Author: Grace Suizo


Selecting the Right Advanced Driver Assistance Systems for Your Fleet

From automatic braking and lane-keeping assist to adaptive cruise control, backup cameras and parking sensors, there are quite a few advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to choose from today. So, how do you decide which ones are best for your fleet vehicles? UFP recently spoke with Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Virginia-based Fairfax Water, to find out which systems have proved most helpful to his fleet over the past decade.

Identify Areas for Improvement
Fairfax Water has been utilizing ADAS since 2010. The utility currently operates a total of 434 units, 320 of which are on-road vehicles ranging from Class 1 to Class 8. Approximately 40% are equipped with some sort of ADAS; parking assist and backup cameras are the bare minimum, according to Collins.

The first tip he shared about spec’ing ADAS is to identify what you’re really trying to improve. “In our case, we really wanted to improve on a particular hazard, which was backing,” Collins explained.

Fairfax Water operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with many of its employees out all hours of the day and night, in all weather conditions. In the past, because of the sheer size of most of the fleet’s vehicles, drivers did not have clear vision to the direct rear and would sometimes back into stationary objects, such as parking bollards and lampposts.

Pilot programs were decided upon to help solve this problem. The programs involved parking sensors and rear backup cameras, which proved to be great solutions.

“We figured out which [cameras and parking sensors] worked the best, and we went ahead and adapted those to the vehicles that we wanted to focus on, which at that time were the larger vehicles,” Collins said. “That paid dividends almost right off the bat with the reduction of those backing incidents.”

Fairfax Water went from double-digit reported backing accidents to a single-digit number.

“If you look at the years prior to that, we noticed a sharp decline since then,” Collins added. “Even the backing incidents themselves on the heavy-duty vehicles have all but disappeared.”

The backup camera that Fairfax Water uses is built into the center of the windshield where a rearview mirror typically would be located.

“Even in these larger vehicles, space to add a camera on the dash is at a premium,” Collins said. “To be able to put a monitor that the driver can easily see without it becoming a distraction as well is difficult to find.”

The monitor is built into the rearview mirror, a natural place for a driver’s eyes to look when they’re backing up, he explained.

“This also helps keep the driver’s vision forward because the last thing you want is someone so focused on backing up that they lose sight of the swing on the front end and sideswipe something,” Collins added.

Do Your Research
After the pilot programs were completed, Fairfax Water began requesting that the technologies be installed on its larger vehicles prior to delivery.

“In our standard specification, we order these types of vehicles that either come with a factory-altered system that they can put on there after the body is built, or an aftermarket system that we know has a good reputation,” Collins said.

The biggest challenge Fairfax Water had was the sheer number of different vendors to consider. The utility went through four different companies and manufacturers for the parking sensors. The cameras, Collins said, were a little easier to narrow down because many were not of consumer-grade quality.

“The pilot was very eye-opening, and sometimes the most expensive systems were no better than the least expensive one,” he recalled. “A lot of those technologies were really in their infancy back then. It was almost like a trial-and-error type of thing.”

Collins advised not to skimp and to choose something in the middle-price range. Ask companies for testimonials and if they have any existing customers that may provide some helpful insight.

“Speak with people that have a different type of system and find out how it works, and if it works for their operators,” Collins said.

Also, do your due diligence and make sure of the system’s availability. You’ll also want to ensure timely parts availability.

Train Your Staff
When it comes to new technology, Collins emphasized the importance of investing in staff and operator training.

“If you give them a technology and they’re unfamiliar with it, you’re setting them up for failure, not success,” he said. “Train and bring everyone up to speed, train them on how the systems work, and let them get comfortable with it.”

Collins said once Fairfax Water had selected the products they wanted, they focused on training those who would be using them. There was an initial learning curve, but he said the training made a big difference in terms of acceptance and understanding.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


ADAS are Only Designed to Assist
While advanced driver assistance systems provide safety benefits, users still need to operate as if they don’t have that safety net.

“We made sure that [operators] understood that it’s just a system to assist them,” said Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax Water. “If there’s a problem with the system, they need to report it. We expect them to still do their due diligence: Look before you back. If you’ve got a spotter, use them. It made them understand that this is not the end-all be-all that you can rely on 100%.”

A case in point: During a pilot program, one driver experienced some interruptions on his backup camera when he was at a fast food drive-thru. Instead of showing the view directly behind his truck, the wireless sensors picked up a frequency that caused the camera to display images of a person eating inside the restaurant.


Points to Consider When Transitioning to a Fleet Management Information System

Using a fleet management information system (FMIS) can help utility fleet managers keep records and generate reports regarding the effective and efficient operation, maintenance, repair and replacement of their fleet assets. UFP recently spoke with two utility fleet managers who shared their experiences of transitioning to an FMIS and what other fleets might expect from the process.

Identify the Necessary Features
Since 2012, Washington Gas – a natural gas service provider headquartered in the District of Columbia – has been utilizing an FMIS for cradle-to-grave oversight of its fleet of more than 1,150 units.

Doing so has provided a “30,000-foot view of the fleet,” according to Michele Davis, fleet manager at the utility.

When shopping around for an FMIS, she recommended going into the evaluation process with a list of must-haves and keeping an open mind about the possibilities.

“My list of must-haves includes management reporting with KPI management, vehicle replacement evaluation and scheduling, real-time labor tracking, flexibility and customization to meet changing needs, and the ability to import/export data from other systems utilized by the fleet,” Davis said.

Tim Fitzgerald, fleet director for the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), shared similar advice.

