Author: Grace Suizo


Best Practices for Managing Tire Costs

Running a successful utility fleet operation requires fleet managers to, among other things, stay on top of any and every aspect of the business that will impact total operating costs.

A fleet’s tire program is one aspect that makes a significant impact. According to Gary Schroeder, director of global truck and bus tire business for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. (, tire programs are the second-highest operating cost – behind fuel – for the majority of fleets.

So, what can utility fleets do in an effort to control those expenses?

“Helping fleets understand their total tire operating costs – and the role that tires can play in reducing these costs – is important,” said Dustin Lancy, marketing manager for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. ( “Some fleets consider tire price to be the driving factor, but we urge them to look beyond the upfront cost of a tire and instead … optimize the return on their tire investment.”

Focus on What Matters Most
Keeping tire costs in check requires a tire program that includes proper tire selection, timely maintenance and frequent inspections.

Fairfax Water, a utility headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, maintains a selection of tires and tire/wheel assemblies at each of its maintenance facilities, replenishing as needed. Light-duty tires are mounted and balanced in-house, while the tire/wheel assemblies for the fleet’s larger heavy-duty trucks, trailers and equipment are sent out for servicing.

The utility typically budgets and spends $60,000 to $70,000 annually on tires and road services, according to Dale Collins, Fairfax Water’s fleet services supervisor. 

Collins emphasized the importance of selecting the right tire for each fleet asset.

“Don’t skimp on quality, and don’t overbuy either,” he said. “For example, if a regrooved tire meets the needs, it should be used. A regrooved tire is much more economical and aids in sustainability efforts.”

Cooper Tire’s Schroeder said that initial purchase price, fuel efficiency, tread life and casing integrity all influence the cost of a tire.

Toughness and traction also are considerations. They are highly sought-after tire-performance characteristics because of the debris-strewn surfaces that utility trucks often travel across, Lancy added.

Schroeder agreed. “In our experience, a utility fleet is looking for a fuel-efficient tire that provides good traction along with scrub resistance,” he said.

For its heavy-duty vehicles, Fairfax Water selects tires with the proper load range and tread style (traction or steering), and they may be new or regrooved. For its light-duty units, the utility insists on new tires with vehicle OEM sizing and load ranges. Fairfax chooses all-terrain or all-season tread styles for most applications.

Timely PM and Inspections are Key
Another aspect of effectively managing tire costs is performing timely preventive maintenance (PM) services. This helps to detect potential problems early on that could diminish tire life, according to Collins.

“Things to check for beyond over- or underinflation include unusual wear patterns, which if detected early enough, can be countered or corrected,” Lancy said. “Also, look for cuts, cracks, blisters and other anomalies. If conditions are severe, the tire should be taken out of service.”

Daily pre-trip and post-trip inspections performed by operators also help to identify issues between PMs, Collins said.

“Tire pressure monitoring systems really help, but our operators are the key players. A well-trained professional driver can have a huge effect on tire life/wear,” he noted.

And whether it’s during an inspection or a PM, tire inflation is among the most critical items to check out.

“Maintaining correct inflation pressure is probably the single-most effective practice a fleet can employ to positively impact tire wear, casing life and overall tire performance,” Lancy said.

A properly inflated tire wears longer, runs cooler, performs better and is safer, according to Collins.

Utility truck tire inflation levels should be checked at least once a week, using a calibrated tire gauge, or more often if feasible, Lancy advised.

“Both over- and underinflation should be avoided since these conditions change a tire’s footprint, which can cause irregular and/or premature wear and loss of traction,” he explained. “Underinflation also causes tires to flex more as they roll down the road and can impair fuel economy since underinflated tires force truck engines to work harder. Like tires for other applications, utility truck tires are designed to run at specific pressures based on the load they are required to carry.”

Finally, Collins recommended installing a tire compound in heavy-duty truck, trailer and construction equipment tires. Doing so not only helps to seal small punctures, but it also provides a balancing effect that assists with ride, handling and tread wear.

“We have found with the compound installed that our tire failure rate has dropped,” Collins said. “Tires that can be replaced due to wear versus failing prematurely helps reduce costs.”

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.


Cover All Bases
Downtime is typically not an option for utility fleets, especially those providing necessary resources during emergency situations. Vehicles must be up and running, and that requires fully functioning tires.

Round-the-clock emergency roadside services are an important contributor to an effective utility truck tire program.

“Our tire vendor’s ability to supply tires – loose or mounted assemblies – and prompt road services is paramount; having to wait extended periods of time for tires or road service is just not acceptable,” said Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax Water in Virginia.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is one company that offers emergency roadside service to utility fleets through its Storm Priority program, which is connected to the 24/7 Goodyear-Fleet HQ Emergency Roadside Service program. Utility fleets call a dedicated phone line and are immediately routed to the 24/7 Goodyear Solution Center, where trained tire professionals collect vital tire information and then locate and dispatch a tire service technician to the incapacitated utility truck’s location for emergency tire service.

The Goodyear-Fleet HQ Emergency Roadside Service program has helped return to service more than 1.7 million trucks of all vocations and configurations, according to the company.


Strategies for Addressing the Looming Technician Shortage

With more baby boomers heading into retirement, industries that have benefited from these individuals’ decades of experience and expertise — including the utility fleet sector — are now left to hire and retain new talent.

