Costly chaos of heavy-vehicle breakdowns

Costly chaos of heavy-vehicle breakdowns

A sure indicator of how well a fleet is managed and cared for is the number of breakdowns it suffers. These breakdowns often result in unnecessary financial cost and, worse, other accidents on the roads. It’s up to vehicle operators to prevent this.

Far too many unnecessary breakdowns of heavy vehicles are occurring daily on our roads. Besides being costly to the vehicle operator, they cause chaos in the flow of traffic, annoying and inconveniencing other road users. Often the crippled vehicle breaks down in a dangerous position on the road, resulting in a serious vehicle accident.

To reduce the number of roadside vehicle breakdowns we need to examine the common causes and what steps can be taken by the vehicle operator.

An analysis of large fleets indicates that many of these breakdowns could be avoided if proper care was taken of the vehicles.

The number of roadside vehicle breakdowns, which we witness daily on roads around the country, is a clear indication that many vehicle owners and operators are not following a simple vehicle management policy. At the most basic level this involves checking their vehicles prior to the commencement of the trip, to ensure that they are in a safe and roadworthy condition.

Adopting and implementing a basic vehicle management system, which would include a pre-trip vehicle inspection, would certainly reduce the number of unnecessary roadside vehicle breakdowns.

The daily vehicle pre-trip inspection should be carried out by the driver together with the technician or relevant responsible person. The driver needs to be educated on how to look for any tell-tale signs that would indicate a pending failure, before setting off. An important part of the pre-trip inspection is to ensure that should any fault, or tell-tale sign of a failure, be detected, it must be repaired immediately and before the vehicle leaves the yard.

Here are a few suggestions on how to reduce your vehicle roadside breakdowns:

• A driver must submit a daily pre-trip inspection report on the condition of his vehicle, and any pending fault or complaint must be attended to immediately;

• Vehicles must be serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals and procedures;

• The drivers and the maintenance crew must develop the right mindset to want to reduce the number of breakdowns. They must be encouraged to look for, and report, any tell-tale signs that indicate a pending vehicle breakdown;

• Analyse the cause of each vehicle breakdown and take steps to make sure that the same fault does not recur;

• Wherever possible, vehicles should be made available every two weeks for a quick workshop inspection. This should include the trailer and any other equipment that is fitted to the vehicle;

• Batteries must be cleaned, inspected and tested at each service. Mark your batteries so that you know the date that they were installed and to ensure that they are not swapped when the vehicle is out of your sight;

• Pay attention to your fuel hygiene – ensure the vehicle is receiving clean fuel. Fill up at night to reduce the formation of water caused by overnight condensation. This practice will also assist you to keep better fuel consumption records. Make sure that the vehicle has sufficient fuel for the trip;

• Wherever possible, do not fit long-range tanks to your vehicles;

• Tyres and wheels must be inspected daily to ensure that the tyre pressures are correct and that the tyres and rims are in a good and safe working condition;

• In operations where casual drivers are employed, make sure the driver is familiar with your vehicle and knows how to handle the vehicle without damaging it.

There are many other reasons that cause vehicles to breakdown, but with proper care and good maintenance many of these breakdowns can be avoided. Remember that the number of break downs in your fleet is a good indicator on how well your fleet is being maintained and managed.


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 49 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel (now UD Trucks), 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

Published by

Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
On track with ZF
Prev On track with ZF
Next Trucking on ...
Key players in the FOCUS editor’s quest to go trucking! From left: Janke van Jaarsveld (IDes Driving Academy), Alexander Taftman (Scania), Charleen Clarke (FOCUS), John Nelson (Scania) and Shane September (Scania).