Autonomous Trucks and Fleet Management in 2024

Self-driving vehicles have been something out of science fiction for nearly as long as there have been vehicles, but over the last handful of years, a surprising amount of progress has been made towards the actual development and use of autonomous cars and trucks.

While much has been made of Tesla and its “full self-driving” system full of problems, other companies have been making much better progress much more quietly in the background. Some of those companies have been testing and actively on the roads even this year, and 2024 is looking to be an exciting year for the advancement of logistics technology.

Optimism always needs to be tempered with caution, however, and while 2024 may be a turning point for some, we’re still far from a world where global logistics is handled autonomously.

Why Autonomous Shipping is Overdue

Critics point to automation in its various forms as a way for companies to lay off human workers and outsource their jobs to capture more profit for executives. While that’s certainly the motivation for a scattered few businesses, there are many other concerns that lead to automation. Moreover, automation is rarely actually a cost-saving measure, at least initially. Humans have training, judgment, critical thinking skills, and more, all of which are difficult or impossible to replicate with a robotic system.

That said, there are some reasons why certain industries, like logistics and shipping, can benefit from a focus on autonomous driving and fleets.

Perhaps one of the biggest is the driver shortage. Recent surveys indicate that, across the United States, there’s a shortage of 80,000 drivers necessary to keep nationwide logistics running smoothly. Worse than that, the shortage isn’t improving; estimates say that by 2030, the number will double, and we’ll need 160,000 more drivers to keep up with demand.

Why Autonomous Shipping is Overdue

Why is this happening? Many reasons. Foremost among them is the far-ranging effects of the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age. Around the world, there are nearly five times as many drivers over the age of 55 as there are drivers under that age. Even if a similar proportion of people across the generations were entering logistics as drivers, the relative size of these generations means fewer new drivers enter than older drivers leave.

At the same time, trucking isn’t glamorous. It has a generally negative public perception and coupled with industry-wide tales and horror stories of long hours, low pay, time spent away from families, poor working conditions, and the risk of being on the highways all the time, and you can see why relatively few people seem interested in the career. Even if most of those criticisms are overblown, exaggerated, or simply untrue with modern shipping, the perception persists.

It’s no wonder, then, that logistics companies are turning to the development of autonomous trucking as an option.

Is Autonomous Trucking Ready to Go?

Perhaps the biggest question you might have is this: is autonomous trucking ready to go, or is it still a pipe dream?

The answer is somewhere in the middle, but a lot closer to the first than you might imagine.

In fact, self-driving trucks are already on the roads.

Aurora, an autonomous trucking company, has been testing self-driving trucks throughout Texas. Currently, through the end of 2023, they’ve been running around 75 loads across Texas interstates per week, fully autonomously. Other companies are progressing at a similar pace, like Embark and TuSimple. Other firms, like Kodiak Robotics, are also competing.

Is Autonomous Trucking Ready

Make no mistake; this isn’t a commercial venture yet. It’s still in testing. Every load carried throughout the state from partners like FedEx and Walmart is carried by an autonomous vehicle but backed up by an operator. Each truck has a backup driver poised and ready to take over at the first sign that the truck isn’t behaving safely. Meanwhile, an operations specialist rides shotgun to monitor the system, take feedback and record readings, and funnel data back to development for use in improving the systems.

Aurora isn’t the only company pushing for self-driving freight. Texas is a hotbed for development, due in part to favorable regulations but more so because 20% of the nation’s shipping takes place on Texas roads, and the large, generally straight and flat roadways through many parts of the state make for great testing grounds. Elsewhere, other companies are developing their own technologies in places like China.

All of that said, despite these vehicles already sharing the roads, they aren’t quite ready for wide-scale rollouts just yet.

Obstacles to Fully Self-Driving Fleets

There are quite a few reasons why you aren’t going to be able to buy self-driving trucks to augment or replace your current fleet next year.

The first is that the technology is still in development. While it’s closer than many people might think, that doesn’t mean it’s here. For example, one of the biggest issues is simply that all of these technologies are being tested in places like Texas. That’s fine when you need to haul a load through a long, flat desert or through the well-known interstates in a hot and dry climate. What about elsewhere? What about the rainy Pacific Northwest or the ice and snow of the Midwest and Northeast? Currently, these technologies are completely untested in these inclement conditions.

Of course, autonomous trucking doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. If the technology ends up proven and reliable in ideal conditions, it simply means that it can be adopted in those conditions, and the drivers who would otherwise drive those routes can be moved to more complex or less-than-ideal routes. That all remains to be seen, though.

Another obstacle is regulations. Currently, self-driving vehicles are really only allowed on the roads because they have a backup human operator ready to take over control at any time. Nearly half the states in the country have some regulations allowing for self-driving trucks on the road, but these regulations are sporadic and inconsistent. No two states are identical. There are also differing regulations between full self-driving cars and commercial fleet vehicles.

In short, it’s a mess, and it’s not likely a mess that’s going to be sorted out any time soon. The government is slow and ponderous at the best of times, so it remains to be seen what kinds of laws, regulations, stipulations, and requirements will be handed down from on high or built up from the state level over the coming years.

Obstacles to Fully Self-Driving Fleets

Expense, of course, is another roadblock. Many logistics and fleet companies that currently struggle with the driver shortage don’t necessarily have the resources to buy new self-driving trucks. This is especially true when those trucks still need drivers as a backup; the savings aren’t savings, not for many years to come.

Cybersecurity is also critical to anything autonomous. Increasingly “smart” vehicles are also proving increasingly vulnerable to various kinds of software and hardware exploits, and that’s not the kind of flaw that can be systemic throughout a national transportation grid.

You also have to think about trust. Even a tested self-driving system has the potential for issues and errors, which is why all such systems currently require a driver in place and ready to take over. If you remember, one of the main driving factors behind autonomous truck development is the driver shortage. Well, it doesn’t solve the problem if your self-driving trucks still need a driver, right?

Finally, there are also all of the other things relating to trucking that aren’t the driving part. How does a self-driving truck fuel up? How does it handle inspections? Systems aren’t really in place to handle these scenarios, at least not outside of their testing zones. Answers will come, eventually, but they aren’t set up and ready to go for next year.

What Fleet Managers Need to Know for 2024

The coming year is likely to be a turning point in self-driving commercial vehicles, with a primary focus on first-mile and middle-mile transportation. Self-driving faces many challenges off the interstate, but for long-haul primary transportation and middle-mile transportation between distribution centers, it’s much more likely to be a viable option.

One thing is certain: autonomous trucks are not going to solve your problems in 2024. They’re still too new, too underdeveloped, and too untested to reach widespread availability. Fleet managers can look to partner with certain companies for regional testing, primarily in the south and southwest, but this is – as is so often the case – the kind of innovation that will come from the biggest companies first and make its way to smaller logistics firms later.

For fleet managers, there are two things you need to know for 2024, at least in terms of fully autonomous commercial vehicles.

First, don’t expect to be able to buy off-the-shelf autonomous fleet vehicles. These systems, even as advanced as they are, aren’t plug-and-play. They require dedicated setup and testing along consistent and defined routes and rely on human backup operators to solve problems as they occur.

Relatedly, the second key point is this: don’t expect to replace your drivers any time soon. For the time being – and for the foreseeable future – self-driving is not trusted enough, consistent enough, or tested enough to be viable without a human driver present in the driver’s seat, ready to assume control when necessary. Self-driving may, eventually, reach this point, and that’s something many of these development companies are banking on, but self-driving isn’t going to solve the driver shortage any time soon.

Autonomous vehicles are definitely something to keep an eye on, but there’s bound to be a lot of shake-up before things settle and become widespread. Companies will rise and fall, technologies will be developed, hyped, and ultimately succeed or fail, and there will likely be both incredible success stories from early adopters and tragic failures from an early investment that goes awry. Unless you’re determined to be a success story – at the risk of being a cautionary tale – it’s likely better to sit back and watch as the story unfolds first.

What Fleet Managers Need to Know

One thing you might consider is looking into more driver-assist technologies. While the headlines talk about fully autonomous vehicles, there are also numerous companies working to develop evolutionary systems. These start essentially as driver assistance technology to help reduce some of the burden on drivers while still relying on them to operate the vehicle. Think of it more like an airplane’s auto-pilot on the ground: something that can be engaged to keep a truck at a consistent speed and in a consistent lane for a long haul but needs to be adjusted or disengaged when something outside that norm comes up.

These are likely to be much more readily available in the coming year. Companies like Plus, for example, are working on these incremental driver assistance systems. They will grow and add features over time, with the intent to reach fully autonomous driving eventually, but providing value in the meantime.

For more detailed prognostication and forecasting, global industry-wide surveys and studies like the Autonomous Truck Market Report can give some valuable insight into the state of the market and the technology poised to enter it.

One thing is certain: demand for full self-driving fleets is here and will only grow as the driver shortage grows more and more stark. Technology and development are racing to meet that coming need, but it’s not going to make it next year; there’s simply no way that the combination of regulations, technologies, development, and trust will combine in that time. Make no mistake, though; we’re looking at time measured in years, not decades, before these technologies hit the road.

For now? Fleet managers have more pressing concerns to think about. Improving fleet telematics, making use of 5G service, hardening systems to cybersecurity threats, and using big data analysis to promote predictive and preventative maintenance are the concerns that should drive you in 2024.

Epika Fleet Services

Fortunately, we’re here to help. At Epika, our nationwide network of service providers is available to provide any service you could need, from installing driver assist and telematics systems to performing preventative maintenance and, of course, repairs to your fleet vehicles. Just click that link to find nearby service providers and get started with proactive efforts today.

5 Effective Strategies for Fleet Accident Management

An immense amount of responsibility is placed on the shoulders of millions of people every single day. That responsibility begins when they enter their vehicles and begin their journeys, whether they’re heading up the street to the grocery store, on the highway across the city for work, or across state lines on longer road trips.

The reality of infrastructure is that a huge array of different people share the roads at any given time. A single stretch of highway might have veteran commercial vehicle drivers, experienced adult drivers, tired or distracted drivers, teenage drivers still learning, and everything in between. Everyone has to follow the rules of the road, share the roadways with one another, and respect the fact that every single one of them is operating a machine with the power to end lives in the blink of an eye.

There are over two million auto collisions in a year, according to the CDC. Of those, there are only around 43,000 fatalities each year, which is a testament to two things: the fact that most collisions take place at slow speeds (fender-benders in parking lots, for example) and that vehicle safety is such that even shockingly dangerous high-speed crashes can still protect the people inside the vehicles.

Of those two million collisions, around half a million involve commercial vehicles. While the majority of these result in no injuries, the repercussions they do have on scheduling, fleet finances, insurance premiums, and more are all significant.

As a fleet manager, you’re constantly juggling different aspects of managing a commercial fleet. You have to get loads to their destinations on time, you have to manage budgets and keep your trucks in tip-top shape, you need to review your drivers for adherence to the rules, and you need to keep safety in mind at all times. It’s a lot to remember, review, and enforce.

Good policies and plans in place can help make your job a whole lot easier, so we’ve put together five strategies you can use.

1: Review and Maintain Zero Tolerance for Safety Violations

Some problems on the road are created by other road users. Your drivers might be following all the rules, but a careless, drunk, or angry driver can trigger a crash unexpectedly, leaving no time for your driver to react.

Sadly, we can’t say commercial fleet drivers are entirely innocent. Even though being governed by federal rules, close to 7% of commercial truck crashes involve drivers with unsafe alcohol levels in their system. Other kinds of substance abuse could be to blame, as could distractions from using a mobile phone while behind the wheel. Also, another 7% of hefty truck mishaps are due to drivers ignoring speed limits set by the company and federal laws.

Safety should always come first.

A Fleet Vehicle

One of the top strategies to dodge accidents involving your fleet is to set firm policies on safety violations. List out what counts as a safety violation as per federal laws, local guidelines, and any extra rules you want to apply at the company level. Make sure every driver understands them well.

Adapt a no-nonsense approach. A driver who breaks the rules once might have simply slipped up, but when that single slip-up can cost the company a huge amount of money, not to mention risks to human life, it’s not something you can shrug off.

