Reducing unscheduled vehicle downtime is key to cutting costs within your fleet, but is this easier said than done?

Read our guide to help minimise the risk of unscheduled vehicle downtime


a man using a tablet to report vehicle downtime

Vehicle downtime is inevitable within any fleet operation. It’s part of keeping vehicles running smoothly and efficiently. However, breakdowns can and do happen which will result in unscheduled repairs.

Downtime always comes at a cost and the challenge is to effectively manage this. There’s the obvious labor and parts costs for routine fleet maintenance – these are budgeted for and come with no surprises. However, when downtime is unplanned, these costs are often higher than expected which makes them harder to manage.

Here’s a closer look at what can cause these costs and how they can be managed.

How costly is vehicle downtime for your fleet?

Even though fleets do budget for the cost of downtime, research indicates that SMEs can be as much as eight times more than allocated each year.

Having a clear understanding of the causes of vehicle downtime costs is a great place to start when determining how they can be reduced or avoided altogether.

Firstly, there are the obvious costs of downtime such as regular maintenance checks and associated repairs to get vehicles back on the road. Based on the age of a vehicle, costs for labor, parts and repairs can be somewhat pre-empted and managed. But when unexpected breakdowns occur, there are less obvious costs to hit the budget.

These can include:

The inability to deliver products or provide a service to a customer on time
Replacement vehicle costs to carry out tasks
Additional demand on other fleet assets that increases wear and tear
A negative impact on driver productivity if unable to carry out duties
Paying drivers for unplanned time off

When vehicles become unexpectedly available, your entire business can pay the price. Industry estimates for fleet downtime costs can exceed £700 a day in lost productivity in addition to the actual vehicle repair costs.

Practices, processes, plans and programs that limit downtime

Whilst some downtime within your fleet is beyond control, a proactive rather than reactive approach to maintenance can put the brakes on runaway costs. Even small changes and more effective planning can make a big difference to the bottom line.

Downtime can be managed through:

Routine preventive maintenance practices

Preventive maintenance practices keep vehicle systems and components functioning properly to avoid potential breakdowns. The upfront cost of routine maintenance tends to be significantly less than those associated with any unscheduled downtime. A survey indicates that fleet vehicles in a preventive fleet maintenance program experienced about 20% fewer maintenance-related downtime days.

Develop a process for addressing issues reported by drivers during daily inspections

As an example, the reporting of fault codes and alerts from on-board telematics systems can mean fixing a small issue rather than leaving until it becomes a costly, major repair following a breakdown.

Effective maintenance scheduling

Plan to replace or rebuild components before the end of their expected lifecycle before they fail can offset higher downtime expenses.

Vehicle replacement programs

Such plans can minimize increased downtime costs often associated with older vehicles.

Overall, reducing fleet downtime requires a coordinated effort throughout your operation. Most fleet managers would be surprised to learn that sometimes a large part of downtime isn’t related to actual repairs. Instead, it’s the inefficiency of management processes, especially a lack of communication, that is to blame. A more effective approach involves maintenance, operations, dispatch, financial and administrative teams all working together.

a man standing by his car that is experiencing problems: the annual cost of vehicle downtime can be as much as 8 times more than fleets expected

Using technology to improve uptime

Fleet maintenance software has many capabilities that directly help achieve the goal of reducing downtime and reducing costs. The software can effectively plan and track the servicing and repair of vehicles with the advantage of automated notification of service schedules to alert the maintenance team and your drivers.

These systems can also reduce unscheduled downtime by automatically generating defect reports from field-based inspections. The ability to report defects as soon as they happen means you can act immediately and reduce unnecessary downtime. The software can reduce administrative tasks by automating the purchase orders for parts from designated vendors. In addition, work with outside service providers can be integrated to streamlines processes and speed up repair times.

In the long term, the complete visibility into maintenance activity from your management software is very valuable for keeping down costs for vehicle downtime. For instance, by using automatically stored and easily accessible vehicle service and repair histories you can see where process inefficiencies and asset-related issues are the cause of higher downtime costs.

Regardless of the cause of downtime, and across the spectrum of successful approaches to mitigate its unnecessary time and costs, fleets can take advantage of their asset and maintenance management technologies to improve uptime for all types of vehicles and equipment.