“The fleet industry is now driven by data, location, operations, performance and interoperability,” he said. “Look for a true web-based, easily adaptable cloud-based system that can be hosted by your platform. The system should be easy to use, provide management reporting and adapt to your business processes, not the other way around.”

DC Water, which has a fleet of 630 units, first implemented an FMIS in 2013. At the time, the fleet was having challenges with timely maintenance, fuel efficiency and safety compliance, including seat-belt usage, and needed something tailored to its business model.

“If I couldn’t measure problems, I couldn’t manage problems,” Fitzgerald said.

Get Feedback
Once a utility fleet has narrowed down its FMIS options, Davis recommended talking to both the developers and users of the different systems the fleet is considering.

“Attend one of their conferences to get a feel for the system or visit their site and speak directly with the users,” she said.

Secure Stakeholder Buy-In
As with any potential new product or tool deployment, getting buy-in from stakeholders is critical for success.

Davis suggested polling technicians and spending time in the garages to determine what works – and what doesn’t – with the current system they’re using. Additionally, she advised sending a few of the technicians to attend demos of the new systems the fleet is considering.

“It is also important to see what the executives would like to see regarding the fleet in the form of dashboards, which typically grows after implementation,” Davis said.

Prepare Staff
Once a fleet has decided on a new FMIS, fleet managers must be prepared to get employees on board with the system.

“Change management is always very important when it comes to process improvements and system changes,” Davis said.

Deploying an FMIS has helped improve operations at DC Water and even earned the fleet national recognition for its results since implementation.

“Using an FMIS has allowed us to create cultural change across our organization by providing complete visibility of our businesses and by driving policies and processes,” Fitzgerald said. “The system has enabled us to create a way of not only analyzing and controlling all of our business performance, but provides us with an environment where employees can be cultivated to understand processes and their value to [DC Water]. Our team now champions improvements through use of the system, and we are always discussing new ideas.”

However, switching the fleet – which had previously used a paper-based system – to a new FMIS did result in a bit of culture shock for employees, Fitzgerald said. Looking back, he noted that he would have developed and taught data management classes prior to the implementation because technicians must have the appropriate training to effectively use the FMIS.

“It’s putting the right tools in the right hands the first time,” Fitzgerald said.  

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Using the Data
With the data collected from its FMIS, Washington Gas has established relevant key performance indicators to track vehicle and asset performance and cost, as well as the performance of add-on equipment, such as GPS and drive cams.

“We are also using relevant vehicle replacement parameters, not just age and mileage, to determine which vehicles/assets are due for replacement and projecting their replacement due dates well into future years,” said Michele Davis, fleet manager at Washington Gas. “This is critical for operational and budget planning.”

At DC Water, managers can use a Google Earth interface to see vehicle locations at all times, which helps to provide faster response times in emergency situations. In addition to vehicle tracking, the system also captures helpful information on seat-belt usage and speed. Both measurements aid in protecting staff and minimizing DC Water’s liability in accident insurance claims.

DC Water also has been able to interface the FMIS software with its fueling system, telematics platform, and motor pool and key control system.


What’s New in All-Terrain Vehicles for Utility Fleets?

Today, a wide range of options are available to help utilities get work done in hard-to-reach areas where conventional and even four-wheel-drive vehicles cannot go. Following are five new developments in the all-terrain vehicle space that can help utility companies get their crews and equipment across various terrains safely while also boosting productivity. 

What’s New: 2020 updates to Frontier, Aurora and Xplorer lines

ARGO has expanded its lineup to include six all-new Xtreme Terrain Vehicle (XTV) models, new 950- and 850-Series engines, and more innovative improvements. They’re joined by five all-terrain vehicles boasting improved suspensions, more features and added colors.

All new for 2020, the Frontier line of six- and eight-wheel XTVs offers more spacious seating, new controls, the ARGO Progressive Steering (APS) system and deluxe gauges.

The Aurora family is expanding to nine models and highlighted by new big-block 850 and 950 V-Twin EFI engines that deliver 33 and 40 horsepower, respectively. These units offer premium seating, APS for smooth cornering and ultimate cargo capacity. The new Aurora Bigfoot MX8 comes equipped with all-new 25-inch mud tires that feature improved propulsion in water. It also features 9-inch aluminum bead lock rims, a 950 EFI engine, smooth-steering APS and the ability to motor through thick mud conditions. New for 2020, the Aurora SX-R and Responder-R models come standard with a new rollover protection structure.

ARGO’s Xplorer line of premium ATVs features improved suspension performance for enhanced handling, LED eyebrow lights on select models, new colors and painted black body panels.

Morooka USA
What’s New: Utility VDL series

Morooka’s carrier design includes six models to choose from, each customized to solve various project needs.

For high maneuverability, power and payload, the Kubota-powered Morooka MST600VDL is one option. Featuring a ROPS-certified canopy (cabin optional), the MST600VDL will come direct from the factory with a ready-to-mount, one-piece frame manufactured to the user’s required length. It also is large enough to mount a small crane or other custom equipment. For larger platform requirements, the MST800VDL and MST1500VDL are available. Maximum load capacity ranges from 14,000 to 46,000 pounds.

The largest machine in the lineup – the MST4500VDL – runs on a 350-horsepower engine, full 3-foot-wide tracks and a 23-ton maximum load capacity. It even has the ability to put a crewman safely and comfortably at a job as far as 125 feet from the rig, according to the company.

Morooka offers a one-year/1,000-hour warranty on all VDL models. 

