Deliveries are more popular than ever. Following social distancing and stay-at-home orders, consumers have grown accustomed to the convenience of getting seemingly everything delivered to their homes. Just like consumers, fleets have delivery options, too. With outsourced mobile maintenance, preventive maintenance services (PMs) are delivered to the vehicle rather than the vehicle being driven to the shop.
Private fleets have been using these auto repair shops on wheels to reduce driver downtime, improve vehicle uptime, and simplify preventive maintenance for drivers and fleet managers. But is it a model that works for government fleets? The answers to these frequently asked questions can help public fleets decide for themselves.
Are Government Fleets Using Mobile Maintenance?
Outsourced mobile maintenance isn’t currently widespread among government fleets, but it’s also not unheard of.
One reason public fleets don’t seek mobile maintenance as a solution is they already have their own shops and technicians, which could be more cost effective. Many private fleets, on the other hand, must coordinate getting vehicles to the appropriate service center, which tends to be more costly and time consuming.
“The demand for mobile maintenance in the private sector is greater because there are more fleets that don’t perform maintenance on their own. Most government fleets have some type of facility within the county or state to provide support,” said Mike Dickinson, executive officer, Dickinson Fleet Services, a mobile maintenance provider. “However, in-house maintenance could result in significant backlogs. While sending vehicles to an in-house facility may feel like it’s saving them money, in the long run, fleet providers are going to save money when that vehicle is on the road versus in a shop waiting to be serviced.”
Private fleets also tend to have vehicles operating in a larger geography, whereas public fleets typically operate in a more defined territory. This proximity of vehicles to the shop may be another reason government fleets haven’t opted for mobile maintenance.
“Mobile maintenance makes sense for over-the-road long-haul trucks, but for government fleets that have a more confined area of responsibility, it doesn’t make sense unless it is a specialized piece of equipment (like an electric forklift),” Steve Riggs, senior consultant, Mercury Associates, stated. “A state government might take advantage of a mobile maintenance provider, being not as centrally located as a city or county, but mostly for towing.” He added that most state governments either have their own contracts set up with local municipal government agencies or contracts with local dealers for both heavy and light equipment.
Marc Canton, senior manager of data analytics at Mercury Associates, said there may be a few other exceptions where mobile maintenance makes sense for public fleets. “Today, mobile maintenance providers are not major players in most government fleets. The exceptions would be government entities with very large jurisdictions and who own and operate specialty equipment as opposed to outsourcing the work associated with those assets,” he said. “We can really only call the use of mobile maintenance providers ‘regular’ in the case of yellow iron, which tends to be a small portion of the fleet. We are also beginning to see this same approach for smaller equipment, such as grounds equipment.”
Scot Wingo, CEO & co-founder of Spiffy, an on-site vehicle cleaning, disinfection, and repair provider, said he’s seeing interest in mobile maintenance growing among government fleets. “We are increasingly fielding inbound interest from municipal and national government fleets, so it’s a growing focus area for us,” he said. “We have a dedicated fleet account management team that helps fleet managers determine the best locations and time of day for their services to optimize their utilization. Historically we have worked with local police stations, public transportation groups, and government delivery customers. As the pandemic caused vehicle and labor shortages, we have been called in to supplement in-house labor, often during off-hours.”
Just like home deliveries, Anthony Rodio, president and CEO of YourMechanic, a mobile vehicle repair, maintenance, and inspection provider, said the pandemic has also promoted an increase in mobile maintenance. “We’ve seen interest from the public sector go up after the pandemic as word of our on-site maintenance has gotten around,” he said. “Right now, we service just a handful of public sector fleets. We’ve found once a government fleet converts to using our service, they do not switch back to traditional shops and become true believers.”
Dickinson said the technician shortage may also encourage more public sector fleets to try mobile maintenance. “I expect continued growth in the future. While many government fleets have traditionally used their own in-house mechanics, with today’s technician shortage, some are shifting to an outsourcing model that gives them the continued convenience of performing maintenance at outside facilities or having mobile maintenance supplement what their mechanics are doing,” he said.