Do note that a no-nonsense approach does not mean a driver is instantly shown the door after any incident. I’ve already established that a driver could be doing everything right while a collision occurs due to no fault of their own. These drivers shouldn’t be punished. The rules are about not breaking safety guidelines and not being part of incidents.

It’s worth looking into telematics technology to assist with some of this. While it is hard to catch a driver if they’re using a mobile phone while driving, you can keep track of vehicle actions like sudden lane changes, excessive speeds, and other behaviors that hint at rule-breaking.

These measures, coupled with regular drug tests, can help decrease the risk of an incident caused by your drivers.

2: Schedule and Prepare for Weather Conditions

While 14% of large truck accidents occur because of driver safety violations, another 13% happen due to adverse weather conditions. Heavy rain and slick roads, snow and ice on the roads, high winds, snow and ice on the vehicle disrupting operation; these sorts of issues crop up inevitably during year-round logistics and commercial fleet operation, so you need to be prepared to help your drivers handle them.

You can do this in several ways.

First, make sure your drivers are trained and confident in operating their vehicles in adverse weather conditions. Even something as simple as rain can reduce traction and visibility and make a large truck take much more space to stop than on clear, dry roads. Knowing how to behave in adverse weather is important.

Prepared Fleet Vehicles

Secondly, make sure your vehicles are equipped with any gear they may need for the weather conditions. As part of routine maintenance, for example, checking windshield wipers and defoggers/defrosters for operation and efficacy is hugely important. Visibility is the single most important concern for a commercial driver, so ensuring the windshield can be free and clear while in operation is required. Other forms of proactive maintenance, like ensuring proper tire inflation, can be important as well.

Third, be proactive with awareness and scheduling. You know where your drivers are going and what routes they’re taking, and you can correlate that information with weather reports. You should be able to predict if it’s going to be raining or snowing where a driver will be. Let those drivers know the conditions they should expect.

Along those same lines, leave time in your schedule to account for weather conditions. In rain, snow, and other weather, slower driving is generally safer driving. If it means a load arrives at its destination (or leaves its origin) at a different, later, or earlier time than normal, so be it; it’s better to schedule a load to arrive late than to rush a driver into making bad decisions in bad weather to make a delivery on time.

3: Develop an Incident Reporting and Claims Process

No matter how safe your drivers are, how well-maintained your vehicles are, and how well you handle road conditions, accidents still happen. You can’t always trust other drivers on the road, and there’s always the chance for the completely unexpected; there’s no way to forecast or predict a tie strap breaking and a couch falling into the road, debris popping a tire, or another driver behaving recklessly.

Fleet Vehicle Incident Reporting

When an incident happens, you need a procedure for handling it.

  • Train your drivers on how to handle an incident if one occurs.
  • Use fleet management software that includes incident reporting that can be initiated from a mobile device on scene.
  • Understand your fleet insurance claims system and how to file claims, what information you need to have in a claim, and other critical documentation.
  • Know how to notify police as necessary and work with them for incident reports.
  • Know who to work with to get your vehicles towed if necessary and where they can be taken to be repaired.

The specific process will vary, so giving an easy template is difficult. However, many fleet management apps have incident reporting systems as either built-in components or optional modules, so it can be a good idea to investigate what’s available to you and how to use it.

Your process likely won’t be perfect. Incidents vary, and you and your driver will need to adapt to the circumstances. Still, having a starting point is better than having no idea where to begin.

4: Build a Plan to Recover from a Collision

When an incident happens, dealing with it comes in three stages. The first stage is the immediate aftermath: moving the vehicle out of the roadway if necessary, calling the police, checking for safety and injuries, and so on. The second is documenting and filing incident reports and other short-term claims, having the vehicle towed or moved to a facility, and doing whatever cleanup of the scene is necessary.

The third phase is recovering from the incident. How do you get your vehicle repaired? How do you continue the delivery of the load, assuming it wasn’t damaged or lost in the incident? Is your contract at risk, and if so, how do you repair the relationship?

While you can’t exactly plan for the social aspects of a lost load or contract, you can certainly put steps in place for repairing your trucks. For example, you can work with us, and our nationwide network of service providers can handle everything from a tire blowout to much more significant damage.

Building a Plan

One tip is to make sure you’re ready to authorize repairs on a fleet vehicle within 48 hours of an incident. The sooner you can get the vehicle repaired and back in service, the smaller the disruption to your operations.

Another consideration is your drivers. A minor collision, like someone making a turn and getting their bumper crunched or going under a bridge a little too low and scraping the top of the truck; these are not as big of a concern. Other incidents, though – from road rage to the rare but possible fatality, might have a stronger adverse effect on your driver. You may wish to make counseling available for drivers who end up in incidents of a certain severity and perhaps even make it mandatory in cases where a life is lost. The last thing you need is for a driver to develop – and leave unaddressed – PTSD from a bad incident.

Similarly, in the immediate aftermath of an incident, it can be worthwhile to make sure your driver reports to a physician to be checked out and make sure there are no injuries. Large commercial trucks, when involved in collisions, are rarely the ones injured, but in cases where a higher-speed impact or a vehicle flip occurs, it can be a concern. Play it safe and keep the health of your drivers in mind, mental and physical.

5: Ensure Proper Maintenance and Condition of Fleet Vehicles

One of the biggest things you can do to help ensure proper, safe, and effective operations no matter where you are is to focus on proactive maintenance.

Many incidents are caused not by driver error but by a failure of a vehicle. A tire blows out, a transmission breaks, lights go out because of a fault in the electrical system, and adverse weather is made more dangerous because of poorly maintained front windows; these are all too common on commercial vehicles despite the requirement for regular inspections.

One of the best things you can do as a fleet manager is make sure you’re invested in a process of proactive and preventative maintenance. It’s not just about regular oil changes and fixing issues as they arise on a truck; it’s about deeper, more detailed inspections on a regular basis that can identify issues before they can become problems.

Proper Maintenance of Fleet Vehicles

Many fleets aren’t initially focused on proactive maintenance. That’s fine; it’s always possible to make the shift. In fact, it’s not even that difficult; it just takes a different way of thinking, a different set of data to track via your vehicle telemetry, and a set of service providers who can routinely work with your fleet for those maintenance needs. That’s where we come in; all you need to do is click here to find service providers near your area of operations and get started.

As a fleet manager, the best thing you can do is plan for the worst while doing everything in your power to prevent it from happening.

Have you had to develop an incident response and accident handling process? Do you use fleet management software for reporting, or have you developed your own? Tell us about it, and while you’re at it, make sure to reach out and look into our network of service providers to see what we can do for you.

Passive vs Active GPS: What’s The Difference for Fleet Vehicles?

Whether you have a couple of vehicles you use for local services or a fleet of hundreds across the nation, managing a fleet is a huge challenge. Foremost among those challenges is one of the most obvious: knowing where your vehicles are.

Think about it: knowing where your vehicles are is critical to every other aspect of your business. Are your drivers moving on time and on schedule? Are there unexpected delays? Is a vehicle you expected to be on route suddenly stopped? Is a vehicle undergoing maintenance or returning to the yard? Are vehicles moving when they shouldn’t be?

In the old days, knowing where a vehicle was involved two things: data points from check-ins with drivers and predictive tracking. You would ask where a driver was, knowing their route and the speeds along the way, and you could make predictions about where they would be in an hour, in two, and so on.

Of course, variance in traffic, unexpected delays, and other issues meant that these predictions would decay rapidly. Unless a driver was proactive in reporting, too, you would never know until you check back in.

Fortunately, modern technology has made all of this a concern for the past. With GPS tracking, you can have a complete picture of where every vehicle in your fleet is at any given time from a central software dashboard. Every vehicle can have a status: on duty, off duty, out of service, on maintenance, etc. Anything unexpected can be flagged, and issues can be investigated, all quickly and easily.

GPS tracking is a fantastic tool, but it’s not simple. There are multiple different kinds of GPS tracking for fleet vehicles, and knowing their pros and cons can help you decide which you need for your fleet. So, let’s dig in and learn more about it.

How GPS Tracking Works

GPS is the Global Positioning System, and it’s a modern marvel of technology. It’s a world-spanning network of satellites in space using radio signals and triangulation to pinpoint the location of GPS-equipped devices virtually anywhere in the world. The carefully maintained GPS network feeds control centers precise information about time, the exact specific location of the satellites, and even the speed of the radio signals, all to enable mathematical determinations of ground- and air-based positioning. GPS can track everything from the cell phone in your pocket to the units installed on your fleet vehicles.

For a fleet manager, GPS tracking is pretty simple. You don’t need to know any of that math or any complex calculations. All you do is buy GPS tracking devices and install them on your vehicles. From there, you connect them to the software you use to manage your fleet.

A Fleet Manager Using GPS Tracking

If your platform doesn’t support GPS, you get a new platform; if it supports GPS but not those devices, you get a new platform, or you return and get the right devices. The connection between the GPS tracking devices, the satellite network, and the software on your devices handles just about everything else automatically.

What Can You Do with GPS Tracking?

For fleets, the benefits of GPS are incredible.

By knowing where your vehicles and drivers are, you can assign the best vehicle to any given task or route.

Coupled with real-time traffic information, GPS allows you to dynamically re-route vehicles away from congestion, accidents, construction, and other slowdowns.

Coupled with other information like fuel consumption and fill-ups, average speeds, and weather conditions, software and machine learning can identify when a vehicle may need maintenance even before its onboard systems do.

Many fleet insurance providers offer discounts on premiums that cover vehicles equipped with GPS tracking devices; some report savings of as much as 35% off premiums.

What Can You Do With GPS Tracking

You can detect unauthorized operations, whether it’s a driver who keeps going after their shift has ended or a vehicle being stolen out of a yard and driven off; it even helps with asset recovery!

Geofencing technology can alert you if a vehicle leaves the designated operating zone, which can indicate all manner of problems that need your attention, from route changes to unexpected problems to theft.

Start and stop times verified by GPS can validate (or identify problems with) the timekeeping provided by the onboard Electronic Logging Device.

With these benefits, GPS tracking is an excellent feature to have with any fleet management system.

That said, some of these benefits may not be available to all GPS tracking systems. The reason is that there are actually two kinds of GPS trackers: passive and active. The differences between them affect the features they can provide. So, what are the differences?

What is Passive GPS?

Passive GPS trackers are simple devices that can best be described as “a receiver, not a transmitter.” They receive and track information about the truck’s location from the GPS network, and they do so automatically as long as they have power and the right configuration. This may mean they put a small draw on the truck’s battery at all times or, more commonly, switch off when the truck is powered down.

Passive GPS is more like a historical record than an active tracker. When the truck returns to base (or, with more modern models, when it syncs with the driver’s tablet), the GPS tracking history is synced and downloaded to your fleet management system. This might be a daily or weekly occurrence, but the key is this: it’s not real-time.

You may have noticed how many of the benefits above rely on real-time knowledge of where your fleet vehicles are. Those benefits are not available for passive GPS tracking because passive tracking does not provide real-time information about the vehicles equipped with the devices.

What is Passive GPS

So, if a lot of the benefits of GPS tracking don’t apply to passive trackers, why are they available? They have a few benefits.

  • They’re cheaper than active trackers. This is both in terms of the cost to purchase the units and also in terms of the overhead necessary to configure them, sync them to your system, and keep them updated. They also don’t draw as much energy as active trackers and so put less strain on the vehicle’s electrical system.
  • They usually still qualify for insurance premium reductions as GPS tracking, despite not providing the same array of benefits that would be useful to the insurance company. That said, this isn’t always the case; the reduction in premiums may be smaller, or the insurance company may specify active tracking. Be sure to check with your insurance provider before investing in your GPS devices first.
  • Since passive GPS trackers don’t send signals out to the GPS network, they are lighter weight and have fewer points of potential failure.

There are some drawbacks, too, of course. The biggest is that the lack of active tracking means you can’t utilize that information dynamically and in real-time. They are also reliant on access to cell towers and other available GPS signals, so in remote areas, they can lose signal.

What is Active GPS?

If passive GPS is a receiver, active GPS is both a receiver and transmitter. It doesn’t just receive signals from the GPS network to detect where it is; it also broadcasts the responses back to the global information network, where your fleet management platform receives it and maintains a real-time depiction of where your vehicles are at any given time.

