Managing a fleet can be a fulfilling experience, but it also includes a lot of responsibility. New managers must understand and anticipate these responsibilities so that they can operate legally, safely and efficiently.
One of the many considerations new fleet managers must keep in mind is the need for regular maintenance inspections. While anyone in the industry understands that regular maintenance is important, the specifics may be less clear.
With that in mind, here’s what new managers should expect in this area.
Why are Maintenance Inspections Necessary?
First, it’s important to understand that regular maintenance checks aren’t just recommended but mandatory. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires all motor carriers to regularly inspect, repair and maintain all of their vehicles. Failure to do so can result in hefty fines and other legal damages.
Apart from the legality of the situation, these inspections can help fleet managers minimize operating costs. Failing to inspect some components can lead to costly repairs and replacements, so it’s best to catch any potential issues early when repairs are more straightforward.
These inspections are also a critical part of vehicle safety. Without them, drivers may unknowingly be putting themselves and others at risk, as equipment failures can cause accidents.
How Often Do You Need Maintenance Inspections?
Fleet managers should also know how often to perform these inspections to optimize their schedules. Since every vehicle carries unique maintenance needs, the FMCSA leaves some room for interpretation in this area. Fleets must perform inspections at least annually, but some emergency systems, like emergency doors, need inspections every 90 days.
For optimal performance and safety, inspections should be more frequent than the minimum requirement. Diesel vehicles require work less frequently than their gas counterparts, which can help save costs, but it’s still best to check them regularly. What this schedule should look like varies between use cases, but going by miles driven may be more effective than going by time.
What Should Maintenance Inspections Include?
When it comes time for the actual inspection, fleet managers should keep a few factors in mind. First, they can choose to either perform the inspection themselves or have a qualified third party do it. The former option may be more cost-effective, but it also requires a knowledge base and reporting system that smaller companies may not have.
Whether fleet managers perform their own inspections or rely on a third party, they should look for a few specific factors. Here’s a closer look at these specifics.
The FMCSA outlines some requirements for who can perform these maintenance inspections. These qualifications are fairly straightforward for most of the inspection process. Employees or third parties must have knowledge and proficiency in the necessary methods, procedures and tools, but the FMCSA doesn’t define what that specifically entails.
Brake inspection qualifications are more rigid. Brake inspectors must either complete a state, Canadian province or union-sponsored apprenticeship program or have at least one year’s experience in brake maintenance.
When looking for third-party inspectors, fleet managers should look for these qualifications or, ideally, higher standards. Similarly, if fleets inspect their own vehicles, they should require employees to meet these qualifications.
Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation
Fleet managers should also understand what specific components and systems they should check. The FMCSA says maintenance inspections must cover “parts and accessories which may affect safety,” which can apply to most parts of a vehicle. Inspectors can refer to the FMCSA’s extensive list of parts for reference, but the most important areas to cover are fairly evident.
Engines, steering systems, brakes, seatbelts, wheels and the like all fall under this scope. Some of these parts will require more regular inspection than others, so fleets should schedule inspections of varying depth. As for how often to inspect each area, it’s safest to go by the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Vehicles with some extra emergency features need to undergo additional inspections, too. Many buses, for example, have systems like emergency doors, pushout windows and lights marking these features. If fleets have any vehicles with these types of systems, they need to check them every 90 days to ensure they work properly.
These emergency features can mean the difference between life and death in some scenarios, so the FMCSA takes them seriously. Fleet managers should likewise pay close attention to these systems, ensuring they receive more maintenance and inspection than other parts. If there’s anything wrong with them, fleets should repair or replace them as soon as possible.
Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports
Driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs) are another important part of maintenance inspections. These are reports that drivers write up at the end of each driving day that identify any potential issues they’ve noticed. Fleet managers likely already collect these records, but they must save them and ensure they meet standards to satisfy the FMCSA.
According to FMCSA guidelines, DVIRs should cover:
-Lighting devices and reflectors
-Wheels and rims
Drivers can look at other parts and accessories, too, but these are the only required factors. If DVIRs report any issues, fleets must resolve them before operating the vehicle again.
No matter what the specifics of a maintenance inspection look like, fleet managers must keep thorough records. Every time an employee performs a check, the company should record it in a safe, accessible place. If the fleet faces an audit from the FMCSA or needs to check the maintenance history to inform a repair, these records are crucial.
The FMCSA requires fleets to keep DVIRs for at least three months and records of annual and roadside inspections for at least a year. That will quickly add to a lot of storage, so fleet managers should consider using an electronic system for recording and organizing this information.
Fleets should also record any repairs they have to perform on vehicles. To help keep things organized, all reports should include vehicle identification information like the make, model, year and serial number.
Maintenance Inspections Are a Crucial Part of Fleet Management
Maintenance inspections can account for a significant portion of fleet operations. New fleet managers must understand these factors to prepare accordingly, enabling efficient, safe and compliant operations.
Every fleet’s maintenance inspections will look slightly different, but these general guidelines apply across every fleet. Managers should take these guidelines, then apply and adjust them to their specific situation. They can then meet relevant regulatory requirements and keep drivers safe.