What’s New: PANTHER T7R

The PANTHER T7R is designed to boost productivity levels up to 31% and provide added safety and security on the job, all while maximizing fuel efficiency. With a 52.8-gallon fuel tank capacity, operators will be able to work through a whole day without needing to refuel, according to PRINOTH.

The ergonomic design of the crawler carrier provides maximum comfort with unrestricted cab views for greater visibility on the job site. Measuring in at just under 95 inches wide, the unit complies with standard transportation regulations, plus it is much easier to transport from one site to another. The PANTHER T7R includes a combined pedal and steering wheel for easier maneuverability and safety. It is the first crawler carrier on the market to be equipped with the EUROMOT Stage V engine, according to the company.

PRINOTH carries a full range of tracked vehicles from 12,000 pounds to 46,000 pounds of payload capacity. The PANTHER T7R is the latest model to be added to the product line and was first introduced in spring 2019.

What’s New: RT6U, RT9U and RT14U Utility Carriers

Compared to standard Terramac models, the new RT6U, RT9U and RT14U utility carriers are built with a unique extended frame and hydraulic mount system. This specialized design simplifies the mounting process to accommodate a variety of utility support equipment, including digger derricks, lineman winches, vacuum excavators, boom lifts, concrete mixers and fifth wheels.

The Terramac RT6U boasts a compact footprint of 25 feet 8 inches by 8 feet 2 inches. It is ideal for jobs in tight spaces that don’t require the payload capacity of a larger unit. The RT6U also can be legally hauled on an existing tag trailer as additional permits are not required for transport.

The midsized RT9U and heavy-duty RT14U crawler carriers accommodate taller lifting devices and heavyweight support equipment while also offering more torque and power than other crawler carriers in their class, according to Terramac. These units are especially useful for utility job sites located in remote areas where access is difficult for larger, wheeled machinery.

The Terramac utility carriers also feature innovative rubber track technology and low ground pressure, which enable utility crews to easily maneuver through adverse ground conditions and climb faster on steep and hilly terrain.

What’s New: Redesigned GENERAL XP 1000 and RANGER series

Polaris has debuted the all-new 64-inch Polaris GENERAL XP 1000, available in both two- and four-seat models with 100 horsepower, 13.5-inch ground clearance and improved long-travel suspension. The GENERAL XP 1000 and XP 4 1000 are equipped with new long-distance LED headlights and redesigned, high-coverage fender flares. The GENERAL XP 1000 lineup has a 1,500-pound haul and towing capacity through its 2-inch receiver. The GENERAL XP 1000 and XP 4 1000 feature a rearview mirror as well.

Polaris also has introduced the new RANGER 1000 and RANGER CREW 1000, an all-new class of extreme performance side-by-sides.

Through 65 years of innovation, Polaris has built a durable and versatile family of commercial utility and passenger vehicles. With RANGER, PRO XD, GEM and Taylor-Dunn, Polaris has the largest offering of work vehicle solutions, according to the company, and each is fully customizable and built to meet working needs.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


What to Know When Spec’ing Service Vehicles for Utility Applications

When it comes to spec’ing vehicles, the absence of an effective, proactive strategy often results in a significant number of units being purchased from dealer stock, rather than ordered from the factory. That drives up acquisition costs, delays delivery and hampers efficiency, according to Ted Davis, vice president of North American supply chain for fleet management company ARI (

“Additionally, without a proactive approach to spec development, you may not be able to acquire units with the ideal upfitting in a timely manner, which may result in a wide range of operational challenges for your frontline employees,” he said.

So, what are the basics you need to know when spec’ing service vehicles – such as vans – for your fleet? Industry experts recently shared some tips to ensure both an efficient and quality specification process.

Get a Clear Understanding
Understanding the intended job function of each fleet unit, and how each unit supports the organization’s success, is critical to the spec’ing process, according to Davis.   

“The more you know about how your business functions on a daily basis, the better equipped you are to develop a vehicle and upfit specification that helps your business enhance productivity,” he said.

Davis advised soliciting input from other stakeholders across the organization, particularly the operations team and frontline employees.

George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (, agreed. “Don’t assume you know the driver’s business, as work practices will impact vehicle design,” he said.

Sean Otterberg, director of strategic accounts and initiatives for Auto Truck Group (, said he often recommends beginning the spec development process by conducting a ride-along with technicians to experience precisely how the service vehicle is being used in the field.

“By shadowing your technicians, you’re able to gain valuable firsthand knowledge of how the unit supports their daily role while also soliciting their feedback and insight during real-world applications,” he explained.

From there, fleet managers can engage their upfit partners and engineering teams to ensure their strategy aligns with the actual daily use of the vehicle.

Identify Operating Conditions
After engaging in dialogue with users and other stakeholders, get down to the specifics required for daily activity.

“Once mission requirements are defined, the specification writer needs to understand how the products will be serviced and make their product selection in conjunction with the available service providers in their territory,” Survant said.

He advised fleet managers to ask and answer the following questions:

  • What type of terrain will the vehicle operate on? For example, will it operate off-road and, if so, under what conditions (e.g., sand, mud)? Also, is the terrain flat like Florida or hilly like West Virginia?
  • How much payload will be added to the vehicle? This is above upfit weight (e.g., interior and ladders) and does not include the driver or passenger.
  • How much cube space will the payload take up? Will the vehicle deliver material or simply carry tools and installation gear along with customer-premises equipment?
  • What should the interior contain? For example, should it include racking, ladder carry space or special heavy-material bins?
  • What is the service history of the vehicle? When available, consider similar or past versions of service vehicles in this mission set.

