A tool is anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose. That being the case, few experienced fleet managers would argue with the idea that a good preventive maintenance (PM) program – properly performed and in a timely manner – is one of the best tools any shop can make available to its maintenance technicians.
If a fleet has an effective PM program, its vehicles likely will spend less time in the shop and experience far fewer road breakdowns. Additionally, its trucks will typically have longer service lives and greater disposal values than those of a shop that looks upon PM as a burdensome activity. The program will also save the fleet money.
If a good PM program will save money, can you conclude that performing more of this type of maintenance will save even more money? Definitely not. Like too much of anything, too much PM will not provide better results than a PM program optimized for your fleet.
Every vehicle comes with an OEM-recommended PM program, but if it's built around oil change intervals as many programs are, does it take into account the changes in lubricant products currently available to you? “My belief has always been that we have plenty of life available in the oil,” said Darry Stuart, president and CEO of DWS Fleet Management Services (www.darrystuart.com). “However, we still need to do a good PM inspection so the vehicle can get to the next PM without a problem under operating conditions that are normal for that vehicle.”
Extending service intervals may be allowed under certain situations, but when considering extending intervals, operators should have an effective oil analysis program in place. It is also a good idea to include a dry service in the schedule between wet services to identify worn or damaged components before they fail on the road, causing unnecessary expense and downtime. Always keep in mind that extending service intervals requires close monitoring and may impact overall life-cycle performance.
“I don’t like the term ‘extended drain intervals,’” Stuart said. “I believe it’s really optimizing the life of the lubricant. Years ago, we had to deal with oil that simply wasn’t capable of doing the job delivered by today’s products. Today we have lubricants that can perform very effectively beyond engine manufacturers’ recommendations.”
Yesterday’s oils needed to be changed at intervals that worked well with desirable PM inspection periods, so the industry built PM programs around the quality of engine oil. Even then, however, many aggressive fleet managers in line-haul operations would stretch oil change intervals. “If we want to operate in an environmentally friendly manner, we need to use the oil for as long as we can,” Stuart said. “I’m included in those who believe that oil never really wears out. It’s the additive package that dwindles over time.”
If you’re interested in optimizing your PM intervals to save money, don’t stop at your road equipment. Utility fleets generally have many powered units in addition to trucks and automobiles. These need the same kind of attention as road equipment. The most cost-effective PM programs are the result of hard work aimed at having all service scheduled. Unscheduled downtime is very expensive.
About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.