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Vehicle Management Goes Beyond Oil and a Lube'

April 1, 2007
By Lee Driscoll "We leverage the volume of our fleet of 85 vehicles to negotiate the lowest possible prices on repairs and service." Lee Driscoll table

By Lee Driscoll

"We leverage the volume of our fleet of 85 vehicles to negotiate the lowest possible prices on repairs and service."
— Lee Driscoll

Driscoll: leverage fleet volume for best repair prices.

When analyzing an HVAC company's productivity, one of the most often forgotten or neglected items are the vehicles, from the smallest pickup to the largest cargo truck or van.

The fleet is what keeps the company rolling, and the vehicles require attention in a variety of areas:
acquisition (buying or leasing)
usage: putting the right vehicle to work for you.
up-fitting, to make sure technicians carry the necessary tools in the field
maintenance: taking care of technicians and your investments
ROI: maximizing your return upon sale.

While all of these areas are important, the purpose here is to discuss the maintenance aspect of fleet management. Different contractors use different methods, all to the same end: the vehicles must run, to keep the technicians working.

In-house. When trying an in-house mechanic, the key is to provide enough work to keep the mechanic busy, along with the necessity of keeping the vehicles on the road. It also means you must provide vehicle maintenance tools, including pneumatics, lifts, and diagnostic tools. We found this not to be a viable solution.

National chain. The service provided by the large national chain is valuable, however, we found turn-around time to be slower, and we had to analyze every quote to see if recommended service was truly necessary. This service does provide a good way for us to do tires, front end alignments, and a back up for our primary provider of service.

Large independent garages and dealerships. These have their advantages, including more mechanics, and longer hours, but you can still get lost in the crowd.

Fleet service provider. When a fleet becomes large, it's time to decide whether or not to enlist a full-time fleet manager or a fleet service provider. We are currently looking at this as an option, but are still not sure this is a good fit for us.

Neighborhood garage. While this seems not to be a logical choice at first, it has proven to work out quite well for us. We can give a clear expectation of how we want our vehicles maintained, their life cycle, and just what we want to get out of them. I've been able to establish a rapport with the mechanic, and make sure that the repairs are necessary and done correctly.

Repairs need to be done in a timely manner, and with a minimum of expense. A good mechanic, just like a good service technician, does a proper diagnostic, and then does only the repairs that are necessary, while keeping the client informed along the way. All repairs are quoted up front, and any additional work discovered along the way is communicated to the client and approved before repairs are made.

Our mechanic knows our fleet almost as well as I do, and he knows when to draw the line on vehicle repairs. To keep repairs within budget, we made our expectations clear related to turnaround time and price caps. He provides recommendations on how to accomplish this, by doing the necessary repairs right away and scheduling other non-essential, important repairs as time and budget permit. Our primary mechanics, body shop, instant oil change, and full service tire and front end alignment shop operate under a supplier alliance type of agreement.

We negotiate all changes, and leverage the volume of our fleet of 85 vehicles, to negotiate the lowest possible prices on repairs and service.

Lee Driscoll is fleet, equipment, and parts manager for Atlas Butler Heating and Cooling, Columbus, OH, Contracting Business' 2007 Residential Contractor of the Year.