That won’t be easy, according to Jennifer Maher, CEO and executive director of TechForce Foundation (, whose mission is to champion students to and through their education and into careers as professional technicians. “There has been a critical shortage of qualified technicians for at least 20 years, so as the rest of the baby boomers retire within the next 10 years, things can only worsen. A report that we published late last year indicated that for this year alone, the vehicle industry – auto, diesel and collision – needs more than 137,000 new-entrant technicians.”

But it’s not just the retirements that will make matters worse, Maher said. “There simply are not enough young people seeking a technician career by any means – formal or informal education and training – to fill the void. Our school systems in this country have either reduced or eliminated vocational training in favor of a four-year degree. In effect, they have abandoned working with your hands as a viable career path, which is absurd not only because of the tech shortage, but also because a tech career offers a solid, middle-class lifestyle.”

So, what can utility fleets do to address this problem – and what should they opt not to do?

“The worst thing utility fleet managers can do is take a wait-and-see attitude. When you don’t have enough qualified techs to service the fleet, no matter which one, there is going to be a loss in productivity and efficiency,” Maher said. “The entire industry – associations, manufacturers, service facilities, et cetera – has to come together to solve the problem. For the sake of the industry, even competitors will have to check their self-interests at the door.”

A Tough Task
It’s no surprise that fleets seek to hire experienced candidates to replace those employees who have retired or left the company for other reasons. But some losses make more of an impact than others, and replacing those workers typically isn’t easy. 

For example, John Adkisson, transportation manager for PPL Electric Utilities, said that it’s a major loss when employees who can work on hydraulic aerial devices or specialized equipment – and who can train others to do the same – leave the company. “We usually make sure techs come from technical schools or have a body of knowledge from prior job experience, but the hydraulic training is coming from in-house,” he said.

To address this issue, PPL hired a former hydraulic mechanic in October 2017 to serve as an in-house instructor and share his knowledge with others. “Eighty percent of his time is spent training; the rest is on actual maintenance. When there is an opportunity for the specialized hydraulic work, the less-seasoned techs use that time for on-the-job training,” Adkisson said.

Proactive Approach
Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) has taken a proactive approach to attracting prospective employees by working with several area technical colleges over the past four years to increase the pool of qualified candidates for its fleet. Initially, however, there wasn’t much interest from the students.

“A lot of these students going into vocational tech schools already have a preconceived notion of what they want to do when they leave,” explained Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for NPPD. “They go into it to work at Caterpillar or end up at Deere. When you hear ‘utility,’ it’s easy to automatically jump to the conclusion of line-type work rather than the fleet service.”

To spark greater interest, NPPD decided to bring fleet equipment into the schools and hold utility demonstration events. During these events, staff from the utility go into classrooms and provide 10- to 15-minute presentations about how the equipment operates, what they work on and some of the challenges they face.

“That builds excitement, and then we have the candidate pool,” Gilliland said.

NPPD employees also serve on the advisory boards of these colleges, which has allowed them to provide input on some of the curriculum and order of class schedules. That also presented the opportunity for an internship program. “Typically it starts with some shadowing, they get some familiarity,” Gilliland said. “We have the opportunity then to have a second person on board for jobs that require two people. Eventually, as they mature in the internship, they typically work on their own.”

NPPD offers one to two paid internships per year, ranging from 20 to 40 hours per week during its regular Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule. Hours are flexible to accommodate students’ class schedules. Gilliland said the program has worked out well, with students moving on to take positions with other utilities as well as vendors that service utilities.

For other fleets interested in implementing a similar program, Gilliland suggested contacting local tech schools to find out about their current internship programs, how they work, and whether they’re done on a semester or quarterly basis.

“Then just have an open dialogue about what you and the company want to get from that internship and what the school can provide, then jointly create that opportunity,” Gilliland 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.


Starting at the Grassroots Level
Whether a fleet will be able to adequately fill the roles of seasoned employees when they leave the company will depend on several factors. It’s helpful to have a plan in place and take advantage of available resources.

“If we’re going to solve the qualified technician shortage problem, we need to work at the grassroots level, offering tangible and relevant experiences to adolescents as they start to think about their careers,” said Jennifer Maher, CEO and executive director of TechForce Foundation.

Local community colleges and training schools are good places to begin recruiting candidates, in addition to hosting on-site job fairs where students and parents can gain a better understanding of what fleet businesses do and how they do it.

Maher also noted the Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual National Technician Skills Competition – also known as TMCSuperTech – which attracts contestants from all segments of the industry, many of whom have won state, regional and corporate skills championships.

“If a fleet manager wants to hire the techs with the most potential, these competitions provide ready-made opportunities to start a conversation with them,” Maher said.

TechForce recently unveiled its revamped website (, designed, built and managed by Autoshop Solutions. The new site includes the FutureTech Resource Hub, a one-stop-shop portal through which future technicians can find after-school programs, clubs, events, technical schools, scholarships and training that help develop their skills and pathway to the technician profession. Additionally, the site includes the new Industry Hub, through which industry recruiters, managers, working technicians and educators can find helpful resources to support and connect with future technicians.


3 Ways Telematics Can Help Improve Fleet Safety

One benefit of implementing a telematics solution is that it can help create a safer environment for utility fleet employees. How? UFP recently reached out to several industry experts, who provided three of the most valuable ways telematics data is currently being used to strengthen fleet safety.  

1. Telematics solutions can be used to monitor driving behavior and coach drivers.
Each day, fleet managers are tasked with ensuring the safety of their drivers as well as the public. Analyzing telematics data can help reveal driving trends and behaviors – such as speeding, hard braking, rapid acceleration, hard turns and unauthorized usage – that may be contrary to a company’s safety policies. 

