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Maintenance Musts: Stop! Look! Listen!

Editor's Note: The following article was contributed by Michael Emmons, Manager, National Service Department, Fleet Management Division for Enterprise Fleet Management. TAUC has partnered with Enterprise to provide its members with significant savings on their vehicle operational expenses, as well as personalized plans to help make their operations leaner and more efficient and competitive in the bid process. For more information, click here.

Businesses that have a fleet of vehicles need to teach their drivers to stop, look and listen when it comes to proper maintenance and minimal repair expenses. That's because over the last few years there has been a major shift away from generalizing the recommended service intervals for all vehicles to having very specific service schedules from every manufacturer for each make and model. Failing to adhere to specific guidelines established by the manufacturer may prevent repairs from being covered by warranty.

Among the most significant changes, many manufacturers have extended their recommended oil change intervals. Furthermore, some have even transitioned to intelligent oil life monitoring systems that calculate the oil change interval based on specific vehicle driving conditions. Extended oil change intervals mean drivers must take more personal responsibility for regularly checking the engine oil level when refueling. Maintaining proper fluid levels can ensure optimum operating efficiency and maximum longevity of the vehicle, in addition to keeping the manufacturer's warranty in effect.

Ignoring required maintenance can be very expensive. Instead of spending $50 for an oil change that requires minimal driver downtime, a business could end up paying thousands of dollars to repair a catastrophic engine failure for a vehicle that has a voided warranty and will be out of service for an extended period of time.

While less frequent oil changes are good for driver productivity and the environment, there may be little to no cost savings because of the added cost of more advanced fluids required to meet manufacturer specifications and/or other required services that still need to be performed according to the maintenance schedule.

Some service interval guidelines are based on how a vehicle is used, particularly for vehicles that spend a considerable amount of time idling. The EPA suggests that one hour of idle time is equivalent to 30 miles of driving, which means engine hours must be considered when determining service intervals for these vehicles.

With these and other changes, it is more important than ever for drivers to strictly adhere to the manufacturer-recommended service intervals that are explained in the vehicle's owner's manual. It is equally important to pay close attention to maintenance indicator lights on the dashboard, especially those that light up when the vehicle is in "park" with the engine running. Drivers should know that amber lights function as service reminders and red lights indicate system failures that require immediate action.

In addition, drivers need to stop, look and listen whenever they notice any type of change in their vehicle's performance. It is much more cost efficient to take a vehicle into a repair shop when a driver first hears a brake squeal than to wait for the brake pads to wear out, resulting in the need for rotor machining or replacing.

Besides helping to control total fleet spend during the lifecycle of a vehicle; proper maintenance can also positively affect the amount of retained equity at the time of sale. Disciplined maintenance, quality repairs, and valid warranties all impact resale value at the end of the vehicle's life cycle.

Michael Emmons can be reached at 314-256-5196 or Michael.G.Emmons@efleets.com.

09/03/2013