What Are Some Examples of How Public Fleets Are Using Mobile Maintenance?
Although mobile maintenance hasn’t been widely adopted by government fleets, those who have are using it in various ways.
On- and Off-site Maintenance
Many public sector fleets have vehicles parked in a central lot. However, social distancing has encouraged some fleets to allow employees to take vehicles home. Rodio says YourMechanic has helped service both models.
“We often have public fleets order YourMechanic.com maintenance right to their lots. Typically, a fleet manager may schedule a day when a mobile mechanic will come to work on multiple vehicles in one afternoon,” he said. “Some fleets allow their staff to take vehicles home for the night, and drivers can opt to get their cars serviced right in their driveways, too.”
In addition to promoting more take-home vehicles, the pandemic created a heightened awareness of vehicle sanitation. Mobile maintenance assisted with this as well.
“During the first months of the pandemic, we were contacted by a municipal police department. Their vehicles are used across multiple shifts, with many people going in and out of the vehicles,” Spiffy’s Wingo said. “We were able to set up an operation to clean, disinfect, and deodorize their approximately 150 vehicles between shifts on-site. This wouldn’t have been tenable without on-site mobile servicing.”
Maintenance During Off Hours
Mobile maintenance allows PMs to happen when vehicles aren’t in use, helping fleets avoid taking them out of service. “I have worked with a couple of municipal organizations that contracted with mobile maintenance and repair (M&R) providers,” said Tony Yankovich, managing director, Mercury Associates. “In one case, the organization hired the provider to perform PM services in the evening and on weekends to reduce vehicle downtime.”
When a large metropolitan school bus fleet was preparing for an annual state safety inspection, Dickinson Fleet Services dispatched a team of technicians to “pre-inspect” the entire fleet prior to the state inspection. During the state inspection, the technicians stayed onsite so if any small defects were found, they could remedy the situation so the bus could receive a passing inspection. This saved the operation from having to route units back to a maintenance facility and reschedule another inspection. “The fleet improved their first inspection passing percentage from 65% to 98%,” Dickinson said.
Rather than using mobile maintenance for all of their M&R needs, some government fleets use the service as a supplement. “I have seen government fleets use mobile maintenance to meet peak demand and provide temporary M&R services when the organization had several vacancies,” Yankovich said.
How Could Mobile Maintenance Change Public Fleet Maintenance Operations?
The simplest answer to how mobile maintenance can impact public fleets is “however they choose.” While public fleets with their own maintenance facilities aren’t likely to make a wholesale swap to mobile maintenance, they have choices for how to use it for the greatest benefit.
“The flexibility of the mobile maintenance module means the possibility of change is just as wide open,” Dickinson said. “It can vary by need, from an extra set of hands when a traditional model is understaffed or overwhelmed to a complete outsourcing option, including all functions of fleet maintenance with single source billing.”
Canton said public sector fleets are most likely to use mobile maintenance for specific applications, but market factors could encourage increased use. “With regards to its future role, as most government entities operate in fixed areas, we really only see this continuing for equipment and heavily specialized vehicles that operate ‘on site,’” he said. “That said, we do anticipate the world of fleet management to increasingly rely on outsourced M&R due to both the change in automotive technology and lack of young professionals entering the skilled labor force. Certainly, if mobile maintenance providers can shrink the marginal costs, they may become viable alternatives to facilities-based providers. There are certainly some applications where this is quite useful.”
Riggs said he can envision more public sector fleets integrating mobile maintenance into their operations. “I could see mobile maintenance providers playing a larger role in the future of government fleets, if they could capitalize on it,” he said. “Why not have a local mobile maintenance come to the state building, for example, and perform a [preventive maintenance service] or even a brake job, or go to the ‘shed’ to repair a hydraulic leak on a plow truck? There is no travel for the state employee or any worries — just report it to the fleet government entity.”