Author: Cheryl Knight


The Latest Developments in Self-Sealing Tires

For utility fleets, being able to travel across hazardous terrain – such as storm-impacted areas covered in branches, glass and other debris – is a must. Self-sealing tires can be a great asset during these times, allowing vehicle operators to continue driving even after a tire is punctured.

How do self-sealing tires work? Each tire contains an extra layer comprised of a sticky substance that covers the inside of the tire from one shoulder to the other. As a puncture occurs, the substance automatically seals the hole, staving off a flat tire. For instance, DuraSeal Technology developed by The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. ( seals punctures up to a quarter-inch in diameter in the repairable area of the tread. And as long as the sidewalls aren’t punctured, drivers can continue operating their vehicles indefinitely. In cases where tire repair or replacement is necessary, self-sealing technology gives drivers time to navigate to a safe place where the work can be done.

Overall, self-sealing tires offer both safety and response-time benefits to utility fleets, helping to ensure that crews can reach isolated areas to restore power to customers without worrying as much about getting a flat tire and the additional man hours such a situation can require.

Fleet-Specific Tires
Many manufacturers are developing self-sealing tire technology. But while companies like Michelin and Continental Tire are focused on developing the technology for light-duty and privately owned vehicles, Goodyear’s DuraSeal self-sealing tire line has been created especially for truck fleets.

“Utility fleet trucks often travel across challenging, debris-strewn surfaces en route to their destinations and are sometimes exposed to objects that have the potential to puncture their tires, which can result in vehicle downtime, an expensive proposition for utility companies,” said Norberto Flores, marketing manager at Goodyear. “Goodyear DuraSeal Technology is designed to help minimize downtime by allowing truck tires to retain air pressure and continue rolling.”

Flores explained that once built into the tire’s casing, Goodyear DuraSeal Technology remains there through the tire’s life cycle – including multiple retreads – and continues to offer downtime-minimizing benefits throughout that life cycle. A wide range of tires that contain Goodyear’s DuraSeal Technology are currently available in the U.S. In particular, the company offers the G731 MSA and G751 MSA specifically for mixed-service and utility trucks. The G731 MSA is designed for 20 percent on-road and 80-percent off-road applications, while the G751 MSA is designed for 80 percent on-road and 20 percent off-road applications.

“The G751 MSA contains more wearable volume for extra miles to removal; a special tread compound for enhanced resistance to cuts, chips and tears; lower rolling resistance construction for improved fuel efficiency; a wide footprint for optimal traction and stability; and a sturdy, tough casing for retreading,” Flores said. Likewise, the G731 MSA offers enhanced tread life, retreadability and fuel economy, he added.

The seemingly steep price tag is one of the primary prohibitive factors when utilities are deciding whether or not to incorporate self-sealing tires into their fleets. But while these types of tires currently cost about three times as much as a standard tire, they will eventually pay for themselves over time through decreased vehicle downtime and fewer tire replacements. The question fleet managers must ask themselves is whether the extra cost is worth the extended time a tire can be used in the field before a replacement is needed.

About the Author: Cheryl Knight has written for the fleet industry for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in Automotive Fleet, Fleet Financials, Government Fleet and a number of other niche-market publications.


Tire Facts

  • There are nearly 11,000 tire-related crashes per year in the U.S., with almost 200 fatalities.
  • Underinflated tires lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 pound-per-square-inch drop in pressure.
  • Proper inflation can extend the life of tires by up to 4,700 miles.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at


3 Tips for Selecting Heavy-Duty Vehicle Lifts

For utility fleets that perform their own maintenance and repairs, heavy-duty vehicle lifts are an integral part of the process. So, when it comes time to purchase or lease a lift, it’s important that the decision is based on good research and a strong understanding of what kind of lift will work best in the fleet’s shop. Following are three tips in particular that fleet managers should consider when selecting heavy-duty vehicle lifts.

Tip 1: Invest in Safety
When buying or leasing a heavy-duty lift, one of the best ways to help ensure safety is to invest in certified equipment and options. “There is only one nationally recognized safety standard for lifts: ANSI/ALI ALCTV, administered by the Automotive Lift Institute,” said Steve Perlstein, sales and marketing manager for Mohawk Lifts (

To determine if a lift and/or lift option is certified, visit If you can’t find the lift or lift option you’re looking for in the directory, it is not certified for use.

