In the first in a three-part series of articles on appraising your fleet, technical editor Dan Gilkes looks at retention and improvement.
While it is certainly true that vans have kept the nation moving throughout the lockdown, whether delivering much needed medical and PPE supplies to hospitals, or simply bringing weekly groceries to those unable to get out of the house, there will be plenty of fleets that have had vans off the road or little used for some time. To bring those vehicles safely back into regular operation, fleet managers and van owners should carry out essential checks, to ensure road worthiness. It may also be necessary to revisit relevant paperwork, to guarantee that vans and drivers are operating legally.
Drivers should already be carrying out vehicle daily checks, but for a van that has been off the road for a prolonged amount of time this can be even more important. Regular checks should include tyre pressures and tread depths, remembering to assess spare wheels if they are fitted. Brakes should also be tested in a safe area if possible, including the parking brake, as prolonged standing can cause a layer of corrosion to form on discs, that needs to be worked off by using the brakes a few times.
Under the bonnet there are engine oil and coolant levels to check, along with washer fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, battery health and security. In the cab, drivers should ensure that the horn is working and that there is not excessive play in the steering.
Drivers should be sure that all of the lights are in working order and that wiper blades are in good condition, while checking the bodywork and glazing as they carry out the walk around. A second person may well be needed to check brake lights. Mirrors should also be free of damage and correctly adjusted. Many fleet management systems include walk around check sheets or smartphone apps that drivers can fill in if needed. You can also find a downloadable checklist on the gov.uk website.
Vans may also have gone beyond recommended service intervals during lockdown, particularly if they were not being used. With garages now fully re-opened, companies should book in for regular maintenance as soon as possible, as waiting times may have increased.
Keeping paperwork in order
While many service outlets were either closed or concentrating on essential vehicles during lockdown, the government allowed motorists to extend MoT test dates, by up to six months, if they were due between March 30 and July 31. According to Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, that means that around 1.2m vans had their MoT test postponed. However, if your van MoT was due from August 1, then you need to get that MoT on the due date.
It is also worth remembering that many MoT centres will be very busy over the coming months, catching up with the delayed demand. An MoT can be booked up to one day less than a month before it runs out, while still keeping the original MoT date. It is therefore worth looking at getting tests carried out as soon as possible, as there may be long waiting times at some test stations.
Managers will no doubt have regular driver licence checking in place. However, for those companies that operate vehicles over 7.5 tonnes in weight, their drivers will also have to have a valid Driver Certificate of Competence (DCPC) and a working tachograph card. The DCPC involves each driver undertaking five days of training within a five-year period. While some training centres have understandably had to close their doors over the last few months, many have developed online learning courses that meet the necessary regulations. It is therefore still possible to keep up with training requirements, but again, demand will be high, so book in plenty of time.
Truck drivers over the age of 45 also have to have a medical examination every five years to maintain their truck entitlement. These medicals are now available through a range of providers, though probably not through local NHS surgeries at present; here too the government applied a certain leniency. Drivers have been allowed to renew vocational licences for a single year without having a medical. Again, it will be worthwhile updating company records if this has happened as they will have to retake the medical next year to gain a further five-year entitlement.
Of course, if vehicles haven’t been racking up as many miles as expected, the chances are that they won’t have been wearing out as fast either. Some companies, particularly those that have themselves lost work or income due to the pandemic, may well therefore consider keeping those vans on fleets for longer than originally intended. That’s fine if you own the vans, but it may require some consultation if they are leased, though it’s certainly not out of the question.
However, even with lower mileages, it is likely that repair and maintenance costs will continue to rise on older vans. Extending a van’s replacement cycle, while trying to reduce running costs, may not be compatible.
That said, used van residuals are riding high at the moment, as demand remains strong, so you may find that your existing vehicles are worth more than expected on the used or trade-in market. Equally, there could be deals with suppliers, both sales and lease, keen to get back to the sort of pre-pandemic figures that would have been expected at this time of the year.
It is always worth comparing running costs and total cost of ownership of existing vehicles versus newer, more efficient models, particularly where fuel consumption is concerned. For some companies, it may also be worthwhile taking a closer look at how your vehicles are actually used.
Do you really need a large fleet of 3.5-tonne panel vans, or could the work be done with mid-weight models? Has your operation changed to meet the new needs of customers going forwards? Operating a fleet of light commercial vehicles has never been a buy and forget process, yet now, perhaps more than ever before, fleet managers and company owners should take a close look at their vehicle needs and expenditure.
In the second of our appraising your fleet articles in the October issue, Dan will look at specifying vehicle replacements.
“Many MoT centres will be very busy over the coming months, catching up with the delayed demand.”
Look after your van tyres and they’ll look after you
Here are a few tips to make sure your van tyres are performing at their best. It’s worth remembering that defective tyres can cost you three penalty points per tyre, so a full set of problems could land you with 12 penalty points and a potential six month driving ban. So, it pays to check.
Daily visual check
This will only take a couple of minutes. Check your tyres for any obvious signs of damage, look out for bulges, cuts in the sidewall or any visible tyre cord. A visual check will not tell you your tyre pressure, but you can tell if there is an inflation issue, so look out for that too and whilst you’re checking your tyres make sure all your wheel nuts are all there and tight.
Tyre pressure are important to your pocket. Underinflated tyres can cause uneven wear reducing your mileage by 25% and hits your fuel consumption significantly. Just 6PSI can reduce fuel consumption by 3%. It’s worth checking your tyre pressures every two weeks as (especially rear) van tyres are under stress every day with heavy loads.
When you’re checking tyre pressures it’s an ideal opportunity to check your tread depth. Legally you need 1.6mm of tread, but Continental recommend you change tyres at 3mm as the deterioration in performance is significant between the two. A quick and easy way to use a 20 pence coin, pop it in the tread and if you can see the rim of the coin then your tyres need to be changed.
If you have any doubts about the health of your tyres, call into your local tyre dealer where a professional can carry out a full tyre safety check.