Finding the sweet spot: Designing your truck for streamlined maintenance

Published in the June 2016 issue of Fleet Affiliation

Most fleet purchasing professionals grasp the basic principles of process improvement, such as  understanding the value of reviewing current asset performance, identifying operational deficiencies and improving design. Often the concept of maintainability – the ease at which a unit can be maintained or repaired – is far from the lime light. Improvements to design are often driven by end user and operator experiences.

There can be a fine line between maintainability, reliability and durability – as these are completely separate issues. Usually it’s not difficult to address reliability and durability, as these commonly include specifying more rugged components. Typically this adds to the cost, can add weight, or both.

Think ahead, plan for ease of maintenance
Integrating maintainability into your equipment design can result in lifecycle maintenance costs. Simplified maintenance design can result in time savings; you will see it in the bottom line of labor costs for your technicians.

Why is maintainability important? Manufacturers are also looking at product design efficiencies. As the  old saying goes, trucks are meant to be put together – not taken apart. How often have you had to remove a half dozen components just to access a specific part? Another challenge is that work trucks are complex – they often have a combination of components manufactured and supplied by multiple manufacturers. These may or may not have been designed to be combined into a single unit. Lastly, manufacturers may not have an understanding on how the end user will be using their products. Taking all of these issues into consideration and looking at your vehicle design can reduce your overall maintenance cost, while adding minimal costs to the initial purchase.

Where to begin
Understanding how operators use (or abuse) equipment is a critical starting point. You have to get past the idea that operators follow the intended or designed use and learn about the actual use of the equipment. A few examples include:

  • hanging objects on loose wiring harnesses or exposed hydraulic hoses along the wall of a body compartment or bed area.
  • using anything that can be grabbed near an access step, as a grab handle.
  • repurposing grab handles as “D” rings for hanging anything with a hook or snap.

This is why it becomes critical to understand how equipment is actually being used. It may be beneficial to go out into the field and evaluate actual versus intended use.

Gathering feedback
In the past, we’ve discussed becoming a fleet advocate. Now it’s time to utilize some of that headway. Before making changes, talk to your maintenance team – as they are in the best position to offer specific maintenance suggestions. Get the departments that use the equipment involved. Educate them on vehicle design and the importance of maintainability. Ease of maintenance can directly result in lower downtime, which is normally positively received by the using departments. 

Finding that sweet spot
With all complex truck designs, it is nearly impossible to have the perfect truck. Working with your maintenance staff and the actual operators, you should be able to incorporate a decent amount of design considerations when looking at longterm maintenance requirements while minimizing operational issues.

Learning more
If you want to learn more about the process of developing safe, efficient and productive work vehicles, consider NTEA’s two day on-site specifications training program.  This economical program covers multiple aspects of developing vocational truck specifications ranging from basic payload and weight distribution analysis to suggested best practices for the actual writing of specifications. Each class can accommodate up to 25 participants; by partnering with other fleets in your area, you can share the costs for even more savings. Learn more .

If you would like to discuss this or any other fleet issue with NTEA, contact NTEA Director of Fleet Relations Chris Lyon at