Besides meeting the requirements of the standard, there are several other safety factors fleet managers should consider when selecting lifts. Look for lifts that are made of corrosion-resistant materials. A lift also should be constructed in such a way that, when it is installed in the work area, cords and other parts won’t act as trip hazards. Additionally, fleet managers should make certain that the lift they ultimately choose has the proper number of pistons to handle the weight of the fleet’s specific vehicle types. And don’t forget that easily accessible, free-standing controls give maintenance personnel an increased range of movement while on the job.

Tip 2: Focus on Efficiency
Labor comprises a significant percentage of a fleet’s maintenance budget. But fleet managers can significantly reduce costs through the efficiency of their equipment, including heavy-duty lifts.

“The type of lift used can dramatically increase shop efficiency and keep more vehicles on the street versus in the shop,” Perlstein said. In fact, he continued, the installation of a single vehicle lift can reduce costs within a fleet maintenance department by up to $100,000 or more in the first year alone, depending on use.

Kirk Dawson, vice president of heavy duty at Rotary Lift (, advises fleet managers to look for lift features that simplify setup, reduce downtime and enable the technician to quickly raise and lower the vehicle to save time during each job.

“Since labor is often a fleet’s second-largest equipment and maintenance expense, surpassed only by fuel costs, it is important to maximize the productivity of each technician,” he said.

Helpful lift features include:
• Universal adapters for inground lifts that can be easily adjusted for a variety of vehicles.
• Technology that helps to reduce setup time, such as wireless communications, intuitive controls and automatic steering systems for mobile column lifts.
• Pendant controls for inground lifts that simplify the vehicle spotting process.
• Fast-rise speeds that reduce the amount of time the technician has to wait before starting work.
• Automatic ramp chocks and single-point lock releases for four-post lifts, which make it easy to get the vehicle on and off the runways.

Tip 3: Factor in Cost While Ensuring Quality
Cost represents a critical factor when leasing or purchasing heavy-duty vehicle lifts for a fleet facility. But it’s not just the cost of the equipment that fleet managers need to consider. “In addition to buying the lift itself, you should also factor in costs for installation, user training and annual inspections,” said R.W. “Bob” O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute (

Some lift manufacturers provide on-site lift-use training as well as safety-related videos on their company websites. And ALI offers “Lifting It Right” at, which simplifies the training process by covering all lift types in one convenient, Web-based course.

Perlstein has a final thought for fleet managers who are in the market for new vehicle lifts. “Consider the quality of the lift, where it was manufactured and how long it is going to last,” he said. “It is also important to evaluate the total cost of ownership, as lifts with a higher initial price but higher quality are worth it in order to avoid costly lift downtime. If the lift is down, the utility truck can’t be repaired.”

About the Author: Cheryl Knight has written for the fleet industry for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in Automotive Fleet, Fleet Financials, Government Fleet and a number of other niche-market publications.


What Type of Lift is Right for Your Fleet?
When investing in a heavy-duty vehicle lift, fleet managers must address two key factors: space constraints in the shop and how the lift will be used.

“There are many types of heavy-duty vehicle lifts, so it is important that the fleet manager selects the right kind for the vehicles he or she will be servicing,” said R.W. “Bob” O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute. “Each lift type also has its own installation needs, which can range from the addition of a simple electrical outlet to breaking concrete.”

Among the heavy-duty lifts in use today are mobile column lifts, parallelogram lifts and inground lifts. Mobile lift systems are typically popular with users who are looking for portability and flexibility, while parallelogram lifts require little to no setup. Inground lifts – which were the most widely used lift type until the 1980s, according to the ALI website – offer great space efficiency and excellent access to a vehicle’s undercarriage.

For more information about the variety of lifts available in the marketplace, as well as purchasing guidance, visit


The Business Case for Natural Gas Vehicles in Utility Fleets

As utility fleets continue to search for cleaner-burning vehicles that operate more efficiently and use lower-cost fuel, the business case for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) is becoming clearer thanks to advancements in vehicle technologies and evolving infrastructure.