“The data available through telematics is much more than maintenance and fuel transactions; it can track or predict behaviors that impact fleet costs,” said Spero A. Skarlatos, CTP, senior consultant, truck solutions for Element Fleet Management (

And once an undesirable trend or behavior is discovered, some telematics providers, such as GPS Insight (, provide real-time and post-incident coaching for drivers on ways they can improve. Feedback can come in the form of text messages to the driver that tell them to slow down, or a buzzer that goes off to coach drivers in the cab in real time. In addition, according to Ryan Driscoll, GPS Insight’s marketing director, the company also supplies “actionable data for managers to coach their drivers after the fact to help educate drivers on how to improve behavior behind the wheel.”

Telematics-based driver coaching also leverages gamification, informing drivers of how they compare to their peers in terms of safe driving behavior and related areas, such as deployment of onboard scales integrated into telematics systems to make sure vehicles are not loaded beyond their weight rating, according to Geoff Scalf, director of global oil and gas business development for Telogis (

2. Telematics data is being used to improve emergency response times.
Another valuable way fleets are using telematics data is to find new ideas to more quickly respond to emergency situations.

With telematics, Driscoll said, “[w]hen utilities send their crews in to help, they can see their entire fleet, make decisions on which trucks can be used to help and ensure they take the proper routes.”

In addition to knowing where fleet vehicles are, knowing where a technician or crew is located in real time also is critical, especially for sending help when it is needed. So, what about those times when a lineworker is alone or doesn’t have access to a phone, and calling for help may be impossible?

GPS Insight created a custom panic button on a key fob, specifically designed to operate independently of the user’s vehicle, that can be tapped when an emergency arises. This alerts dispatch/management, who can then send help.

3. Telematics systems provide greater asset visibility. 
Gaining visibility of assets is the most important use of telematics systems for utility fleets, according to Kimberly Clark, director of telematics products for Element Fleet Management.

“Safety of drivers and security of the vehicles is always critical in both everyday work and the post-event response work where drivers and vehicles might be deployed hundreds of miles away from their home territory,” she said.

Through the use of telematics, utility fleets can get a clear picture of what’s really going on with their fleet operations – in particular, the vehicles and equipment.

“This includes analysis of congregation of vehicles at sites, getting visibility to storm surge assets deployment in critical areas, providing customers access to real-time technician deployments in their neighborhood, and tracking productivity metrics to maximize technician site time and associated grid online needs,” Clark explained.

Asset visibility is just as important for maintenance work as it is for new construction work; to control project costs, it is essential to tightly manage the fleet’s assets and the utilization of those assets at construction sites. In terms of vehicle utilization, gaining greater asset visibility through telematics use can help fleets better plan for the types of vehicles needed in the field and where to place trucks with specific upfits, Clark said.

Telematics solutions also can capture odometer readings and automate reminders for any type of maintenance needed based on those odometer readings, run time or scheduled dates. These reminders are sent to the driver, the mechanic and management so that services are not overlooked or forgotten about. Reports also can be run to determine if any services are overdue.

“Critical to effective asset management is knowing assets are well-maintained and compliant with acceptable safety standards,” Scalf said. “With electronic [driver vehicle inspection reports], inspection information is uploaded on the spot, giving management an up-to-the-minute overview of equipment safety.”

Other telematics features, such as routing, also can advise drivers to avoid unsafe roads, bad weather and more.

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 Technology to Reduce Engine Idle

In the U.S., roughly 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline are consumed each year by idling engines on medium- and heavy-duty trucks, according to Argonne National Laboratory ( So, improving fuel economy – and thus lowering fuel expenses – without sacrificing performance is a must for utility fleets that often have to idle assets during working hours. 

UFP recently reached out to industry experts to gain some deeper insight about this issue and discover possible idling solutions for utility fleet operations.

A Changing Landscape
For a long time, technology selections for medium-duty trucks were very limited, according to George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (

But that’s changing. And while many fleets take a driver-behavior-based approach to idle reduction, one advantage of an equipment-based solution is that the change typically is good for the life of the equipment, said Survant, who also spent more than 25 years as a telecom fleet manager.

“We, as fleet operators, are becoming more sophisticated in our acceptance of new technology and sensitive to the need for better solutions,” he said. “Consequently, the market is producing more viable solutions that are made for an increasing number of applications.”

In Survant’s experience, each of the segments of a fleet may require different types of solutions to reduce idling based on vehicle type/mission. Idle reduction technologies for medium-duty trucks include air heaters, coolant heaters, waste-heat recovery systems and battery/auxiliary power systems, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (

“For vehicles with extreme temperature swings – high or low or both – cab heating and cooling from stored energy may be a legitimate tool,” he said. “Stored energy solutions also may work for high-PTO-use equipment. With some of the new OEM products, where the manufacturer is increasing torque and horsepower with smaller displacement engines, a careful review of the legacy truck specification may reveal impressive opportunity for improvement.”

Additionally, Survant said some of the best opportunities for idle reduction come from vehicles built with stop-start technology. He noted that the “technology can be unsettling to the driver until they learn to trust the equipment’s restart capabilities, along with understanding the slightly different driving technique needed to take advantage of these capabilities.”

It is important to recognize that while some vehicles may share a basic description and upfit, not all of them will necessarily benefit from an idle mitigation strategy. For instance, “Think of an aerial unit that could use stored energy for PTO operations but does not deploy the aerial unit often enough to justify the cost of the mitigation strategy,” Survant explained.

