How To Start A Preventive Maintenance Plan For A Small Fleet

/ / cfo, finance, fleet management, obd2

Your business has grown up around you and your hardwork has paid off.  You have growing sales and happy customers.  Along with the exciting growth you’ve started noticing that your small vehicle fleet is taking more of your time, resources and hard earned cash.

In the early days you might have relied on your memory and some hand written notes to remember when to take the vehicles to the dealer for their regular servicing …. but eventually your success means you have to pay more attention to this critical business asset.  Now what?

Don’t hide your head in the sand

Business growth and success always brings rewards and challenges.  Managing vehicle fleets can be an enormous burden: managing maintenance, registration and insurance, fuel costs and driver safety can all begin to feel like enormous weights.  Luckily there are plenty of options available for you and many options can fit even the tightest budget.

Why risk business continuity by risking your fleet or drivers.

Computerize your fleet management

Getting your fleet management tasks out of your head and off the yellow sticky sheets that cover many fleet owner’s desks is the first step. Without a doubt if you are determined to conquer your fleet management challlenges you need to computerize your data.  There are many ways to tackle this first step.

Option 1: Fleet management by spreadsheet

The easiest and least expensive involves a little DIY computer work.  You can create your own spreadsheets using Excel or Google docs to track your vehicles, mileage, maintenance history and receipts.  These are easy tools that most business owners already now and because of the evolution of the cloud you can update them from almost anywhere.

While they can require a fair bit of work to keep up to date, spreadsheets will make it easier for you to keep track of your fleet’s requirements than a that sticky note.  Spreadsheets won’t remind you when things are do but as long as you keep them up-to-date you can stay on top of your growing fleet.

Pros:  Quick and easy to develop,  Very low cost or no cost.

Cons:  Not great for reporting results.  Difficult to manipulated data and to update.

Option 2: Build your own fleet management database

A more involved approach to cpmputerizing your fleet is to build your own database.  Depending on your database skills (or the skills of the freelancer you hire) you can build yourself an a handy tool that makes data entry as easy as a spreadsheet and simplfies reporting of that data too.

The big advantage of a database is that data entry is often easier and you can normalize the data to make calculations and reporting easier than with a spreadsheet,  Many of us also have Access database software included with our Windows desktops.

Pros:  You get exactly the system you think you need. No more and no less.

Cons:  These often come at the expense of your nights and weekends unless you outsource it and then you could easily pay several thousand dollars for the system to a freelancer.

Option 3:  Purchase fleet management software for your office PC

Let’s face it.  You probably already purchased software to run your business accounting. Your fleet vehicles are a valuable asset and you should probably consider investing at least as much to keep them running.  If you have 10 vehicles you could easily be looking at $230k of investment in the vehicles.  So Spending $300-1,000 might be well worth it in the long run.

Pros:  You get a system that is already developed and tested and working for other customers with similar needs.  It might be more affordable to get started and to maintain the system than doing it with a freelancer.

Cons: You’re likely giving up the cloud capabilities you got with the first 2 options.  Having yous software in the cloud gives you total flexibility of where and when you work.  You’re also at the mercy of your supplier so choose one with a good reputation and definitely get a demo and try it out.

Option 4:  Subscribe to fleet maintenance software in the cloud

If accessibility is high on your list and you don’t have an IT staff you should consider cloud based alternatives to option 3.  You’ll likely get most of the same features in the cloud as you will with a PC based preventive maintenance system but the management and maintenance of the software will be infinitely easier.

Cloud based systems update their software automatically so you get new features and bug fixes without any interaction from you or your team.  Since it is based in the cloud you can also provide access to any of your staff regardless of their location.  Many of these systems also support data export into your accounting system making it easier to keep your financial system in synch with your fleet expenses.

Pros:  Full featured fleet maintenance software with cloud based data backup, high reliability and high performance servers ensure 24×7 access to your fleet maintenance data from anywhere.  Online vehicle maintenance logs help you stay on top of your vehicle maintenance.

Cons:  Might be a little more expensive for the software but the savings on server hardware, backup systems and time spend updating new features and bug fixes will even out the long term costs.

Are fleet tracking telematics worth the investment?

With cloud systems you get a host of additional options that you can’t get with home grown software or local PC based preventive maintenance software. Implementing fleet trackers can be one of the most useful tools to automate the collection of vehicle maintenance information.

Fleet preventive maintenance software requires triggers to automate system schedules.  You can use fuel receipt tracking or input fuel card data to keep track of fleet vehicle odometers.  It is also possible to raise the capabilities of the system with OBD2 fleet tracking monitors which tie into your cloud based software to collect engine running hours, diagnostic messages (DTCs) and check engine light status, engine idling, driver safety monitoring and more.

Whether you decide to invest up front in telematics or you choose to wait until later in the process you’ll save yourself alot of extra work if you choose a system that allows you to upgrade to fleet tracking telematics when you’re ready.

photo credit: A meeting with the neighbours via photopin (license)