These devices often use a combination of GPS radio signals and cell signals to transmit this information. Many of the oldest GPS units still use 2G/3G, but modern versions are equipped with 5G signal for as robust and fast connections as possible.

What is Active GPS

The benefits over passive GPS are pretty clear.

  • Since you always know where the tracker is, you can use that real-time location information for a variety of useful benefits, including those listed above.
  • Fast and reliable data allows real-time checking. It also reduces the need for onboard storage since the data can be synced to the cloud.
  • Additional telematics data, ranging from engine temperature to computer status codes to driver shift status, can all be transmitted alongside the GPS location.
  • As full trackers, you can take advantage of the deepest possible premium discounts that your fleet insurance carrier offers.

That said, there are downsides to active trackers that make some fleet managers opt for the passive option.

First and foremost is the expense. Active GPS trackers are more complicated machines, and that means they are more expensive to purchase. That doesn’t tell the full story, though; unlike passive GPS trackers, active trackers need access to cellular networks, which means they usually require a monthly subscription fee. Depending on the number of vehicles you need to track, this expense can add up quickly.

Active trackers are also more power- and signal-hungry. They can, in extreme circumstances, drain a truck’s battery. They also require a stronger and more consistent signal to transmit accurately, and while most have graceful fail-overs and retry signals for when they lose connection, the cheapest models might not be very good at it.

What About Hybrid GPS?

Hybrid GPS tracking is another option. While it might not seem like there’s room between “does have” and “doesn’t have” a transmitter, there’s a third option.

Hybrid trackers are essentially passive GPS trackers 90% of the time. However, they do have transmitters in them, usually ones that work at low frequencies and only in certain situations. They are programmed to monitor their conditions, and if they exceed certain limitations, they switch to active mode to broadcast their location.

Hybrid GPS

Why is this useful?

  • By establishing a geofenced area, the tracker can operate passively during normal operation, but if the vehicle leaves that boundary, the tracker switches to active and broadcasts.
  • The tracker can be sent an activation signal. If a vehicle is reported missing or stolen, you can broadcast that signal, and the tracker will respond with its location, switching to active mode until you turn it off or it runs out of juice.
  • More active-leaning hybrid trackers can be set to work actively when they have strong, fast connections to the cell network, but instead of struggling with bad connections, switch to passive until a good connection is restored. This can, in some cases, also avoid the monthly fee for access to the cell network.

Hybrid trackers are often preferred over purely passive trackers. They’re mid-way in terms of expense as well and can qualify for insurance discounts where purely passive trackers don’t.

Are There Laws Regarding GPS Tracking?

Yes and no.

Currently, there are no mandates that require or prohibit tracking. Federal law doesn’t address the issue at all.

State laws, meanwhile, vary. Some places require that you get consent before tracking, like California. Of course, you can simply make that consent part of your employee requirements, but it’s part of an awareness measure. Similarly, Connecticut requires that you inform your drivers that you track the vehicle. If you’re a global company operating in Europe, your tracking needs to comply with GDPR as well.

Laws Regarding GPS Tracking

The issue gets trickier if you’re trying to track employee vehicles on company time. You can still do this, but you need much more explicit consent.

Tracking fleet vehicles is hugely beneficial to companies, but it does require some awareness of the privacy issues involved. This is why a lot of fleet tracking systems, including GPS trackers and ELDs, usually have an option to toggle tracking off when the driver is off-duty. This way, you ensure that you’re tracking the truck, not the person.

Is GPS Tracking a Good Idea for Your Fleet?

Almost definitely, yes. Fleet tracking provides so many benefits to a modern company that there are very, very few valid reasons not to use it. The insurance premium reduction alone will usually pay for the system in short order; optimizations in routing and tracking are the icing on the cake.

A Fleet Vehicle

The only question is, what tracking system should you use? For that, there’s no easy answer. Some fleets benefit from passive tracking; others can only get where they are with active tracking. Whatever the case, though, one thing is sure: with Epika, we can help you out.

Whether it’s installing and configuring GPS, providing proactive maintenance when the systems alert you to the need, or just helping keep your business moving, we’re here for you. Just click here to find a service provider and get started.

Maximizing Fleet Efficiency with Telematics Technology

Telematics technology provides your company with one thing that can make all the difference in the world. It can be the difference between a profitable company and a floundering, failing business. It can make or break careers. What is it? Information.

Telematics technology is a powerful way to monitor, predict, guide, and optimize the performance of your fleet, whether you’re dealing with two or three vehicles or a fleet of hundreds. What is it specifically, though? How can you make use of it to improve the efficiency and performance of your fleet? Let’s talk about it.

What is Telematics?

Telematics is a word for an all-encompassing set of technologies that can provide you with accurate, useful, real-time information to help you make decisions. It’s a portmanteau, a word made up of two words mashed together: telemetry and informatics.

  • Telemetry: The in situ collection of measurements or other data at remote points and their transmission to receiving equipment for monitoring.
  • Informatics: The study, transformation, and use of information.

In other words, telematics is the gathering of specific information about your vehicles and the use of that information to guide the performance of those vehicles.

What is Telematics

Modern fleet telematics devices use a combination of GPS location tracking, vehicle condition and diagnostic information, vehicle location and movement, and driver behavior to provide a robust, ongoing report on the state of a given vehicle in your fleet. That information, in aggregate, can allow a centralized platform (your fleet management software) to give you overall reports on your fleet. It can also be used at the vehicle or driver level to diagnose issues, schedule proactive maintenance, and optimize the efficiency, productivity, and performance of those vehicles and drivers.

What Information Does Telematics Gather?

Telematics technology works by installing a small device into a vehicle and linking it up to your fleet management platform. This device generally combines the features of a vehicle monitor, an ELD (electronic logging device), and a GPS tracker. Typically, the driver will also have access to some of the information provided by the telematics device and can add context, submit their own reports, issue corrections, and generally engage with the system. The sum reports are sent back to your home base, where they’re trackable individually and in aggregate across your fleet.

Installing Telematics Technology

What information, specifically, is a telematics device likely to be tracking?

  • GPS information. This includes precise location but also travel direction, speed, and route. Depending on the kind of GPS tracking, this may be real-time or on a delay. Geofencing can also specify a route and a buffer zone around that route and can flag any time a vehicle leaves this operating theater.
  • Driver behavior. While you can’t necessarily track things like whether or not the driver responds to children asking for a honk, you can track things like rapid acceleration, deceleration, speed, hours of operation, and other behaviors that promote safe driving.
  • Fuel monitoring. Tracking fuel usage and levels can identify problems with excess idling, excessive fuel consumption, and potential fuel leaks. By syncing it up with fuel payments, you can also monitor for fuel theft.
  • Odometer tracking and mileage reporting. Keeping accurate mileage reports can help with scheduling proactive maintenance and other tasks for your vehicles.
  • Vehicle condition and computer reports. Commercial vehicle computers track a variety of information about the condition of the vehicle, ranging from tire pressure to engine temperature to fluid levels, all of which can be used to proactively maintain a vehicle or diagnose potential issues before they become active problems.
  • Specific trouble codes and malfunction indicator lights. While many of the telemetry data points aren’t necessarily reflected on the onboard computer and dashboard indicators for the driver, if any of those indicators are triggered, this, too, is reported.

Some of this information must be specifically configured to be tracked; others are tracked automatically. It also all depends on the specific devices you’re using. Some track more information, and some track less. Some also link up with additional technologies, like dashboard cameras, which can be automatically enabled to record incidents ranging from excessive braking to collisions to off-route driving.

All of this information is tracked at the individual vehicle level. However, when every vehicle in your fleet is being tracked the same way, you can develop aggregated reports about the condition of your vehicles and the state of your drivers. This allows you to do things like optimize route planning and assign the closest vehicles to the closest tasks.

What Are the Benefits of Telematics Technology for Fleet Managers?

It’s one thing to know, in the abstract, what information you’re gathering. It’s another to know what that information means and how to use it. So, what are the benefits of gathering all of the above information, reading reports on vehicles and drivers, and knowing the overall state of your fleet?

Reduced fuel costs. Many different elements of a driver’s daily life can use excess fuel, and telematics information can help cut back on that excess fuel usage. For example:

  • Telematics can find more efficient routes that burn less fuel to reach a destination.
  • Telematics can identify cases of excess engine idling, identify the causes, and help you avoid them.
  • Telematics can identify potential problems or inefficiencies with the vehicles to help you schedule more proactive maintenance and boost fuel efficiency.
  • Telematics can flag unauthorized equipment usage.

Since fuel costs are one of the largest expenses associated with operating a fleet, even a small percentage cut in fuel usage can work out to significant savings across the company.

More proactive and preventative maintenance. Trucks wear down over time; it’s just a fact of life. Generally, problems can be noticed before instruments or the onboard computer recognize that there’s a problem by using telematics data to monitor trends in performance. Further, if there’s an issue with a vehicle that a driver solves but doesn’t report, the telematics can still report it. These minor flags and issues can all add up to a need for maintenance and a warning: something might break soon. By scheduling the vehicle for maintenance before something breaks and leaves a driver and load stranded on the highway, you save time, money, and effort.

Simplified communication and record-keeping. A huge part of the job of a fleet manager is the paperwork associated with tracking everything from load weights to driver certifications to vehicle status. With telematics, all of this can be remotely tracked and assembled into useful reports. Moreover, if any of it needs to be checked and verified by police, DOT officers, or other authorities, the reports are readily available and verifiable.

Benefits of Telematics Technology

Improved safety. Safety comes up in many different forms, and telematics technology can address most of them.

  • If a vehicle is being used outside of operating hours or by unauthorized individuals, it can be flagged.
  • If a driver is operating beyond their legal limits, they can be flagged.
  • If a vehicle is stolen, its location can be tracked for asset recovery.
  • If a vehicle goes off-route, it can be flagged, and an explanation can be required.

This increases the overall safety of your fleet by improving both vehicle and driver accountability. It also can save your fleet money; many commercial vehicle insurance providers will offer discounts for vehicles equipped with GPS tracking and telematics technology.

Predictive analytics. By seeing your fleet in aggregate, you can estimate upcoming fuel expenditures, predict dates for maintenance scheduling, and even get some idea of what kinds of parts or maintenance need to be replaced so you can make sure your fleet maintenance teams have those items on hand. This can reduce downtime and speed up maintenance significantly.

Additionally, this all helps to lower the administrative overhead a fleet manager is responsible for. It decreases the amount of paperwork and manual data entry (and thus human error) while maintaining logs automatically. Information and reports are available at your fingertips, not through manual digging through data.

From improving routing to preventing catastrophe, the information provided by a telematics device in a given vehicle can fuel an immense amount of savings in both time and money. And, with a bird’s-eye view of your entire fleet, you can make optimal decisions based on real-time location and operations data you wouldn’t otherwise be able to use.

Are There Downsides to Telematics Technology?

No technology is without problems, and telematics is no different. There are three major categories of issues that can come up with telematics technology.

The first is the expense for fleets. Telematics devices can be relatively inexpensive, with some coming in under $100. Others may be significantly more expensive, with the higher quality, more capable devices clocking in at higher rates. Active tracking also generally requires a connection to GPS and cell service, which typically requires a monthly fee. The software to set it all up, the tablets to monitor it in the vehicles, and the receivers can all be additional costs as well.

That said, you save a lot of money by implementing telematics and making use of the technology. Additional fuel efficiency, additional productivity, preventative maintenance that can delay or avoid major issues and downtime, and even insurance premium reductions can all come from using telematics technology. You can also avoid fines and penalties by flagging behavior before it’s discovered by police, the DOT, or through an accident. In other words, these systems rapidly pay for themselves once you’re past the hump of the initial expense.

The second is the maintenance burden for the technology. Telematics devices are computers, and they often have arcane software that has been built up over the years, frequently lacking in modern design sensibilities. Some may make it hard to diagnose and troubleshoot bugs. Some have issues with software and firmware updates. Some are simply low quality and lose tracking or connection frequently. Devices can overheat or be subject to damage from vibration. It can take a lot of time and research to identify high-quality telematics systems and separate them from the chaff of cheap devices.

