Spelling out a driver’s responsibilities for vehicle condition in a policy is an important step in making sure cars and vans are well maintained and cared for.
This may typically cover areas such as vehicle checks, the processes for reporting damage and faults, as well as expected cleanliness levels.
To ensure the policy is successful, the first step should be to get buy-in from drivers, says Nick Webb, fleet manager at Millers Vanguard.
His company does this through making driver assessment and engagement a priority during an engineer’s induction.
“With a lot of organisations, it’s the last thing. A new member of staff will come into a business, they’ll get their uniform, they’ll get education on the business, they’ll do the health and safety, they’ll have a load of training, and when they’re leaving their induction, someone will go ‘oh, there’s your vehicle key mate, away you go’. Now we make it the first priority,” says Webb.
Millers Vanguard’s process of educating engineers of the importance of its fleet begins even before they join the company which supplies and maintains equipment for the food industry.
“They will have an email explaining why we do things as stringently as we do,” he says.
“In that email it asks for us to have access to their driving licence records so we can check them before they are even offered a job here. So, from the onset, they are thinking this organisation is hot on transport.
“When they arrive with us, the first thing they have to complete is an online driver assessment that looks at their attitude, knowledge and understanding.
“It builds a picture up with these employees that, as we are so serious about transport, we expect them to be as well. It gives than an understanding of the ethos of the business before they start training for the actual job they will be doing.”
New employees at Millers Vanguard receive a formal transport induction within their first week, where the expected standards of behaviour, cleanliness and the standards of the vehicle are all laid out.
Wakefield District Housing (WDH) places a similar emphasis on driver education and training. Fleet manager Liam Farrar, says: “We do invest heavily in driver training, driver awareness and toolbox talks. We also have corporate events and days, so we try to engage with the drivers more.”
Both Millers Vanguard and WDH have daily driver vehicle checks, while a central plank of WDH’s vehicle care policy is its van servicing regime.
Instead of adhering to a manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, WDH has its vehicles serviced or inspected every six months.
“From a corporate perspective and due diligence, it’s a good check: from a leasing company’s perspective it could be a little bit of overkill, but we do lease our vehicles so it is in their best interests that the vehicles are maintained to a high standard,” says Farrar.
“For example, our Volkswagens are on a two-year or 24,000-mile interval, but because of the way we work, our vehicles aren’t high mileage. We have some vehicles coming up to three years old so we put them in for an MOT. Some have only done 14,000 miles, so a manufacturer may look at that and say ‘well, we won’t bother changing the oil or the brake pads from a wear and tear perspective’.
“From our viewpoint, we like to have a highly-maintained fleet. It puts drivers’ minds at rest and it’s good from an audit perspective.”
Farrar says this maintenance policy does not have a big financial impact on WDH because the cost is built into its lease agreement.
“I’ve spoken to leasing companies and they are keen to work with the likes of us who want to overkill our fleets on checks because the return value on that asset is very high for them,” he adds.
While education is a key part of ensuring drivers comply with policies, Geoffrey Bray, chairman of the Fleet Industry Advisory Group, warns they “are only of value if they are enforced and have teeth”.
He adds: “Too often they are ambiguous and are not supported by disciplinary measures.
“All businesses should adopt a zero tolerance to employee abuse whether that is in respect of office equipment such as desks and computers or company cars and vans.
“For businesses to ignore the value of looking after vehicles is ridiculous.
“Yet, too often that happens. If employees damaged a desk or a computer they would, in all probability, be disciplined and possibly sacked.
“Yet, in respect of company vehicles – a far more valuable asset – all too frequently abuse appears to be tolerated.”
As well as its policy of daily van checks, WDH employs a fleet enforcement officer, whose job is to perform vehicle spot checks and offer advice to drivers.
“He’s not there to catch people out: he’s there to support people to make sure we are compliant with authorised maximum weights, to talk about securing loads properly, things like that,” says Farrar.
“He will also look at things like tyre tread and if a vehicle has been cleaned or is caked in a week’s worth of muck. He’s our eyes and ears in the workplace.”
Bray says it is important drivers are aware that vehicle condition is being monitored to ensure policy is being complied with.
“If drivers know there is no fleet manager undertaking spot checks and monitoring videos sent by email from garages when service, maintenance and repair work is undertaken then they will not take good care of a car or van,” he adds. “However, if drivers know that random checks are made on vehicles, regular vehicle defect reports are asked for and followed up and videos from garages are viewed and action taken when abuse is identified, vehicle condition will be top notch.”
Peter Eldridge (pictured), director of fleet training body ICFM , adds that a ‘carrot and stick’ approach usually works best to get the desired result from drivers.
“This could be something quite simple like a points system, pro-rata to the mileage covered and made up of items such as number of at-fault incidents and costs, cost of rectification for ‘outside’ of normal wear and tear, and penalty charges occurred,” he says.
“The system would tot-up the points at the end of each year and align results to pre-agreed penalties or benefits for the drivers.”
Picking up the cleaning bills
A policy to pay for vehicles to be cleaned regularly can help a company operate a well-presented fleet.
For example, both Millers Vanguard and Wakefield District Housing (WDH) pay for their vehicles to be washed.
“We expect it to be done at least once a week and it’s a no-quibble policy. If somebody sends us a receipt to say they’ve cleaned the vehicle, we’ll refund the engineer the money,” says Nick Webb, of Millers Vanguard.
“It’s got to be cleaned by paying another organisation. It basically means our drivers have to use somebody who has got the skills and the necessary equipment and chemicals to clean the vehicles professionally.”
WDH drivers can pay for vehicle washes using their fuel cards. “They can go to a service station, fill up with fuel, get a token for the jet wash or foam wash and pick what they want,” says Liam Farrar.
“We can pull up a report so we know that ‘Joe Bloggs’ has washed his van twice in a month.
“That’s probably okay in the summer months, but we would expect it to be done once a week in winter.”
Case study: Computacenter on the hard-line approach and using the ‘stick’ to change behaviour
While drivers can be educated and incentivised to look after their vehicles, some fleets find using the ‘stick’ to be an effective method.
Computacenter, for example, recharges all end-of-contract damage charges to its drivers.
Employees are informed of the details in their fleet policy document and vehicle renewal guide. Drivers are also issued with the BVRLA fair wear and tear guidelines so they are aware of what condition their vehicle should be returned in.
“It’s not necessarily popular, but because it is now so well embedded culturally, people do look after their vehicles,” says Keith Cook, deputy financial controller at Computacenter.
“I would say it’s less than 20% of the vehicles which come back with chargeable damage: typically our drivers do look after their vehicles.”
Cook says Computacenter is proactive in advising drivers how to care for their vehicles as well as how to get damage repaired at the lowest cost by using suppliers such as mobile dent repairers instead of booking cars into bodyshops.
Drivers are able to use Computacenter’s insurance to claim for damage repairs, although this is limited to one ‘fault’ incident in a two-year rolling period.
“Otherwise they have to pay the insurance excess for any damage that appears on the vehicle,” says Cook.
“Our biggest risk is that our policy drives people to make more insurance claims than we would perhaps like, but we are able to monitor that. We do say that any damage we are claiming for must have occurred within the past three months and if you have damage such as hit while parked – absolutely our number one enemy – our drivers must have a crime reference number from the police or have evidence they have attempted to get one.”