Fleet Maintenance Best Practices: Safety, Compliance, and Efficiency

Vehicle Maintenance

When I ask my colleagues within the industry what their highest priority is in terms of fleet maintenance and management, the answer I receive varies. Their response is sometimes dependent on whatever is going on within their fleet at the time, while other times it’s linked to external factors such as the current economic crises or environmental concerns.

As fleet operators, it is your responsibility to ensure the safety, compliance, and efficiency of all of your commercial fleet vehicles, whilst keeping a very close eye on costs. Of course balancing this is challenging. Whether you are managing a small transport fleet or a large haulage fleet, implementing best practices can make a significant difference to your operations. By implementing a comprehensive fleet maintenance programme, you can keep your vehicles in top condition, reduce accidents, and also improve customer satisfaction.

We know that managing any sized commercial fleet is a hugely complex task that requires careful planning, organisation, and attention to detail. In this article, I will explore the best practices for fleet maintenance, including tips and strategies for maintaining a safe and efficient fleet. Before I do this though, it is worth quickly mentioning the importance of fleet management.

Understanding the Importance of Fleet Management

It is always important to understand what is meant by fleet management because fleet management encompasses everything related to the operations of the vehicle fleet, regardless of its size. Whether you manage a handful of vehicles, or a fleet of a dozen trucks, your primary responsibility is to ensure that your vehicles are safe, reliable, and efficient.

Managing a fleet involves an array of tasks; ensuring compliance and safety, maintaining safe and roadworthy vehicles including tracking vehicle locations. To coordinate vehicles, fleet operators must track their locations and know when each arrives and departs.

By keeping tabs on vehicles, fleet operators can create efficient driver and delivery/service schedules. This helps ensure deliveries are made on time, that work is completed efficiently, and that drivers are not speeding or driving erratically. Regular training and driver monitoring systems can help drivers maintain safe driving habits while on the road and, of course, improved safety can reduce accidents, which in turn reduces company liability and insurance premiums.

Preventing incidents by maintaining vehicle and driver safety is essential and the most important aspect of a fleet operators’ job – especially for those who are also ‘operator licence’ holders for their company or organisations. For those who do operate fleet vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, you must ensure that you meet the governing legislation that the Traffic Commissioners (TC) have outlined in the ‘Statutory Guidance Document.’

Whilst the TC’s statutory guidance document might sound like just guidance or advice, this is definitely not the case. It is legislation, and as such you must ensure vehicles you operate are always in a fit and serviceable condition and roadworthy. Failure to ensure these vehicles are roadworthy can lead to prohibition notices being issued by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) or a Police Officer.

Other reasons for prohibitions being issued to your heavy goods fleet vehicles include overloading, drivers not adhering to the relevant driver’s hours regulations, as well as any issues or problems connected to transporting hazardous goods. Breaching guidance can lead to fines and points for the driver and severe consequences for the operator licence holder and your organisation.

Top Fleet Maintenance Best Practices

Fleet maintenance involves both preventative and predictive maintenance and repairs. Regular oil changes, filter replacements, and tyre checks can keep your vehicles operating at their peak and keep them on the road. Plus, regularly scheduled inspections of your fleet vehicles can identify small issues which can be corrected before they cause severe problems.

Implementing a comprehensive fleet maintenance schedule that includes regular inspections, repairs, and record-keeping is critical to ensuring the safety, compliance, and efficiency of your fleet. In no particular order, here are the top fleet maintenance best practices to keep your commercial fleet vehicles running smoothly:

Implement a Preventative Maintenance Schedule

A preventative maintenance schedule is essential in identifying and addressing potential issues before they become major problems. This maintenance schedule should include regular inspections and these inspection schedules are dependent on vehicle type –  typically HGVs are inspected every 6 weeks. By adopting a preventative maintenance schedule, you can keep your vehicles in top condition and reduce downtime, as well as extend the lifespan of your fleet.

Keep Detailed Records

Maintaining accurate and up-to-date records of all maintenance and repairs performed on each vehicle in your fleet is critical. This will help track the history of each vehicle and identify any recurring issues. By keeping detailed records, you can identify patterns and address any underlying issues before they cause significant problems. Sometimes these recurring issues could be linked to how a particular driver is driving the vehicle. Don’t forget it is a legal requirement for operator licence holders to keep safety and inspection records for a minimum of 15 months.

Daily Walkaround Inspections

Drivers should conduct ‘pre/first use’ daily walkaround checks on their vehicles, whatever size of vehicle it might be, and even if they are only planning to use the vehicle for a short space of time or distance. To ease this process many organisations and companies have introduced digital pre-use checks which drivers can complete on their smartphones, with any defects being pinged straight over to the workshop team and ensuring any problems are dealt with immediately where possible. All digital checks are kept within the back-office system or in the cloud, meaning there is no need for drivers or the organisation to keep endless pieces of manual pre-use check paper records.