Survant also emphasized the importance of getting the right size vehicle for the job at hand. “Saving spec time by oversizing is never the right answer,” he said.

Be Strategic
Davis recommended that utility fleet managers allow an adequate amount of time to thoroughly review specifications for content and capacity; be mindful of factory ordering cycles to ensure you’re able to secure new vehicles with the ideal specs; and, above all, ensure you build in time to solicit competitive bids from OEMs and your upfit partners.

Fleet managers also need to consider how their overall replacement and cycling strategy will influence their planning, Otterberg added.

“It is important to keep in mind how many vehicles you’ll need to replace on an annual basis and also account for any fundamental changes to your business that may be on the horizon,” he said. “This will ensure the ordering process goes as smoothly as possible and helps you optimize your replacement strategy.”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Service Van Specs to Keep in Mind
As a fleet manager begins to develop specifications for their service vans, it is critical that they have a basic understanding of the parts and equipment their technicians typically use in the field, said Sean Otterberg, director of strategic accounts and initiatives for Auto Truck Group.

“This knowledge will help fleet managers determine payload requirements to ensure their technicians are in an appropriately sized van and the units are not being overloaded or overworked,” he said. “It will also drive many of the interior upfit and storage decisions since it is extremely important for the vehicle’s payload to be stored and balanced properly.”

Following are several core specifications to consider.

Interior Detail

  • Roof height
  • Shelving configurations (are slide-out shelves needed?)
  • Auxiliary items: additional batteries, inverters, charge guards, outlets
  • Type of partition: solid, perforated, with/without door
  • Interior cargo area lighting

Exterior Detail

  • Strobe lights
  • Ladder rack: single, double, drop-down
  • Bucket application: If a bucket application is needed, the best practice is to shift to a chassis cab and appropriate body.
  • Decals

Is Now the Time to Rightsize Your Fleet?

The task of cutting fleet costs while remaining productive and providing quality service to customers can be challenging. Over time, rightsizing has become a go-to strategy to accomplish just such a task. To gain greater insight on the topic, UFP recently spoke with three fleet professionals about their take on rightsizing and the strategies that have worked for their organizations.

Dan Remmert, senior manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois, said that rightsizing usually is driven by a need to reduce costs, but it’s important that fleet managers know exactly what they’re trying to achieve before they begin.

“Having the right number of vehicles or equipment is one aspect,” he said. “A second main driver is having the right type or size of vehicles. Before you start on a rightsizing effort, understand what you are trying to fix.”

A fleet also will want to consider what their business will look like in both the short and long term, advised Ed Powell, assistant manager of business intelligence and analytics for fleet management provider ARI ( For example, will more units be needed, or will shifts in your operating dynamic present opportunities to streamline your fleet?

“Determine what ‘optimal’ looks like, then adjust your fleet replacement strategy accordingly to help achieve that vision,” Powell said.

Gather Data
Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), recommended gathering data at arm’s length.

“Any data about utilization and destination is important,” he said. “If multiple assets are consistently attending the same location, maybe sharing should be considered. If utilization is low, asset retirement, reassignment and replacement with more applicable assets should all be examined.”

Remmert suggested setting up metrics with a balanced approach in mind, beyond just fleet assets. Utilize other points of data that may be easily accessible, such as employee-to-asset ratio, asset to widgets completed or fuel data, he noted. At the same time, don’t just dump data on customers.

“Understand the nuances,” Remmert said. “What defines utilization? Is it vehicle movement or, in the case of an aerial, how many times the boom is activated? What defines a trip?”

At Ameren Illinois, fleet models its data to establish the lowest cost of ownership for each group class. “This is the basis for our capital funding request during our five-year allocation meeting,” Remmert said. “Each year, we strive to keep each group class within the 70% life cycle. We make sure not to focus replacements on only a few group classes; our replacement plan levels spend across all group classes to minimize inconsistent purchase quantities in any given year.”

NPPD, which operates more than 1,000 units, uses an asset management tool that fleet engineered within SAP, its corporate enterprise management system. The system monitors factors – age, consumption (hours and/or miles), and reliability (cost and breakdown time) – and forecasts a score with a corresponding replacement year forecast.

The results drive NPPD’s capital replacement budget. Upon arrival of the new assets, the majority of old units are retired at auction. There are some instances in which a retired asset will be reassigned. For example, in situations where the fleet needs to grow, some young vehicles with high mileage might be assigned to lower-use areas to drive any remaining value from the assets. Only 2% to 5% of NPPD’s retiring assets are reassigned, according to Gilliland, but this is a resource for fleet growth if needed.

Evaluate Costs
Utility fleets should take the time to identify when a new asset is less costly than a currently owned, older asset.

ARI has seen a growing number of utility fleets focus on the economic service life of each individual asset to help optimize their replacement strategies. Economic service life is the ideal length of time a vehicle should be kept based on capital and operating expenses, with the goal of achieving the lowest average annual cost.

“From there, you can begin to look at assets critically and determine the vehicles most important to maintaining operations,” Powell said. “This insight also helps identify old assets that can be eliminated as well as those units which may be underutilized and can potentially be reassigned or relocated to an area/division in need.”

Get Buy-In
Rightsizing may be the right choice for an organization’s fleet, but it’s important to keep in mind that rightsizing isn’t just a fleet project; it will require buy-in from other stakeholders throughout the organization, such as procurement, operations and management.

“Collaboration is key,” Powell said. “Try to be as hands-on as possible and involve all your fleet stakeholders – especially frontline employees – to avoid a disconnect of what looks good on paper and how it is actually being used in the field.”

