Resources - Fleet Safety

Maintenance Programs

The purpose of all maintenance is to maintain vehicle availability at reduced cost.

Maintenance Tasks

Motor vehicle maintenance tasks include inspection, diagnosis, lubrication, adjustment, cleaning, testing and replacing failed components or components on the verge of failure.

Objectives of A Fleet Maintenance Program

The objectives of a Fleet Maintenance Program are:

  • Avoid reducing vehicle life span
  • Reduce vehicle downtime and associated costs
  • Enhance vehicle resale value
  • Ensure that all vehicle maintenance, service and repairs are necessary and performed properly in a timely manner
  • Acquire the services of competent, reliable vendors at the best price available if in-house maintenance is not an option
  • Ensure all warranties and guarantees are honored.

Vehicle Systems

When a vehicle is broken down into its parts, everyone can improve their knowledge and understanding of automotive technology. Fleet Managers and other employees involved in maintaining the fleet need to understand the characteristics of the assets they manage. The primary systems to be maintained in a motor vehicle are:

  • Engine
  • Fuel
  • Electrical to include Ignition, Charging, Starting
  • Cooling
  • Lubrication
  • Drive Train
  • Running Gear
  • Emission Control

Fleet Managers should understand the purpose and basic operation of each of these systems.

Scheduled (Preventive) Maintenance Programs

Detecting and correcting deficiencies in any of the vehicle systems in their early stages before they develop into major defects results in lower maintenance costs as it is more cost effective to execute a planned repair in a shop than to fix a breakdown.

Equipment breakdowns and downtime can be significant costs. Downtime results in decreased efficiency, increased rental costs, loss of productivity and poor customer relations. Safety related defects identified before use can avoid accident, injury and death.

Maintenance should be scheduled to ensure all motor vehicles are maintained and serviced according to the vehicle manufacturer's recommendations (or more frequently where warranted by local conditions).

Benefits of a Scheduled Maintenance Program

A Scheduled Maintenance Program ensures motor vehicles:

  • Operate safely
  • Operate economically
  • Meet emissions standards
  • Meet warranty requirements
  • Meet manufacturer's maintenance requirements
  • Are energy efficient.

Components of a Scheduled Maintenance Program

There are three major components of a scheduled maintenance program:

  1. maintenance tasks that need to be performed periodically
  2. time/mileage intervals for the performance of these tasks
  3. key personnel involved to include the driver, the mechanic(s) performing the work and the Fleet Manager.

Development of the Maintenance Task and Time/Mileage Interval Checklist

Fleet Managers consult the manufacturer's recommended maintenance, the operating conditions of the vehicle, past experiences with the specific vehicle/vehicle class and the unscheduled maintenance on the vehicle to develop effective vehicle-specific scheduled maintenance. Fleet Managers consult individual vehicle records as well as class vehicle records in this process. Good recordkeeping will allow the Fleet Manager to identify emergency repairs and separate these repairs from other unscheduled maintenance items.

Importance of the Driver

Routine inspection of the vehicle before, during and after operation by the driver is where a good Scheduled Maintenance Program begins. Repair of defects found during these inspections can then be scheduled to prevent more costly repairs or excessive downtime later.

There are three types of inspections drivers can perform to improve the effectiveness of the Scheduled Maintenance Program:

  1. Before operation inspection is a visual inspection to make sure the vehicle is safe and in good operating condition before it is driven. Many defects, especially leaks, are more apparent after the vehicle has been parked overnight.
  2. During operation inspection consists of the operator being alert to indications of vehicle malfunction while driving such as unusual vibrations, noise, odors, abnormal instrument readings and erratic break and steering operations. Also, proper starting procedures will increase the useful life of vehicles as there are different starting procedures for gasoline-fueled, spark ignition engines and multi-purpose diesel-fueled engines (other portions of before, during and after operation inspections differ also).
  3. After operation inspection consists of walkaround and may, for some missions, also include detailed damage, leakage, tire/spare, fuel, oil, coolant, battery, horn, lights/reflectors, instrument, wipers, windshield, cargo/mounted equipment, steering, safety devices, drive belts/pulleys, brakes and lubrication/oil checks.

A good maintenance program includes driver education and vigilance in performing these inspections as required so the vehicle is ready to support organization mission requirements. Drivers should file discrepancy reports and Fleet Managers should assure they are reviewed by the proper personnel and that appropriate actions are taken. Some organizations require drivers to review the last use report before using the vehicle.

Importance of the Mechanic

Properly trained mechanics in well-managed shops are an integral component in a successful Scheduled Maintenance Program. Whether this solution is provided through lease arrangement, in-house maintenance or through a commercial vendor, the process of inspection, parts-ordering and part-removal is the same as is avoidance of unnecessary inspections and associated repairs.

