Vehicle maintenance is a notorious cost center — one with significant regulatory compliance responsibilities for commercial truck and bus operators, regardless of whether the vehicles are owned or leased.
Many motor carriers and drivers view maintenance solely as a cost. However, being proactive and using effective tools to assist in your maintenance and equipment upkeep can quickly transform your systematic maintenance processes into a competitive advantage.
What to know about existing regulations
Stated under 49 CFR 396.3 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) is the following:
“Every motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.”
Furthermore, it states that vehicle parts and accessories shall be in safe and proper operating conditions at all times. This is a high bar, particularly since the Vehicle Out of Service rate for roadside inspections is currently hovering around 22 percent.
What the regulations don’t stipulate is “how” to create a systematic maintenance program — this is left to the motor carrier. You should consider several factors when making this decision, including the fleet’s operating needs, equipment types (power units and trailing units, owned vs. leased, etc.), geographic areas of operations, types of freight hauled, mileage per unit and more.
While many motor carriers have an in-house maintenance program, some outsource much of their maintenance program to third-party providers. Regardless of whether a motor carrier owns the maintenance program or outsources it, they still are on the hook for complying with the FMCSRs.
Opportunities for fleets in 2023 and beyond
In today’s world, it has become essential to implement technology and software tools to improve and manage vehicle maintenance activities. This is where a fleet can create its competitive advantage.
By adopting innovative digital tools, fleet managers can dramatically improve regulatory compliance and the accuracy and efficiency of their recordkeeping. High-quality data is the key differentiator.
The more information you have at your fingertips reflecting the condition of your equipment, the better positioned you are to optimize its use and keep the wheels turning. You can leverage software tools and the data they produce to drive operational efficiency and regulatory compliance…but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
As you evaluate your current (or future) software vendors for complying with the FMCSRs, it’s important to carefully consider each question you’ll be asking.
Regulatory questions to ask potential fleet software vendors:
- Are you willing to review our current systematic maintenance program, offer a detailed analysis and suggest areas we can improve?
- How does your program fulfill the record creation and retention requirements under Part 396.3 of the FMCSR?
- How does the workflow of your solution meet the Driver Vehicle Inspection Report requirements as outlined in 396.11?
- How does your product inform and confirm to the maintenance personnel and the next driver that a prior documented defect on the DVIR was repaired, confirmed and properly certified?
- How does your product track mileage and other required maintenance intervals? Does it alert key personnel when required periodic inspections are needed and preventive maintenance actions are due?
Questions to ask about documents and reporting:
- Does your product allow for the collection and storage of supporting documents related to inspections and repairs? Can they be accessed by any employee, including a driver?
- Can inspectors or drivers capture, upload and store images, video, and other forms of communications/media in association with inspections and repair work?
- What types of reporting capabilities and KPIs are available, and what types of dashboards and analytical tools does your solution offer for tracking and monitoring them?
- Does your product allow for the certification and return of DVERs, as well as record retention?
Questions to ask about specific functionality:
- Show me how your product can connect and associate the results of Driver Vehicle Examination Reports (DVER) with DVIRs and Periodic inspections. Can it facilitate repair orders and related work in association with those inspections?
- Does your product offer predictive maintenance capabilities? If so, show me how it works.
- Does your product allow for the production of a 396-compliant vehicle maintenance file upon request? If yes, have them demonstrate it for you.
- How do you manage access control/assignments/accountabilities and protect the security of the data?
Questions about benefits and support:
- How does your product allow me to optimize asset uptime and utilization?
- Can your product integrate with other software products within a fleet’s operation (e.g., communications, billing and payments, load planning/assignment/dispatch, etc.)?
- Do you have case studies demonstrating how your product has improved compliance and fleet safety?
- How intuitive and user-friendly is the product? Explain your approach to customer support and product upgrades.
- Who are your biggest competitors and why are you better than them?
Getting the most out of your fleet software provider
By asking these questions of your current or prospective providers, you’ll be equipped to gauge not only the capabilities of their software but also their knowledge of the FMCSRs. It’s important that providers can both deliver innovative products AND possess the appropriate subject matter expertise to be a true partner.
This allows them (and by extension, you) to stay ahead of the curve, anticipate changes and proactively evolve their products with customer safety and compliance top of mind.
Once you’ve selected the right tech/software partners, you’re in position to:
- Differentiate your business from the competition
- Keep your drivers happy in the knowledge that their vehicles are safe and properly maintained
- Pass roadside enforcement stops or government carrier investigations
- Keep assets in great condition, minimizing both downtime and the risk of maintenance issues causing an incident on the road
If you’d like to see how Whip Around can help keep your fleet on the road, reach out for a free demo today!