Installing, configuring, syncing, testing, and maintaining telematics devices is a burden above and beyond what you would have if you simply used the bare minimum passive GPS trackers and ELDs necessary to satisfy DOT regulations. But, again, the benefits typically outweigh this additional burden.

Downsides to Telematics Technology

The third is the potential for privacy concerns. With always-on GPS tracking embedded in a vehicle, drivers may be concerned about it tracking various personal information about them, including locations of things like their kids’ schools, their homes, or their common habits.

Many modern telematics devices solve this by allowing a driver to toggle an “off-duty” mode that either disables GPS tracking or, more commonly, simply broadens the area of tracking to be significantly less specific.

Additionally, consent is frequently required to implement this kind of tracking. Drivers are informed that their locations are tracked, and it’s often made a condition of employment.

Truthfully, while there’s some validity to privacy concerns, most possible scenarios where the information is abused are hypothetical; meanwhile, several lawsuits have been litigated and have upheld the legality of GPS tracking for fleet vehicles. It would be a different story if you were tracking drivers’ personal vehicles, but there’s no reason to do so.

Implementing Telematics Technology for Your Fleet

If you’re looking to implement telematics technology for your fleet vehicles, you need one thing above all else: trained and experienced technicians who are familiar with the installation and configuration of these systems.

This is one way we at Epika Fleet can help you improve your fleet management. Our nationwide network of service providers includes many such technicians, familiar with a wide range of different brands and options for telematics tracking.

Epika Fleet Services

Moreover, once you’re linked up to our network of service providers, you can also use those same technicians for preventative maintenance, proactive monitoring, scheduled service, and unscheduled service. Whether you need a truck towed from the side of the road or a routine oil change, there’s nearly guaranteed to be a service provider near you who can help. All you need to do is find a service provider today.

FAQ: Can You Change a CDL from Intrastate to Interstate?

Any company with a fleet of trucks needs drivers with CDLs, or Commercial Driver’s Licenses, to operate those vehicles. However, there is more than one kind of CDL, which means your drivers need to have the right kind of license for the vehicle they operate and for the kind of travel they do.

One of the most important elements of a CDL is whether it’s an intrastate license or an interstate license. What are these, what’s the difference, and can you change from one to the other? Read our FAQ to find out more.

Who Issues a CDL?

One of the first and most important things to know about interstate and intrastate trucking is that there are different authorities in play.

A Truck Fleet

First of all, you have the FMCSA. The FMCSA is the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, and it’s the federal government’s regulating body that sets rules and standards for the operation and safety of commercial motor vehicles across the country. They set rules, and they govern registrations and regulations, but critically, they do not issue CDLs. They are, essentially, a governing body that sets the bare minimum rules to ensure that all states have at least a certain level of safety; many states add their own more stringent rules on top.

Actual CDLs are instead issued by the state’s Secretary of State and Department of Motor Vehicles. Both interstate and intrastate CDLs are issued in the same way through roughly the same process. While the requirements are largely the same between different states and types of licenses, there may be additional rules depending on the state.

What is an Intrastate CDL?

A commercial driver’s license (CDL) for in-state use only allows a driver to use a commercial vehicle in their home state. It’s perfect for all sorts of driver tasks, from local deliveries within the city to long statewide trips.

But hold on, the type of CDL you have—be it Class A, B, or C—is important too:

CDL Class Criteria
Class A
  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms (26,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater.
  • Inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds), whichever is greater.
Class B
  • Any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 kilograms (26,001 pounds) or more.
  • Or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not exceeding a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds).
Class C
  • Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B.
  • Designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver.
  • Transporting material designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR Part 172.
  • Transporting any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73.

Let me tell you how it works: the in-state restriction (often referred to as intrastate) sets the boundaries for where you can drive, while the CDL class gives you the green light on the types of vehicles you can drive. If you want to drive enormous vehicles like tractor-trailers or vehicles that weigh a hefty 26,001 pounds or more, then you’re going to need a Class A CDL. And that’s only if your trailer weighs over 10,000 pounds.

On the flip side, Class B and Class C CDL each have their own places—they let you drive different types and sizes of vehicles to meet certain transport needs within the state. So, if you’re interested in driving smaller vehicles or vehicles with special features, these CDLs are what you need. All in all, it’s about getting the right CDL for the right job within your state.

“How does one distinguish between intra- and interstate commerce for the purposes of applicability of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs)?

FMCSR Guidance: Interstate commerce is determined by the essential character of the movement, manifested by the shipper’s fixed and persistent intent at the time of shipment, and is ascertained from all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the transportation. When the intent of the transportation being performed is interstate in nature, even when the route is within the boundaries of a single State, the driver and Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

Note: A trucking company hauls freight from California to Idaho. Another shipping company delivers the commodity to its final destination. Although the second company travels entirely in-state, the original intent of the shipment is interstate and covered by DOT. However, if the first company delivers to a warehouse in Idaho, delivery trucks taking the commodity to customers are not considered involved in interstate commerce if the original manifest did not indicate the shipments were intended for these customers.” – OSHA.

A handful of examples can help illustrate this.

Various Fleet Trucks

First, imagine you have a load that begins in New York. This load travels by rail to Illinois, where a CDL driver picks it up and delivers it to a location in Chicago. This driver, though they never leave Illinois, must have an interstate CDL rather than an intrastate CDL because the intent of the load as a whole is interstate.

Second, imagine you have a load that starts in Baton Rouge, LA and is bound for Ferriday, LA. The fastest and most efficient route for this load is north through Route 61; however, this route takes the truck out of Louisiana and into Mississippi for part of the journey. Even though the load is bound to a destination in the same state as the origin, it travels out of the bounds of the state, so the driver must have an interstate CDL.

A third example is a standard postal company like UPS. Loads carried from a shipping hub to a warehouse in another state need to be carried by a driver with an interstate CDL; however, the drivers who deliver loads locally from the warehouse to the surrounding area do not need an interstate CDL, because the individual deliveries are considered different loads.

These examples are just scratching the surface of the difference between interstate and intrastate CDLs; they go to show you how varied and nuanced the regulations can be.

What is an Interstate CDL?

A driver can utilize an interstate CDL to transport loads across different states and even beyond national borders. It’s particularly important for people engaged in long paths spanning many regions or countries.

Similar to state-specific CDLs, a driver’s capacity to handle certain types of vehicles during business activities shifts based on the CDL class (A, B, or C). The needed CDL class is determined by the type of ride they’re handling, be it a heavy tractor-trailer or a bus filled with people. While operating in various states with interstate CDLs, the drivers are required to meet slightly tougher conditions; these arise due to a larger working area and the need to abide by different state and national rules.

Interstate commerce encompasses long-distance transports and certain accords, allowing some CDL holders to haul loads into Canada and Mexico. The focus isn’t solely on the driver crossing state borders but also on where the cargo originates and where it’s off to. Therefore, it caters to the broader range of commerce taking place between states.

Interstate CDL

One special note is that interstate CDLs are not just inter-state; they can even be cross-country. Both Mexico and Canada have reciprocity agreements to allow certain drivers with CDLs to transport loads across borders, in addition to across state lines.

“The only foreign commercial driver licenses (CDLs) that are accepted in the United States are from the federal government of Mexico and provinces and territories in Canada. The United States has CDL reciprocity agreements with only these two North American countries. In rare instances, FMCSA may issue temporary waivers (up to 90 days) or exemptions (up to two years) to allow drivers licensed in other countries to operate in the United States. These drivers are required to carry the waiver or exemption document with them.” – FMCSA.

In general, the requirements for an interstate CDL are slightly higher than those of an intrastate CDL, but the difference is relatively minimal in most cases. In fact, for many drivers, the switch is as simple as filling out a form.

Are There Specific Insurance Requirements for Different CDLs?

Yes. Typically, intrastate requires a certain level of insurance coverage, and interstate requires a higher level of coverage. Additionally, certain kinds of loads, like oil, hazardous materials, or very heavy loads, will have specific, higher insurance coverage requirements. However, all of this also varies from state to state.

Specific Insurance Requirements

The FMCSA sets minimum requirements, but many states add additional requirements on top.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires carriers hauling freight across state lines to meet minimum coverage limits for public liability insurance. Coverage minimums will vary depending on the type of freight you move and the vehicle weight.

  • Non-hazardous transported in a vehicle weighing less than 10,001 pounds: $300,000
  • Non-hazardous transported in a vehicle weighing more than 10,001 pounds: $750,000
  • Hazardous material moved by private carriers and for-hire: $5 million
  • Oil carried by private carrier and for-hire: $1 million

These are minimums. Many shippers and brokers will require you to have at least $1 million worth of coverage, even for non-hazardous freight.” – Truck Stop.

Navigating insurance requirements is often the task of the fleet manager or the shipping company rather than the driver, however, while the drivers themselves are responsible for their own CDL status.

Can You Change from Intrastate to Interstate?

Yes. The specific process will also vary from state to state, but in general, it’s very simple. Typically, in order to get an interstate CDL, you must have a valid intrastate CDL, a valid medical examiner’s certificate, and must be at least 21 years old. You’ll also need a valid birth certificate and/or passport. However, some states will have these on file from your intrastate license application.

Changing From Intrastate to Interstate

For many drivers, the process for switching from an intrastate CDL to an interstate CDL is as simple as going to their state’s DMV website, finding the relevant form, and filling it out. They will need to submit their medical examination results and wait for it to be processed, which can be anywhere from nearly instant to a week or two of waiting. After that, as long as they meet the qualifications, an interstate CDL will be issued.

What is the Medical Examiner’s Certificate?

Because of the inherent risk and danger of operating a massive multi-ton commercial vehicle, drivers are held to higher standards for health and physical ability. They must obtain a certificate that qualifies them for trucking issued by a certified medical examiner.

A Commercial Vehicle Operator

According to the FMCSA:

“All commercial drivers of vehicles in interstate commerce with a maximum gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) are required to obtain and maintain a valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate (ME Certificate). Commercial drivers who drive vehicles requiring a CDL have two additional requirements. On or before January 30, 2014, all CDL holders must declare to their State Driver Licensing Agency (SDLA) that they only operate or expect to operate commercially in 1 of 4 possible categories with their CDL. This process is called self-certification.” – FMCSA.

Contrary to the way it sounds, this does not exclude drivers with certain impairments, such as missing limbs. Drivers can obtain what is known as a Skill Performance Evaluation to prove that they are still capable of operating a vehicle at full capacity and safety; once issued, the driver can remain certified to drive.

“Drivers with physical impairments, which affect their ability to safely operate CMVs, must obtain a “variance” from their State in order to be approved to drive commercially. The variance document must be carried with the commercial driver whenever they are operating a commercial motor vehicle. A Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) is a special type of “variance” required for drivers with impaired or missing limbs (e.g., a hand or finger, an arm, foot, or leg). Drivers with missing limbs, if eligible, must obtain an SPE certificate. The commercial driver must always carry the SPE certificate at all times.” – FMCSA.

Do Specific States Have Different Rules?

Yes. There are both some state-level and some federal-level rules that will apply to interstate license-holders that don’t to intrastate holders.

For example, New York has the HUT permit, Kentucky requires a KYU number, New Mexico has a Weight Distance Permit, and Oregon requires a $2,000 bond for interstate trucks.

Specific State Rules

At the company level, you will likely need to register under the International Fuel Tax Agreement, get a Unified Carrier Registration number and a US DOT number, and may need to get specific plates for trucks operating interstate.

Can a Driver Have Multiple CDLs?

A common question is whether or not these CDLs are mutually exclusive.

  • Does a driver need both an interstate CDL and an intrastate CDL?
  • Does a driver need an interstate CDL for each state they will travel through?
  • Does a driver need a special license for commerce entering or leaving Canada or Mexico?

The answer to all of these is no. Each individual can only have one CDL; having more than one is illegal and can result in fines and even jail time for the driver in question.

A Truck Driver

An intrastate license is all that is required for local, short-distance hauling or even longer-distance hauling as long as the load originates and stays within the borders of the state. Most shipping companies that aren’t cross-country shipping companies or companies on the border of states are likely to only require intrastate licenses.

