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As motor fleets age during a time of new vehicle scarcity, adherence to maintenance and inspection schedules is even more critical.

By Jon Zabikow, Head of Manufacturing and Technology, Zurich North America

With the pandemic rapidly receding in the rearview mirror, America is back on the road to resurgent growth. Literally on the road. Commercial vehicle traffic is growing so rapidly that one of the biggest fleet challenges facing businesses of all kinds is a lack of qualified drivers. Even more problematic is that pent-up demand for replacement vehicles – from “last-mile” delivery and service vehicles to company cars – is challenging the ability of automakers to manufacture and deliver product in a timely manner.

Further complicating the production challenges faced by automakers is that today’s new vehicles are literally “computers on wheels,” packed with sensors and other sophisticated, technological features. As a result, the ongoing computer chip shortage, a lingering impact of the pandemic on Asian manufacturing hubs, has severely stressed supply chains, even resulting in temporary shutdowns of assembly lines.

For many manufacturing firms, technology companies and other businesses, this may mean owned vehicles are going to have to be used past what would have been their scheduled replacements. Even companies that lease their fleets are facing similar challenges in obtaining replacements at the expiration of their lease.

On the road again … safely!

Obviously, maintaining the mechanical integrity, safety and roadworthiness of company vehicles is a priority at any time. But as fleets continue to age in an environment in which automakers may be challenged to catch up with demand for some time to come, strict adherence to inspection and maintenance schedules has never been more important.

This is especially true as fleet managers face potential problems from aging components that may not have been pressing issues in the past. Belts, spark plugs, water pumps, hoses and other normally durable components may fail at rates higher than those experienced before this current period of new vehicle scarcity. Components such as shocks, struts, ball joints, bushings and other factors not typically issues under vehicle replacement schedules in the past may need more frequent examination and possible replacement. And once again, post-pandemic supply chain delays may make parts difficult to obtain in a timely manner.

All these factors mean that the practice of good fleet maintenance and upkeep has never been more important. Most fleet managers have always had fleet maintenance schedules covering service and inspections as a matter of course. However, as cars, trucks and vans age, inspection and service timelines may need to be shortened to better account for vehicles nearing the end of their useful lifecycles.

Power up your “Safety Management Cycle”

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) offers helpful insights into what they refer to as the “Safety Management Cycle” for fleet maintenance and upkeep, including:

  • Develop a system of preventive maintenance for compliant, safe and efficient fleet operations, including a schedule for periodic maintenance, inspection and recordkeeping. This system should be attuned to manufacturer recommendations, the carrier’s own experience, and regulatory requirements.
  • Develop a procedure ensuring that vehicle defects that impact safety and/or safety compliance are reported, repaired and certified before the vehicle is operated.
  • Develop procedures to ensure that management is notified of vehicle defects through the use of Driver Vehicle Inspection Records (DVIRS) and other communication channels, such as driver call-in and e-mail from mechanics.
  • Develop a policy ensuring that drivers are qualified to complete thorough and timely DVIRs by the end of the day of the trip and prior to a subsequent assignment.
  • Establish a policy requiring drivers to submit copies of all roadside inspections to carrier management within 24 hours.
  • Develop policies and procedures requiring drivers to immediately notify appropriate management of any roadside vehicle Out-of-Service Order (OOSO).
  • Develop a written and progressive disciplinary policy focused on taking corrective action to ensure drivers comply with regulations and policies.

Getting personal

While manufacturers frequently operate with owned or leased fleets, some businesses, including many tech firms, depend on employees using their own personal vehicles for sales and service calls. Chances are that this may be an even more frequent occurrence at the moment as some firm’s owned and leased fleet vehicle replacements continue to be a challenge.

Whether employee use of personal vehicles is infrequent or a typical part of the workday, non-owned vehicle exposure — also known as “vicarious liability” — is a risk that businesses must understand and address.

Safe-driving principles and practices must be key components of employee onboarding and training. And since individuals seeking to replace their own personal vehicles may face similar delays for the foreseeable future, the same standards around more frequent service and inspections should be strongly encouraged. This is not only for the obvious safety concerns but also to prevent disruptions of customer engagement due to preventable breakdowns.

Read more on protecting your fleet by downloading the Zurich RiskTopic:

Controlling non-owned vehicle exposures (vicarious liability)."

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