Realizing Benefits
Washington-based Clark Public Utilities wanted to provide its fleet exceptionally reliable equipment, reduce its dependency on fuel and lower transportation emissions – in that order, said Paul Chamberlain, fleet services manager for CPU.

The company sought a solution that would not impede upon the work required of the equipment, but that would provide operators access to heat and air conditioning, offer programmable features, be cost-effective, and have the capability of managing numerous inputs and outputs.

Of CPU’s 265-unit fleet, 29 over-the-road vehicles have been upfitted with idle management systems. The company is currently using two different systems: GRIP Idle Management System by Canadian Extreme Climate Systems ( for light- and medium-duty equipment, and Zone Technologies’ OZONE TECH ( for heavy-duty equipment. According to Chamberlain, CPU prioritized integration of idle management systems onto equipment that exhibited high levels of idling as well as high levels of mechanical failures due to idling.

The idle reduction module is designed to start and stop the engine within a controlled set of programmability values and ambient temperature. It can be integrated into both gas and diesel engine applications within the electrical system of any vehicle.

The results? “We are averaging about a 25 percent reduction within the trucks upfitted with idle management, with a fleet average of about 15 percent overall,” Chamberlain said. “Not all of it has been as the result of technology, but has been a combination of technology and employees making an effort to shut their vehicles off when they do not need to idle.”

Where to Start
If you’re wondering where to begin with an idle reduction strategy for your fleet, first and foremost, be clear about what you are trying to achieve.

“It is imperative to know what you need and are expecting from an idle management system,” Chamberlain said. “There are vendors more than willing to work with you toward a solution that will meet your needs.”  

Survant shared similar advice: “Weigh the existing fleet performance and forecast the amount of improvement potential to the units you are upgrading to the new technology. Some segments of your fleet may only get a 2 to 3 percent reduction in fuel burned, but when evaluated against the cost of the mitigation strategy, even what appears to be a modest improvement has the potential to provide a solid return on your investment.”

Good techniques for addressing fleet engine idling include identifying the idle characteristics of your fleet by vehicle type, understanding the root cause of the high-idle conditions you need to address and finding good technology-to-mission matches to deploy anti-idle strategies.

“As more and more equipment goes into service with idle mitigation technology, every gain becomes a permanent improvement in your operation into the fleet’s future for the life of the new technology,” Survant 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.


Technology Helps Fleets Streamline Maintenance Operations

Where fleet maintenance is concerned, technology providers including Decisiv ( and Zonar Systems ( have been working with utilities to maximize visibility, consistency and transparency, among other things.

“Those actually go right to your bottom line because you reduce costs, you reduce downtime, and you make everybody more effective and the whole process more efficient,” said Michael Riemer, vice president of product and channel marketing for Decisiv.

Decreasing Downtime
Reducing downtime is a primary goal of nearly every utility fleet manager since it is a huge productivity killer.

“If your asset is down for two days but should only be down for two hours, that’s a huge cost,” Riemer said.

One of the biggest culprits contributing to unnecessary downtime are inefficient and often outdated paper-based systems and communication methods. Much of the time involved in a service event – from the time someone realizes an asset is broken to the time it’s back in service – has nothing to do with fixing the asset, Riemer noted. “It’s all the other things: the talking, the paper finding, the communicating, the scheduling. It’s a highly inefficient process which dramatically increases downtime,” he said.

Idaho-based Kootenai Electric Cooperative, a Zonar Systems customer since 2014, was at one point all too familiar with that unwanted downtime. KEC was looking to improve communication between drivers and fleet through the use of electronic pre- and post-trip inspections to help ensure all 110 fleet vehicles were up and running as often as possible.

“We were having a huge communication issue between the driver and fleet when it came to yellow or red tag violations on the vehicles,” said Mike Stevens, KEC fleet mechanic.

Drivers would work overtime and come in after hours with issues, such as a mirror falling off or another repair.

“Now, even if no one is there when [a driver gets] back to the shop, they can give it a yellow tag violation. I get a notification email and when we show up to work the next morning, we go repair that without even physically talking to them,” Stevens said, referring to KEC’s use of Zonar Systems’ electronic verified inspection reporting, or EVIR.

According to Jeff Wells, Zonar’s vice president, “With EVIR, we can actually go in and send that information electronically within seconds to get those shops to make those repairs and also include items such as VINs and meter data [engine hours and mileage], which is also very beneficial in their business on remote vehicles.”

Precision Pays Off
Decisiv helps customers by providing a single platform for managing all of their service events, whether they are being performed in-house or by third parties.

“We pull all the telematics and diagnostic information, service history, build details, warranty information, service bulletins, recalls, maintenance status, etc., so that when you’re working on an event, you have a very clear understanding of what’s going on with that asset and what needs to be done to it,” Riemer said.

Doing so enables technicians to fix issues correctly the first time and cut down on triage time, which in turn has been able to reduce customer downtime.

Zonar Systems has had similar experiences with its customers by being able to cut back on unnecessary repairs.

“We can now diagnose what the problem is and avoid the road call altogether,” Wells said. “So there’s a significant amount of time and money that’s being saved. And then the ones that we do need to go out and do repairs on, we have better insight as to what to bring so those repairs are being done in an effective manner.”

For fleets looking to implement new technologies into their maintenance operations, both Riemer and Wells recommended first having a strong understanding of your business along with goals and objectives, the current systems in place in your organization and how they’re being used, as well as who’s in charge of those systems.

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.


Cutting Costs, Making Profits
In addition to assisting with fleet maintenance operations, Zonar Systems’ technology has helped utilities cut costs and make a profit.

