, preventive maintenance saves money on truck repairs, extends the service life of your trucks, and maximizes your fleet’s uptime. All these factors mean a higher return on investment.
  • Keeping drivers and customers satisfied: Regular preventive maintenance helps your drivers and customers by avoiding breakdowns, emergency repairs, and missed delivery windows. A PM program keeps drivers out of crisis mode and provides customers with reliable service.
  • Staying safe: Maintenance lapses can result in accidents. Nonfunctional windshield wipers, turn signals, and brakes; blown-out tires; or any other mechanical issue can contribute to or even cause accidents. Proper maintenance minimizes the odds of such incidents.

Seasonal Preventive Maintenance

In addition to compiling checklists for three or more preventive maintenance service levels for each truck in your fleet, you may need checklists to prepare your trucks for seasonal weather extremes.

Winterizing usually includes paying particular attention to tire tread depth to ensure traction on wet, snowy, or icy roads. It’s also a good idea to wash trucks regularly in the winter to prevent corrosion caused by the salts used to deice road surfaces.

Summerizing usually includes paying particular attention to tire pressure to avoid overinflation caused by excessive heat. It also typically incorporates air conditioning system maintenance and a coolant check.

How Much Does Preventive Maintenance Cost?

In considering the cost of preventive maintenance, it’s important to look at the big picture.

The narrow view is that when you spend money on preemptive vehicle service, you’re buying something you don’t need. If you look at fleet management this way, it makes more sense to wait until vehicles break down, necessitating repairs.

The broader view is that preventive maintenance is an investment. As with any investment, you spend money now for the opportunity to reap a greater return on your investment later. Although preventive maintenance involves spending money on services you don’t “need” right now, it earns a good return by avoiding emergency repairs, keeping your trucks on the road, and providing reliable customer service.

Syntelic Helps You Monitor Your Fleet With Transportation Analytics

Syntelic’s Transportation Analytics is business intelligence software built for the transportation industry. It can enhance your fleet’s preventive maintenance program—and your overall operations—through its powerful reporting features. Using Transportation Analytics, you can do more than churn out a handful of preset reports. Our software is built to allow you to drill down into your data and create customized reports, isolating the information you need to get the most out of your fleet.

We tailor every implementation of our Route Planning, Load Planning, and Transportation Analytics software to your specific needs, provide training to get your users up and running, and lend ongoing support to keep you on track. Contact Syntelic today to learn more about how our software can enhance your preventive maintenance program and benefit your company as a whole.