Maintenance, from a maintenance perspective
It is becoming increasingly clear that vehicle maintenance is falling by the wayside, with many operators using inferior parts, taking shortcuts, or neglecting this necessity altogether … GAVIN MYERS finds out more from the perspectives of an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and a private workshop.
Speaking with Mark Diab, senior manager retail support, UD Trucks SA and Dino Pillay, of Cordoba Motors, located in Phoenix Industrial, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), one gets the sense that the topic of vehicle maintenance currently sits on a knife edge.
On the one side, there are professional facilities that make use of top-quality parts and practices, as well as a plethora of solutions designed to ease the “burden” that maintenance has become.
On the other side, though, are the many issues that have contributed to this necessity being seen by some as a burden, or a grudge purchase.
Trying to unpack the current state of play and find the best way forward brings many issues to light.
What are the current trends?
At the centre of this topic are the vehicle operators, who decide when, where and how their vehicles are maintained. They are also most affected by current economic conditions which, says Diab, could make it very difficult to strictly comply with the service requirements stipulated by the OEMs. “In some cases operators will only do the basic oil changes to comply with the OEM’s warranty,” he says.
There are those who try to comply with OEM requirements – generally large fleet operators. “They often take out maintenance contracts or service agreements to ensure that their trucks are well maintained and constitute a lower risk of “downtime”; which, at the end of the day, results in a higher loss of income to the company,” Diab notes.
On the aftermarket side, Pillay has noticed the spin-offs of these trends. “There has been a major dip in new truck sales; most owners are holding onto their trucks for longer. While this is good for the independent aftermarket workshops, operators are trying to reduce maintenance costs. The use of inferior-quality parts causes undue problems, as it means downtime for the operator,” he says.
How bad is the problem?
This is a multifaceted question, but the straightforward answer is: it’s getting worse. “This can be noticed with the vast increase of truck accidents on our roads. The main issues found to be the cause of accidents are a result of the lack of maintenance,” Diab illustrates.
From UD’s perspective, Diab says the most neglected areas are routine maintenance of the truck as per the OEM’s requirements including safety-critical items, such as servicing of brakes. “There are two reasons for this: affordability and cost pressures, due to highly competitive transport rates. In some of these accidents, brake linings have been completely worn and in others trucks have been found to have no brake linings at all.
“Then we have a substantial number of trucks that are not roadworthy at all. Overloading of trucks is also a major problem, placing increasing demands on their braking systems.
“To compound this issue, the majority of trucks on the roads are towing trailers that, in some cases, have very poor or non-functional brakes. That’s a huge problem, which places increased pressure on the truck tractor and the question of affordability to maintain these trailers comes up.”
Pillay couldn’t agree more. “We have found that the larger operators are more stringent in their maintenance regime compared to the smaller operators, who would rather wait a little longer. Preventative maintenance and basic servicing are the most often neglected areas and many operators also want to save costs by lengthening service intervals. This compromises safety-critical issues that could be attended to by servicing at the correct time.
“The media has played a significant role in highlighting the state of some trucks travelling on the country’s roads. Repairers that conduct poor-quality work need to be taken to task. Compromised repairs, besides posing safety risks to other road users, also give the broader repair industry a bad name.
“The skills shortage also contributes to poor maintenance, as, without the proper skills, the vehicle is not maintained properly. Cordoba Motors is a proud member of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA) and accordingly complies with a high level of trading ethics,” he continues.
How can operators better manage or lower these costs?
The exchange rate, the cost of transporting parts (whether these are manufactured locally or imported) and the cost of labour, all contribute to the cost of maintenance. There are two main ways of lowering the overall cost of maintenance, while still using a reputable workshop and high-quality parts.
The first is to not neglect maintenance to begin with, and to undertake preventative maintenance and servicing at the recommended intervals. “Among the normal benefits of servicing also lies the opportunity to detect other repairs that, if not undertaken, may lead to breakdowns.” Pillay explains.
“In most cases, early detection and rectification costs less in the long run. Just changing an oil filter and oil does not mean that the vehicle has been serviced – the rest of the vehicle remains unchecked.
“If you suspect that your vehicle may be in need of attention, call on your nearest repairer for an opinion and a report. Operators should also have fleet staff that are technically trained and mechanically minded to ensure optimum use of their fleet. If possible, specific people should be responsible for specific tasks,” he advises.
The second way to lower the cost of maintenance is to have maintenance or service contracts in place – and here operators are advised to know what they are buying. “As a general rule, there is no real difference in the terminology. Nonetheless, it is vitally important that customers read and familiarise themselves with the cover stated in the agreement they are purchasing,” Diab says.
OEMs, like UD, offer various packages that are designed to meet the demands and requirements of operators. Having these in place returns more benefits further down the life of the vehicle as well, such as a good resale value.
Where to in the future?
“The general trend within the industry is to move away from general financing in order to own the vehicle, to either Full Maintenance Leasing (FML) or an Operating Rental,” says Diab.
“FML provides the cover for all maintenance and service requirements over the financed period, where the operator would only pay one premium to the financer each month. At the end of the term, the truck can be returned to the finance house and, should the operator so wish, a new agreement with a new truck can be started. In other words, the truck has now become a means of earning income.”
From a workshop perspective, Pillay advises being accredited and graded by the MIWA. Cordoba Motors was recently the first truck workshop in KZN to be awarded a five-star grading by the MIWA.
Pillay continues: “Vehicle technology is changing all the time, so technicians need to be up to date and follow manufacturers’ service schedules meticulously, as they have done their research with regard to the vehicles they produce.
“Even though there is a major skills shortage in our field, there are opportunities for us, as commercial workshops, to train school leavers and the unemployed. We are proud to say that many past employees now work at OEM dealers and are utilising the knowledge gained at our establishment.”