An interstate license is all that is required for just about any other hauling. There are, however, some additional requirements for special circumstances.

  • If the truck will have double or triple trailers.
  • If the truck carries a tank (the kind that holds liquids, not the military kind.)
  • If the truck carries hazardous materials.
  • If the vehicle carries passengers, like a bus.

Each of these special circumstances requires both additional training and greater requirements for a CDL that can handle it.

Need Support for Interstate Trucking?

At Epika, we maintain a vast network of service centers, fleet support locations, and other facilities to help any and all trucking companies better manage their fleets.

Epika Fleet Services

Any good fleet requires proper maintenance, and we can help you keep it up. Just click here to learn more!

Comparing Centralized and Decentralized Fleet Maintenance

Fleet maintenance is an essential part of fleet management. Keeping your commercial vehicles in good repair is required by law for passing inspections, and it’s a key part of ensuring your costs stay low, your fuel efficiency is high, and your operations are smooth. The question is, how do you perform your fleet maintenance?

Fleet maintenance falls into two types: centralized and decentralized. There are pros and cons to both methods, so let’s discuss them and which option is the better one for your situation.

A Common Growth Scenario

Let’s start off with a hypothetical. This is the story of a shipping company, from founding to crisis.

When the company is founded, it’s a small courier service within a city. The company employs a handful of drivers and a small fleet of trucks – less than half a dozen – to provide their services. Their area of operations is small, but their service is high-quality, so they quickly garnered a reputation as an excellent option for local shipping.

This company doesn’t have the budget or the space to hire mechanics and set up an in-house shop to maintain their trucks. Instead, they have a partnership with a local commercial vehicle dealer and use their facility for maintenance and repairs. It’s a simple and effective solution.

Over time, this shipping company grew, and they decided to expand. They opened a second base location the next town over to expand their courier services not just within that town but between the two. This second office carries the same branding, but the management and operations are largely independent. While both locations are held to the same general company standards, the decision on which trucks to purchase and how to manage the fleet is left to the regional manager.

Company Fleet Vehicles

Moreover, because the service center for the original fleet is an entire city over, it’s inefficient to redirect all of the trucks from the new location back to the old location’s service center. The new branch, instead, finds a local commercial vehicle service center to use and makes its own deal.

All of this is managed and approved by the top-level management of the company, but between fleet managers of each location, the differences slowly grow clear. Maybe one side’s service center is worse than the other. Maybe one manager slacks on maintenance scheduling and adopts more of a break-fix attitude. Or, maybe it all runs just fine.

Over time, as a company expands and opens up more locations, this process continues. Each new branch establishes its own relationships, its own fleets, its own record-keeping, and its own service center relationships. Some ambitious branches might even open up their own service centers to keep it all in-house.

Once the company reaches the point where they’re dealing with interstate commerce regulations and where optimizing things like fuel efficiency can be a matter of six figures of difference in expenses company-wide, looking at this mish-mash of relationships and standards becomes a very daunting prospect.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, or so the saying goes. It works… or does it?

Defining Centralized and Decentralized Fleet Maintenance

Normally, considering the terms centralization and decentralization, you might expect that it means setting up a central hub for service for your fleet. A single centralized location where regional fleet vehicles go for maintenance, where records can be kept, schedules can be managed, and more.

In reality, this isn’t quite true. While some companies set up these kinds of true-central service centers, most don’t, even when their operations are centralized.

In fleet management, centralization refers to the operations of the company, not the location of the service.

A Fleet of Trucks

A decentralized service program occurs when a company operates in regional chunks, at the neighborhood level, the city or county level, the branch level, or whatever division makes the most sense as the company grows. The example scenario above, with each location forging its own contracts and operating under the loose direction of corporate in terms of maintenance schedules and regulatory compliance, is an example of decentralized fleet maintenance.

So what, then, is centralized fleet maintenance?

Centralized fleet maintenance is bringing all of these branches into the fold, under the command of standardized contracts, pre-established relationships with other expansive service providers, and under the more direct management of experienced fleet maintenance directors.

Are There Benefits to Decentralized Fleet Maintenance?

Though we paint it in a somewhat negative light, decentralized fleet maintenance is not without its benefits.

Performing Maintenance on a Fleet Truck

First and foremost, it minimizes the management burden on a central corporate office. Corporate can set policies and leave it up to the individual branches to follow them however works best for them.

“There are a number of cogent arguments that can be made for decentralizing some, if not all, fleet functions. The single most powerful case is usually made from the standpoint of responsibility.

In many companies, responsibility for the financial results is in the field. In a company where the fleet is homogenous, oftentimes, one level or another of field management is responsible for performance, including profitability. When a manager’s performance is judged this way, it will include budgeting and cost. As such, next to personnel costs, providing and operating a fleet is the largest cost included by a field sales or service operation.

Field management, therefore, can make a case to have some level of control over how the fleet is operated, and, in particular, how their budget is impacted by that operation.” – Fleet Financials.

It also allows individual branches to pick and work with facilities that work best for them. When you standardize contracts, they often won’t apply evenly; some branches might be conveniently located almost directly next to a relevant service center, while others might find that the nearest option is half an hour’s drive away. When the option isn’t given to the local management, inefficiencies like that can build up.

Since a lot of regions have their own quirks that an upper-level management team might not recognize or be able to acknowledge, leaving fleet maintenance decisions up to the local staff might also be beneficial to the overall operations of that branch.

The Drawbacks to Decentralized Fleet Maintenance

All of the above relies on two things being true:

  • The regional management team knows what they’re doing.
  • The regional management team has the best interests of the company at heart.

Very often, one or both of these is incorrect. Sometimes, local management may have some idea of what they should be doing but don’t know how to best go about it. They haven’t hired a fleet manager, just a general manager, and since they don’t have expertise in fleet maintenance, they don’t know how to distinguish a good service provider from a mediocre or bad service provider.

Moreover, there’s a much greater risk of incidental or intentional corruption. Maybe the regional manager strikes up a deal with a local service center and pockets a kickback; maybe they’re simply inexperienced, and a sub-par service provider convinces them they’re receiving better service than they are. Whatever the case may be, there’s an immense amount of room for inefficiencies and sub-par service, often without regional managers knowing other options exist.

Decentralized Fleet Maintenance

There’s also the bigger picture to consider. Very often, what makes sense or is efficient for smaller-scale operations is actually broadly inefficient for larger operations; allowing each region to pick its own “best” can be unnecessarily expensive for the company as a whole.

“The problem with decentralizing into more ownership is a tangible decline in productivity. Yes, the decentralized maintenance workforce more quickly addresses the urgent work than does the centralized force. Yet, decentralized groups show less interest in scheduling work in advance and are more difficult to steer away from doing reactive work.” – Reliable Plant.

Decentralized fleet maintenance has tangible problems as well.

  • Instead of being guided by experienced maintenance experts, decisions are made by managers who have a lot on their plate and less experience with commercial vehicle service, regulations, and more.
  • Without the bird’s-eye view of the company as a whole, inefficiencies can add up.
  • A lack of centralized software and data tracking leads to lost records, deferred maintenance, poor adherence to maintenance schedules, and much more.

This is all compounded if each region is also making its own decisions about the kinds of vehicles to purchase and when; instead of having standardized vehicles of a few types throughout your fleet, you can have many more, all with their own issues that need tracking.

How Centralized Fleet Maintenance Works

Centralized fleet maintenance begins by taking responsibility away from regional managers and putting it in the hands of directors with experience, capability, and, critically, much more overall data and resources than regional managers can access.

The core watchword of centralized fleet maintenance is standardization. Everything is brought under one banner, under one service provider or one network of them, with one team or director making the decisions.

It begins with centralized record-keeping. Vehicle details, maintenance logs, manufacturer recalls and alerts, and consolidated data can all be sent to a central system where maintenance directors can review them. Trends, overarching data, and means of optimization can then be extracted and applied company-wide across all the disparate elements of the fleet.

Standardizing telemetry data and, more importantly, the technology used to gather it is also an important part of centralized fleet maintenance. Using the same data tracking across all vehicles in a fleet is a key part of making sure the appropriate kinds of data are gathered. This may involve upgrades to the technology of many vehicles in a fleet, but that’s just part of the expenses of centralizing maintenance.

The biggest factor in centralized maintenance is standardizing the service providers used for maintenance across a company. For example, for preventative maintenance services, you might partner with a company like ours and our network of service providers across the nation. That way, you have standard contracts, standard pricing, standard services, and a standardized quality of service, and you can access those services anywhere in the country.

A Commercial Vehicle Service Provider

One of the biggest benefits of centralizing fleet maintenance is that you cover all the bases, and you can be assured of that coverage. Since you aren’t dealing with shifting standards and different service providers operating at different levels, you have a greater guarantee of service quality and adherence to compliance rules and standards.

Additionally, through record-keeping, you can apply better schedules for preventative maintenance. Every vehicle needs to be inspected, every vehicle needs ongoing maintenance, and every vehicle needs to minimize the risk of catastrophic unplanned failure. You can even access top-level route planning software to ensure that trucks nearing their scheduled maintenance window end routes in an area near a service center instead of needing to travel across town unnecessarily.

All of these optimizations, from large to small, have a ripple effect across the company. What might save a few dollars on fuel here and there can add up to immense savings across the whole of the company. Increased vehicle uptime and smoother operations, standardized maintenance packages, and no unexpected fees can all compound over time.

Does Centralized Fleet Maintenance Have Drawbacks?

Nothing in this world is perfect. Centralized fleet maintenance has some steep requirements to perform adequately.

For one thing, it’s heavily reliant on the people making decisions to have the appropriate information, which means your telemetry and record-keeping needs to be on point. Without the right data, data-driven decision-making is impossible.

Relatedly, the people making these decisions need to be knowledgeable and experienced. Above, we mentioned the potential issue of a regional manager being conned because they don’t know any better; that’s bad, but it’s way worse if it’s your maintenance director making poor choices.

One of the greatest challenges is the transition from decentralized to centralized. Establishing new processes, new software, new telemetry, and new policies will all involve growing pains. For larger organizations, these kinds of transitions can take months or even years to be done properly.

Epika Fleet Services

When handled properly, centralizing fleet maintenance is a hugely beneficial decision. Fortunately, we’re here to help; as a national network of service providers specifically for commercial fleets, we can help you get excellent fleet maintenance set up and running in short order. Simply reach out to us to get started!

The True Cost of Low Tire Pressure on Fleet Trucks

Tire inflation is, to the surprise of many, one of the single most impactful metrics on the performance of a truck and a fleet across the board. It can have an incredible effect across the board in terms of performance, operating costs, and even safety. Unfortunately, most of those effects are at the fleet level and across the long term, so it’s easy for individual drivers to ignore them for the time being, never knowing the full extent of the cost.

Tires are one of the most expensive individual components of a truck, so treating them right is paramount to long-term success. Let’s dig deeper into the issue and see what the best practices are for a fleet manager.

The Replacement Cost for a Truck Tire

First, let’s consider the cost of replacing a tire when it wears out or, worse, goes flat or blows out in operation.

Individual tires of average quality can cost between $250 and $600; however, premium-tier high-quality tires or specialty tires can cost $1,200 or even more. If your trucks operate in areas with special conditions, like snow and ice, steep hills, or particularly rough roads, those tires can cost even more.

Tire Pressure

Factors that influence the cost of replacing these tires include:

  • The size and weight of the truck. Larger trucks, larger trailers, bigger tires, more expensive rubber. The heavier the expected load, the better the tires need to be to avoid premature failure.
  • The type of the tire. It’s not just about conditions like winter versus summer tires; it’s about where the tires are on the truck. Steer tires, in particular, are critical to the performance of the truck.
  • Tire hardness. Harder tires are more resilient, but they’re less forgiving. Softer tires are often preferred by drivers because they offer a smoother, more comfortable ride, but they wear out faster and will need replacement more often.
  • Tire warranty. No product is free of defects, and a good warranty can go a long way for a heavily used part like a truck tire. Good warranties, however, are expensive.

Of course, the raw cost of replacing a tire is just a small part of the overall consideration when tires are concerned.

What Happens When a Tire is Under-Inflated?