One of the company’s customers of over 10 years has been able to better manage its existing fleet of more than 12,000 units to eliminate the cost of renting equipment. Jeff Wells, Zonar’s vice president, described the fleet’s problem as a rental dependency.

“They were renting equipment,” he said. “For example, they had two sites that were within 20 miles of each other. Location 1 had a piece of equipment needed by Location 2, but Location 1 claimed they used it all the time. What we’ve been able to do for them is lower that rental dependency by providing insight into Location 1 utilization. Those conversations are really easy when you have the data. We can say, ‘OK, Location 1, you haven’t used this piece of equipment in a year, so we are going to send it to Location 2 and use what we have rather than take on that cost of renting a piece of equipment for Location 2.’ That was the biggest benefit for them.”

Another customer, Kootenai Electric Cooperative, was able to achieve return on investment within one year of implementing Zonar’s EVIR system.

“We implemented in 2014, and then in November 2015 we had a major storm,” said Mike Stevens, fleet mechanic for the cooperative. “We were able to track our vehicles 24 hours a day, monitor them, and then we put up geofences around the affected areas. We were able to get back $2 million in FEMA funding by proving the vehicles were there.”


3 Problems to Avoid When Spec’ing a Cable Reel Trailer

When it comes to installing cables, pipes and the like, cable reel trailers can help utility and telecom crews boost productivity and efficiency so they can get more done in less time and for a lower cost of operation. That is, of course, assuming that they’ve selected the right equipment for the job.

Considering most cable reel trailers can last at least 10 years – or possibly even up to 20 if properly maintained – careful thought and consideration should be put into spec’ing the right unit prior to purchase. Not doing so could mean the difference between spending thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars.

According to Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products for Felling Trailers (, the price of reel trailers varies greatly depending on weight-carrying requirements and the options the trailers are equipped with.

For example, a simple single reel trailer that can haul a 3,000-pound reel can start as low as $3,000, while a three-reel trailer – set up to haul 10,000-pound reels and loaded with options such as hydraulic payout/take-up assemblies and tensioning brakes – can be $65,000, he explained.

Donnie Bright, business development manager for Sherman + Reilly (, had a similar response, noting that cost is influenced by the scope of work desired.

“Cost of ownership is very minimal if the cable reel trailer is sized and used correctly,” he said. “Keep your trailer properly maintained per the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. The life cycle will vary, but if properly maintained and only slightly abused, you should see a minimum 10 to 20 years of service on a quality-built trailer.”

Spec’ing Problems and Pointers
Rapp and Bright shared some of the most common spec’ing problems they’ve seen, and they offered pointers for spec’ing the right cable reel trailer for your fleet operation.

Problem 1: The spec factors in the wrong reel size.
For Rapp, identifying the incorrect reel size is by far the biggest mistake he’s seen customers make when spec’ing a trailer.

“A reel-carrying assembly rated to haul a 60-inch-wide reel that weighs 6,000 pounds may not be rated to haul a 48-inch-wide reel that weighs the same,” he said. “The narrower reel centers more weight to the center of the reel bar, whereas the wider reel’s weight is closer to the carrier. So it’s important to know the range of reel sizes that are going to be hauled.”

Problem 2: Center holes are not compatible with reel bars.
Another issue Rapp identified pertains to the center hole in a reel through which the reel bar passes. The majority of reels have center holes that range from 3 to 3.125 inches. “We provide the largest diameter reel bar that will pass through,” he said. “There are some instances when the reels have smaller holes and smaller diameter reel bars can be supplied. Large diameter holes up to 5 inches can be found on innerduct and large diameter steel and wood reels. In these instances, a tapered adapter can be supplied that slides over the standard reel bar.”

Problem 3: Selecting trailers that are not designed for highway use.
The most common problem Bright sees is companies purchasing reel trailers that are not designed or rated to transport reels on the highway, and the purchasers are unaware that the trailers can’t be used to transport reels. After deciding on the maximum size of the reels to carry, be sure the chosen trailer can carry the maximum rated reel at normal highway speeds, Bright advised.

Max It Out
To get even more use out of your cable reel trailer, Rapp suggested opting for a unit that has bolt or reel stand assemblies.

“Most reel trailers are built for a specific purpose,” he said. “When they aren’t being used, they sit. When the trailer is not being used in the reel trailer capacity, you can remove the reel stands and have a functional flatbed trailer.”

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.


Ask the Right Questions
What is the best approach to properly spec a cable reel trailer? Here are some questions to help guide you to your final selection.
• What type of operation is being performed? Is it an underground or overhead conductor application? “There are several ways to spec these out,” Rapp said. “In some applications, you may want speed. In other applications, a strong line pull rating may be needed. There are many options available depending on the application. For instance, rollers can be provided along the floor of the trailer in an underground conductor application to maintain the integrity of the insulation surrounding the conductor. You don’t want to damage it by dragging it along the floor.”
• Do you want to transport the reel from yard to job site? “If so, be sure the trailer manufacturer rates the trailer to be used to transport maximum size reel in highway conditions,” Bright said.
• How many reels will need to be hauled at the same time?
• What is the maximum reel weight, width and height you would like to handle with the trailer? Diameter, width, weight and arbor hole size are important.
• What truck size/class is needed to tow the trailer with the maximum size rated reel?
• Does the trailer need to be self-loading? “In this application, a forklift or crane will not be needed to load a reel,” Rapp said. “The trailer reel bar hydraulically lowers to pick up a reel and then raises it to a locked position to be transported. Many of the same options available on a standard reel trailer can be applied to a self-loading one.”