And yet, the recent decrease in oil prices – which is being driven, in particular, by a slowing global economy and increased supplies of shale gas in the U.S. – has left some people wondering about the future of NGVs. Do they still offer an economically viable solution for utility fleets? How will the decrease in oil prices impact initiatives to switch to clean-energy vehicles?

“Despite the current low cost of oil, natural gas still enjoys substantial cost savings compared to gasoline and diesel,” said Matthew Godlewski, president of NGVAmerica (, an organization dedicated to the development of a sustainable market for vehicles powered by natural gas or biomethane. “Utility fleets that have already begun to make the switch to natural gas and have seen its economic and other benefits firsthand are continuing to stay the course.”

Godlewski added that the United States’ abundant domestic reserves of natural gas help to create long-term price stability that allows fleet operators to avoid the price volatility of traditional petroleum fuels.

While the current lower cost of gasoline and diesel has the potential to negatively impact NGV adoption, making the switch to natural gas is about more than just economics.

According to Ron Gulmi, managing director of Emerald Alternative Energy Solutions ( and a former fleet manager at Long Island Lighting Co. and KeySpan Energy Delivery, utilities should integrate NGVs into their fleets for many reasons, including setting the right example for customers, complying with energy mandates and meeting their own sustainability goals.

“You don’t drink Coke in a Pepsi factory,” Gulmi said. “Utilities need to walk the talk. If they want customers to convert, they should do it themselves.”

Natural Gas Benefits
In addition to cost savings, natural gas delivers a host of other benefits, both for users and the environment. For starters, it burns cleaner than gasoline and diesel, and it produces fewer emissions. It’s no wonder, then, that the topic of natural gas often comes up as companies – spurred on by government tax incentives – look for ways to build cleaner-running fleets.

“Utilities should consider using NGVs regardless of oil prices because they should be buying what they are selling, CNG is still cheaper than gas or diesel in most areas of the country, and natural gas burns cleaner and is better for the environment,” said Chad Schlaepfer, business development associate for ampCNG (, which owns and operates CNG stations across the country.

Another benefit of natural gas is that it is less volatile compared to other fuel sources. And whereas the costs of gasoline and diesel ebb and flow, that’s not usually the case with alternative fuels.

Natural gas also offers safety advantages such as lighter-than-air properties and a high ignition temperature, meaning it is less likely to catch fire if exposed to a heat source. Additionally, it doesn’t leak into groundwater and is a colorless, odorless, nontoxic substance.

“While performance and economics will always be the leading factors in converting fleets, many utilities have larger sustainability goals, and the significant environmental benefits offered by NGVs are instrumental in achieving those objectives,” Godlewski said. “The abundant long-term domestic supply of American natural gas is also an advantage that utilities often consider.”

The main factor driving the switch from diesel to natural gas is fuel-cost savings, which can be dollars per gallon. This savings is demonstrated mostly in vehicles with high-fuel consumption, or trucks that run 80,000 miles or more per year.

Ideal Natural Gas Candidates
According to Gulmi, ideal candidates for natural gas are higher-use, higher-mileage vehicles or vehicles that have a PTO engaged with the engine idling while burning fuel to operate it.

Godlewski agreed. “Natural gas vehicle projects for high fuel-use applications will always enjoy the greatest economic returns,” he said. “The low cost of natural gas compared to gasoline and diesel means greater savings are realized through greater fuel use.”

Refuse, public transportation, Class 8 and heavy-duty vehicles also often benefit from the use of natural gas. But as advancements are made in NGV technology, fleet managers should see NGVs as a more feasible financial solution even for lower-mileage fleet vehicles.

Given the increased fuel-cost savings, environmental advantages and available tax credits, it’s no wonder natural gas continues to interest utility fleet managers as a viable alternative to gas and diesel. And with the safety advantages it offers, the use of this fuel source to power utility fleet vehicles will likely only continue to grow in the future.

About the Author: Cheryl Knight has written for the fleet industry for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in Automotive Fleet, Fleet Financials, Government Fleet and a number of other niche-market publications.


In-House Vehicle Maintenance vs. Outsourcing: What’s Right for Your Fleet?