Keeping a tire at a lower pressure than it’s meant to be has a bunch of negative effects. According to Sharon Cowart from Michelin, it’s the number one cause of “premature tire removal.”

So, what happens when a tire isn’t inflated properly?

  • The truck won’t handle as expected. This applies whether it’s a single tire that’s under-inflated or if all the tires on the truck are under-inflated. Tires are designed to function best at specific pressures, and deviations from this can compromise handling.
  • Underinflated tires wear differently. A tire that isn’t inflated to the correct pressure won’t distribute its load effectively, leading to uneven wear on both itself and the other tires. Furthermore, this imbalance can stress the underinflated tire even more. It’s essential to understand that both underinflated and overinflated tires can result in irregular wear patterns.
  • A tire at a lower-than-intended pressure is going to have more contact with the road surface, resulting in more friction. This added friction increases wear on the tire, but more importantly, it also makes the truck slower to accelerate, reducing fuel efficiency. Fuel economy can suffer.
  • Underinflated tires are at a much greater risk of catastrophic failure. This is because the tires themselves flex more when they are underinflated. That flexing builds up heat and damages both the rubber of the tire and, more importantly, the steel wires inside the tire, which break and damage the structural integrity of the tire. Underinflated tires are at greater risk of a flat and, more importantly, a blowout.

There’s also the hidden danger on that last point; when the structural steel wires in a tire break, it’s not always visible. The tire can be ready to blow, but there’s no visible sign of it… until a driver or maintenance technician starts to inflate it up to proper pressure, whereupon it results in a blowout.

Underinflated Tires

This isn’t just a danger on the road; it’s a danger during maintenance.

“According to the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) of the American Trucking Associations, a constant 20% under-inflation in a commercial vehicle tire increases tread wear by 25% and reduces the tire lifetime by 30%. This results in significant increase in tire costs for a fleet. It also increases fuel costs: under-inflation of just 10 PSI reduces fuel economy by 1%.” – Fleet Equipment Magazine.

Estimates place the tire-related costs of underinflation at $600-$800 per tractor-trailer per year. Extrapolate across an entire fleet, and you can begin to see the extent of the problem.

It’s also worth noting that all of this is a direct cost-benefit analysis. When you also consider the increased time spent in maintenance due to worn tires, the time lost when a tire fails in the middle of a route, and even the lost time from slower acceleration, all of that time adds up to more implicit costs stemming from less efficient operations. It’s much harder to quantify but can be very impactful nonetheless.

What Happens When a Tire is Over-Inflated?

While underinflation is a hugely damaging and detrimental issue, overinflation is nearly as bad.

First, in the opposite effect of an underinflated tire, an overinflated tire has a smaller portion of the surface of the tire contacting the road. This increases the risk of slipping, decreases traction, and reduces the handling of the vehicle. It also, of course, leads to irregular wear patterns on the tires themselves. In particular, it increases wear in the center of a tread, which leaves a tire’s edge looking good but the middle worn down.

When steer tires are inflated differently, handling also suffers; the truck will pull in the direction with the lower pressure, resulting in more stressful driving and worse handling for the operator.

Overinflated Tire

Overinflating tires can also lead to a harsher, harder ride for the driver. While modern trucks have many conveniences to insulate the driver from the bumps and jostles of travel, it can still be very impactful and lead to higher-stress, higher-fatigue trips.

Higher pressure also mechanically makes a tire more prone to failure. If there is damage to the tire, whether from wear, from previous underinflation, or from an external source like roadside debris, that creates a weak point in the tire. Greater internal pressure means a greater chance of that weakness becoming a failure, either as a flat or a blowout.

While overinflation is less of a problem than underinflation, it’s still a problem; tires are meant to be maintained in a “just right” golden zone of pressure, according to their manufacturer.

Making Monitoring Tire Pressure Easier

One of the biggest roadblocks to maintaining appropriate tire pressure is just how inconvenient it is to even check in the first place.

In the words of Fleet Equipment Magazine:

“Monitoring tire pressure manually is inconvenient. Think about it: there are 18 tires per vehicle in most cases. Even if it only takes 60 seconds to take the valve cap off, measure the pressure, and replace the valve cap on each tire, that’s almost 20 minutes of time out of the driver’s day, not to mention the time to refill the low tires. So we find that many people use the ‘thump and go’ method, which is not reliable. Even manual pressure gauges aren’t always accurate. Installing a digital tire monitoring system might have an up-front cost, but it reduces tire costs almost immediately.” – Fleet Equipment Magazine.

So, how can you actively and proactively monitor the pressure of the tires on your trucks without putting undue burden on your drivers and taking hours out of their day?

Two Types of Tire Pressure Monitors

There are actually two different kinds of systems you can install on a truck to make monitoring tire pressure easier.

The first, called TPMS, is useful enough that it’s become standard on many trucks manufactured today. While it’s not yet actually mandatory – though some people think it may be in the future – it’s so useful that it may as well be.

TPMS System

TPMS means Tire Pressure Monitoring System. There’s a range of different kinds of TPMS configurations, but their general purpose is to monitor and report on the pressure of each tire individually. This report is then sent to both a unit in the cab of the truck where the driver can see it and often reported via a “phone home” to the fleet manager.

“Today’s TPMS generally use telematics to alert both a driver and a fleet manager to an underinflated tire. In both cases, the information allows prompt action to be taken to correct the issue before a catastrophic failure occurs. TPMS is, to put it mildly, a good idea whose time has come.” – Fleet Maintenance Magazine.

These systems need to be configured with information about the tires they’re monitoring, including the appropriate range of inflation for each. On top of that, a threshold needs to be set, such as 15% over- or under-pressure. TPMS systems don’t generally lock out a driver; they simply send a warning that it’s time to adjust the pressure of a tire. It’s then up to the driver or the maintenance crew to handle the issue.

The second kind of system is ATIS, or Automatic Tire Inflation Systems. These are systems that don’t just monitor but take an active role in tire pressure. Instead of just monitoring the pressure of the tires, it’s equipped with an air source and can automatically add or remove air from a tire to bring it in line with specifications. This is also reported to a central unit, which can report it to the driver and to the fleet manager; problem tires that need inflating frequently can be examined or replaced.

Do These Systems Have Drawbacks?

Unfortunately, no system is free of fault, and systems like TPMS and ATIS have potential issues that need to be addressed before they can be a viable part of your fleet monitoring and control systems.

First, it’s important to know that these systems need to be configured for both the truck and the trailer; trucks that switch trailers routinely will need either compatible or identical systems that plug and play nicely together or will need configuration each time a trailer is switched. A misconfigured system leads to alerts that either aren’t viable, are ignored, or some combination thereof. Essentially, it’s worse than useless.

Second, as a computerized system, they come with all of the usual drawbacks of additional electronics. They need a signal to phone home, they have antennae that need to be kept in good repair, their wiring needs to be in good repair, and more.

They also add to the burden of replacing a tire; the system needs to be recalibrated, or else the tire will simply have a persistent alert until it can be reconfigured. This can be an added source of stress for a driver who replaces their tires on the road.

Replacing Tires

ATIS have the added issue of needing the automatic inflation system to be working properly and topped off with compressed air.

Essentially, it all introduces additional points of potential failure. However, the benefits of ensuring proper inflation on your truck’s tires are so great that they outweigh the drawbacks, which is why so many trucks are including TPMS systems, and so many fleets are adopting their use.

Maintaining Tire Integrity Across the Country

As part of a robust preventative maintenance program, monitoring and maintaining tire pressure is a hugely impactful practice. Fleet managers should always have some kind of monitoring system in place, above and beyond “having the driver do it” because, as we all know, some drivers take shortcuts. No knock on them; it’s just a fact of life that it’s easy to disregard small, non-immediately-impactful tasks.

Tire Integrity

If you need services related to tire pressure, we’re here for you. Whether that means checking and filling tires appropriately, swapping bad tires before they blow out, reconfiguring a TPMS or ATIS, or even installing such a system in the first place, our network of partner businesses can do it. All you need to do is reach out to get started.

Diesel Exhaust Fluid Locator: 5 Ways to Find DEF Near You

Diesel has often been misunderstood in the past. Many people’s impressions of diesel engines are tied to trucks emitting noticeable emissions. However, it’s important to note that these visual emissions are mostly associated with older truck models or those few who modify their trucks to “roll coal” for show.

Thankfully, with advancements in technology and the EPA’s 2010 mandates requiring diesel vehicles to be equipped with an SCR system, which utilizes DEF, the emissions from diesel engines have significantly reduced.

So, let’s dive deeper into what this entails and its implications for fleet managers.

SCR, DEF, and More: What Does it All Mean?

The SCR is the Selective Catalytic Reduction system. It’s a means of converting diesel exhaust into something a lot cleaner, reducing both nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions, both of which are dangerous greenhouse gasses that contribute to a variety of environmental hazards, including acid rain. In fact, the introduction of the SCR system to power generation plants over 50 years ago is a large part of what made acid rain no longer a modern-day concern.

The SCR process is a three-stage system; the engine burns diesel fuel and produces exhaust as a byproduct, and that exhaust is pumped into the SCR:

  • It goes through a particulate filter, which traps the larger particles that would otherwise gum up the works.
  • Then, DEF is pumped into the exhaust system, and it’s chambered in a catalyzer.
  • There, chemical reactions between the nitrogen compounds and the DEF produce nitrogen, water, and a bit of CO2.

All in all, the resulting emissions are significantly less hazardous to both people and the environment and make diesel trucks nigh-infinitely cleaner to run.

“SCR is an active emissions control system. Hot exhaust gasses flow out of the engine and into the SCR system, where aqueous urea (known as Diesel Exhaust Fluid, or DEF) is sprayed onto a special catalyst. The DEF sets off a chemical reaction in the exhaust on a special catalyst that converts nitrogen oxides into nitrogen, water, and tiny amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), natural components of the air we breathe. The exhaust also passes through a particulate filter somewhere in the system and is then expelled through the vehicle’s tailpipe.

The design of SCR technology is such that it permits nitrogen oxide (NOx) reduction reactions to take place in an oxidizing atmosphere. It is called “selective” because it reduces levels of NOx using ammonia as a reductant within a catalyst system. The chemical reaction is known as “reduction,” where the DEF is the reducing agent that reacts with NOx to convert the pollutants into nitrogen, water, and tiny amounts of CO2. The DEF is rapidly broken down to produce the oxidizing ammonia in the exhaust stream.” – Diesel Forum.

The easiest explaination of this is:

In an SCR, when DEF is added to exhaust gas, it turns into ammonia. This ammonia then reacts with harmful pollutants, transforming them into harmless nitrogen and water, thus reducing harmful emissions.

(If you happened to major in chemistry, you can read a more technical breakdown of how this reaction happens here.)

Of course, fleet managers don’t necessarily need to know the chemical processes behind why DEF works or how the SCR process functions. All you need to know is that the EPA and federal government mandate its use and that DEF is a consumable.

What Does It Mean

As a consumable, that means diesel engines need to have their DEF tanks refilled from time to time. DEF infrastructure is robust enough that DEF can be found nearly anywhere that diesel fuel is sold. Fortunately, it’s not consumed at a very high rate; DEF generally only needs to be refilled about as often as the engine’s oil is changed,

It’s that “nearly” that gets you, though. DEF can be found in many different locations, but now and then, you run into issues locating it, and that can cause problems. So, how do you locate your nearest – or most efficiently routed – DEF fill-up station?

Note: DEF is essentially a simply balanced solution of urea (commonly and easily purchased) and water, so can’t you make your own? The answer is no. While it’s not difficult to actually make, the urea needs to reach certain minimums of purity, and the water must be pure without contaminants; otherwise, the DEF you produce will damage SCR systems. Moreover, DEF is cheap; buying the ingredients and making it on your own wouldn’t save you anything and would cost you time and effort.

Knowing where to find DEF before your engine runs low is critical because once that tank is dry, the engine shuts off. The last thing you need is a truck stranded because it’s missing a single chemical. So, where can you find DEF near you? Here are five options.

1: Proactive Maintenance: Keep DEF On-Hand

The first option is the one we generally recommend.

