Fleet News

Fleet strategy: rental versus pool cars

FOR years, the stalwart of the company car park was the pool car. Sitting proudly (or otherwise!) in their dedicated spaces, pool cars were instantly available to members of staff who had to dash out of the office.

But things are changing. More and more, firms are renting cars, attracted by the off-loading of responsibility for maintenance and upkeep to the rental firm.

So is the pool car dead? Is there any use for it in this age of duty of care? Not surprisingly, rental firms think the pool car is dead and buried.

Stuart Gent, managing director of rental firm Avis, said he believed the rise in rental was down to companies not wanting to let staff drive their own private cars on company business, a trend especially occurring in larger fleets. He said: ‘Some have said to us that for the sake of a rental cost of £40 per day they can rest in the knowledge that the car has been safety-checked and is in excellent working order, thus adhering to duty of care recommendations.

‘In the long term, they see £40 as an investment, compared with the long term impact on a business of an employee causing a serious accident.’

Don Moore, vice-president of sales at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, pointed out that pool cars could often sit idle for weeks at a time, yet still cost the company money in upkeep.

He said: ‘By switching to a rental set-up, companies can agree rates, vehicles and employee eligibility in advance and then leave it to the rental company to manage everything from there.

Employees ring direct to book a vehicle and the business is provided with a full cost breakdown at the end of the month. For businesses where sales are affected by seasonal variations, the flexibility of rental is a major benefit over running pool cars. It makes little sense to have a pool of cars sitting redundant during periods when activity is significantly quieter.

‘With a rental arrangement you simply book the cars when you need them.’

A spokesman for Budget Rent-A-Car added: ‘Car rental offers fleets greater cost control and flexibility alongside the freedom to select vehicles most suitable to the job at hand.

‘A company may require a vehicle for three adults and presentation material one day but a van the following day – rental can accommodate these different car needs.

‘Companies should also examine how often they use their vehicles as this could work out expensive if they are not always in use. As car rental vehicles are instantly available, companies can use them as and when needed.’

Caroline Gallagher is sales director of rental firm Thrifty, but even she can see some instances when a pool car may be useful. She said: ‘Where there is enough manpower in a fleet department and where use of a pool fleet is significantly high, then it can be both useful and cost-effective.

‘However, nowadays many fleet managers have a hugely increased workload and are expected to also look after property, mobile phones, insurance etc, in addition to an increasing administrative burden.

‘That, alongside the growing concerns over duty of care, suggests that companies should look carefully at whether they have the necessary infrastructure to run a successful pool fleet.’

So, it seems the general consensus is that pool cars are viable if sufficient resources and management structures are available to ensure that all duty of care responsibilities can be met.

While it might be convenient to have a car parked outside ready to go when it is needed, the risk of prosecution is high should a driver have an accident, as often pool cars end up neglected and badly-maintained.

The economics of meeting duty of care legislation can often be outweighed by simply paying for a rental car.

Where cars are kept in a pool for allocation, it is possible to bring in outside help to ensure they stay roadworthy.

David Dippie, managing director of Ashbrooke Fleet Management, said his firm collects pool cars, keeps them in its own pool and performs comprehensive safety checks, so company directors can be sure their duty of care is upheld.

However, Dippie said that for pools where drivers and cars change daily, someone at the firm must still check the car each time it comes back – and with this situation rental may seem a preferable option.

The Budget spokesman summed up the situation thus: ‘It is too simplistic to say that one option is always better than the other as it depends on a company’s particular situation, needs and preferences.

‘Companies must examine their own requirements and priorities before deciding to choose either car rental or pool cars.’

Conclusion

It seems that in nearly all instances the pool car has had its day. We failed to find any fleet managers who run a pool of cars where drivers use them daily. Unless you have the considerable resources needed to monitor drivers and the condition of each car after every journey, taking the rental route seems to be the only sensible choice.

  • What do you think? Email fleetnews@emap.com

    Pool or rental: which way should i go?

    Before deciding whether to go for a pool or a rental fleet, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you guarantee the vehicles will be used every day and not just seasonally?
  • Are you certain of what your transport needs will be in the future?
  • Is the company willing to make a long-term financial commitment?
  • Do you run larger vehicles than necessary on your pool fleet for frequent use simply because you are utilising near end-of-term contract hire vehicles? If so, are you paying more for fuel and damage repair bills than necessary?
  • If you offer access to the pool fleet for short-term rentals, has each vehicle been checked to an acceptable standard to avoid duty of care-related court cases?
  • Have you costed all the additional charges of running your pool fleet? These include safety checks, cleaning, delivering, collecting, reporting, tracking drivers and damage, downtime for servicing and damage repairs.
  • Do you have adequate tracking to ensure you know exactly who was in which vehicle and when, in case you are asked to provide this information by the police?
  • Could increasing your spend on rental reduce the overall costs that your pool fleet costs you?
  • There are circumstances where a pool fleet works for a company – are you sure that you can predict the future well enough to take the risk?
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