Importance of the Fleet Manager

Whether the Fleet Manager is in charge of vehicle maintenance or has his/her maintenance performed under lease arrangement, the Fleet Manager remains responsible for ensuring that the required maintenance is performed on time and correctly.

Best Practices

A Scheduled Maintenance Program should include a recorded, systematic procedure for the servicing and inspection of each vehicle and class of motor vehicle. The responsibilities for performance of each maintenance task should be defined.

Design the program to reduce high cost repairs, particularly if they are repetitive for a particular vehicle class. High volume repair costs for a given component may indicate a design weakness which may be best remedied by equipment modification than repeated repairs and also that changes may be necessary in future procurement specifications. It could also be an indicator of the need for mechanic training or incorrect operator usage or abuse. Spot checks to assure that scheduled maintenance is actually being performed is wise so that required servicing which is not performed is reported.

Many scheduled maintenance programs are based upon the vehicle manufacturer's recommended service interval inspections and fluid or part replacements. Heavy trucks may rely on PM-A, PM-B, PM-C and PM-D service classifications to address minor service work (lubes, tires, inspections), oil filters and engine adjustments, testing and replacement of components (brakes, hoses) and planned vehicle overhauls (rebuilding or replacing engines).

Costs of scheduled maintenance programs should be tracked by inspection, parts, fluids and labor classifications. As scheduled maintenance costs increase or decrease they can be compared with total vehicle costs, cost per hour or cost per mile and benchmarked.

The Fleet Manager should develop maintenance schedules for his/her fleet and maintain proper records for each vehicle. Schedules should include provisions for appropriate safety and emissions inspections as well as other PM tasks. Scheduled maintenance (as well as unscheduled maintenance) should be documented in the repair history of the vehicle.

Emissions Inspections

The Fleet Manager should coordinate with State and local officials to ensure that the organization fleet meets the emissions program standards. In compliance with the Clean Air Act of 1977, some states have implemented mandatory emissions testing programs. Owned and leased vehicles are subject to the requirements of the jurisdiction where the vehicles are regularly housed. Not all states have required the Federal government to participate in the emissions testing program to the same degree. All require substantive compliance with the State emissions programs, but some do not require procedural compliance.

Safety Inspections

The Scheduled Maintenance Program should ensure that all vehicles meet or exceed the standards for vehicles set by the States with respect to operation of all safety related equipment; lights, horn, brakes, tires, etc. It is the organization's responsibility to ensure that these inspections are kept current, and to bear all costs associated with these inspections.


It is cheaper to change a tire in the shop than on the road. Fuel economy improves with the proper tire, inflation, mounting and driving habits. Achieving the lowest tire cost per mile begins with getting the correct tire and maintaining it properly. Tire preventative maintenance includes inspection for tread depth, wear patterns, sidewall cuts, proper inflation, balance and alignment. Larger fleets can justify using manufacturer's recommendations to start a tire maintenance program and as their fleet tire history develops, look for ways to reduce costs and downtime and improve fuel economy.

Unscheduled or emergency repairs

When unscheduled or emergency repairs are required, the scheduled maintenance schedule of the vehicle should be reviewed. If scheduled maintenance is due within 30 days or 500 miles, arrangements should be made to have the service performed concurrently with the other repairs if it will be advantageous to the organization in reducing vehicle downtime, cost and inconvenience.

The Fleet Manager's Maintenance Options

Dependent upon organization guidelines, a Fleet Manager may utilize in-house maintenance services or commercial vendors to meet his/her scheduled (or preventative) maintenance requirements.

Unscheduled Maintenance

Repair authorizations for unscheduled maintenance and repairs should be in accordance with the orgnization's procedures and dollar thresholds to ensure that:

  • The repair or service is necessary
  • The price is fair and reasonable and is in accordance with applicable contracts and/or informal price quotations
  • The vendor is competent and reliable
  • Applicable procurement regulations and objectives are met

In-House Maintenance

In-house maintenance is most common among fleets that are in close geographical proximity and whose vehicles are used more that eight hours per day. The cost effectiveness of maintaining an in-house maintenance capability is dependent upon an analysis of the best use of funds. In-house maintenance programs represent a significant investment of capital, human resources and management time so these programs should be more effective and at least as cost efficient as the other options.

In-House Maintenance Shop Responsibilities

The Fleet Manager responsible for an in-house maintenance facility should establish administrative and procedural guidelines and controls to ensure a safe, efficient in-house maintenance shop operation.