Since DEF doesn’t need to be changed and only needs to be topped off occasionally due to its low rate of consumption, you can add “fill the DEF tank” to your preventative maintenance checklist. Then, whenever any of your trucks are in for any kind of inspection, service, or diagnostics, it can be a routine matter to simply top off the DEF tank and call it a day. DEF doesn’t go bad unless it’s been sitting at high temperatures for several years, so as long as your trucks aren’t idle, you don’t need to change out the fluid in the tanks. All you need to do is ensure that it’s topped off, like any other consumable.

If you operate your own service centers or maintenance bays, it’s a simple matter to keep DEF on hand. There are a wide variety of suppliers you can use to order DEF in however large or small a quantity you need, from single-gallon filler jugs to large tanks used for filling up your fleet. You can even order directly from one of the regulated manufacturers of DEF and have it delivered straight to your doors.

Proactive

On the other hand, if you’re a fleet that uses service centers other than your own, all you need to do is make sure the service and maintenance facilities you use keep DEF on hand. Just about any service provider that works on diesel vehicles with any regularity will keep DEF on hand, so this shouldn’t be a tall order.

At Epika, we have partners all across the country who can help work on and service your fleets, and most of them will have DEF on hand. You can use our “find a service provider” tool to locate nearby service centers with DEF to top off the tank as necessary.

2: Use a Service Provider’s Site Locator

The second option is to use the site locator for a given service provider you know that offers DEF at their service stations.

For example, this page, provided by CNRG Fleet, includes an embedded and robust map of locations for CFN service centers that offer DEF fill-ups as a service they provide. Similarly, using the CFN Locator and selecting DEF under the fuel type offered can show you nearby locations for any truck anywhere in the country you’re operating.

Gas Station and Truck Stop DEF Locator

CFN isn’t the only company with DEF services and a station locator, either. Whatever brand loyalty you have, you can pick that brand and find their nearby service centers. They don’t always have robust maps you can check, but you also don’t always need a map if you know ahead of time where the stations you can fill up at are located.

Other options can include Yara or FindDEF.

3: Use a DEF Locator App

These days, just about everyone has a smartphone in their pocket. Even when a driver doesn’t, there’s a reasonable chance that the truck itself is outfitted with a tablet that can do a variety of things, including tracking truck telemetry, identifying and adjusting routes for the driver to take, and monitoring conditions.

Whether your truck technology runs on Google’s Android or Apple’s technology, there are apps available for both platforms that can locate nearby DEF fuel stations. Most trucks will run on some variety of the Android ecosystem, and there are many Google Play Store options available. A variety of different apps with different features are available for locating DEF in nearby locations, using GPS information from the driver’s phone or the truck’s tablet or just an address or general location the operator types in.

Locator App

Truthfully, an app may not even be necessary. Google’s maps, by default, offers a variety of additional features, and using it to search for nearby DEF locations is going to be a fairly robust, non-app-gated way to find a place to top off the system as necessary.

4: Use a Fleet Management Platform

There are a variety of different apps and platforms available to fleet managers that offer pretty much any service, telemetry, or data tracking options you could want. In addition to allowing you to pick effective, efficient routes for your trucks, dynamically assign nearby drivers to tasks, and optimize the general performance of your fleet, they can also review and predict when trucks may need a top-off of DEF or other ongoing routine maintenance and can direct a driver to a particular service center nearby them that can provide those services.

There are a variety of platforms you can investigate, and picking the one that works best for your fleet is mostly a matter of system architecture and of an app that is intuitive for you and your staff. Options include AUTOsist, Fleetio, Azuga, Onfleet, Samsara, and more.

5: Stock Drivers with Emergency DEF

Another option, which pairs well with option #1 on this list, is to ensure that drivers have a backup supply of DEF on hand. If filling up the DEF tank is missed, or if a bit of tubing springs a leak, or in another emergency where DEF runs low, it can be frustrating – not to mention destructive to productivity and deadlines – for a truck to be rendered non-functional because of a single consumable.

Therefore, it’s easy enough to keep a jug of extra DEF on hand in the general supply kit for a truck. A jug of DEF is cheap – a 2.5-gallon jug is only $10 at Walmart – and it’s readily available. While this shouldn’t be your go-to source of DEF, it’s a good way to ensure that there’s a way to keep a truck moving in an emergency and pairs well with other options to then allow the vehicle to make it to a nearby service center.

Emergency DEF

Then, when you need to find a nearby service location for an emergency or for routine maintenance, you can consult with us. Epika’s partnerships allow for a wide range of locations for a variety of different services all across the country. You can view our locator, or you can reach out to set up a partnership with us ahead of time.

6 Tips to Help You Grow Your Truck Repair Business in 2023

Fleet mechanics and truck repair businesses face ongoing challenges, but one of the most important is business growth. In order to provide the best possible service to the largest number of customers, you need to grow your truck repair business, but it can often be difficult to know how to stimulate that growth.

2023 and beyond is a time of opportunity but also a time of challenge.

  • Economic growth and increasing domestic shipping means there’s a larger than ever demand for trucks and, consequently, the people to keep them in good working order.
  • Companies looking to cut costs are switching to “just in time” or “breakfix” scheduling for maintenance, meaning that truck repair is less about routine maintenance and more about larger, more complex repairs.
  • Increasing investment in green technologies, electric or hybrid trucks, and trucks equipped with more complex computer systems all means that the job of a mechanic is more complex than ever before.
  • Many companies are shifting to prefer smaller, more local or regional repair companies rather than national chains, with the assumption that those smaller businesses are more reliant on their fleet business and thus provide better services and support.
  • Truck and fleet repair businesses are more proactively marketing themselves rather than relying on word-of-mouth to grow; as such, competition seems fiercer than ever before, even if it’s not new players in the space.

If you operate a truck repair business, how do you navigate this landscape to grow your business without cornering yourself with high expenses, dissatisfied customers, disgruntled workers, and spiraling disasters? Here are our top tips to help you grow your business.

1: Work to Fight the Mechanic’s Stigma

The mechanic’s stigma comes from the reputation amongst people in general that mechanics are in a position of power, able to essentially fabricate problems in a vehicle and claim necessary repairs when no such repairs are actually required – or to claim repairs are performed without actually doing the work. While this kind of fraud does happen occasionally – often in consumer repair chains rather than fleet-scale shops – it’s generally quite rare.

All of this is on top of the current trend of reduced business trust.

“The rapid spread of misinformation, concerns over how online businesses collect and use personal data, and a deluge of branded content all contribute to a fundamental shift — we just don’t trust businesses anymore.

Consumers are also becoming more impatient, more demanding, and more independent.” – Hubspot.

The fact that such an opinion is prominent is a challenge. As a truck repair business owner, part of your job is to convince potential and existing customers that you’re one of the trustworthy businesses. As mentioned above, more and more fleets are turning to local and regional business groups rather than national chains, so smaller businesses may have a bit of an advantage here.

Mechanic Stigma

How can you strive to fight this negative reputation?

  • Provide the best repairs you can, using high-quality parts, regardless of whether they’re OEM or aftermarket.
  • Avoid unnecessary surcharges or added fees; repeat business is more valuable in the long run.
  • Be responsive and communicative with any and all customers, potential customers, and others who may engage with your business.
  • Whenever there’s a problem, do your best to make things right, even if it costs you.
  • Promote transparency in service, in billing, and elsewhere throughout your business.
  • Encourage customers to leave testimonials and reviews on your website, on social media, and on sites like the BBB; more visible, positive reviews help to encourage more customers.

The industry will always have a dark side attached to it, but by positioning your business as a trustworthy option in your service area, you can build a loyal customer base.

2: Invest in Marketing

Today, modern businesses often live or die based on the quality of their marketing. Truck repair businesses that rely on traditional marketing channels – like print ads, direct mailers, word of mouth, and TV or radio advertising – are going to struggle. Modern marketing requires the use of modern technology and channels.

Invest in Marketing

Here are some examples of what you can do:

  • Invest in your website. A well-designed website with a variety of features, such as live chat with representatives, online service and appointment scheduling, and even billing, can be extremely useful.
  • Create and run (or outsource) a blog. Content marketing is a huge part of how modern marketing works. Whenever someone is searching for a nearby truck repair business, you want them to be able to find your website, and content is how you do so.
  • Spend time on social media. You don’t need to be on 24/7 posting every single day, but you should post at least once per week and monitor messages and comments daily. You can also use social media to promote deals, proactive maintenance tips, and helpful information for drivers and fleet managers.
  • Build local partnerships. For example, you could partner with a nearby café to provide free or discounted coffee and lunch to drivers waiting on their vehicles.

Unfortunately, the modern world of commerce revolves around good marketing. It’s not a practice that can be ignored if you want your business to grow.

3: Keep Your Facilities Staffed with Happy Employees

A truck repair business lives or dies based on the quality of the service it provides. Everything else, all the trappings of marketing and customer service, are only valuable if your core repair and maintenance services are solid.

Good repair and maintenance services can only be provided by content, happy, and satisfied employees. When you have service technicians handling oil changes, experienced mechanics providing unique repair services and diagnostics, computer specialists working with the onboard telemetry systems and GPS, and front desk employees keeping everything on track and running smoothly, you have a lot of people to keep happy.

Happy Employees

To help keep your employees happy, you can do things such as:

  • Track employee performance through useful metrics. For example, tracking how fast tasks are completed encourages cutting corners, but tracking the incidence of mistakes can be more relevant.
  • Make sure your repair bays are kept as comfortable as possible, particularly in the hottest and coldest months.
  • Provide positive feedback and regular showings of appreciation for your staff – not just your top performers – to encourage everyone to remain engaged with your operations.
  • Maintain open lines of communication and feedback, and strive to make positive changes when necessary to improve the overall morale and job satisfaction of your staff.
  • Keep an eye out for conflicts and toxic employees who might be making the workplace more difficult for others; a rockstar mechanic might perform well on their own, but if they make everyone else miserable, that value isn’t worth holding onto.
  • Needless to say, providing appropriate pay rates, benefits, workload and hours flexibility, work/life balance, and so on is all critical.

Job satisfaction is a moving target. Often, you don’t even have to be perfect in every respect; you just need to demonstrate a willingness to take feedback and improve.

4: Improve the Customer Experience

Every part of the customer experience, from the moment someone is considering booking your services to the honeymoon period after they’ve received service but before they need it again, needs to be optimized.

Customer Experience

Here are some examples of what you can do.

  • Make communication as easy as possible through various channels, including phone, texting, web chat, email, and social media. Have someone available to monitor these lines of communication at all times.
  • Provide a robust set of options for drivers dropping off trucks, including a stocked waiting area (or local partnerships as mentioned above), pickup/drop-off/shuttle services, and anything else you can use to add value.
  • Provide customized and personalized reminders for appointments with all the relevant information, both during the lead-up to service and for routine maintenance reminders.
  • Always be available to answer any questions, customize service to the needs of the fleet managers or owner-operators getting service, and provide transparency and problem-solving as necessary.
  • Create and promote a customer loyalty program to give individual drivers or fleets additional rewards, discounts, coupons, added services, or other perks for coming back time and again. Whenever possible, apply this automatically so you don’t leave customers feeling bad for forgetting to apply it.

Don’t be afraid to make things right, even if it costs you. Salvaging a relationship damaged by a bad experience, such that you retain the customer, is more valuable in the long run.

5: Invest in Expanded Services

Growth means different things to different business owners. Too often, “growth” means the growth of revenue and profits, which end up funneled into the pockets of the owner and management. Unfortunately, this doesn’t actually grow a business. Employees who see workloads and revenue increasing but don’t see that revenue reinvested in salaries, benefits, or improvements to the business are going to lose morale and motivation to give it their all.

Always make sure to set aside some revenue to reinvest in improving the business. This might mean bonuses or raises for staff. It might mean replacing aging tools and machinery. It might mean purchasing new tools and machines to expand your available services or make existing services easier. For example, drones can help with 360-degree inspections, and more advanced computer systems can use truck telemetry for better diagnostics. Cameras can make in-depth inspections easier, and so on.

