Fleet News

Fleet management: What to do when your drivers turn bad

A SUCCESSFUL fleet manager needs a lot of skills, not least the ability to be diplomatic and communicate effectively when it comes to explaining the new vehicle choice list to drivers.

It is a task which can be underestimated and can result in a ‘piggy in the middle’ situation with the fleet decision-maker trying to keep directors onside with cost cutting initiatives while at the same time ensuring drivers are happy. But company car drivers can be a fickle bunch and although 99% of the time, most are happy with their company vehicle, there are the 1% who are not. A disgruntled driver can cause problems for the fleet manager. A prime example of this is the driver who believes he or she should be driving something flashy like a convertible, but is told only a standard lower-medium hatchback is on offer.

Many fleets still see the limiting of vehicle choice lists as one of the best methods of controlling costs, but the issue of problematic drivers is becoming more widespread.

Leasing company Arval operates one of the biggest leased fleets in the country on behalf of hundreds of different business customers. It has seen first-hand the impact vehicle choice can have on staff. James Langley, head of customer policy at Arval, explained: ‘If drivers are not happy with their cars, they have little motivation to take care of them and restriction of choice is often one of the biggest de-motivators that we come across.

‘Vehicle restriction is often introduced as a cost cutting measure or it is a long-standing legacy issue. The latter is usually found in fast developing companies where a restriction is no longer appropriate to the skill sets in the company or the status that some personnel have achieved.

‘The consequences of this restriction can create ‘malicious compliance’ among fleet drivers. This common scenario occurs when a fleet driver complies with company car policy, but uses the opportunity of company car ownership to deliberately or otherwise cause damage to company property. This can range from irregular cleaning and ‘grubby’ vehicle appearance to dangerous omissions such as incorrect tyre pressure.’

Not all fleet drivers adopt this mentality but just one dissatisfied driver could lose a company large sums of money on repairs and residual values.

Langley says that some drivers set out to deliberately damage vehicles but it is often more about drivers neglecting their responsibilities by not checking oil and water levels and generally maintaining the vehicle. This can prove even more expensive, as a seized engine can cost a company thousands of pounds to replace.

He said: ‘This behaviour has a significant effect on the costs of running and selling the car. Service, maintenance and repair costs escalate as unscheduled events continually occur. Uneven wear on tyres means that they have to be frequently replaced and fuel consumption rates increase. Critically, residual values are significantly affected.

‘One fleet decided to introduce a restricted policy with vehicles from a manufacturer whose products were not seen as desirable. The consequence was significant repair costs every month. When choice was reinstated, the company began to experience a reduction in operating costs and improved driver behaviour.’

Ways to spot a disgruntled driver

  • Tyre replacement cycles are high – due to damage or incorrect air pressure
  • Low fuel economy – this can be monitored via a fuel card
  • Costs increase outside of normal maintenance – such as engine failures due to insufficient oil
  • Worsening visible condition of the car
  • Items deemed to be unfair wear and tear at end of vehicle cycle
  • Undue dents and bumps
  • Unrepaired accident damage
  • Grubbiness – particularly to the interior of a vehicle

    Dealing with driver abuse

    IF a fleet manager suspects a driver is acting abusively towards a company car, the issue must be addressed immediately.

    The employee in question must be reprimanded and depending on the severity of the offence, appropriate action, whether a verbal or written warning, must be taken.

    However, there are preventative measures to safeguard against malicious compliance. Driver behaviour should be continually monitored, especially when the fleet policy or the company undergoes periods of change.

    This can be difficult to supervise as it is common for drivers to neglect vehicles even without a grudge against the fleet manager.

    A recent study by Jamjar cars which polled more than 1,000 drivers showed that 42% fail to stick to recommended service intervals and most never carry out the most basic of safety checks.

    Nearly one-third of drivers said they ignored unusual engine noises and dashboard warning lights.

    A total of 87% of drivers said they forget about carrying out basic safety checks. Last year, fleets were warned that drivers failing to check oil levels were adding to the UK’s £300 million annual bill for engine repairs.

    Arval’s James Langley believes it is vital for companies to offer a wide vehicle choice list to ensure drivers do not become complacent and eventually resort to malicious compliance.

    He said: ‘For many company car drivers, freedom to choose vehicles from a range of manufacturers is a staff benefit that can provide motivation and aid retention levels. It can also help have a positive influence on driver behaviour, providing an impetus for drivers to regularly maintain their vehicles and significantly reduce fleet operating costs and improve residual values.’

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