Would you drive your personal vehicle 100,000 miles and never do an oil change? Ignore the flashing red engine light on your dashboard hoping it will go away? Continue to drive it after you dropped the front wheel into a deep pothole at 70 mph? Of course not!
You would take steps to maintain and fix the vehicle as soon as possible. That’s because you are the manager of your personal fleet of one, two, three (or more) vehicles, and you know waiting will only end up costing you more in the end.
When it comes to the fleet for your contracting business, however, the consequences of not being proactive has yet another layer of risk and a huge financial impact. That’s because each one of your trucks is a rolling cash register, and every time one of your trucks goes out of service, your ability to generate revenue goes with it. To avoid this, you need someone acting as the fleet manager for your business. Someone has to have the job to ensure those trucks not only stay on the road but also are utilized properly by the technicians who are operating them.
You may think you are too small to have a fleet manager, or so big you need a full-time fleet manager, and neither of those things is necessarily true. Your install manager or warehouse manager’s name might be in that box on your organizational chart. They just need to be willing and able to do the job. (I’ll get into what that is, shortly.) First, let’s talk about the fleet itself.
The first thing you need to consider is how vehicles age. The cost of maintenance and the frequency of downtime of your vehicles climbs a hockey stick. Sometimes, it’s not even about how old the truck is, it is about the kind of use that it gets. That’s also why you need to work with your financial manager to make sure you’re able to upgrade your fleet on a regular basis.
Personally, I’ve been a huge fan of leasing over buying trucks these days because good leasing companies are paying attention and help you manage your fleet. They’ve got checklists and other resources that can assist in maintain your fleet rather than owning your own trucks and driving them into the ground. But either way you do it, somebody has to be on top of all those details to make sure that vehicles are driving safe.
What is a fleet manager?
For one, they are in charge of training technicians and apprentices on how to safely operate vehicles according to what is outlined in the technician manual and the apprentice manual. They are in charge of overseeing the proper daily, weekly, monthly and yearly inspections. Some inspections are done by the driver of the vehicle, some are done by the fleet manager and sometimes, they are both doing them together.
A fleet manager also needs to know what the drivers are counting on them to do, and what outsources are required when issues arise, such as a flat tire on a truck that is too heavy to safely make the repair yourself, or a truck is inoperable and needs to be towed.
They also need to know what to do in the cases of:
- A traffic accident;
- A stolen vehicle;
- Normal wear and tear;
- Tracking of repetitive maintenance issue; and
- Compliance by agencies, such as the Department of Transportation.
A fleet manager also needs their own operations manual. Here is a small excerpt from my fleet manager manual from my Signature Operating Manuals System:
Fleet Manager Manual- (Company Name)
Scheduling vehicles for preventive maintenance:
At the beginning of each month, the fleet manager will give the dispatcher and install coordinator a list of vehicles due for preventive maintenance.
The two departments will work together to make sure the technicians bring in the designated vehicles on time.
The dispatcher will assign a spare vehicle to the service technician while the vehicle mechanics service the technician’s regularly assigned vehicle.
Install coordinator will assign a spare vehicle to the installers while the vehicle mechanics service the technician’s regularly assigned vehicle.
Rather than switching to a spare vehicle, a technician may ask if he can leave his regularly assigned vehicle in the main office for service on his day off.
Note: The fleet manager will try to satisfy these requests whenever possible.
All of this said, the technician does have a role to play here. The technician manual clues them in about road, road safety and what they’re supposed to be doing, and the fleet manager manual is in sync with that. So, the two of them are talking to each other, the technicians (aka the drivers) of the vehicle know when they’re supposed to be bringing the fleet manager up to speed, what and how far they can go, and the manual also makes clear what they can and can’t do.
Let’s say you’ve got big trucks. Unless you tell them differently, somebody is going to get a flat tire, pull off the side road and try to change it themselves. But if they don’t have the proper jack, the proper training and more, chances are good they’re going to hurt themselves or somebody else. And that’s why the technician and fleet manager have to be in sync. The dispatcher also needs to be aware of what’s going on when these kinds of things happen. Everyone needs to know what to do when the truck breaks down at night or on a weekend or even during normal operating hours, and this should all be documented procedures.
Another key responsibility of the fleet manager is to check periodically as to where these trucks are moving. For example, if a technician has permission from you to take your trucks home, you want to make sure that vehicle stays at their home and does not travel to their cousin’s home (or worse, your customer’s home) where your inventory will be used to do their personal side work. That brings me to fleet management software. Typically, there’s GPS reporting as part of any good program. However, if no one is looking at the reports, you won’t know any better.
Whatever you think it might cost in time, energy and money to have someone filling the fleet manager role, you need to consider how much it costs to have a truck out of operation per day. And if it’s a whole week, you’re looking at some serious money!
That’s why it’s so important to be proactive, to make sure you have your best chance of keeping these trucks rolling and safe and assigning those responsibilities to someone filling the fleet manager is the best way to achieve that goal.