Regular vehicle checks can be a vital tool for a fleet manager in making sure vehicles are being well maintained and looked after.
The checks, carried out by drivers before they use the vehicle, provide a valuable and auditable way to detect any damage or issues such as low tyre tread or broken lights.
They can also help a fleet detect and address minor problems before they become more serious, reducing unscheduled downtime.
“Vehicle checks are vital,” says Geoffrey Bray, chairman of the Fleet Industry Advisory Group. “They should be simple and quick to carry out and ingrained into a driver’s psyche so they become as ‘normal’ as filling a car or van up with fuel.”
For many fleets, the vehicle check is a daily requirement for van drivers, with some refusing to assign employees their first job of the day until their check has been completed.
Regular pre-use defect checks are an integral part of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) Van Excellence Code accreditation scheme.
“Under our checks, our drivers are looking at absolutely everything: lights, fluid levels, damage to the vehicle, tyres, the livery, mirrors, doors, suspension, etc.” says Nick Webb , fleet manager at Millers Vanguard, which supplies and services equipment for the food industry.
Like many fleets, Millers Vanguard uses electronic devices to ensure the checks are carried out.
Traditionally. drivers have filled out paper forms to confirm they have carried out the checks, but this has led to concerns that there are no safeguards that they have been carried out satisfactorily, while fleet managers have to wait until the form has been handed in to see the results.
The widespread adoption of SIM-enabled personal digital assistants (PDAs), tablets or smartphones by company drivers has seen many fleets move these checks on to their electronic devices, often through an app.
These often give fleet managers real-time updates of when the checks have been carried out, as well as information if any issues have been picked up.
“Our daily pre-use checks are all logged on our drivers’ tablets so I get a automated report every day telling me who has done the check and who hasn’t,” says Webb.
“If there is any damage they have to report it to us, take a photograph and email it through.
“We will inspect it and decide if the vehicle is fit to continue in use or whether we take it off the road for repair.”
The move of checks to electronic devices has also benefited fleets such as Wakefield District Housing (WDH), whose vans are taken home by its mobile workers and not returned to a central depot overnight.
“Given the area has a reasonable signal, which most of the areas we cover do, at any point of the day I can go into the system and see whether the vehicle checks have been carried out,” says Liam Farrar, fleet manager at WDH.
“It’s not big brother watching you, but our drivers know it’s their responsibility to take 15 minutes to do the check: they are all fully aware of what is expected.
“If the driver does report they’ve got an issue, it instantly transmits an email to their team leader or line manager about it.”
Travis Perkins moved from a paper-based system to an electronic one around two years ago and uses the information produced by its daily checks to identify potential issues on its commercial vehicles as well as training needs for drivers.
“It’s been really important for us to identify faults on vehicles and trends of defects,” says Graham Bellman, group fleet director at Travis Perkins.
“The system we use is really customisable, so if it’s a vehicle with a tail-lift we can add that into the check.
“If we know we’ve had a problem with the left clip on the bumper of a certain type of vehicle we can put a picture on the app and ask the drivers to check that, or maybe we’ve had mounting bolts on a mirror come loose – it could be anything.
“Also, if it identifies that the rear lamp on the left-hand side keeps getting knocked off every van in London we can say ‘why’s that?’ and the driver can tell us that they deliver to such and such a place and it’s got this problem, so we can then look at how we can address that.”
As well as pre-use checks, Travis Perkins drivers are also required to inspect the vehicle at the end of the working day.
“Every day our drivers sign a vehicle in and sign a vehicle out,” adds Bellman. He says this may be seen as being too stringent, but that driver is confirming that the vehicle is being returned in the same condition they took it over.
“You can also ask if they’ve been stopped by any of the authorities during the day, or any other relevant information.”
Less rigorous regime for cars
While regular checks are commonplace among van fleets, the regime in place with car drivers tends to be less rigorous. Often a fleet policy states they should carry out weekly checks on areas such as tyre pressures and fluid levels, but this is difficult to police.
“We have to accept that in the modern idiom most drivers would argue that they do not have the time, skills or expertise to be able to carry out these checks,” says Peter Eldridge, director of fleet training body ICFM. “Worse still, the additional elements, such as oil and other fluid levels checks are often a bridge too far for today’s motorists, who prefer the ‘warning lights’ systems to alert them.
“The problem with ‘warning lights’ however, is that often they get ignored and as a result mechanical or other damage often ensues, usually at high cost.”
John Pryor, chairman of fleet operators association ACFO, adds: “We tend to think that modern cars are reliable and can just go ‘on and on and on’, but with the new generation of oils cars can appear to burn more,” he says.
“Unfortunately, some drivers tend to think a company car is a bit like the photocopier machine: always available and it works most of the time.
“But, motor vehicles are hugely more valuable assets than a photocopier. Checks should be undertaken regularly and any defects reported so rectification work can take place.”
So, given that van operators are having success through electronic vehicle checks, could similar systems be put in place for car drivers?
Bellman says it is something Travis Perkins is looking at. “Let’s look at it realistically,” he adds. “I could say I want my drivers to walk round their car every morning, but will they do it? No. I want them to actually do the check, so I, as an individual, would probably say I want them to do it once a week. You get into your car, you get out of your car. Hopefully you will wash your car every week or get someone to wash it and you should notice if something is missing or the tyres are low.
“Could we use our vehicle check app? Yes we could. Have we got the licence? Yes we have. Have we got the desire to push on it? Not just yet, but it is on our roadmap: it is one of the things we are talking about.”