Guidelines include implementing:

  • Compliance with Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) regulations including "Right to Know" laws mandating employee training regarding their rights under the law, the nature/general use of hazardous chemicals/materials in their workplace, accident/spill procedures, information contained on the labels on these chemicals/materials and the access/use of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) detailing the trade and chemical name of the product, the manufacturer, all ingredients, health hazards and the product's physical description to include color, odor, permissible exposure limit (PEL), threshold limit value (TLV), gravity, boiling point, freezing point, evaporation data and volatility rating and shop documentation requirements on hazardous materials in the workplace, proof of training programs, records of accidents/spills, proof of satisfaction of employee requests for MSDSs and a "Right to Know" compliance procedure
  • Compliance with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for disposal of hazardous materials/hazardous waste (such as cleaning chemicals, fuels, paints, thinners, battery acid, used engine oil, refrigerants, asbestos and engine coolant or antifreeze), identifiable Hazardous Waste Policy, use of a licensed waste hauler for disposal and manifest records for all waste disposal.
  • Investigation, acquisition and use of thermal cleaning units, close-loop steam cleaners, waste oil furnaces, oil filter crushers, refrigerant recycling machines and engine coolant recycling machines as appropriate to reduce hazardous waste generation
  • Compliance with mandated regulations for emissions and other required vehicle inspections
  • A work order system that distinguishes between Preventative Maintenance (PM) tasks and repairs, uses comprehensive work task definitions and tracks parts usage
  • Controls on tools, parts, supplies, tires, and other sensitive or pilferable items
  • Up-to-date mechanics' training with follow-up repair application
  • Inspection of mechanics' work against standards
  • Obtaining reimbursement for warranty work performed
  • Workload, standards and performance measurement for mechanics and technicians
  • An vehicle operator maintenance program that requires operators to perform daily/weekly maintenance procedures and to report problems
  • Disposal program which complies with applicable local, State and Federal regulations for handling, disposal and/or recycling of asbestos brake/clutch pads, antifreeze, used oil, refrigerant, solvents, batteries, oil filters and tires
  • Specific procedure for managing repairs resulting from vehicle accidents
  • An effective inventory and parts control system which balances in-house stock for high volume and critical stock, rapid delivery from vendors for low volume, readily available items and standard purchase orders to receive volume discounts or specialty items
  • Routine analysis of contract versus in-house repairs to identify tasks that can be contracted out at lower cost and high quality
  • Constant testing competitiveness of overall maintenance and repair function.

Where in-house maintenance services have been authorized, primary responsibility for the maintenance program is vested in the Fleet Manager. He/she is responsible for diagnosing, procuring and controlling motor vehicle service, maintenance and repairs.


Documentation of all repairs accomplished in-house should include labor hours, parts and tires issued from stock. Issues from parts and tires inventories are Government assets and subject to accountability requirements. These issues and inventories should be controlled and reviewed on a regular (at least monthly) basis. A Repair Limitation Policy should be established to ensure that high dollar value repairs are subject to supervisory review and approval. The repair limitation may be a specific dollar threshold (i.e., all repairs over $500), a percentage of the fair market value of the vehicle (i.e., all repairs exceeding 25% of the fair market value) and may include provisions that all repairs of a specific type (for example, engine replacement) be referred to the supervisor.

Tire Replacement

Except as otherwise noted, tires should be replaced when the remaining tread depth is 2/32 of an inch or less, when the tread user bars indicate that the tire shall be replaced or when the tires are otherwise deemed unsafe. A tread depth of 4/32 of an inch should be maintained on the front steering wheels of any vehicle exceeding 10,000 GVWR which is operated on the highway, any vehicle which carries hazardous or explosive material, all buses, and all ambulances. Snow tires should be installed only where geographic locations and local weather conditions warrant. They should be removed when such conditions no longer exist to extend the useful life of the tires and to reduce fuel usage. Analysis of tire replacement data is a best practice of many fleets to identify tire costs, premature failure, theft or driver abuse

Fuel Consumption/Conservation

Fuel consumption and conservation is a critical concern of Fleet Managers. A well-maintained vehicle suited to the mission driven properly will generate maximum fuel efficiency per vehicle.

Fuel Consumption

Petroleum usage can be reduced by the acquisition of alternative fuel vehicles and the acquisition of higher fuel economy vehicles. Additional strategies for petroleum reduction include an increasing vehicle load factors (accomplish the maximum amount of work with each vehicle) and a decreasing vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Drivers should be encouraged to conduct their operations efficiently and employees should be encouraged to take advantage of teleconferencing or use mass transit.

Fuel Conservation

Fuel conservation techniques include:

  • Utilization of available public transportation
  • Car pooling
  • Avoiding prolonged engine warm-up
  • Planning and scheduling trips to reduce distance traveled and to avoid rush hour traffic
  • Accelerating slowly
  • Driving at a steady speed
  • Limiting use of electrical accessories when not needed
  • Eliminating engine idling while waiting
  • Keeping tires properly inflated
  • Ensuring proper maintenance is performed on vehicles.

Source: Adapted from the Federal Fleet Management Desk Reference

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Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).