All utility fleet operations have to make one especially critical choice – whether to handle vehicle maintenance in-house, hire an outside vendor to take care of the work or use a mix of both. And it’s not an easy decision to make. There are many factors to consider, not to mention the wrong choice can lead to real problems such as increased vehicle downtime and higher operating costs.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter solution,” said Dave Fisher, a 28-year fleet industry veteran and fleet manager with PNM Resources, which includes subsidiaries Public Service Company of New Mexico and Texas-New Mexico Power. “Managers need to ask what the vehicles are worth. In-house maintenance can oftentimes provide far superior quality and less downtime, but outsourcing can cost less.”

Fisher oversees close to 1,300 utility vehicles: approximately 900 on-the-road vehicles and 400 trailers and pieces of equipment. Vehicles are used for anything from meter reading to transmission and distribution work, and include light-duty vehicles, medium-duty trucks with service bodies, small buckets and cranes, aerials and more. PNM’s vehicle maintenance program consists of both an in-house component for large trucks and big equipment and an outsource component for light-duty vehicles.

Factors to Consider
Cost is one of the most important factors for management to consider when determining whether to outsource maintenance or keep the work in-house. Often, outsourcing can provide a lower cost than in-house maintenance because there’s no need to invest in maintenance equipment, train personnel or stock and keep track of parts.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to do our light-duty preventive maintenance for 1-ton pickups and down because our internal labor rates can’t compete with what the industry offers,” Fisher explained. “We’re an $85-an-hour loaded labor rate, and that can’t compete with a $40 oil change at a dealer or Quick Lube.”

Even though cost is a driving factor in a utility fleet manager’s ultimate decision about how to handle vehicle maintenance, other criteria – like access to high-quality, well-trained personnel – can come into play. Fisher pointed out that the outsource-versus-in-house decision should take into account where vehicles operate as well as dealer network reliability.

“For some of our vehicles, we are limited in finding quality repairs for our aerial equipment in our dealership network, so we rely on our guys who are hydraulic certified,” he said. “I can’t find that expertise in the field, and it’s getting harder and harder to find.”

Another argument for keeping maintenance in-house is the ability of a utility to establish its own quality controls and generate quicker turnaround time.

However, outsourcing vehicle maintenance does offer other benefits in addition to potentially lower costs. For instance, with the time saved by not performing maintenance work, utilities can place greater focus on issues such as customer service. Additionally, fleets that outsource can benefit from expert advice provided by their maintenance vendors as well as vendor-supplied reports that document critical life-cycle metrics.

What’s Best for You?
At some point, a utility must choose whether to perform their own in-house vehicle maintenance, outsource the work or use a combination of both methods, depending on what’s best for the organization. Not all factors are equal, and as Fisher pointed out, one solution does not fit all.

For PNM, Fisher’s hybrid outsource/in-house approach has worked well. “On our light-duty preventive maintenance, I can trim close to $50,000 a year by outsourcing,” he said. “And for our heavy-duty trucks, I can save $350,000 to $400,000 per year by repairing them in-house.”

While Fisher has been “playing with” PNM’s preventive maintenance program for the past seven years, he continually monitors and assesses it.

“It’s a moving target,” he said. “And I’m getting ready to relook at our entire PM program again.”

About the Author: Cheryl Knight has written for the fleet industry for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in Automotive Fleet, Fleet Financials, Government Fleet and a number of other niche-market publications.


The Importance of Benchmarking
For utility fleets, it can be quite difficult to decide how to handle vehicle maintenance. The use of benchmarking – which allows a utility fleet to compare its performance to that of other, similar organizations – is one way fleet managers can determine what best suits their unique needs.

By using a benchmarking program, fleet managers can measure their operational costs, technician wages and other data against data provided by utilities across the country that are similar in size and other criteria. This process of comparison allows fleet managers to identify the areas in which they are doing well and the areas in which improvements may need to be made. For instance, benchmarking can help utility fleet managers determine the cost-effectiveness of their current vehicle maintenance program and whether it would be worthwhile to make any program modifications.


