At Expertec, our “bread and butter” is building and upfitting custom trucks and vans for a wide swath of businesses and industries.  Many times, that means vehicles that will be torture tested in some of the roughest terrain available – miles offroad on rough-cut trails, industrial jobsites, and handling clients in the big cities in any kind of weather and traffic conditions.

In short, we build trucks and vans that work in places that many people don’t want to.

At the end of the day, though, the men and women that ask us to upfit the trucks that their teams use are most often managing entire fleets of vehicles and, as such, have some of the most challenging jobs in the workplace – managing people and expensive capital assets as they move through traffic and represent the company to the world.

Over the years we’ve worked with many of these folks, we, too, have learned some of the secrets that fleet managers use to keep their vehicles well maintained and clean and their drivers happy and conscientious.  What are they?

Well, just keep reading!

Start here…  The first step of managing a fleet of vehicles – and remember, it only takes one vehicle to be a fleet if that vehicle is only for work purposes – is to create a clear and easy to understand policy on how that vehicle is to be taken care of and the expectations for any and all drivers.

The beauty of such a policy is that it provides you, as the fleet manger, with the “map” that you want any driver to follow.  If the vehicle is far-ranging and likely to not be local to the office, then such a policy could document insurance information, maintenance, exterior and interior cleanliness, and even require any driver to send in pictures of the vehicle at certain points in the day, the week, or the month.

Remember, the manager and the company leadership can custom-tailor this policy to the needs of the company.  Salty winter environments such as we have in Western Canada?  A policy could include the need to have the vehicle’s undercarriage washed on a regular basis to remove contaminants.

Of course, such a policy is useless unless it is actively taught and utilized.  We know of several fleets that require the posting of all policies within the vehicles and make a point of having any driver sign off on the policy each quarter.

As anyone who has rented a car can attest, a driver without a financial incentive may not take the best care of a work truck or van.  Many times, fleets can add a financial component to the policy, allowing drivers the chance to buy the vehicle when it goes out of service or, assuming no violations have occurred, offering a bonus for safe operation, outstanding condition, or other obvious signs of proper care and operation of the companies’ vehicles.  Every stick, in our experience, should have an alternate carrot.

Get the team onboard… One often overlooked step for proper fleet management is blatantly simple and often neglected – education.  Smart fleet management teams understand this and go to great lengths to ensure that any driver or operator is safely trained in any and all aspects of fleet operations, not just safe driving.

Examples of this, especially in the trades, is the careful stocking and restocking of any inventory, tools, and equipment used in vehicles.  Over the years, Expertec has upfitted hundreds, if not thousands, of air compressors, power tailgates, ladder racks, and equipment for trucks and vans that our clients use, and the safe operation, maintenance, and storage of this extra equipment is often much harder to teach and monitor than simply reviewing a driving record.  Effectively fleet management in the trades demands that any commercial operation take the steps necessary to ensure, no matter what, that any event that occurs to the vehicle will have no negative repercussions due to driver and operator negligence.

Simple as it seems, a monthly check of all drivers for proper licensing and a continuing education program of literally minutes per month can be a powerful tool to ensure anyone representing the company and behind the wheel is legally allowed to drive and is focused on the safe operation of the vehicle in question.

Use the data…  It is only within the last decade that the technology has become widely available to be able to actively (and passively) “check” on drivers on the road.  While many of these systems demand a cellular or digital link, for those companies operating within easy range of cell service, installing tracking and recording systems can act as a governor on poor driving decisions while allowing dispatchers to also get a team to a specific location faster to assist a client.

Though it seems more like something from Orwell, the simple idea that “Big Brother is watching” does seem to indicate that drivers operate vehicles with more attention, take fewer chances, and follow posted speed limits.

The flip side of this is that it also allows fleet managers to be able to reward safe driving as well.  For example, if an operator is caught in a terrible storm or poor road conditions and it is clear that he or she made smart decisions and operated the vehicle in a safe manner through challenging conditions, a reward can be easily documented.

Jonathan Kamanns, supplier relationship management leader, HR Operational Services, for Ingersoll Rand, also sees a distinct role the company and the fleet manager must play.

“You have to know what’s in it for them,” Kamanns said. “Additionally, if you build a work vehicle with a level of recruitment in mind, the same features for recruitment will be appreciated by current employees. Safety is a significant driver of engagement in the organization and attention and investment in the employee’s safety is a great way to show employees that they are valued. Finally, you can’t positively impact an employee behind the wheel of a company tool (vehicle) without clearly understanding how the tool needs to be used in the field. Get out to the business, on the ground, and face-to-face in order to best understand the unique challenges of the drivers.”

At Expertec, our mission is to build vehicles that meet any demand that our clients ask of them.  When our customers take delivery of such an asset, we want them to be able to use it and keep it in like new condition for many years, and our partners – the fleet manager – are the ones who can make that happen.