As you close out your fall season, now is the time to audit your vehicle and equipment fleet to determine repair or replacement needs before next season. Quality preventative maintenance and repairs can extend the life of your vehicles and equipment. However, there comes a time when it’s just too costly to continue repairing older machines or vehicles and replacement is your best option.

Your plan

Systematically evaluate your fleet in this off-season so you’re ready for next year, without last-minute surprises or expenses. You should have a section in your business plan that identifies when and under what circumstances you’re going to replace units. If you don’t have this, develop it now and use it to plan your fleet management program going forward.

Determine the expected productive life of your vehicles and equipment. For example, trucks driven 22,000 miles per year could be expected to last six to seven years; mowing equipment could be expected to last three to five years, depending on hours of use; and hand-held equipment is generally expended over two years. These are just examples of useful life spans; your geographic region, shop maintenance and repair procedures, and other factors can add to or subtract from the examples. Some vehicles and equipment are designed to last longer than these examples, so factor this into your plan.

Your asset list should show the “In Service Date” of all your vehicles and equipment. This is your starting point. I suggest adding a column to the asset list that’s titled “Expected Life” in years and/or hours. Once you have this information recorded, it’s easy to determine what units you expect to replace based on predetermined life expectancy. That’s not to say you’ll replace every unit based on this criteria, but it gives you applied logical information that will help prepare budgets and financing.

Small ticket components such as belts, hoses, bushings, bearings, pulleys and other wear items should be replaced during the off-season. This will save expense when the fleet goes into action next season because these items won’t fail in the field, costing you significantly higher expense and productivity loss.

This is also a good time to level mower cutting decks and check idler mechanisms, which if out of range will cause premature belt or pulley wear plus creates harmful vibration. Now’s also a good time to tear down some of your older hand-held units and salvage working components, like carburetors, switches, shafts and covers that can be used to repair in-service units.

If you’re in the north and snow removal is part of your services, obviously this is not the time to audit snow equipment. Snow equipment should be audited in late summer or early fall and readied for the winter season long before now.

Getting rid of older units

This is the time to start selling or trading in the units you’re going to replace before next season. The farther ahead you plan, the better opportunity you have to get the most out of these units. Some contractors hold an annual auction during the winter to sell retiring units. Give this a try, especially if you have a significant number of units retiring before next season.

One mistake to avoid is putting too much trust in used vehicles or equipment, thinking that this will save capital expense. Our industry’s biggest expense is labor, and you can’t afford downtime due to field failures. The most profitable contractors follow a predetermined fleet replacement schedule and know that productivity and revenue increase when fleets are operating at peak performance.

Proper preventative maintenance keeps the fleet in the field producing work. Also, a newer, well-maintained fleet can increase productivity 5 percent to 7 percent or more and add thousands of dollars to your bottom line. Finally, your crews will feel more confident knowing that they are contributing to the company’s growth when they exceed their production requirements.

Your vehicles and equipment are important contributors to your company’s operations and profitability. Take advantage of this off-season to prepare your fleets and ensure that everything is in top performing condition and ready for next year.

I’d like to hear your ideas and suggestions that have helped you reduce costs and improve your fleet management.

Things to do now:

* Evaluate your fleet in the off-season to be prepared for next year

* Determine your fleet’s useful life expectancy

* Revise your asset list to include more information on years or hours of use

* Replace wear items during the off-season to avoid downtime next season

* Plan ahead for replacement purchases and trade-ins

* Avoid running your fleets past their prime life.

Rick is president of Lafayette Consulting Co., a PLANET Trailblazer and owns a maintenance company and works with contractors to improve their businesses. He serves on PLANET’s Landscape Management Specialty Group, Safety and Governmental Affairs Committees. You can reach Rick at [email protected]