Top 6 Small Fleet Challenges - Part 2

Richard Malchow, Industry Business Advisor

July 19, 2023

 Fleet of blue trucks

In this three-part series, we are exploring the six biggest vehicle challenges for small fleets. Vehicle compliance is comprised of three primary areas: the driver, the vehicle, and the carrier. In this second installment we examine the vehicle itself.


Challenge 3: Prioritizing vehicle preventative maintenance (PM)

They say, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Preventative maintenance programs attempt to ensure the wheel never “squeaks” in the first place.

Running a small fleet is difficult. The revenue coming in may barely meet the expenses. So why spend money inspecting and replacing perfectly good parts? The answer is that overall, it saves money. Vehicles cared for by an effective PM program are less likely to have an accident, are more productive, require fewer unscheduled repairs, and are more likely to pass roadside inspections.

  • Accident and insurance reduction: An FMCSA study demonstrated that non-driver-related defects have a higher relationship to crashes. Non-driver related defects are tied to components that drivers typically cannot check during a regular pretrip inspection. In other words, these are defects that are directly tied to a fleet’s PM program.
  • Productivity: Vehicles in an effective PM program are more productive because they require less unscheduled repairs – often requiring a tow vehicle and repair at an outside shop resulting in lost work time.
  • Roadside inspection violations: Well-maintained vehicles are less apt to be placed out of service at a roadside inspection if found to have a mechanical condition that might result in a breakdown or an accident. The vehicle cannot resume its revenue generating trip until the violation is corrected.
  • Conservation: Vehicles in good operating condition consume less fuel which saves money while reducing pollution. In addition, mechanical failures can snowball and impact parts that experience failure as a result.

Using a “we’ll fix it when it breaks” maintenance program becomes much more expensive than maintaining the vehicle.


Challenge 4: Understanding the vehicle regulations

Small operations need to understand the required vehicle inspections as well as the parts necessary to maintain a vehicle in a safe operational condition. This is not merely a best practice – understanding and complying is specifically stated in three rule sections:

General Regulations – Section 390.3(e):

  • Every employer shall be knowledgeable of and comply with all regulations contained in this subchapter (the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations or FMCSRs) which are applicable to that motor carrier's operations, and
  • All motor vehicle equipment and accessories required by this subchapter (FMCSRs) shall be maintained in compliance with all applicable performance and design criteria;

Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation – Section 393.1(b) and (c):

  • Every motor carrier and its employees must be knowledgeable of and comply with the requirements and specifications of this part (Part 393), and
  • No motor carrier may operate a commercial motor vehicle, or cause or permit such vehicle to be operated, unless it is equipped in accordance with the requirements and specifications of this part (Part 393);

Inspection, Repair, and Maintenance – Section 396.1(a):

  • Every motor carrier, its officers, drivers, agents, representatives, and employees directly concerned with the inspection or maintenance of commercial motor vehicles must be knowledgeable of and comply with the rules of this part (Part 396).

Operators of small fleets need to understand the vehicle regulations themselves. Small fleet operators may be tempted to rely solely on their mechanic or shop. However, after a serious accident or during an audit or investigation, the door that will be knocked on is the operator’s – not the shop’s or the mechanic’s.

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