Remmert agreed, noting that the biggest impact a fleet manager has is knowing their customer and keeping a seat at the table with senior leadership.

“Utilization may seem like a logical approach to rightsizing, but it needs to start at a higher level,” Remmert said. “What does your customer need to perform their job? What do the equipment needs of the crew really look like? Has your company set standards for this, or do you have disparities across work locations? Once you know this, determining the right size and quantity of assets is easier. Fleet services then becomes a partner rather than ‘the repo man.’”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Keeping the Fleet Fresh
Most organizations today are optimizing the life cycle of each of their fleet assets to ensure they don’t let vehicles and equipment linger well beyond their useful life.

Fleet management services provider ARI has been transitioning a growing number of customers to a consistent annual replacement methodology in an effort to help them better control operating costs and smooth capital forecasts.

“This methodology examines several factors to help you avoid replacing too many – or too few – vehicles during a particular cycle,” said Ed Powell, assistant manager of business intelligence and analytics for ARI. “By replacing a consistent number of vehicles on an annual basis, you’re able to avoid peaks and valleys often associated with replacing a large number of units simultaneously to better control and forecast operating costs. This consistency also increases reliability and, in turn, eases operational struggles.”

In addition, outsourcing may be an option for unique units that serve as a niche need. “For those job functions that aren’t core to your business, explore whether or not you can outsource for those ultraspecialized units for the few times when they’re necessary,” he said.


Operating a More Efficient Parts Management Program

Making sure your shop is well-stocked to handle any issues that come your fleet’s way is a smart plan, but it also can be costly and inefficient if you overdo it and end up with bloated inventory. UFP recently spoke with two fleet professionals who shared some best practices about how to operate a more balanced and efficient parts management program.

The best starting point is to monitor what moves and then find a sensible minimum, according to Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax Water in Virginia.

“Maintain an inventory of items that move quickly and be sure that your suppliers are able to provide quick sourcing of less frequently used items,” he advised, noting that mission-critical parts are important to have in-house.

For Fairfax Water, consumables – including fluids, filters, brakes and tires – are the most important. The majority of other items can be sourced quickly, Collins explained.

The utility, which operates nearly 500 vehicles and other assets, assigns parts to the following three major groups:

  • Fast-moving: This group includes filters, brake pads, lubricants and basic consumables.
  • Repair and mission-critical: This group includes air brake hose and fittings, hydraulic hose and fittings, truck tarp parts, bulbs and body lights, and heavy-truck and equipment tires mounted and ready to go.
  • Point of need: This group includes a minimal number of parts that the fleet keeps on hand that also can be quickly sourced from vendors, such as heavy-truck brake parts.

Preventive maintenance parts – the least expensive items, fortunately – are replenished the most frequently, usually as a weekly stock order or once the number of parts reaches the minimum order point. Fairfax Water obtains most of its preventive maintenance parts from local NAPA stores with contract pricing. Many of its repair parts are sourced from OEM dealers.

Lessons Learned
In the past, Fairfax Water would buy slow-moving parts and materials in large quantities, resulting in obsolete inventory that included filters, belts and tires that no longer fit vehicles in the fleet. Now, they source mission-critical items as needed but stock up during winter for emergencies.

Keeping only fast-turn and mission-critical parts on hand helps to free up shop space and ensures funds are not tied up in inventory.

“Stay on top of inventory; it’s easy to end up with obsolete parts,” Collins said.

Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for Oklahoma Gas & Electric, keeps track of parts inventory using spreadsheets.

He suggested using a central warehouse for low-turnover parts. OG&E’s fleet maintains a bill of materials for fast-moving parts on each vehicle.

According to Jefferson, the most important parts utility fleets should keep in stock are those with a long lead time. He suggested having garage supervisory personnel collaborate with the parts department on those long-lead-time parts.

“That’s the only way we can control the supply chain to reduce downtime of our equipment,” Jefferson said.

OG&E has 1,984 units in its fleet and operates one primary garage with a staffed parts department as well as nine district garages with unmanned parts rooms. Between the 10 garages, the utility houses approximately 14,000 parts in stock on-site.

The parts department is run by four full-time staff. The technicians look at the turn rates of parts to determine stock, monitoring 90-day usage.

The parts most often used are batteries, filters, wiper blades and decals. These typically get replenished twice a week, according to Jefferson. OG&E purchases most parts from NAPA, plus tires from Goodyear and glass work through Safelite.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


3 Mistakes to Avoid
Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for Oklahoma Gas & Electric, said the utility has had a NAPA Integrated Business Solutions parts department on-site since 1995. He shared three mistakes to avoid when running an efficient parts program.

Mistake 1: Overstocking. You don’t want to be stuck with lots of parts when a manufacturer revises or upgrades a part.

Mistake 2: Not returning parts quickly. One of the mistakes Jefferson has experienced is not returning parts quickly and keeping obsolete parts, resulting in unnecessary spending and inventory. 

Mistake 3: Not keeping up with demand. If point-of-need sourced items start trending upward, consider stocking a small quantity in case demand rises and local vendors have trouble keeping up with the demand.

“Remember, if you see a trend, other organizations have, too,” Jefferson said. “Demand will increase, so keep an eye on trends to stay out front.”


What to Consider When Spec’ing Onboard Scales

Operating an overloaded truck is categorized as a misdemeanor in most U.S. states. Aside from putting the safety of the operator and the public at risk, overloading also can increase fines and lead to premature vehicle wear and tear.

