Why Owner-Operators Need a Truck Maintenance Plan

guy working on truck

That truck you drive every day isn’t just a tool. It’s an asset that can make your business more successful if you treat it well. A regular oil change for example, removes iron particles from your engine. “Having iron particles in your oil is like having sandpaper in your engine: It’ll wear out parts quickly,” says engine repair shop owner Bruce Mallinson.

To Satisfy Regulations

If the idea of sandpaper on your engine parts isn’t enough to make you uncomfortable, the fact that the government can take you off the road if your maintenance isn’t done and documented may motivate you some more.

Getting your authority means you’re also getting a DOT number, which means you’re on the FMCSA’s radar for a new-entrant safety audit. Sometime between your sixth and eighteenth month of operation, you’ll be subject to a thorough once-over by the Feds, according to Thomas Bray, Editor, J.J. Keller & Associates.

In “How Safety Audits Apply to New Owner-Operators,” Bray explains that the audit includes a check of six factors, including driver(s), operational, hazardous materials, accidents, general – and vehicle. The vehicle factor requires that the carrier be able to show a program for systematic inspections, maintenance, and repairs, and records of annual inspection requirement compliance.

If you’re operating more than one truck, the auditor will also check your driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs) and will request inspection, maintenance, and repair records for every truck.

To Save Money and be a More Reliable Carrier for Your Customers

But if all you’re doing is satisfying regulations, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table, says Mel Kirk, vice president of maintenance operations for Ryder Systems. “You’re not running an effective preventive maintenance program if you see it only as an exercise mandated by the law,” Kirk says in this article on avoiding common maintenance mistakes. Maintenance should be seen as an exercise to assess the vehicle’s condition and resolve any issues before they create more expensive problems in the future.

The danger in putting off preventative maintenance is that it gets to be a habit, according to Bob Merrill, operation analyst for W.W. Williams. And every time it gets put off, the risk of breakdowns increase. Your maintenance plan should set standard intervals for component maintenance and include frequent checks so that breakdowns are eliminated. If you can do that, the program pays for itself, Merrill says.

Merrill’s sentiment is echoed in this article “How Much Should You Put Away for Maintenance?” by Bill McClusky, a 23-year veteran of the trucking industry. “Preventative maintenance can be expensive, but neglect is even more costly. Systematic PM saves you money in the long run by reducing the chances of equipment failure on the road and reducing time lost to repairs,” he says.

Again, “systematic” is a key concept and it’s easier to have the discipline to be systematic when you have funds available specifically for maintenance. The question then is how much to set aside to take care of your truck. McClusky recommends that for a new truck, you earmark five cents per mile. For older trucks, save more – a four-year-old truck or one with more than 600,000 miles needs 10 cents for every mile.

Once your maintenance costs reach the 13 or 14 cents per mile threshold, it’s probably a good time to look into investing in a new truck. Check out Team Run Smart’s “Upgrade vs Rebuild: When’s the Right Time to Invest in a New Truck?” to see a payment and maintenance cost analysis.

As another preventative tactic, establish an account with a truck rental company, which should reduce the time needed to get a substitute truck in case your truck needs major repairs. You’ll be able to keep your commitments to your customers, keep working and earning income, and reduce your stress level as well.