Preventive Maintenance and the Electric Vehicle

In an effort to reduce fuel costs, extend replacement cycles and lower greenhouse gas emissions, an increasing number of utility fleets now operate electric vehicles (EVs). In fact, in November 2014, the White House and Edison Electric Institute announced that more than 70 U.S. electric utility companies have plans to devote at least 5 percent of their fleet acquisition budgets to buying plug-in EVs and related technology. Their investments will total approximately $50 million each year.

With fewer moving parts and less reliance on oil to lubricate and help cool the engine parts that do move, EVs represent a sound investment, over time, for many utility fleets. In addition to lower fuel costs and fewer emissions, others benefits of operating EVs include reduced noise levels, exportable power and lower total cost of ownership.

“While you pay more for a plug-in, the overall cost of ownership is significantly lower,” said David Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), explaining that payback for the company’s fleet usually ranges from two to seven years. “For our bucket trucks, we’re looking at paybacks in 24 to 30 months. Some of our light-duty applications pay back in five years or less. And some of our pickup trucks see payback in seven years.”

All Maintenance Programs Are Not Equal
By developing an effective preventive maintenance plan and sticking to it, companies can expect longer life for the EVs in their fleets. This means fleet managers do not have to replace vehicles as often, generating even more savings when added to the decreased costs of operating EVs. In addition to a great return on investment, companies that operate EVs can lower their environmental footprints as well.

But should maintenance schedules for EVs be the same as their gas and diesel counterparts, and how can you adequately protect and ensure the long life of your EV fleet?

The PG&E fleet operates about 1,400 EVs out of a total fleet of 14,000. The fleet’s EVs range from Chevy Volts to Ford Fusions to GMC Sierras, among many others. According to Meisel, the key to an effective EV maintenance program is to recognize that all EVs are not equal – they are application specific. So, maintenance schedules must be unique for EVs.

“If fleet managers don’t treat them differently, they are missing out on a big opportunity,” Meisel explained. “If they run the same preventive maintenance program for EVs as their other vehicles, they are leaving a tremendous amount of money on the table and forgoing the benefits of electrification.”

Preventive Maintenance Best Practices for Utility EVs
Unlike traditional internal combustion vehicles, EVs rely on electricity to power the various systems that make them go. But because EVs still use some moving parts, effective maintenance can help keep them in proper working order. This means that, in addition to any lubricants and other fluids associated with traditional vehicle maintenance, fleet managers should also design schedules centered on maintaining the vital electric components of an EV’s drivetrain. And of course, fleet managers should follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule for best results.

Training mechanics also is critical to the preventive maintenance process, not only to keep parts properly maintained, but to ensure the safety of all personnel. “The voltage on these vehicles can kill. It’s very important that those who work on them are specially trained,” Meisel said. “We train all our mechanics on high-voltage EV systems because safety is first and foremost.”

As far as set maintenance schedules for EVs, in PG&E’s case the EV components essentially are worry-free, with a few more connections to look at and possible wear on lines. And according to Meisel, fleet management has drastically extended its preventive maintenance in many areas, including oil changes and brake work. “The maintenance intervals are significantly longer because of the durability of the systems,” he said.

Meisel pointed out that it is best practice to adhere to regular preventive maintenance schedules even though EVs do not require as much maintenance as their gas and diesel counterparts. “For our electric vehicles, we are finding that we can drastically extend our preventive maintenance. For instance, for some vehicles we do oil changes only once per year; for others, every 15 years. Not because they need it, but because it’s time.”

PG&E’s fleet management is also finding that EVs used in urban areas are seeing brakes lasting two to three times longer, thanks to regenerative braking. “Our maintenance work on our brakes has dropped drastically,” Meisel explained.

He summed up PG&E’s experience with EV maintenance by stating, “Our experience is that EVs are extremely bulletproof from a maintenance perspective.”

About the Author: Cheryl Knight has written for the fleet industry for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in Automotive Fleet, Fleet Financials, Government Fleet and a number of other niche-market publications.


Learn More
In June 2014, Edison Electric Institute published “Transportation Electrification: Utility Fleets Leading the Charge,” which provides a wealth of information about the benefits of electrification, vehicle technology, total cost of ownership and much more. A copy of the white paper can be found at

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