Builders and renovators employing vehicle fleets are feeling the pinch of soaring fuel costs. Unfortunately, fuel isn't the only vehicle-related cost concern: insurance, maintenance and repair costs also represent significant expenses to fleet owners. However, with the right combination of ingenuity and prudence, you can keep many of these costs in check.
Contractors interested in exploring high-tech, cost reduction strategies can start by investigating the viability of purchasing new, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Though hybrid technology has yet to find its way into the work trucks and vans, many of these vehicles now offer flexible fuel variants (which can run on ethanol fuel, commonly known as E85) or variable-displacement engines that essentially shut down several of the engine's cylinders when full power is not required.
Another high-tech option available to fleet owners is telematics. With telematics, sophisticated computer software tracks real-time vehicle positioning data to help optimize vehicle routing while reducing excessive idling, speeding and unauthorized personal use, all of which save fuel. According to Sara Thrane of telematics provider FleetMatics, the cost benefits go beyond just fuel savings:
"Manual timesheets and padded hours are eliminated as hours worked are accurately calculated based on precise vehicle location, arrival and departure times," Thrane says. In addition, the FleetMatics Service Alerts feature keeps track of all vehicle maintenance needs, which could reduce vehicle maintenance costs, according to Thrane.
But high-tech strategies have their drawbacks. New vehicles and telematics systems can come at a substantial cost, making them impractical for some smaller fleet owners. Telematics solutions in particular carry other potential drawbacks. According to Dr. Vineet Kamat, University of Michigan assistant professor of Construction Engineering and Management, "The use of telematics carries with it the possible risk of alienating employees who may feel resentful about being tracked in real time."
Small fleet owners who find high-tech approaches cost-prohibitive still have many low- or no-cost options for cost-reduction. A fleet insurance policy, for example, will cover several vehicles of virtually any type under the same policy. Though the costs can vary considerably from carrier to carrier, fleet policies generally offer smoother and more efficient claims process than other types of coverage, which equates to savings of another valuable commodity - time.
Owners also garner savings via consistent vehicle maintenance. Well-maintained vehicles perform more efficiently than damaged or neglected ones. Dr. Kamat outlines simple measures to ensure peak performance: "Proper tire inflation as well as regular tune-ups, oil changes and fuel and air filter changes all contribute significantly to optimal vehicle performance, thereby saving fuel and lessening the chance of more costly vehicle repairs."
Beyond that, Kamat suggests that a little common sense goes a long way to help fleet owners cut costs, particularly as the size of a fleet increases. He recommends consolidating trips, avoiding hard acceleration, eliminating unnecessary idling and doing a little extra planning to ensure that all required supplies are on the vehicle before departure. Though he admits it can be challenging to instill these values among drivers, he explains, "Beyond a driver education program, businesses may consider implementing a culture that fosters safe and efficient vehicle use. This can empower employees to take charge, becoming valuable components of cost-saving measures without alienation."