For the HVAC contractor, there is little way to get around the necessity of managing a fleet. Customers are spread throughout a service area, and technicians need to get to them, as simple as that. Year-round, contractors must manage multiple logistics such as traffic, vehicle maintenance, and delays from road construction or weather. In addition to this, they need to ensure that technicians drive safely so that neither the employees nor other drivers are injured. HVAC contractors can incorporate a variety of best practices to ensure fleet vehicles are kept running as much as possible.
Head of leasing national sales The Bancorp
Proper vehicle maintenance is critical to keeping a contracting company as profitable as possible. While maintenance requires that a vehicle be taken off the road temporarily, ignoring maintenance needs will lead to vehicles eventually needing expensive and untimely repairs. If a driver turns up the radio to ignore the sounds of squeaky brakes, the owner may end up needing to replace expensive brake rotors when it could have just been a set of brake pads. Not enough tire changes, and a technician could get a flat that sticks them at the side of the road.
“The key is to be proactive: follow the manufacturer’s scheduled maintenance guidelines,” said Jeff Barron, managing director, head of leasing national sales, The Bancorp. “Not only does this keep vehicles running at their best, but it extends the service life of a vehicle and provides the mechanic the ability to catch problems before they get worse.”
DRIVER SAFETY: Proper maintenance, driver training, and fleet tracking can help make sure vans get to each customer’s home on time. (Courtesy of The Bancorp)
It may also be worth looking into finding a shop that can do maintenance and repairs during off hours to prevent losing that vehicle for use during the day. Some companies will even come to a company’s facility and provide basic maintenance on-site.
Barron also cautioned against contractors overloading their vehicles. A plate or sticker on the driver’s door jamb will show how much weight the vehicle can carry, including itself, fuel, cargo, driver, and passengers.
“Many field techs want to carry your entire parts inventory on the van to avoid trips back to the shop, which is certainly understandable from a productivity standpoint — but are they overloading the vehicle?” asked Barron. “If you suspect it, have your employee drive to a nearby truck scale with a full tank of gas and driver and passenger seated inside.”
Too much weight will manifest itself in issues such as excessive brake and tire wear, wheel bearing problems, as well as transmission and driveline troubles.
Still, contractors should be proactive in managing their fleet. They should not wait until a van goes completely out of commission before getting a replacement. Plus, selling a current vehicle while it is still in decent shape can maximize value in the used car market.
“A properly running truck or van is worth much more than one that has to be towed away,” said Barron.
Fleet management software can also help cut business costs for the HVAC contractor. Route analytics can reduce unnecessary miles, which saves fuel, labor, and repair costs. Plus, vehicle diagnostic technology can help identify maintenance issues before they grow too serious and determine when that maintenance is needed (helping contractors to schedule the appointment to minimize disrupting their service. Regular maintenance includes services like oil changes, brake services, and tire rotation/changes.
“HVAC contractors using fleet management software can increase fleet visibility; monitor daily operations in real time; and stay ahead of vehicle maintenance to reduce costs, improve productivity, and increase accountability,” said Chris Luckenbill, GPS Insight’s marketing director. “They can focus on important initiatives such as safety, efficiency, and compliance, while maintaining profitability.”
Deciding when to expand a fleet can be a challenging decision, and Luckenbill said that fleet management software can be used to make that decision easier. Reports can show managers mileage and runtime data of every vehicle, helping to identify where additional resources are needed. If vehicles are being under-utilized, managers can see if it makes sense to sell their vehicles. And if unscheduled and expensive maintenance occurs, the vehicle’s runtime and mileage data can be used to decide whether vehicle should be repaired or replaced.
“Contractors can monitor their mobile workforce so they can communicate with technicians immediately, and they can confirm job status and timing through real-time tracking,” said Luckenbill.
Vishal Singh, CEO of GoFleet, said that fleet management software is fundamentally about the proper utilization of every vehicle. Managers can evaluate the demand for vehicles throughout all four seasons, predict growth, and track driver safety.
“Generally companies will set up a threshold where if the utilization is above a certain amount, it’s a trigger indication that they need more vehicles,” said Singh.
Managing Fleet Safety and Liability
Managing a fleet is about more (but not less) than paying attention to the state of vehicles. Managing a fleet also includes managing those who will be driving the vans. According to Singh, this process starts at hiring. Contractors should work to hire safe drivers and do due diligence in training them to the company’s driving standards. Using dashboard cams can also protect a company from legal costs.
“Having cameras onboard limits your risk,” said Singh. “If there’s an accident and you have video evidence, you’re going to avoid a potential lawsuit. If the driver was at fault, you can deal with the payout or settlement and then move on.”
When contractors monitor their drivers through a solution like fleet management software, they will know the risky drivers who are braking hard and speeding. Then the contractor can coach those drivers.
To further avoid liability, Jeff Barron recommended that contractors talk with their insurance agent. GPS tracking devices can alert contractors to the aforementioned risky drivers. Fleet management or fleet leasing companies can also remove some of the management burdens from contractors to spend their time managing other aspects of their business.
“Run motor vehicle reports on each driver,” said Barron. “Not just at hiring but every year. Keep your vehicles in good running order and document it. Avoid looking negligent about the care and upkeep of your fleet.”