Fortunately, the availability of today’s onboard scale technology can help utility fleet managers ensure trucks operate at a safe weight.

So, what exactly should fleet managers consider when spec’ing onboard scales? Utility Fleet Professional connected with industry professionals who shared insight into selecting the right applications for your fleet.

Benefits of Technology
Nebraska Public Power District has been using onboard scale systems for more than 10 years and currently has approximately 20 scale systems in use between tractor-trailer units and dump trucks.

NPPD’s primary reason for installing the scale systems was to verify loaded axle weights to ensure they were compliant with DOT bridge laws.

“The benefits were almost immediate due to the fact that operators could place a load on their trucks at the job site and know if they were within the legal weight-carrying capacity of their truck or trailer,” said Robert Barbur, fleet services superintendent for NPPD.

The fleet researched three types of scale systems: one that uses air suspension, one that uses a trunnion/spring set and one that uses forces related to dump-body hydraulics.

“Generally speaking, it comes down to what type of suspension the truck or trailer uses when you put them on – proactive or reactive,” said Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for NPPD.

Gilliland said NPPD’s preference is the air suspension design, which costs less money and is accurate and easy to use. It also can be interconnected to trailers.

“The Air-Weigh [air suspension] system uses the tractor’s multiplex system for sending data from the trailer to the display in the truck cab,” Barbur explained. “This allows us to couple any trailer with an Air-Weigh system to any of our tractors that have the Air-Weigh system installed.”

In addition, Barbur shared that the systems can be installed at truck manufacturer facilities before they are delivered, which saves the utility time to the final in-service of the chassis.

Besides the Air-Weigh ( system, NPPD uses the Vulcan scale system ( on some of its dump-body applications. The system senses the load of the material in the dump box via a hydraulic cylinder and/or the spring pins on the chassis to measure the weight of the load.

“This system has also worked well for us and continues to provide trouble-free service,” Barbur said.

What’s Your Scenario?
When selecting a scale system for your fleet assets, a choice should be made based on how the system will be used. Barbur provided two scenarios to consider.

Scenario 1: Legal limits. You might be seeking a scale system that will help you ensure your truck is DOT bridge legal and you are within the limits of your local laws as far as axle weights are concerned.

Scenario 2: Purchase weight. You are hauling a material and this material needs to be weighed for purchase by the end customer, which will require a legal-for-trade scale system.

Barbur recommended talking to several scale system manufacturers to get input from them about what their systems can and cannot do. He also suggested talking to other fleets using onboard scale systems to confirm how they function in real-world situations.

Lastly, fleet managers should do their research on the support of the product, such as finding out if the scale manufacturer offers system support through OEM truck chassis dealers and how large their support network is.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Watch Your Truck’s Weight
Because operating an overloaded truck is a misdemeanor in most states, multiple offenses can lead to jail time and loss of an operator’s commercial driver’s license, according to

Fines and penalties for loads that exceed specified weight limits vary from state to state, with hidden penalties sometimes contributing to even larger fines.

Here are several examples of penalties and fines cited by

  • Oklahoma: $208.90 fine for 0 to 2,000 pounds overweight.
  • Indiana: Approximately $40, not including court costs.
  • West Virginia: An out-of-state vehicle can be impounded, in addition to being subject to overweight fees.
  • Texas: First offense is a fine up to $150. The second and third offenses tack on jail time of 60 days and six months, respectively.
  • New Jersey: In addition to a fine, the company will be held responsible for any damage done to a bridge.



Choosing the Right Vehicle Lift for the Job

Prior to purchasing a new vehicle lift, a fleet manager must understand exactly what is needed for their shop.

According to Steve Perlstein, sales and marketing manager for Mohawk Lifts (, fleet managers “need to do their homework in order to make an educated decision.”

So, what are some of the most important items to consider? UFP recently spoke to vehicle lift experts to find out.

Identify Your Needs
Maintenance is among the top factors fleet managers should think about before they buy, advised Doug Spiller, heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift (

“The best lifts will require minimal maintenance while offering years of safe, reliable service,” he said. “One of the first questions a fleet manager should ask themselves is, what vehicle maintenance am I going to perform, and will this lift help me do that faster, better and easier than I do it today?”

Contacting a vehicle lift distributor and local companies that perform similar maintenance services is a good starting point. Find out what those companies use to raise their vehicles, and don’t rely on a single style of lift for all of your maintenance work.

“Not all lifts have the same features and benefits. A mixed fleet – cars, trucks, work trucks, heavy-duty vehicles – needs lifts that offer different options and benefits,” Spiller said.

Seek Certified Quality
The only lifts fleet managers should consider purchasing are those that have been third-party tested and Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) certified to meet the current edition of ANSI/ALI ALCTV, which is the industry safety standard, advised Bob O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute (  

“When you choose a certified lift, you can rest easy knowing that it has been tested to meet the industry safety and performance standards,” he said. “Plus, the International Building Code, which is the building code in use or adopted by all 50 states, requires that only certified lifts be installed.”

Beyond testing and certification, accessories such as lockable disconnect switches can contribute to added safety. An accessory must be certified for the lift on which it is being used, Spiller noted.

In addition, shops should seek lifts that offer the lowest total cost of ownership, not just a low purchase price.

“The costs of repairs and downtime from a cheap lift can more than outweigh any upfront price savings,” Spiller said.

Local and long-term service is something that is missed in many procurements.

“Purchasing a vehicle lift is a long-term investment, so choosing the right partner is important,” Spiller added. “Perhaps a manufacturer or brand offers an extended warranty or has more certified accessories.”