Expanded Service

Managing a budget can be very complex, and you aren’t always going to have the perfect way to spend every dollar. The best you can do is consider the cost/benefit analysis for various uses for your revenue. Which is more likely to have positive returns: investing in marketing, in mechanic salaries, in hiring more staff, in purchasing new tools? There’s no one answer. Instead, you simply need to determine in the moment which will have the larger impact.

Remember the 80-20 rule; 80% of results come from 20% of your efforts. 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. Understanding the most important aspects of your shop and your business will help guide your reinvestment.

6: Expand Specialties

There are a lot of different ways you can take a core truck repair business and expand beyond the baseline services everyone expects.

Specialties

Options include:

  • Hiring technicians with training on specialized vehicles, like hybrids, specific brand ecosystems, or electric trucks. Many baseline shops can’t handle specialized vehicles, so adding the services grants you access to customers you otherwise wouldn’t have.
  • Similarly, you can expand into heavy machinery. Diggers, movers, and other large machines require specialized knowledge but can earn you exclusive contracts.
  • Provide more specialized seasonal services such as winterization or pre-winter inspections, more focused tire attention, and so on.
  • Offer travel services within a service area. If a truck breaks down unexpectedly on the road, have technicians available to go out and work on it in the field or the equipment necessary to bring it back and fix it up.
  • Offer the option to purchase and configure various aftermarket fleet tracking and telemetry systems, complete with software setup for the fleet manager if necessary.

There’s no end to the variety of services you can offer as long as you have the people with the training to offer them and the means to supply parts as necessary.

Consider Partnering with Us

Another option to help you grow your truck repair business is to partner with us. At Epika, we pride ourselves in working with over a dozen top brands across the nation to provide anywhere, anytime service to fleets, owner-operators, and more. Whether it’s emergency repairs, regular maintenance, or anything in between, we help provide those services.

Partnering With Epika

We can’t do it without people like you. Operating a truck repair business is hard work, and you face many challenges, but with a partnership on your side, you gain access to many more contacts, resources, and options.

If a partnership sounds like a good option, you can read about the benefits and reach out to contact us here. We’re always happy to discuss the options, and if you have any questions, please feel free to let us know. We’ll gladly assist you however we can.

The Benefits of GPS Vehicle Tracking for Fleet Management

Fleet management has come a long way with modern technology. There was a time when tracking the locations, destinations, and travel times of fleet vehicles was a matter of paperwork – lots and lots of paperwork. Today, computerized systems can keep track of everything with ease and can even use real-time traffic condition information to make dynamic adjustments to routes, arrival estimates, and more.

One powerful tool in the arsenal of any fleet manager is fleet tracking using GPS modules. Sometimes, these are built into the vehicle; others, they’re modules you install on your own. Either way, by linking to a system of satellites in orbit, accurate location information can be sent to a centralized computer system at all times.

Some people question the utility of these systems, so today, we’re going to run through the many benefits of GPS vehicle tracking for fleets.

Benefit 1: Route Optimization

Perhaps the biggest benefit to comprehensive GPS vehicle tracking across your fleet is the ability to use software to optimize routes and planning, and all of the many ways that can benefit your fleet across the board.

Route Optimization

For example:

  • When picking a driver and vehicle for a job, you can automatically identify the one most nearby that is not otherwise occupied, reducing the overall mileage driven and improving response times.
  • Route planning can help identify bottlenecks, traffic backups, and other locations that should be avoided, either temporarily or indefinitely, and can route vehicles around those areas.
  • Optimized route planning can provide a variety of benefits to areas such as reducing your carbon footprint, reducing fuel consumption and costs, reducing mileage and wear on vehicles, adapting to changing conditions in real-time, and much more.

With as many potential benefits as computerized route planning has, it’s even better when you have real-time knowledge of where every vehicle is, where it’s going, how long it will take to get there, and what route it’s taking. Without location tracking, all you have are estimates.

Benefit 2: Driver Behavior Monitoring and Improvement

Driver behavior can play a surprisingly large role in fleet management. Proper defensive driving can improve fuel efficiency, reduce wear on vehicles, prevent accidents, and even result in happier and more effective drivers.

Without some means of tracking vehicle movement and telemetry data, however, you don’t have any way to identify driver behavior beyond incident reports and self-reported behavior. With GPS location tracking, you can monitor locations, speeds, and speed changes, all of which can give you valuable information about driver behavior.

More advanced fleet tracking systems do more than just track location via GPS. They can also track telemetry data from the vehicle’s onboard computer and can even provide additional detection for driver behaviors. You can identify anything from fuel fraud to harsh acceleration and braking to off-route driving to distracted driving.

Behavior Monitoring

Per ITConvergence:

“Recent studies show that some of the benefits fleets can obtain from IoT fleet monitoring systems include:

Fuel economy increased by 20%

Economical driving improved by 15%

Harsh-braking incidents decreased by 75%

Engine idle time down 60%

Driving hours decreased by 20%

Safety incidents reduced by 20%

Compliance increased by 15%”.

Perhaps more importantly, you can identify drivers who don’t violate policies and proactively reward those drivers. These driver incentives both provide incentives to noncompliant drivers to adjust their behaviors and reinforce those behaviors amongst compliant drivers.

Benefit 3: Cost Improvements

Time is money.

Knowing where your vehicles are allows you to send the closest applicable vehicle to whatever need you must fulfill. Shorter routes, faster responses, and more optimized routes can all save time and money.

All of these also save money by reducing mileage and wear on vehicles. Yes, we’ve already mentioned this, but it bears repeating: the costs saved can be immense, especially in larger and more distributed fleets.

Cost Improvements

Another way you can save money is by reducing premiums on fleet vehicle insurance. Insurance companies are well aware of the many benefits of GPS tracking and often offer discounts for fleets that implement it to their standards. Some estimates claim you can save as much as 35% off of your insurance costs.

You can also proactively understand when your fleet is reaching capacity and can justify purchasing another vehicle or when your workload is improperly balanced and you have vehicles being underutilized.

Benefit 4: Proactive Problem Identification

There are many possible problems that vehicles in a fleet, or a fleet as a whole, can encounter in daily business. GPS can’t solve all of them, but it can help with some of them.

Proactive Problem

These include:

  • GPS can tap into map information that monitors traffic in real-time and can identify areas where traffic is backed up or stuck at a standstill, identifying alternate routes ahead of time so your vehicles can avoid slow, idling, or less efficient detours.
  • GPS can monitor accident information and take steps to reroute around road closures and other issues that crop up with little or no warning.
  • GPS can monitor vehicles on an individual basis. When the fuel efficiency, speeds, or other behaviors reach certain thresholds, it can indicate a problem with the vehicle that can be solved with preventative maintenance, often before the driver even consciously notices the issue.
  • Vehicles can be given leeway to travel within a given area, but geofencing can send alerts to dispatch or the fleet manager when the vehicle leaves that allowable area.

This just scratches the surface of what can be done with a combination of GPS tracking, vehicle telemetry, and driver monitoring.

Benefit 5: Loss Prevention

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits to a fleet provided by GPS tracking is loss prevention. Whether it’s pickup trucks or semi-trailers, GPS tracking is always active and will phone home with the location of vehicles even when those vehicles aren’t in active operation, such as overnight.

Alerts can notify you when vehicles or assets move outside of their expected area or even when they move unexpectedly when they shouldn’t, such as overnight when a driver is at home or asleep.

In the worst-case scenario, when assets are stolen, GPS tracking can allow their swift recovery. With active monitoring from home base, police can be notified even before a theft is completed, and the response times can be swifter than you’ve ever thought possible.

Loss Prevention

This isn’t hypothetical, either. Here’s a real case where GPS saved a company.

“The organized ring of thieves struck when they thought nobody was watching: in the middle of the night on a weekend. One by one, they drove off with ten trucks and trailers from the lot of Diamond Landscapes, a commercial landscape company serving central Kentucky.

The potential loss of these vehicles, valued at over $500,000, could have devastated the company as they waited for insurance to help them recover and resume operations. Just one catch – Diamond Landscapes saw the whole crime unfold in near-real time.

The thieves didn’t know about the fleet management technology within the vehicles. Using an app, it was easy for company officials to watch their trucks moving as they were being stolen. They called the police. A high-speed chase quickly ended when the owner of Diamond Landscapes, Chris Trower, was able to share location data with law enforcement.

Every stolen truck and trailer was recovered. Instead of waiting weeks or months to resume operations, Diamond got back to its full-service landscaping and snow removal business right away.” – Contractor Magazine.

Of course, an incident like this will still be hugely disruptive to a fleet even if the vehicles are recovered nearly immediately. GPS tracking can’t prevent thefts, other than in the sense that if thieves are aware that GPS tracking is enabled, they may be less likely to attempt to steal the vehicles. It’s a reactive but valuable service GPS tracking can provide.

Benefit 6: Fraud and Misuse Detection

In some cases, drivers may wish to use a work vehicle for purposes outside of work. Maybe they want to take the truck home with them for a task to save on fuel costs or rental expenses. Maybe they’re abusing a company gas fund for personal use. Maybe they go out of their way on a route to provide some kind of ride-sharing on the side.

Fraud and Misuse

Whatever the case, these kinds of fraud and misuse can, in part, be detected by GPS tracking systems.

“There may be times when your drivers use your vehicles for their errands. For example, they may stop off to see a friend or relative or to do some other errands without asking for prior permission. To hide the fact, they may tell you that the delay was due to traffic or an accident or being stopped by the law enforcement authorities. Another common one is when they make long-distance journeys but decide to go their own way rather than staying on the agreed route. This may cause more expense in terms of fuel costs.” – Veturilo.

When such abuse is detected, swift action can be taken, and investigations can be launched. GPS evidence is proof and justification.

Benefit 7: Reduction of Paperwork and Data Entry

A key benefit to GPS tracking is that, while many (though not all) of these benefits can be done in other ways, those ways require immense amounts of active data entry and human analysis. By using GPS tracking and computerized tools for fleet management, you can offload the data entry to APIs and automatic systems, you can use complex algorithms to solve routing problems, and you can deliver route instructions directly to drivers without needing to mess with phone calls or dispatch.

Paperwork and Data Entry

While it might not seem like much, any reduction in paperwork and data entry is excellent. Not only does it help modernize a business, but it also reduces carbon footprint and, more importantly, the potential for human error.

Benefit 8: Proactive and Preventative Maintenance Improvements

In addition to the above-listed ways in which GPS tracking can reduce mileage and wear and tear on vehicles, you can also use it to proactively schedule preventative maintenance. Instead of having to funnel all of your vehicles back to a central shop to have work done on them, you can automatically use the GPS tracking system to identify nearby maintenance providers. Then, by making those providers part of your route planning, you can ensure that any time maintenance or inspections are necessary, the vehicle is near a location.

Reactive

To build up a network of service providers rapidly, you can work with us. At Epika, we partner with businesses across the nation to provide fleet maintenance services virtually anywhere your vehicles could end up. You can find locations near you quickly and easily with our map and integrate that knowledge into your GPS tracking with ease.

Common Concerns with GPS Tracking

GPS tracking isn’t necessarily all upside, though we believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. It’s still worth mentioning a few concerns or issues with the system.

Is GPS tracking even legal? Yes, in general. Some states in the US and some countries around the world may prohibit it or may require that you inform your drivers and get their consent, but since you can make that a condition of employment, it’s not a high bar to clear.

Concerns

What data is tracked? Location data is essentially the only data point collected by a GPS tracker. However, computer systems can extrapolate other data from this, including average speeds, instances of hard acceleration or braking, and so on. Some tracking systems integrate more than just GPS, including driver monitoring, idle monitoring, and more, but those are outside the scope of today’s discussion.

Aren’t GPS systems inaccurate? Not really. Modern GPS is a very refined system – just about every smartphone has a good one in it – but cheap systems can have signal strength issues on occasion. Generally, investing in a middle- to high-quality system will alleviate these issues. Sometimes, in rural areas, GPS can struggle (especially if the system piggybacks off cell signals), but usually, that’s not a huge problem.

So, what are you waiting for? The benefits of GPS fleet tracking are immense, and while it can take some time and a skilled technician to install the systems, it’s well worth the effort. Plus, we can help. Our network of partner businesses is full of experienced technicians more than capable of installing a system for you. Just reach out to get started or to ask us any questions you may have.