Reducing operating expenses while maintaining productivity is a goal for most businesses — fleets are no exception. In such a competitive market, any move that helps to improve bottom line performance is worth considering. For many fleets, extending service intervals can deliver the types of returns management is looking for.
Contrary to popular belief, extending service intervals does not have to mean going beyond OEM recommended drain intervals — although it can. Extending drain intervals can simply mean going beyond your current service interval. It’s really about looking at where you are today, where you want to be tomorrow and plotting a safe course to get there.
In a perfect world, all fleets would operate the same vehicles, of the same age, under the same operating conditions. But as we know, that’s not the typical fleet reality. Most fleets are mixed, which means they have trucks of multiple ages, from different OEMs, all of which likely have different recommended service intervals. Managing the service of these mixed fleets is incredibly complicated. Understanding the OEM recommended drain intervals by engine type and model year is a complex process.
Unfortunately, oil drains are not the only service to consider — fleets also need to track intervals for greases, filters, DPFs, coolant and many other items. Finding a way to synchronize these intervals — as much as possible — can reduce the time a truck is off the road. The less time you spend off the road, the more freight you are moving.
When attempting to extend drains, it’s important to understand and prepare for the risks. The most important thing to do is work closely with your OEM when setting up an extended drain program. This is especially true when the vehicle in under warranty. If you and your OEM agree that this is possible, we suggest you look at your goals and extend in increments. For example, if you want to move from 30,000 mile oil drain intervals to 50,000 miles, you should do so at 5,000 mile increments. At each drain, do a thorough oil analysis to see how your engine is performing. If all is well, take the next step. Once your extended drain program is fully implemented, it is important to continue with the used oil analysis program.
When you are extending drains, of any kind, it’s critical to use high quality products. When your equipment is on the line, investing in premium engine oils, lubricants, coolants and filters is critical. To be clear, a premium engine oil does not need to be a synthetic or semi-synthetic. What you want to avoid is buying the cheapest versus buying what’s going to deliver the best performance.
Consider that the average fleet drain interval is now around 34,000 miles and fleets only achieve about 90 percent compliance. This means that some trucks are pushing well beyond the 34,000 target because of one circumstance or another keeping them out of the service bay. In these situations, you definitely want a premium product if your drains are being pushed. Premium products may cost a little more, but they pay off by delivering a longer service life.
An oil change can cost around $225 to $350 apiece. With four changes a year per vehicle, costs can add up, especially in large fleets. Extending drains so you can move from four to three per year can result in significant savings. For a fleet with a hundred trucks, the ability to cut one oil change per year, per truck can save upwards of $35,000 annually in oil alone.
It’s possible that it’s not reasonable to push your oil drains past 30,000 miles. If that the case, that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from extended service intervals. You need to step back and look at the whole truck. Years back greases typically had a 14,000 mile service interval, but now you can purchase greases that offer up to 30,000 miles of protection. With the right grease, you can map your grease intervals to your oil drains and do two services at once. As a result, you may reduce downtime and maintenance expenses.
On the positive side, gear oils and transmission fluids now have exceptionally long lives. In many cases, you can expect 750,000 miles of service. So when you do need to service these components, it’s fairly easy to map to another scheduled service. Along these lines, a move from conventional coolant (green) to Extended Life Coolant (ELC) (red) can also result in significant savings. Some ELCs can offer 750,000 miles of protection simply by topping off with ELC and performing the occasional freeze-point check, which can be done at another scheduled service. This drastically reduces the amount waste fluid generated, fluid checks and supplemental coolant additives being used. The cost benefits of using these ELCs are substantial.
The benefits of extending service intervals are significant. By implementing an extending service program, in conjunction with your OEM, lubricant manufacturer and oil analysis, you can experience reduced maintenance costs, fluid consumption and waste fluid disposal. Most importantly, you are keeping your trucks on the road more, which drives profit.