Training and Education of Drivers & Technicians

Providing training to your drivers on proper vehicle maintenance and inspection procedures is essential, and you should encourage them to report any issues or concerns they notice during their daily inspections. By training and educating your drivers, as well as technicians, you can improve the safety and efficiency of your fleet and reduce the risk of accidents. This is especially the case now  as we  see an influx of new electric vehicles in the industry where technicians need a new set of skills and training to continue to be experts in motor repairs.

Use Technology

Utilising fleet management software or other technological solutions to track and monitor vehicle maintenance schedules, record-keeping, and performance metrics can help streamline maintenance processes and improve efficiency. We also call this predictive maintenance. By using technology, you can identify potential issues before they become major problems and address them promptly. 

Regularly Inspect Tyres

Checking tyre pressure, tread depth, and overall condition regularly is important and  a significant check drivers should be carrying out when completing their daily pre-use checks. Properly inflated and maintained tyres can improve fuel efficiency and reduce the risk of accidents. By regularly inspecting your tyres, you can identify any issues before they become major problems, and if you outsource your tyre replacement service some companies will also carry out periodic checks of your fleet tyres. This is very useful as you can compare their tyre inspections with those being carried out by your own drivers or technicians.

Address Issues Promptly

When a vehicle requires maintenance or repairs, it is essential to address the issue promptly to prevent further damage, this will minimise downtime and cost. Have a system in place to prioritise and schedule repairs based on urgency. By addressing issues promptly, you can keep your fleet running smoothly and again reduce the risk of accidents and minimise costs.

Establish Relationships with Reliable and Trusted Suppliers

Building relationships with reputable suppliers and service providers who specialise in fleet maintenance and repair can help ensure quality work, competitive pricing, and timely service. By establishing relationships with reliable suppliers, you can ensure  your fleet vehicles receive the best possible service and at the best possible price. Where possible, try and use high quality or original equipment manufacturers (OEM) parts as this can help vehicle reliability and ensure existing warranties are not breached.

Monitor Fuel Consumption

Keeping track of fuel consumption for each vehicle in your fleet is essential now more than ever. Sudden increases in fuel consumption may indicate a maintenance issue that needs to be addressed, or that potentially something untoward such as fuel theft might be going on within your fleet. By monitoring fuel consumption you can identify potential issues, giving you the opportunity to address the problem promptly.

Conduct Regular Inspections

Performing regular inspections of each vehicle is essential to identify any signs of wear and tear, damage, or potential safety hazards. Again, how often these inspections take place is guided by the type of fleet vehicles you have. By catching any issues early on, you can prevent breakdowns or accidents and keep your fleet running smoothly, as well as avoid disrupting the essential services your vehicles are providing.

Keep Vehicles Clean

Implement a regular cleaning schedule for your vehicles (inside the cab and out) as this can also help identify leaks, damage and other potential problems. Clean vehicles also tend to last longer, as well as help build up a better image of your organisation.

Continuously Improve

Regularly reviewing and evaluating your fleet maintenance practices is critical to identifying areas for improvement. Seek feedback from drivers and technicians to identify any challenges or opportunities for improved optimisation. By continuously improving your fleet maintenance practices, you can ensure the safety, compliance, and efficiency of your fleet.

Next Steps

Fleet maintenance is a complex task that requires careful planning, organisation, and attention to detail. As individuals and organisations you should never stop learning and keeping aware of any new technological, regulatory or legislative changes. By following best practices, you can ensure that your vehicles are safe, reliable, efficient and cost effective.

Compliance requirements must always be adhered to and risks and challenges must always be managed promptly and effectively. With proper training plans, monitoring, and evaluation, you can continuously improve your fleet maintenance practices ensuring vehicles remain in top condition – meaning essential front-line services or deliveries that your fleet vehicles provide on a daily basis are not delayed.

Of course, sometimes it really is just time to retire a vehicle. Here are the warning signs for when that unfortunate inevitability is on the horizon.

Written by:
Chris is Head of Corporate Fleet, Transport and Accessible Community Transport at the London Borough of Islington, where he is responsible for over 500 vehicles and 150+ staff as the local authority’s licence holder. With more than 20 years of overall public sector experience, he has extensive knowledge of all things fleet management and vehicle tracking, with a specialist interest in fleet electrification. Currently, he is leading the transition of the Islington council fleet from fossil fuelled to electric and alternative fuel vehicles in line with its 2030 net zero pledge. He is committed to deploying new and innovative technologies wherever possible, including an award-winning electrification programme that has seen the borough upcycle the internal combustion engines of its refuse collection fleet (aka bin wagons). A well-known and respected figure in the fleet and transportation industry, Chris regularly shares his best practice and knowledge at trade shows, most recently speaking at Fleet & Mobility Live – the UK’s largest fleet and mobility conference. Reviewing Expert Market’s vehicle tracking articles with a keen eye to everything from fleet and driver risk compliance to forward-looking trends like V2G (vehicle-to-grid). In his spare time, Chris runs ultra-marathons and is a keen supporter of both Spurs and Saracens. All views and content endorsements expressed here are Chris’ own and do not reflect the views of his employer, the London Borough of Islington.