Fleet News

Fleet services: shifting the blame

OFTEN referred to as the fourth emergency service, the role of the roadside assistance provider is steadily changing and drivers are to blame.

As technology improves, callouts for technical faults are slowly reducing – replaced by faults known as ‘driver error’.

These include the number one driver blunder in terms of cost – mis-fuelling – which can cost up to 7,000 per vehicle, creating an annual industry bill of £800 million.

Mis-fuelling cases are largely excluded from insurance policies as they are classified as ‘self-induced faults’.

Lost keys and the fact that drivers are reluctant to change their own tyres, because of company policy or the complexity of modern wheels, also mean the roadside assistance groups are attending callouts which could be avoided.

Many unavoidable callouts are coming from company car drivers. Of the 411,000 fleet breakdowns the RAC attended in the last 12 months, contaminated fuel accounted for more than 12,000, 10,000 calls from drivers out of fuel, almost 9,000 lock-outs and 51,000 punctures and wheel-related breakdowns.

The AA has a similar story and in 2005 almost 44,000 business drivers’ breakdowns were linked to mis-fuelling, compared to 43,000 in 2003. It was the third biggest ‘self-induced’ reason for callouts, behind flat batteries caused by leaving lights on and locking keys inside the vehicle.

Mis-fuelling

THE AA says that mis-fuelling, which affects mainly business drivers, has become progressively worse since the Chancellor introduced the tax change to encourage company car drivers to choose more energy-efficient vehicles in 2001.

Roger Williams, head of major fleets and leasing at AA Business Services, said: ‘Currently, one in three cars is a diesel compared to one in seven just five years ago.

‘They now represent 18.5% of the 27 million cars on the roads, with 85% of mis-fuelling incidents involving putting petrol in a diesel engine. Since the 2001 tax change, there has been a gradual increase in the number of unleaded mis-fuelling incidents involving diesel vehicles – 10,000 up on 2003 – as well as evidence that reveals seasonal fluctuations peaking around March and September, registration changeover times.’

As technology improves the performance of today’s vehicles, it also makes it increasingly difficult to deal with mis-fuelling incidents.

An RAC spokeswoman said: ‘Previously, drivers may have got away with putting up to 20% petrol into a diesel engine but today’s modern diesels are totally intolerant to any form of contamination. Simply turning the ignition on is enough to require a fuel drain and system purge, with costs potentially running into the thousands.’

AA Business Services is calling for fleets to put procedures in place to make sure drivers understand the implications of the fuel change, a process the driver has to agree to.

Williams said: ‘Until we have intelligent fuel pumps that refuse to deliver petrol into a diesel engine, we must rely on the informed human element and this is where employers should step in to save their businesses money.’

Keys

VEHICLE manufacturers are continually improving systems to prevent keys being locked in the vehicle but it remains a huge problem for the roadside assistance providers.

A spokeswoman at the RAC said: ‘A major problem now is keys locked in boots. A typical scenario is unlocking the boot to load up and placing the keys in the boot while loading. Without thinking and in the haste to get on, the boot is closed locking the keys inside.’

The new keyless entry systems used by manufacturers such as Renault and Ford are also causing problems for recovery groups.

The credit card type entry systems are more likely to be lost or damaged unlike the conventional mechanical type key, which is more robust and can be heard if dropped accidentally, says the RAC.

Wheels

GONE are the days when drivers would willingly roll up their sleeves to change a punctured tyre.

Changes to duty of care legislation now mean many fleets have banned drivers from carrying out the task and advancements in wheel technology have placed the onus on roadside assistance groups.

‘The sheer weight of the wheel, the strength needed to undo the wheel nuts, the safety of the breakdown location and not wanting to get their clothes dirty means drivers are opting to call on the services of a professional rather than changing their own tyre,’ the RAC spokeswoman said.

Increasing pressure on fleets to abide by duty-of-care legislation is only set to make the problem worse.

Driver advice

  • Don’t wait until the fuel light illuminates before refuelling

  • Indicate on the keyfob/dashboard/within the petrol filler flap what fuel the vehicle takes

  • If mis-fuelled, seek help immediately – do not try to move the car away from the pump

  • Leave a spare set of keys to keep at work/at home/with a colleague

  • Carry out weekly checks on oil and water levels including coolant/ anti-freeze concentration, tyre pressures and tread
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