Watch Vehicle Weight
A lift is not going to be useful if it can’t properly raise the vehicles that need to be serviced. So, fleet managers should be sure to consider vehicle weight, weight distribution and where the manufacturer’s recommended lifting points are located.

“If a lift does not have the rated capacity to raise a particular vehicle or cannot reach the manufacturer’s recommended lifting points on that vehicle, it should not be used to service that vehicle,” Spiller said.

One of the most common mistakes Perlstein said he sees is overloading the four swing arms on a two-post lift, citing the Ford F-450 – one of the most popular trucks among utility fleets – as an example.

Regardless of which organization is operating it, it’s the same basic truck just about everywhere.

“It’s got the same toolbox full of thousands of pounds of tools. It often has a one-man bucket. That adds a lot of weight. People need to consider that because the same truck off the dealers only weighs about 9,000 pounds. By the time utility fleets are done equipping the truck, it likely weighs 12,000 to 16,000 pounds,” Perlstein said.

He explained that a two-post lift – the most common lift type – has four swing arms that are rated one-fourth of the total capacity of the lift. Using the previous example of a loaded Ford F-450 utility truck, say the truck only weighs 13,500 pounds. However, what should be considered is that the heavy rear axle weighs 9,500 pounds, while the lighter front axle weighs 4,000 pounds. Dividing the rear axle weight by the two rear swing arms means each arm should be rated at 4,750 pounds per arm. At 4,750 pounds per arm, the full rated capacity of the lift should be 19,000 pounds. Per all lift manufacturers and the Automotive Lift Institute, swing arms should never be overloaded.

Lastly, Perlstein noted, “One of the things we always suggest is finding out what the heavy end of the vehicle weighs.”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Boosting Shop Productivity
The increase in technician productivity and efficiency is a significant benefit of installing and using vehicle lifts. The amount that productivity increases depends on the lift or lifts that are selected for the shop as well as the technicians’ ability to effectively use them.

“The type of lift shops choose should be conducive to the tasks it will be used for, and the particular brand and model of lift should be evaluated for user-friendliness, speed and useful features,” said Doug Spiller, heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift.

Steve Perlstein, sales and marketing manager for Mohawk Lifts, provided an example of using a lift with the company’s SpeedLane adapters.

A technician usually takes about five to 10 minutes to position each of the arms underneath the four corners of the vehicle. Instead, Perlstein described the benefit of using SpeedLane, a drive-on ramp for two-post lifts that doesn’t require positioning of the swing arms yet leaves the vehicle’s tires hanging free.  

“If you eliminate the five minutes of positioning the vehicle on the lift, getting the arms underneath, and I’m going to service four vehicles a day, that’s about 20 minutes a day … 100 minutes a week,” he said. “Now my shop just got much more productive.”


Best Practices for Winterizing Your Fleet

Winter is just around the corner, and it often brings with it less-than-ideal operating conditions for utility fleets in many parts of the U.S. and Canada.

UFP recently spoke with two industry professionals who shared some best practices for keeping operations up and running while facing harsh weather conditions including snow, ice and freezing temperatures.

Start Preparing Early
For many utility fleets, the biggest challenge during the winter season is keeping vehicles and equipment in peak operating condition to avoid unforeseen downtime when those units are needed most. Heavy use during emergent situations often results in unscheduled repairs and breakdowns – or worse yet, accidents, according to Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (

Michigan-based DTE Energy, which operates a fleet of more than 5,000 assets ranging from automobiles and SUVs to bucket trucks and construction equipment, experienced its snowiest month in January 2014, with 39 inches of snow. During that same winter, Southeast Michigan experienced 77 straight days with at least 1 inch of snow on the ground.

“Because of the snow, ice and colder temperatures, our challenges include an increased number of no-starts, de-icing windshields, door locks icing, increased towing and service calls, and increased response time due to icy and snowy roads,” said Mike Homan, DTE’s director of fleet.

In 2013, DTE began equipping its mechanics with mobile jump packs/personal battery chargers due to the large number of no-starts and service calls during the winter months. In addition, the fleet began modifying its CNG assets to include block heaters.

Homan recommended inspecting nonskid surfaces ahead of the winter months to ensure they still provide the proper protection from slippage. In September, the fleet publishes winter preparation checklists and ensures its garage heaters are working properly.

DTE’s checklist also includes stocking up on winter supplies such as anti-freeze, wiper fluid, batteries, wipers, winter gear for the team and portable salt containers so drivers can safely exit their vehicles even when there is ice on the ground. The utility begins stocking up as early as mid-August.

“Preparing for winter months in advance enables us to acquire the material and equipment we need, even if it’s in short supply,” Homan explained.

Keep Fleet in a Peak State
According to Guthro, there are four key pillars to successful asset management: buy right, repair right, replace right and drive right.

“This methodology, especially regarding your capital investment strategy, puts your organization in the best position to operate safe and reliable equipment,” he explained. “It is also critical to leverage data analytics to shift from a ‘break and fix’ model of fleet maintenance to a more proactive ‘predict and prevent’ approach that better controls operating costs and minimizes unforeseen downtime.”

To combat the exponential spike in maintenance expenses during harsh winters and other storm seasons, ARI works closely with its customers who operate in these conditions to aid them in preparing accordingly, which helps them to control escalating costs and maximize vehicle uptime. Keeping vehicles and equipment in top shape throughout the year helps cut back on preventable repairs.

“Be sure to schedule preventive maintenance and regulatory inspections according to your seasonal demand so you avoid unnecessary downtime during peak storm season,” Guthro said.

