How to Protect Your Employees with the Right Vehicle Fleet
Fleets are often one of the most critical line items for an overseas operation and, therefore, managing a fleet well is key to profitability. Fleet management also can safeguard your employees from risk. Controlling whether the right vehicle is being used for the right task in the right geopolitical environment that achieves your fleet management objectives and guaranteeing that safety is a top priority.
Maintaining a large number of vehicles in safe working conditions takes effort and organization beyond the routine check-ups, but is necessary to maintain safe performance and avoid breakdowns. Employees rely on vehicles for mission critical functions in NGOs, international construction companies, oil & gas multinationals, amid others.
Here are some tips on how to keep your company’s vehicle fleet running smoothly and safely.
What to Look for When Purchasing a Vehicle for Your Employees
When individuals buy a vehicle for personal use, it’s a pretty simple process. As long as you stay within the budget, there’s lots of flexibility on what to purchase and you just take into account the factors of repair cost, mileage, and insurance.
Purchasing for a fleet is different. It requires careful consideration of various aspects of the vehicle, including safety features. You must find out what kind of seat belts and airbags the vehicle has. Antilock brakes are required in all European Union countries and in the U.S., but other braking technology is also available. Other safety features include blind-spot warnings, lane departure warnings, and camera and radar systems that help prevent accidents. Consider whether these are worthwhile investments or increase costs beyond your budget.
Consider the vehicle’s reputation for durability and what sort of regular maintenance is required to keep it running in top condition. When it comes to repairs, some vehicles can cost more than others. Availability of replacement parts is another issue — you want to avoid long waits for parts as much as possible.
Factor in the vehicles’ purpose. Will they be used for long trips on highways or shorter drives in towns or cities? If they’re being used mainly for shorter drives, what’s the climate of the area they’ll be driven in? Perhaps you should select vehicles that drive particularly well in rain or snow, while vehicles that are used for longer drives should be prepared for all weather conditions. If the driving is occurring in developing countries, it is safe to assume that the road quality will be an issue so having four wheel drive vehicles with shock absorption may be critical.
Other factors to consider based on the operational requirements of the vehicle include: crashworthiness, capacity, load position, towing capacity, and ergonomics.
How to Improve Vehicle Maintenance
Even if you purchase the safest, most durable vehicles for your fleet, maintenance and inspections are vital in order to keep a fleet operating safely and efficiently.
There are three basic types of maintenance – preventive, demand and crisis.
- Preventative maintenance which involves bringing a car in for routine services, such as oil changes, at regular intervals in order to keep the vehicle running well.
- Demand maintenance occurs when a particular element of a vehicle isn’t working: blown headlights, leaking tires, cracked glass, etc.
- Crisis maintenance, takes place when a breakdown has occurred on the road. That is exactly the type of maintenance you are trying to reduce with a preventive maintenance program, but it can still occur.
Vehicle inspections are required in most areas, but consider an inspection process more rigorous than what is required by law. Procedures should require drivers to conduct their own daily inspections by checking things such as the horn, backup warning, windshield wipers, headlights, taillights and turning signals, brakes, tire inflations, mirrors, and steering. Furthermore, vehicles should be required to carry emergency equipment, which the driver should test regularly. Equipment to be considered includes flares, fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, flashlight, a reflective vest and cold-weather emergency equipment.
In addition to any legally required inspections, company vehicles should be inspected by a mechanic every three months. These extra inspections help prevent accidents and, therefore, company liability which could be costly. Also, company vehicles are likely to be driven by more than one individual so employees may miss maintenance clues that an individual driver would notice. These inspections should include a road test, visual inspection of the brakes, fluid checks, brake pad wear, belts and hoses, battery life, filters, oil change and emissions systems inspection.
Employees who drive company-owned vehicles must take on much of the responsibility for the maintenance of a vehicle. Establish a maintenance program that meets, or exceeds the manufacturer’s recommendations. The manufacturer will recommend check-ups for various aspects of the vehicle after it’s been driven for a certain amount of time, or reaches mileage milestones (such as 10,000 miles).
When it comes to maintenance and repairs, companies that don’t have their own staff of maintenance technicians must take on due diligence when choosing technicians. Do your research and find out what sort of training mechanics undergo and sort of vehicles they specialize in. Make sure they have experience working on the type of vehicles that are in your fleet. Once you’ve established a solid relationship with a repair company, find out what they recommend in terms of maintenance.
Record Keeping – a Key to Employee Engagement
Whatever process you establish should be put in writing and signed by employees who are driving vehicles. Employees also must pay attention to their vehicle’s performance and make note of any changes, warning signs and, of course, all accidents and incidents, no matter how insignificant they may seem.
Create a system that makes it easy for employees to report potential problems they experienced while driving. Consider regular meetings where employees who drive company vehicles discuss their experiences on the road, and make suggestions with the goal of promoting driver safety.
Another component to record keeping should deal with any modifications employees make to vehicles. No modifications should be made without written permission from management. You should check with your maintenance provider before approving modifications in such areas as trailer hitches, stereo equipment, window tinting, navigations systems, security, racks, attachments for technology devices, etc.
Regular Vehicle Replacement – A Safety Necessity
All vehicles need to be replaced at some point. Eventually with most cars, repairs will be needed more often to the point that they are cost-prohibitive, and it’s likely that more expensive repairs will be needed as the car is used more. Also, many organizations, particularly humanitarian organizations, will try to extend the life of their vehicles indefinitely. This creates more chance of an accident which could have a costly liability impact. The cost savings of this approach does not outweigh the risks.
Factors to consider when replacing a vehicle include mileage, maintenance cost and frequency, the vehicle’s condition (consult your reports for this information), how often it’s used, changes to safety standards, the operational purpose of the vehicle and the environment in which it is used.
Ignoring the vehicles could result in costly repairs, reduce productivity and can put employees in unsafe situations.
From purchase to replacement, a comprehensive vehicle management program can save money from this significant expense line while also limiting your liability potential from accidents and vehicle misuse. For more information on how fleet risk management can improve your bottom line go to our article: Prioritizing Fleet Risk Management to Improve Your ROI & Mission Completion.
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