Fleet operators have to deal with a multitude of situations from the mundane to the bizarre.
Simply maintaining the fleet, getting vehicles serviced regularly – including tyres, brakes, wind-screen replacements etc – will take up a great deal of time and resource.
Then there are repairs, whether through the result of an accident or just faulty or worn parts.
When it comes to choosing where fleet servicing work is carried out there are several options; independent service network, franchised dealer or a fast-fit service.
Making the right choice for a fleet depends on a number of factors. Some could find choosing just one suits their needs but, over the past few years with budgets coming under pressure, there has been a subtle evolution in the market.
Perhaps the most obvious choice for many is to opt for a main dealer – it’s certainly what most manufacturers will recommend.
“One of the largest costs in running a car as a business asset is depreciation so maintaining a healthy residual value through main dealer servicing is a good way to protect that investment,” says Jim Willows, BMW’s corporate marketing manager.
The entire BMW range can be purchased with a Service Inclusive package and covers the cost of parts, labour, and fluids for the following: engine oil service, engine oil top-up, brake fluid, air filter, micro filter, fuel filter (diesel) and spark plugs.
Service Inclusive Plus adds the cost of wear and tear items: brake pads, brake discs, brake sensors, wiper blade rubbers and clutch.
Both packages cover the cost of servicing for five years/60,000 miles and are fully transferable and can be passed on to the next owner which can boost residual values.
However, eagle-eyed fleets will point to their three-year/60,000-miles or four-year/80,000-mile con- tracts, which reduce the full benefits of the BMW packages.
Other car manufacturers also offer fixed-price servicing on some models, which can be a convenient way for fleets to manage budgets.
While dealerships may give fleet operators a certain peace of mind, there are other, options available used by many leasing companies.
Lex Autolease, for instance, uses a combination of dealers and fast-fits for its SMR work.
It usually opts for a dealer as its first choice as long as the company belongs to its preferred network.
These dealerships have been chosen for their quality of service and are regularly reviewed through customer surveys to judge the SMR experience, according to Ian Thomson, head of fleet operations at Lex Autolease.
But, Lex Autolease also uses fast-fit services to cover some of its work requirements.
“It’s about 15-20% cheaper on average , depending on the manufacturer,” he says.
Lex Autolease is far from alone in this approach, as figures supplied by Kwik-Fit, the country’s biggest network, confirm.
Kwik-Fit Fleet has seen demand for company car and van mechanical work soar by 50% last year as companies fought to keep their costs down.
Last year it put 35,666 fleet vehicles through MoTs while undertaking 59,248 brake-related jobs.
Kwik-Fit Fleet also says that the number of company cars it serviced last year was up by 16% on 2009.
“Fleets want a fast, efficient and cost-effective service that is convenient for their company car and van drivers: that is exactly what we are delivering,” says Peter Lambert, fleet sales director at Kwik-Fit Fleet.
“As a result of our long-established reputation for high-quality service delivery built on the repair and replacement of tyres, batteries and exhausts, more organisations are turning to Kwik-Fit for vehicle-related mechanical work.”
While the majority of its business relates to tyre repair and replacement, the company is leveraging long-established business relationships following the launch of mechanical work at its 669 centres in recent years.
And there has been an increase in the volume of MoTs and services being undertaken.
“We continue to provide an excellent service to existing tyre customers,” adds Lambert.
“Approximately 95% of Kwik-Fit Fleet turnover is from tyre business with contract hire and leasing companies and end-user fleets.
“Typically, existing fleet customers first look to Kwik-Fit to undertake MoTs on their vehicles.
"Following that experience they are then more than happy for our technicians to undertake more complex brake and servicing work.”
Lambert believes the increase in mechanical work is being driven by a number of factors, including the company’s nationwide network of centres and that there is typically “availability within 48 hours rather than the 14-day wait some franchised dealers” offer.
Kwik-Fit Fleet’s national pricing agreement means that customers know what they will be paying no matter where they are in the country, again something that often varies within franchise dealer networks.
In fact, Lambert reckons customers could see savings of around 20% against those charged by a franchised dealer for service work.
But price is an issue that dealers are addressing, according to Andy Nicholson, manager of fleet aftermarket at Ford.
“First of all, I have to challenge the presumption that independent repairers – garages which are not authorised by the vehicle manufacturer – are cheaper,” he says.
“That’s not necessarily true and even when it is, it certainly doesn’t mean they offer the best value.”
Nicholson points out that Ford is committed to being cost-competitive in order to achieve favourable wholelife cost comparisons for its vehicles.
All Ford authorised repairers offer Ford’s Fleet National Pricing (FNP) programme, which is intended to provide competitive, maximum recommended prices for a full range of routine service and fixed content jobs.
According to Nicholson, customers buying a Ford service at the FNP price ensure they are paying:
- A reasonable price for the parts
- A reasonable labour rate (for routine service work, there are four rates, recognising labour cost variations across the country)
- For the right amount of labour time. FNP uses the official Ford repair times for each job.