Homan agreed. “The key is being ready well in advance. In our state, we know when winter is coming and we know snow and ice are part of the equation, so we prepare both our vehicles and our employees ahead of time to ensure we are ready to safely and reliably serve our customers, even during the coldest winter month,” he said.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Preparing for the Worst
How would your fleet operations hold up under extreme winter conditions?

Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for ARI, advised assessing all the various factors that come into play during a weather emergency.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Does your organization have the ability to provide emergent shift work?
  • Do you have the equipment and staff available to service the peak demand?
  • Were you properly prepared during previous emergencies and is there insight you can glean from those scenarios?
  • Do you have emergency service providers if demand outweighs your capacity?

Even little things – such as how you will fuel your vehicles during an outage or having an after-hours contact for parts – can have a significant impact on your ability to operate effectively during adverse weather conditions. Develop contingency plans well in advance of emergency situations to help ensure you’re ready to face virtually any challenge.


Mistakes to Avoid When Outsourcing Maintenance

Outsourcing preventive maintenance and unscheduled repairs on light-duty units can help utility fleets minimize downtime and focus on the more complex mission-critical and specialized equipment in their operations.

It’s easy to rent a car or pickup truck if a light-duty asset is in the shop or down for a long period of time, explained Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for OG&E Fleet Services in Oklahoma. “Bucket trucks, trenchers [and] line trucks are a little more difficult to rent. We have tools and materials on pieces of equipment like that, so we can do maintenance in-house and control the timeline of the work,” he said.  

Keeping services in-house rather than outsourcing them also can help to ensure that safety remains a top priority when working on these assets.

“The utility industry as a whole requires a very high level of safety training, and this education extends to the in-house technicians,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (

But if fleets determine they need to outsource some of their work, how do they make the most of it? UFP recently spoke with several industry experts who shared their tips, including mistakes to avoid.

Think Strategically
Organizations that explore outsourcing often are focused on near-term cost containment and cost reduction opportunities, according to Paul Lauria, president of Mercury Associates (, a fleet management consulting firm.

However, he pointed out, fleets also should be thinking strategically about outsourcing – for example, about the best mix of in-sourced and outsourced fleet maintenance repairs and activities to meet fleet users’ needs – and about the relationship between outsourcing and other fleet management activities.

“If a company’s primary objective in exploring outsourcing is to ascertain if they can save money, then it’s very important that the utility be able to quantify the avoidable cost of continuing to perform fleet management functions in-house with the same level of quality,” Lauria said. “Will outsourcing enable you to maintain your fleet for more or less than this amount, and how will it affect the operating units that rely on the fleet to fulfill their missions?”

Equally importantly, will outsourcing maintenance and repair work save money or improve vehicle reliability if the company has, say, a poor fleet replacement program?

“If a utility company has developed a big backlog of replacement needs, shifting responsibility for maintenance and repairs to a third party is not going to eliminate that backlog,” Lauria said. “What it may do, however, is force that company to face the fact that underspending on fleet replacement increases repair costs. Having a third party in the mix definitely makes it harder to sweep poor fleet management practices under the rug.”

Outsource on Your Terms
Another pitfall to avoid is blindly accepting a recommended contract and pricing structure from a vendor; these structures likely will be more beneficial to the supplier than the fleet.

Fleets must educate themselves on how to properly structure a contract for maintenance services, which will then influence the structure of the solicitation for proposals to provide those services.

“We’re strong proponents of performance-based contracts that have financial incentives built into the agreement to incentivize the service provider to meet or exceed certain performance standards and that penalize those providers if they fall short,” Lauria said.

OG&E’s Jefferson advised negotiating terms, such as door rates and labor rates, before sending any work to an outside vendor.

Communicate Expectations
Keeping the lines of communication open and staying informed are critical to maintaining a successful partnership with an outsourced vendor.

“Don’t let things get too bad before you communicate to the vendor that you have a problem,” Jefferson said. “We try to communicate our expectations upfront.”

According to Guthro, one of the most common mistakes fleets make is losing visibility of the cost and quality of outsourced maintenance work.

“Utility fleets should ensure they have the right level of data to effectively manage the quality and costs of external service providers,” he said. “Some fleets struggle to maintain oversight of vendors when repairs are outsourced frequently, taking for granted that the work is being properly completed and for a fair value. They need to define the data metrics that will help them oversee costs and identify potential repeat repairs from the same vendors.”

OG&E receives daily vendor updates in a spreadsheet format, which Jefferson said cuts down on phone calls and makes communication easier for everyone involved. The company also holds quarterly or annual meetings with vendors where the vendors are rated on sales, service, support, pricing and more.

“We can see from year to year from our point of view. Then, at the end of the meeting, we ask for their feedback,” Jefferson added.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Do What Works for Your Fleet
Any organization that is considering outsourcing must first identify and understand their objectives. Paul Lauria, president of Mercury Associates, suggested asking these questions during the process:

  • Is outsourcing being considered in order to save money?
  • Will outsourcing improve performance of the operating units?
  • Will outsourcing create greater accountability?
  • Is outsourcing intended to more quickly and cost-effectively modernize fleet management practices by buying state-of-the-art capabilities, information systems and so forth versus trying to build those things in-house?

For most utility fleets, it is beneficial to maintain a balanced model of service delivery, but remember: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

“As a fleet manager, you need to evaluate the unique characteristics of your fleet – including the geographic region in which you conduct business – to develop a tailored solution that puts you in the best position to operate a safe, cost-effective and reliable fleet,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for ARI.

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