The fleet shop is the heart of a fleet operation; it keeps vehicles on the road so they can offer critical services to their communities.
Every fleet shop has tools their technicians can’t live without. Government Fleet asked two fleet managers what kinds of tools keep their shops running and we’ve compiled them here.
In this case, ‘shop tools’ refers to both handheld tools and shop equipment.
Accessing a Vehicle’s Full History with a Diagnostic Scanner
Sometimes, you can easily spot an issue in a car when you pop the hood. Other times, it’s not so easy.
For the city of Carlsbad, California, Public Works department’s fleet shop, diagnostic scanners to maintain its 450-plus on- and off-road vehicles are essential. Public Works Superintendent Bradley Northup, CAFM, said these tools help his technicians quickly identify and triage vehicles for repair.
“This essential tool ensures our technicians have both the live and historical data needed to make decisions about a vehicle’s needed repairs,” Northup.
The tool helps technicians make the most informed decisions to avoid reducing repeat repairs and unnecessary vehicle downtime.
Lakeland, Florida, Fleet Supervisor Jason Cain’s team also relies on diagnostic software for its more than 1,400 units.
The fleet shop has both a generic scan tool and laptop-based factory diagnostic software, which has flash programming capabilities. However, Cain’s team uses the scan tool more often than the factory diagnostic software.
Even with [the flash programming] capability, the technicians reach for the generic scan tool for its quick boot-up and ease of retrieving codes and reading data,” Cain said. “Most only grab the laptop when encountering an issue that requires more than basic info to repair.”
Similar to diagnostic software, comprehensive maintenance software is also valuable. This kind of software contains information that can help technicians diagnose an issue simply by looking up history on the unit they are working on.
This software can also be used to access history on another vehicle that previously experienced an issue similar to what technicians are currently seeing. They can look back at the solution they came up with for the other vehicle and apply it to a vehicle experiencing the same problem.
“We load every available piece of info that we can into our software. Not just the basic year, make, and model. We load recalls, warranty, accident damage, invoices for repairs performed by vendors and any other info that may be helpful later,” Cain explained.
Avoiding Downtime with Specialty Equipment
With any fleet, minimizing downtime is crucial. Some shop equipment is made to help make fleet technicians’ jobs easier and quicker, thus leading to less downtime.
Cain’s team uses two pieces of equipment during tire repairs that ease their jobs: a tire machine and a wheel balancer.
A tire machine helps technicians easily mount and dismount tires onto vehicles without a sweat.
A wheel balancer prevents troublesome wheel vibrations that can cause wear and tear on tires and suspension. Unbalanced tires, one of the most common causes of wheel vibrations, can be repaired quickly with a wheel balancer.
Without these two tools, technicians may be forced to subcontract tire repairs and replacements, which can cause unnecessary delays and frustration for your end users, Cain said.
Technicians for the city of Carlsbad also have a hydraulic wheel stud service kit by Tiger Tools at their disposal. It has made removing and installing wheel studs on heavy-duty vehicles safer and faster, Northup said.
An A/C recycling machine can also help fleets avoid outsourcing work.
“You’d be surprised with how many repairs get delayed if you can’t evacuate and recharge an A/C system on your own,” Northup explained.
Purchasing equipment that — while it might have a high up-front cost — can bring a return on investment through allowing technicians to perform more in-house work and avoid outsourcing as many repairs as possible.
Northup’s department works hard to keep maintenance in-house wherever feasible to maximize vehicle availability up-times of greater than 95%.
Jobs like accident and body repairs, towing services, larger powertrain repairs, warranty repairs, and some specialized technical equipment services are outsourced to ensure the team prioritizes preventive maintenance services using in-house staff labor in the most efficient manner possible, Northup explained.
Other tools that can help keep work in-house include a welding machine, a band or chop saw, and an oxy-acetylene torch.
Leveraging Equipment to Ease Technicians’ Jobs
Another way to avoid unnecessary downtime is to use tools made to make technicians’ jobs easier. These tools and equipment speed up maintenance and repairs, putting vehicles back on the road quicker.
Sometimes, a little ingenuity helps. One technician for the city of Lakeland came up with a tool that cuts replacement time for in-boom hoses in half. The tool uses a simple cable with a hydraulic fitting welded on the end of it.
“If anyone has pulled all the hoses out of a boom, just to replace one that leaks, they will understand how long it can take,” Cain said. This simple tool, that can be made from an old cable from a small truck-mounted crane or winch and a hydraulic fitting that most shops have in stock, even surprised the factory service tech with how well it works.”
Pay Attention to Which Tools and Equipment You Need
Keeping a close eye on what kind of equipment and tools you need is important for both technician safety and efficiency.
When you put your vehicle or equipment on a lift, make sure the lift is capable of handling it.
“Pay close attention to the weight of your new vehicles — especially new electric vehicles — and adjust your lift size and capacities accordingly,” Northup urged.
Tools and Equipment Designed with Technician Safety in Mind
Some shop tools bring technicians peace of mind because they add a layer of safety to their operations.
Cain’s team uses safety props when working on cab-over trucks or trucks with dump bodies. These props do just that — they prop up a vehicle while preventive maintenance or servicing work is being done.
Of course, personal protective equipment like eye protection, safety gloves, and foot protection are also crucial. Hearing protection may also be beneficial depending on the job your technicians are performing.
Keeping Your Tools Organized
A fleet team can only maximize efficiency when the shop is organized, and not just once.
“Keeping an organized, labeled, and inventoried location for your shop tools that is reviewed and cleaned often is very important,” Northup said. “You could have every tool your staff would ever need, but those tools aren’t worth anything if your technician can’t easily find it when they need it.”
Northup recommends keeping an up-to-date tool inventory list with photos. And when you take inventory of your tools, be sure to eliminate any outdated tools that are no longer functioning or useful. Keeping outdated or unneeded tools on hand can lead to inefficiency in your fleet operations, and it can be dangerous.
All of the parts for the city of Lakeland are handled by an in-house NAPA IBS. To keep the parts organized, Cain suggests putting someone in charge of tool inventory and ensuring there is a designated spot for every tool.
The Best Shop Tool Isn’t Always a Physical Item
Essential shop tools and equipment aren’t always tangible items.
“We keep in close contact with other agencies and have open minds regarding tools andhow they are used to help those places be more efficient. Sometimes the most precious tool in your fleet is your relationship with your neighboring fleet,” Northup said.
Leveraging these relationships can help your operations run more smoothly, because they are often a sounding board for fleet managers.
“Keep in close contact with your adjacent agencies and build up a group of contacts in your region. Build from each other’s ideas and share your successes,” Northup explained. “Not only can your neighbor fleets help you find solutions to a problem they’ve already solved, but they can also provide a helping hand, or tool, when you’re in need.”