Roadside Breakdowns Increasing Costs For Commercial Fleets

For the fourth fiscal quarter in a row, costs associated with roadside breakdowns escalated by 26% in 2019, according to a new report. Multiple factors have increased the cost, including higher prices for parts due partially to tariffs, higher labor costs, longer repair times and more towing events.

The data comes from the TMC/FleetNet Vertical Benchmarking Program. The program uses performance data voluntarily provided by commercial fleets to determine the current state of roadside breakdowns and other fleet-related issues.

Jim Buell, executive vice president for sales and marketing at FleetNet America, spoke at the recent Technology & Maintenance Council’s Annual Meeting and Expo. He reported the costs of roadside breakdowns have increased from an average of $358 per repair at the end of 2018 to $450 at the end of 2019.

Difference Between Average and Best in Class

Buell pointed out that a wide gap remains between best-in-class vehicles and average performance vehicles. He said that vehicles within the same operation vertical – for example, truckload and less-than-truckload  – should all meet the same performance standards.

The data shows they do not. One vehicle may go 41,000 miles without a breakdown, while the exact same vehicle with another company does not meet that standard. He said,  “There is a wide variance between the performance of the average fleet and the best-in-class carrier in each vertical.

 “This is a pretty good indication that our industry has room to reduce maintenance costs by closing the gap between the average and best-in-class fleets.”

Telematics Systems Can Reduce Roadside Breakdowns

Experts design telematics systems to reduce the number of roadside breakdowns that slow a fleet and cost money. They include systems that monitor vehicle health and send alerts to fleet operators when detecting impending mechanical issues.

This includes issues such as slow leaks that gradually reduce pressure in tires or issues that signal reduced brake performance. Telematics platforms give fleet operators advance knowledge of potential issues, allowing them to avoid roadside breakdowns that disrupt business.

Telematics systems also track when it’s time for routine maintenance. Just sticking to a maintenance schedule can reduce the number of roadside breakdowns experienced by fleets.

Frequent Causes of Roadside Breakdowns

Some of the most frequent causes of breakdowns include the following.

  • Tires. More than half of all breakdowns happen because of tires deflating. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported that only 15% happen because of sudden damage, with 85% the result of slow leaks. The agency also reported that tire damage accounts for the single largest maintenance cost item for commercial fleets.
  • Batteries. Extreme temperatures, both cold and hot, have led to batteries running out of power faster. 
  • Electrical systems. In addition to the battery, other electrical system problem areas include the starter motor and alternator. 
  • Brakes. Problems with brakes cause about 29% of accidents involving semi-trucks, according to FMCSA. Air leaks, corrosion and wear and (in the winter months) airline freezes because of water contamination are among the leading causes of brake issues.

These areas, plus issues with cooling systems, account for 65% of all roadside breakdowns, according to data from FleetNet America. Buell said if companies improve in these areas then “you will find a way to make an improvement to your business.” For fleet managers, leveraging the power of telematics in their operation provides the most direct path to achieving those improvements.

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