Downtime is the nemesis of every fleet operator, and preventing it is a priority of truck leasing and renting companies.

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As the U.S. economy gains momentum, one particular pocket of strength can be found in the trucking industry, where the Cass Freight Shipment Index showed a string of monthly increases in the first half of 2017, year over year. The data also indicate positive momentum for freight tonnages through 2019.

For this upbeat forecast to be realized, trucks must stay on the road. Downtime is the nemesis of every fleet operator, and preventing it is a priority of truck leasing and renting companies. In fact, at Penske Truck Leasing preventive maintenance is one of the foundations that everything else rests upon.

"We believe that if you don't get preventive maintenance right, you don't get anything right," says Gregg Mangione, senior vice president of maintenance. "No other function is as critical to downtime avoidance."

The company's investment in infrastructure includes 700 plus service locations across North America staffed by over 4,500 diesel technicians. Breakdowns are responded to with 24/7 roadside assistance supported by some 18,000 emergency providers. Should a lease unit be out of service for 24 hours, Penske's expansive rental fleet can provide a substitute unit, and repair of the original vehicle is expedited.

Maintenance has undergone a wave of change stemming from new EPA regulations in fuel economy, and the technology engineered to boost miles per gallon and reduce emissions has altered the landscape. Today's trucks perform more efficiently and yield important data about their operating condition. The components responsible for these upgrades are sophisticated—some contain precious metals—and can prove fragile.

Recognizing the degree of specialization this calls for, even large corporations have turned to leasing. "We're signing agreements with companies that have the resources to own and operate their own maintenance centers," says Mangione, "but they see what's required to keep in step with the latest technologies, and deem it too big a distraction from their core businesses."

Yesterday's standards and protocols for when and how to inspect machinery are obsolete, according to Mangione, and fleet managers stick to them at their peril.

"If there is a slight coolant system leak, it generally won't affect engine performance," he explains. "However, it can put a part like a $2,000 Diesel Oxidation catalyst at serious risk." A standard Penske practice to mitigate this possibility is to sample used oil—not by the customary visual check—but by submitting the sample to a specialized lab.

In the critical area of remote diagnostics, Penske's proprietary Connected Fleet Solutions platform is an industry first in its size and scale, designed to enable faster roadside "triage" and improved maintenance through remote diagnostics and Big Data analytics.

All the new data produced through vehicle telematics gives Penske more visibility into downtime events. "The technology identifies any fault code activity," Mangione explains. Many of the codes represent conditions that need no immediate attention, but the dash warnings can alarm a driver, and Penske makes it a point to get in contact with the customer and work through steps that, ideally, will complete the day's schedule in that same truck.

"Uninterrupted running of the client company's business is the standard we operate by," he adds. That's surely an example of going the extra mile in customer service, but freight has to move, and staying on the road is what the job is all about.

January 2018