There is no question that your trucks will have to be serviced. Not only is it good practise, 6 weekly inspections are a legal criteria that operators need to follow to make sure that they keep their prized 'operator's licence'.
The question is, should you try and service your truck(s) yourself, use a local garage or trust to the franchised dealer network to make sure your truck is in tip-top condition.
We have put together a series of short articles to help you.
Hauliers who service their trucks and trailers in their own workshops have complete control over everything that is going on.
They can see how the work is progressing, satisfy themselves that the correct parts are being fitted and check that corners are not being cut. All they need to do is walk across from the office and look through the workshop door.
Odds are that they will know the fitters personally and will be aware of what their capabilities are.
Do the work in-house and jobs can be scheduled to meet the particular needs of the fleet concerned. There is no need to hang around while trucks belonging to other operators are attended to.
Put the work out to a third-party workshop and you will have to wait your turn
Having your own service and repair facilities means that there is no need to send vehicles several miles down the road if they require attention. The distance they have to travel may only be short, but the journey will still take time, burn diesel, and require a driver to be allocated to the task whose time might be better spent on other duties.
If you have fitters on the premises then they can respond immediately if there is a laden truck in the yard that is ready to depart, but suddenly develops a fault.
You can of course summon a technician from the local dealership who will come out and hopefully fix it. But the vehicle and its cargo will have to stand idle until help arrives - bad news if you have a tight delivery slot with penalties for missing it - and that help will of course have to be paid for.
In-house workshops can often turn their hand to anything, fixing forklifts and other warehouse equipment. Few truck dealers are likely to be quite as versatile.
However there is another side to the coin.
Not all hauliers who have in-house workshops are truly aware of exactly how much the facility costs them. A workshop requires heat and light, the building has to be maintained, so does the kit inside it - and replaced every so often as and when necessary - and the company's insurance has to cover its activities.
The technicians require paying (and that includes sick pay, holiday pay, and employer's National Insurance and pension contributions) and cover will have to be arranged if any of them go on holiday or fall ill.
The area the workshop takes up might be better employed as warehousing. As a consequence it will become a revenue-earner rather than an overhead.
All these considerations need to be taken into account when comparing the cost of, say, an oil change carried out in-house with the cost of having the same job done at a dealership.
In-house may not be quite as cheap as the operator supposes. In fact it may turn out to be more expensive.
The dealership's hourly labour rate may of course be higher than that of an in-house operation or non-franchised third-party workshop. Training and the necessary equipment is likely to mean however that it can accomplish the same task in half the time.
Trucks are becoming more sophisticated technically. As a consequence anybody working on them increasingly needs suitable diagnostic kit and the training to use it.
Even if an operator is willing to fund both, the trucks he operates will not benefit from the automatic software updates they receive if they are maintained by a franchised dealership. "Some of those updates will have been created with an eye to improving fuel consumption," says Scania aftersales director, Mark Grant.
"Remember that all the work done in our dealer workshops carries a 12-month parts-and-labour warranty extending to two years on a number of key components," he adds.
R & M packages
Conscious that Euro 6 trucks are even more complex than their predecessors and with an eye to retaining as much aftersales work as it can, Scania is supplying the majority of them with a three-year repair and maintenance package as standard; with service available from any of its dealers nationwide. Other manufacturers have headed down the same path.
A key argument in favour of keeping maintenance work in-house is that it is the haulier's name on the O-licence and it is the haulier who gave the Traffic Commissioner (TC) all the required undertakings when the O-licence was originally granted.
If the Driver and Vehicle Services Agency identifies repeated defects on vehicles caused by slipshod maintenance and the haulier has to appear before the TC as a consequence, then there will be little point in his blaming a third-party maintenance contractor. The TC will remind him that it is his O-licence, not the dealer's; before taking disciplinary action.
In response, manufacturers point to the high standards that are set in dealer workshops and as proof they cite the MoT pass rates their dealers achieve.
"At present our network is averaging 95.6%," says Grant. "As well as Scanias that figure includes trailers and trucks of other makes; 30% of the service and repair work our network handles is non-Scania."
"Our pass rate is 95%-plus and well over ten of our dealer workshops are hitting 100%," says John Davies, head of service and support at MAN.
MAN has forged close links with the petrochemical industry and its tractor units are regularly to be seen hauling petroleum tankers. As a consequence looking after quite sophisticated trailers holds no terrors for its dealers says Davies who have the necessary diagnostic kit.
With a 95.27% first-time MoT pass rate, 88 dealer points on the map, 15 Authorised Testing Facilities and spending £2.5m a year on technician training, Mercedes-Benz is convinced that its network has a huge amount to offer operators says director of customer service and operations - truck, Sam Whittaker. More and more of them he believes will switch away from in-house maintenance and turn to using dealer workshops as vehicles become more sophisticated; especially with the advent of Euro 6.
"Why not concentrate on your core business and let the experts look after your new vehicles?," he asks rhetorically.
Mercedes is gently nudging hauliers in the direction of using its dealers by supplying many of its key new models with a two-year repair-and-maintenance contract as standard.
What happens if a truck breaks down?
"Our dealer technicians take an average 55.5 minutes to get to roadside emergencies and that average is taken nationwide, including the Highlands of Scotland," he replies. "And 88.3% of the problems they encounter are dealt with on the spot."
If a MAN has been off the road for more than 12 hours as the consequence of some sort of maintenance glitch he says then a dedicated team will take ownership of the problem and will not rest until it has been resolved.
"If it means taking a vitally-needed component off an engine in our training school or tracking it down to a parts department in a dealership in Norway then that is what they will do," he says. "If all the technicians in a dealership have been struck down with flu and the truck is standing idle because none of them are fit to come to work then our guys will arrange for it to be towed to a dealership with a healthy workforce."
Open an account with your local franchised dealer and you will find it easier to avail yourself of the manufacturer concerned's roadside rescue service. "We can get out to your stranded vehicle in less than an hour," Grant says.
Furthermore, modern Scanias can be remotely interrogated in advance of the technician arriving so that he or she will have a good idea of the nature of the fault that has occurred; and will be able to bring the necessary parts. "The truck's exact location will be pinpointed at the same time," Grant adds.
Several truck manufacturers offer all-makes parts programmes and - as indicated by Grant's comments - say that their dealers will happily look after all makes of truck and trailer. There is of course a contradiction here; if a franchised dealership is the only one who can service the make of truck it represents to the highest possible standard then by definition it cannot do as good as job on trucks made by competing manufacturers.
While small hauliers workshops may be incapable of affording the training and equipment required to maintain modern trucks, the big servicing centres run by the major distribution fleets undoubtedly can; and take on third-party work too. If they become an Authorised Testing Facility as well then they are well on the way to transforming themselves into a useful profit centre; one that may turn out to have rather better margins than their company's haulage fleet can offer.
One option they can pursue is to enlist the help of a manufacturer to run the workshop for them. That way, they get the truck maker's expertise while retaining the facility they need exactly where they want it; on their doorstep.