What CK-4 and FA-4 Engine Oils Mean for Your Fleet

Manufacturers have stepped up their technology efforts to meet rigorous fuel-efficiency and emissions standards. In doing so, many next-generation engines will need higher-performing diesel engine oils to protect them. This requires changes in engine oil composition to withstand more heat without sacrificing engine protection.

A new generation of diesel engine oils was rolled out in December 2016. One of those oils is CK-4, a high-temperature, high-shear (HTHS) oil that can be used in both new and existing engines. It is available in the same viscosity grades and oil types currently being used in fleet operations.

According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), CK-4 can be used in high-speed, four-stroke-cycle diesel engines designed to meet 2017 model-year on-highway and Tier 4 non-road exhaust emission standards, as well as previous model-year diesel engines.

As much as possible, minimize exposure between new and old engine oils to ensure the benefits of CK-4 as well as continued OEM warranty support, advised Mark Betner, heavy-duty product line manager for CITGO (

A second oil type that debuted in December – FA-4 – has limited backward compatibility and is better suited for 2017 model-year engines and beyond. This “low-HTHS” oil is offered in lower viscosity grades and is not recommended for use with fuels having greater than 15 parts per million sulfur, according to API (

What Are the Benefits?
Benefits of the new CK-4 and FA-4 oils include increased fuel economy and lower emissions.

“Lower-viscosity engine oils will improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases over [previous] engine oils,” Betner said. “FA-4 engine oils in an FA-4-compliant engine will offer even greater fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases.”

In addition, “Today’s lighter weights can deliver the equivalent or even better wear protection than a CJ-4 15W-40 oil, along with significantly improved oil drain performance,” according to Len Badal, global Delo brand manager for Chevron Lubricants (

Betner agreed, noting the advanced technology of these two engine oils provides significant improvements in deposit control, shear stability and oil aeration control. “These engine oils will also have a 60 percent better oxidation resistance compared to API CJ-4, which aids in extended service intervals,” he explained.

Badal mentioned that off-road equipment would reap significant rewards from CK-4. “CK-4 oils deliver many benefits that directly address major issues with off-road equipment, including extended drain intervals, reduced engine wear and ability to extend rebuild intervals,” he said. “Off-highway equipment operators stand to gain a lot of benefits from the new API CK-4 oils, with a direct impact on reliability, productivity and profitability.”

Based on reduced fuel consumption, and extended oil drain and engine rebuild intervals, potential cost savings are expected.

Fleets surveyed by CITGO reported improved fuel efficiency after converting to its new API CK-4 oils, with improvement ranging from 1.6 to 3.2 percent after 50,000 miles.

What’s the Next Step?
Identify the units in your fleet that will be most impacted, and always check the owner’s manual for the proper lubricant recommendation.

One particular area of concern is for fleets comprised of various makes and models. Some automakers have indicated that neither one of the new engine oils should be used in certain vehicles at this time.

Nebraska Public Power District is one utility that has been proactively addressing that issue. Matt Gilliland, NPPD’s director of transportation and facilities, said he has been communicating with internal staff and servicing vendors to address the diversity of units in the organization’s fleet.

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.


OEM Specs for API CK-4 and FA-4 Oils
Major diesel engine and truck manufacturers recently provided their own OEM specifications that connect with the new API CK-4 and FA-4 categories for their new model GHG 2017 diesel engines, with several also citing backward compatibility as well as upgrades to support longer oil drain intervals. These initial specs are mainly focused on CK-4 but should include more FA-4 data in the future.

OEM Specs

Source: Len Badal/Chevron Lubricants


3 Mistakes to Avoid When Managing Vendor Relationships

Maintaining strong working relationships with vendors is critical to running a smooth fleet operation.

To find out what makes and breaks these relationships, UFP recently spoke with Ron Henne, transportation supervisor for Eversource in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts; Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District; and Mel Holloway, product manager for global fleet management company ARI.

For all three men, customer service stands out as a major factor in determining if a vendor is going to be a short- or long-term partner.

Nebraska Public Power District has been working with several suppliers for 10 to 20 years because they continue to meet the fleet’s customer service expectations, according to Gilliland.

“We look for a vendor who will fix or supply it right the first time, on time, and at a fair price,” he said.

In addition to great customer service, vendors that provide total support – including post-sales support such as training – help seal the deal for Henne.

But what prevents fleet managers and vendors from establishing effective relationships? Be cautious of these three pitfalls.

1. Placing Too Much Emphasis on Cost
One mistake fleet managers make is basing purchase decisions – whether for equipment or service – solely on cost. Expecting something for next to nothing is a bad way to start or maintain a strong relationship with a vendor.

“Don’t just look at price,” Henne said. “Do your due diligence. Equipment is not a short-term purchase. You’re making a 10- to 15-year decision. The purchase price could be great, but what’s it going to cost you down the road? For example, you might save $1,000 on a piece of equipment, but roadside assistance is not included with the five-year warranty and could cost $5,000 to have it delivered every time it has a problem. So you really have to check everything. It’s the total package – the parts, the training, the warranty.”

Gilliland echoed that sentiment. “Poor customer service, poor delivery timelines and shoddy work cost more in the long run than any money saved up front,” he said. “A wise man once told me this: There are three kinds of service: fast, cheap and good. Pick two because you can never have all three.”

He strongly recommends a matrix approach to vendor selection that includes inputs such as local presence, past performance, response time, cost, warranty and support systems.

