U nderstanding the day-to-day owning and operating costs is crucial to managing your vocational trucks. "At the end of the day, you need to know what the value of your vehicle is and what it is costing you on a daily basis," says Steve Higgs, medium-duty truck marketing manager, General Motors.
Accurately tracking the overall life-cycle costs is a powerful management tool. "Close tracking of life-cycle costs is especially important to ensure profitability in your business," says Matt Gervais, product manager, Sterling Truck Corp., "and for making future truck buying decisions."
One of the first considerations is the purchase price and how it is depreciated over time. "But then you have the operational side, which is all of the fuel costs and all of the maintenance costs," says Mike Eaves, product manager, medium-duty trucks, General Motors. "And it is not just the truck we are talking about, but any equipment installed on the truck, as well. Really, it is the total operating cost of the vehicle. You have to look at it from a holistic approach. It is one piece of capital equipment with the body installed."
Determine cost drivers
The largest component of life-cycle costs really depends on how long you intend to keep the truck. "If you are keeping these vehicles 10 or 15 years, the service and fuel costs are going to add up to a considerable amount," says Higgs. But if you keep vehicles an average of eight years, he estimates one-third of your life-cycle costs is likely front-end expense; another third is the cost to run the vehicle, including maintenance and fuel; and the remainder is residual.
When calculating costs over the life of a vehicle, Gervais recommends taking the following into account: regular preventive maintenance (oil, tires, chassis lubrication, etc.); unscheduled repairs (breakdowns, accidents); and fuel consumption. "Variations in fuel price affect the total life-cycle cost, especially if an operator is operating over several regions," he points out.
While preventive maintenance is initially a cost item, it will save you money in the long haul. "A regimented preventive maintenance program is the best and least expensive way to maximize the economical life of your vocational vehicle," says Gervais. "Without preventive maintenance, small problems can develop quickly into large, costly repairs."
In addition, regular inspections can save downtime. "At construction sites, these vehicles are going through a lot of additional wear that they would not have if they were just on the road," says Higgs. "You need to have regular inspections and maintenance. It adds to the cost, but it is also a savings. You can spot things you would not otherwise catch. Just cleaning them makes a difference."
There are other ways to reduce maintenance costs without sacrificing reliability. Proper application of the vehicle is one example. "A vocational truck should be operated within its abilities based on its specifications," says Gervais. "Operating it beyond its scope of work will result in unscheduled repairs."
Extended drain intervals are another example. "Extended oil drain intervals will help reduce the cost of preventive maintenance and scheduled downtime," says Gervais.
Many times, extended drain intervals are possible due to synthetic lubricants. "In medium-duty trucks, we have probably been the leader in using synthetic lube in transmissions and axles," says Eaves. "It removes that maintenance item." Oil changes for transmissions and axles can be extended out to 250,000 miles.
In some cases, you may find it's more economical and efficient to turn the maintenance over to a dealer. For instance, General Motors offers a service called FleeTrac. "You sign up and it is almost like a centralized payment process," says Eaves. "If you are a company that is spread across the U.S., you can take your trucks into a dealer and there is centralized billing."