How an operation cares for its vehicles and equipment undoubtedly impacts how frequently it will need to acquire new ones. - Photo: Pasco County

How an operation cares for its vehicles and equipment undoubtedly impacts how frequently it will need to acquire new ones.

Photo: Pasco County

Public fleet managers are responsible for the health of its vehicles and equipment, as this, in turn, affects how often vehicles and equipment will need to be sold and replaced. Brent Wahl, director of fleet management for Pasco County, Florida, shares some tips he has collected over the years to help keep fleet management as lean and effective as possible.

Updating Maintenance Practices

At Pasco County, efforts to improve vehicle uptime have focused on two major points: minimizing the number of times required to be in the shop and reducing the amount of time for actual repairs/maintenance to be done while in the shop.

  • Implementing an online scheduling app for customers to reduce/eliminate drive-up service requests. “We always try to accommodate drive-up service requests to some level, but a scheduling device has reduced the surprise,” he said.
  • Getting more work done on-site (in the field) for mowers and equipment. This has eliminated a significant amount of downtime due to operator loading and transport (not to mention it is never cluttering the yard waiting for pick-up).
  • Using after-hour periods to access equipment when the equipment/vehicles are not being used by customers (weekend and after operating hours, etc.). This is done on a micro-schedule (individual job scheduling after regular hours with a specific tech assigned specific work) basis, as the department is not able to run a permanent second shift.
  • Extending preventive maintenance intervals on vehicles when supported by maintenance data and manufacturer standards. This has reduced manpower requirements by two full-time equivalents (FTEs). Don’t be afraid to run limited trials on how long service intervals can be pushed. “You should always be examining at least one vehicle class at all times for potential to extend services,” he said.
  • Collecting and tracking of work order metrics to measure vehicle time in the shop.
  • Creating performance time targets for work orders to be complete in each shop, with comeback tracking.

Customer Friendly Replacement Processes

When procuring vehicles and/or equipment, there are a few steps fleet managers can take to ensure what they purchase will meet the needs of the operation.

  1. Communicate with user departments. Specification sheets signed by user department supervisors are a must for equipment to ensure the user and buyer are on the same page. If there is a concern about the specifications themselves, they are resolved at the managerial level.
  2. Create a flexible replacement policy. A good replacement policy should provide user departments with some flexibility on vehicle/equipment replacement.

“In Pasco County, the user department is not held to a like-for-like replacement. For example, if the Public Works team is going to reduce the amount of paving work they are doing and is expanding their crack seal program, sealing equipment may be purchased instead of replacing a paver. The policy allows the department to use replacement dollars allocated to their vehicle on other equipment, if it is a cost neutral event,” Wahl said. “This gives departments a significant amount of flexibility to use their replacement funds to ensure they continually have the correct equipment needed for the job.”

  1. Have a flexible replacement calculation. Internal Service Fund (ISF) replacement charges should be recalculated annually to ensure funds are available for the most current version of what you have. Placing a 3% annual inflation charge on a piece of equipment and letting it run for 10 years may cause a shortfall in rate collection if there is a significant change in technology. An annual rate calculation can help avoid collection shortfalls and having to shave needed specifications to meet lesser funding levels.
  2. Cultivate a good understanding of resale markets. Avoid the trap of thinking the lowest purchase cost is the best value.

A common example is an agency saving money on pickups by only buying a limited amount of 4WD units. Depending on geographic location, a high percentage of the additional funds needed to pay for the 4WD can be recovered on the sale, making the net cost of the 4WD in the range from $0 to $4 monthly,” Wahl explained. “There are other options that can have a very small impact on the lifecycle cost of the vehicle that, at the same time, can make the user’s use more efficient and just more comfortable.”

Study Your Own Lifecycles

An interesting project being conducted at Pasco County is a study on lifecycles for light-duty vehicles. Wahl stated a very common replacement criteria for these vehicles is eight to 10 years or 100,000 miles, but most agencies with this replacement criteria haven’t done a financial analysis to show it’s the correct one.

“It’s often one the budget group and senior leadership understand and are willing to fund,” Wahl explained. “Some agencies also rely heavily on their fleet management information system and its recommended replacement calculations; however, these calculations are based on algorithms processing data such as depreciation and salvage rates that are estimated and entered by the user when the vehicle record is created. These data points are often best estimates at the time and not revisited nor updated.”

Wahl found that studies by private agencies throughout the country indicate most vehicles in the 3- to 4-ton pickup and smaller size should be held five years or less.

“We are in the process of working with one of our vendors to identify what these lifecycles should be in our fleet (COVID impacts to the resale market are delaying our results some), but we expect to have some preliminary numbers by the end of the calendar year, with savings for the county projected for calendar-year 2023,” he said.

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