2. Poor Communication
It is no secret that excellent communication is essential to any strong relationship, but fleet managers and vendors sometimes struggle to effectively interact with each other.

“Many fleet managers have their own preferred communication methods, but above all communication needs to be timely and efficient,” Holloway said. “[Fleet management companies] need to blend a variety of techniques ranging from proactive push reporting to phone calls and in-person communications to ensure they are meeting the client’s need for information.”

Both Henne and Gilliland prefer to communicate with vendors via email.

However, fleet managers and vendors should choose their communication method based on what’s happening within their operation at the time. “If you’re going to buy 50 new trucks, that’s not an email,” Henne said. “That’s when you need to schedule several meetings. For a high-risk or complex situation, you’re going to want to be face to face.”

Holloway advised fleet managers to communicate often. “Don’t wait until there is a problem to reach out to a vendor,” he said. “Treat vendors as if they are a valued part of your team. Communicating changes about the fleet or equipment will help your vendors to stay up to date on your company’s needs.

“Remember that your vendor also has a business to run,” Holloway continued. “Scheduling conflicts, deadlines, cash flow and business growth are problems faced by most vendors. Awareness of and responsiveness to each other’s issues can help build long-term, satisfying and beneficial relationships with vendors.”

3. Unclear Goals and Expectations
Fleet managers must avoid ambiguity about their goals, objectives and expectations, particularly when it comes to expressing them to their vendor partners.

“Make sound decisions,” Henne said. “Develop your spec – consult internal users and make sure it’s detailed with everything needed – and then set out to bid with all the requirements.”

Determine which one vendor can provide what you need, when you need it, and for the right price. Evaluate everything from response time to contract terms to costs. Relationships take time to develop, so select a vendor with whom you and your fleet will be able to grow. At the same time, train vendors to meet your needs if necessary.

When a vendor understands how important customer service is to you, for example, they will be encouraged to work harder in that area. An understanding of your goals will help them make the best decisions in your favor.

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.


Factors to Consider When Making Outsourcing Decisions

Deciding whether to outsource maintenance and repair work or perform it in-house can be a daunting task for fleet managers. To gain some industry insight, UFP recently spoke with Holly Giffrow-Bos, fleet supervisor for East Central Energy (ECE), and Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company (AIC), about what’s worked for their operations and what to consider if you’re leaning toward outsourcing part or all of your maintenance and repair work.

According to Giffrow-Bos, about 15 to 20 percent of ECE’s fleet jobs are outsourced. These typically include body work, warranty work and any kind of heavy-duty engine or transmission replacement work. The electric distribution cooperative, headquartered in Braham, Minn., has a fleet of approximately 180 units.

Due to the level of training and the resources required to perform body work, Giffrow-Bos said ECE “never got into it because of the expense of having that specially trained person and equipment.” The fleet also doesn’t have a lot of jobs that require body work.

In general, ECE handles all diagnostics, repairs and preventive maintenance in-house. This work, too, comes at a significant expense; each of the cooperative’s in-house technicians must be trained on all vehicle makes and models used by the fleet, as well as a range of different tasks.

“They have to know hydraulics to mechanical to electronics, hydraulic over electrical,” Giffrow-Bos said.

AIC – a Collinsville, Ill.-based utility with a fleet of approximately 3,300 assets – outsources about one-third of its fleet maintenance and repair work, according to Remmert. This includes some warranty and glass repair jobs, as well as high-tech tasks if AIC’s mechanics haven’t undergone the training needed to do the work. Location also factors into AIC’s outsourcing decisions. If the utility only has 20 vehicles in a small city, Remmert said, “it doesn’t really make sense to have a mechanic there.”

Technician and Facilities Considerations
For a fleet to keep any of its work in-house, fleet managers need to ensure they have enough qualified technicians to handle the work.

“You’ve got to have a solid training program,” Remmert said, and that includes ongoing training.

One reason ECE tries to keep its fleet repair and maintenance work in-house is because the cooperative is located in a rural area. “I’ll do a lot more training with the four technicians I have because we just don’t have many options out there within a short distance to do sublet work,” Giffrow-Bos said.

Every fleet that employs technicians also has to have a place for them to work, so consideration must be given to facilities when deciding whether or not to outsource work.

“For example, for CNG, you actually have to make sure that the building can handle the fire marshal regulations around natural gas or you have to search out vendors that have those abilities,” Remmert explained.

And for fleets thinking about building a facility, “that’s a long-term planning commitment,” he continued. “You have to get the building plot, you have to get the approvals – there are a lot of factors.”

So, for those fleets that simply don’t have the appropriate workspace, it may seem easier to partner with an outside vendor to get the work done. But keep in mind that it’s not always a one-stop shop. As Remmert noted, many vendors are specialized. If a vehicle needs two or three different repairs, it may have to be sent to two to three different shops before it can be driven again, which can sorely affect the vehicle’s uptime.

Downtime can still be a challenge even if a job is only being outsourced to one vendor, Remmert said. “A lot of times my truck is sitting there at a vendor because I’m not their most important customer. They won’t get to that truck until two weeks from now. We find that especially with some high-technology stuff. They may only have one mechanic trained on that component and he’s backlogged and I’m waiting.”

With an in-house program, a technician typically can respond right away in the event of an emergency, and the quality of work may exceed that of an outside vendor’s work.

“[Vendors] don’t always treat your vehicles as if they were their own, so you don’t get the quality of workmanship that you might get from somebody you employ,” Remmert said.

Controlling Costs
Today’s fleet managers are always keeping their eyes on the operation’s finances. If a fleet chooses to outsource, Giffrow-Bos said, that reduces overhead costs because fewer employees and less inventory will be needed.

However, contracting with a vendor often means giving up control in certain ways.

“If a job goes out to a vendor and you really don’t know the condition of that vehicle, you start relying heavily on that vendor,” Remmert explained. “I think you have better control with an in-house model. Also, you can control the parts cost. If the job goes to a small vendor, a lot of times I’m paying retail price for that parts cost, where if I had an in-house model, I’m buying at very strategically low prices because of sourcing bids I have with my major parts vendors. I have versatility.”

To put it simply, deciding whether or not to outsource some or all of your maintenance and repair work is a complex task. For most fleets, it’s about analyzing all of the important factors – including cost, quality and turnaround time – to find the balance that works best for the organization.

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.


Aftermarket vs. OEM Replacement Parts

Are you unsure whether to purchase aftermarket or OEM replacement parts for your fleet’s vehicles? Using a mix of both has proven to be an effective strategy for Ameren Illinois Company (AIC), Fairfax County Water Authority (Fairfax Water) and Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), according to fleet representatives from the three utilities.

Safety, performance, availability and quality are among the factors that make OEM parts the best option for certain aspects of fleet operations.

“On critical components, it’s better to get the original equipment parts instead of taking a chance on questionable quality of the aftermarket materials,” explained Dale Collins, CAFM, fleet services supervisor for Virginia-based Fairfax Water, which maintains more than 400 fleet units. “Folks can easily replicate good-quality wiper blades, but not more sophisticated electronic parts.”

Several years ago Fairfax Water replaced the original brake pads on its heavy-payload pickup trucks with aftermarket pads that did not hold up well. The utility now relies on the durability of factory OEM brake parts that they have found to be superior to aftermarket products. Fairfax Water also depends on original equipment parts for engine management due to past performance issues with some of its construction equipment, and it uses OEM parts for auto body and crash repairs in critical areas of the vehicle in order to maintain “crashworthiness,” or the ability of a vehicle to protect occupants during an impact.

Similarly, AIC sticks with OEM parts when it comes to electronic and emission components and large component rebuilds such as engine transmissions. According to Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for the Collinsville, Ill.-based utility, OEMs are usually quicker to implement upgrades on emission-related items than aftermarket parts manufacturers.

“With the OEMs, there appears to be less lag on new-model parts,” he said.

Aftermarket Appeal
OEM parts certainly meet various utility fleet needs, yet there are a number of reasons underlying the popularity of aftermarket parts. For one, these parts can help utility fleets save money.

According to Remmert, cost savings is the reason AIC turns to the aftermarket for its preventive maintenance parts, including filters, bulbs and even batteries. In terms of volume, more than 80 percent of the utility’s parts are aftermarket purchases.

Fairfax Water also depends on aftermarket suppliers for tune-up parts, filters, chassis parts, brake parts, wiper blades, bulbs/vehicle lighting and other items.

Beyond cost savings, the aftermarket can provide solutions when OEM parts fail to do the job.

“A few years back we had some pickups that had fuel gauge problems because of how the fuel sending unit was designed,” recalled Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for OG&E. “I read an article about how the aftermarket had already identified [the problem] and so we switched.” OG&E uses aftermarket parts mostly for brakes and suspension, filters, electrical tune-up parts, wipers and batteries, and sometimes for engine components for the pickups and sedans in its fleet of nearly 2,000 units.

Fairfax Water had an experience similar to OG&E’s. “Oftentimes the aftermarket tends to do a better job at re-engineering a weak area in an OEM part,” Collins said. “Years ago we went through a lot of belt tensioners. The bearing itself wasn’t sufficient to support the load, so the aftermarket responded and put in a more robust bearing, which solved a lot of the problems.”

Streamlining of vendors is another reason utility fleets turn to aftermarket parts. For example, in the past OG&E would buy aerial baskets from one manufacturer, digger derricks from another and small baskets from a third. The units would end up with different strobe lights, brake controllers, taillights and other components. Now the fleet minimizes the number of vendors it works with by sticking to one standardized part.

AIC also has increased its reliance on the aftermarket because of the utility’s desire to standardize and streamline its work with vendors.

“If all things are equal, I’m going to go with the aftermarket and get a bigger spend with one guy than some OEM and deal with so many more vendors,” Remmert said. “The desire is to do more with less.”

Remmert enjoys having a single source for sales support as well. “I deal with one guy and he can handle the whole territory,” he explained. “OEMs seem to be more independently owned, so you’ve got multiple contacts, if any sales support at all.”

Plus, AIC has been able to leverage the aftermarket’s non-catalog items. “We use a lot of widgets that typical suppliers wouldn’t stock,” Remmert said. “[Aftermarket parts suppliers] actually go out and find those parts. I haven’t had that kind of luck with an OEM.”

Warranty and Safety Considerations
Charlie Guthro, vice president of operations for ARI, one of the largest fleet management companies in the country, has some insight for utility fleets that are trying to make the choice between OEM and aftermarket parts.

“When faced with the decision of needing to replace a part, fleets should consider whether there is the potential to recover any of the cost under the terms of any existing warranties,” he said. “Generally, warranties are only available on OEM parts.”

Guthro also advised fleets to give ample consideration to the safety of aftermarket parts. “While aftermarket parts can often offer the greatest value, fleet managers should check to be sure the parts do not affect the safe operation of the vehicle or other upfit parts,” 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.

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