Best Practices in Maintenance for Waste Handling Fleets

With a fully operational, deployed and comprehensive maintenance software system, companies can increase their visibility to costs and operations performance.

Dave Walters

Business profitability is measured by a variety of factors, from the amount of sales and service income to the decrease (or increase) in administrative and operating expenses. For waste-handling companies, fleet maintenance can represent a significant outgo in the last category. Using best practices can help control maintenance costs while extending the useful life of this valuable asset.

But what do “best practices” encompass? In the maintenance arena, they encompass a variety of areas, including inventory control, purchasing, repairs and, of course, maintenance: corrective, pro-active, predictive and preventive. Another component involves potential environmental issues—a concern for onsite vehicle servicing that could involve materials such as waste antifreeze, brake washing solvent and any F-listed chemical. Implementing appropriate practices and procedures combined with ongoing monitoring and tracking ensures appropriate disposal of any toxic or hazardous substances as defined by the EPA, and prevents any fines or citations associated with failure to comply.

The Benefits of Maintenance Software

While it is possible to use a manual-based tracking system versus maintenance software to monitor maintenance schedules, the initial dollars saved will soon be spent, thanks to the inherent inefficiencies. Typical man hours increase approximately 10 to 20 percent, primarily driven by the size of fleet and scope of back office functions required when using a manual paper-based tracking system in fleet maintenance. Substantial cost savings benefits quickly become actionable when you switch from a manual system to a fully integrated maintenance software package.1

Reducing man-hours is clearly one benefit. But a second advantage can be attributed to ensuring the health of the very equipment that the company relies on. Without a comprehensive and automated maintenance program, companies run the risk of turning their equipment too soon, with a negative impact on their equipment life cycle costs.2 However, using maintenance software means companies can keep their trucks running longer by ensuring that needed maintenance is performed on schedule. This eliminates the need to invest in new vehicles earlier than planned due to the consequences of inadequate servicing.

For waste-handling companies committed to using best practices for fleet maintenance, the key is to implement a method that will increase efficiency, provide relevant reports on an as-needed basis and integrate all aspects of the operation into a coordinated, comprehensive system—a solution that can be as close as the company’s computer system. As for ROI, this can result from a variety of areas: money saved by better control over parts ordering and inventory, reimbursement from on-time submission of in-warranty claims, longer life for equipment due to on-time performance of necessary maintenance (both preventive and corrective) and reduced administrative expense due to reduced man-hours inputting information.

For those estimated 75 percent of waste-handling fleets who have not yet converted to software-driven maintenance schedules, it is recommended first reviewing all the available modules available in a software package and comparing them against current needs. Not all the modules are necessary, especially at the beginning. Fleets can always grow into new modules as they improve their software skills.3

Key Modules in Maintenance Software

When evaluating options for fleet maintenance software, make sure it provides full integration of all maintenance activities currently in place as well as allows for expansion as the needs increase. Information should be tracked in real-time and be available remotely via web browser. Key capabilities include inventory, maintenance and order management, fuel management, warranty management, customer billing, reporting (encompassing alerts, notifications and key performance indicators) and shop planning and scheduling. The software should offer both a wide range of standard financial and operational reports, with the option to create custom and specially configured new reports and to make that information also accessible by web browser.

Maintenance Management

Like any vehicle engaged in frequent stop-and-go operation, waste-handling trucks pay the price in increased wear on brakes, tires, suspensions, hydraulics/body, cooling systems and electrical systems. Also, the typical collection vehicles will have a mechanism to compact the material to aid in the efficiency of waste collection. This means that the truck is likely to be exceptionally heavy which also contributes to maintenance issues on crucial components.4

Preventive maintenance should be the cornerstone of a company’s maintenance program, supported through a strict preventive maintenance schedule, maintenance software and team of dedicated employees. This will allow the company to take a proactive position on how, when and where maintenance is performed. In the waste-handling business, brakes and tires represent a major cost segment. Through consistent inspections, maintenance software can improve vehicle use, safety and reduce lifecycle costs across the fleet.5

When maintenance software is used in the planning, scheduling and completion of maintenance with frequent brake and tire inspections, the brake and tires inspection process can improve route downtime to under 1 percent of route hours and can reduced historical road call rate by 17 percent. The software provides the information to schedule and complete repairs before failure, which is 40 to 60 percent less expensive than an after failure repair.6

Performing scheduled maintenance will maximize the reliability, performance and lifecycle of the equipment. As an example, a small engine leak missed on an inspection can result in a major engine repair. The result of this improper maintenance practice example can permeate into other aspects of the business and often requires additional equipment and labor to satisfy high customer service standards. Often, the older and slower spare needs to be used in place of the front line vehicle. It is not uncommon for a normal total-per-hour operating cost to more than triple when all aspects of failure are included in the cost model (road calls, tows, additional labor, etc.).7

Judging the success of your maintenance program is as basic as comparing two figures, the number of units running versus the number of units getting repaired. Between preventive maintenance steps, it’s called “frequency for truck repair”. The greater the frequency, the worse a maintenance program is working, while the lesser the frequency, the better it’s functioning.8

But the software can be used for far more than just tracking preventative maintenance-related tasks such as oil changes and tire rotations. The ability to capture and manage data through maintenance software can position fleet staff to perform root cause failure analysis, manage inventory and procurement, measure equipment use, and identify and collect warranty dollars in a professional and organized manner. The use of software minimizes the effort and time associated with finding meaningful data and statistics in the system to maintain DOT compliance on an ongoing basis—information that provides companies with the necessary documentation to successfully navigate their way through a DOT compliance audit.

A greater benefit can be noted in the event of an accident that leads to litigation against the company for damages. The software provides accurate comprehensive documentation to prove full compliance with the local, state and federal motor carrier safety regulations.9

Inventory and Order Management

A well-run parts department has what mechanics need to keep vehicles operational and prevent rush-order delivery while avoiding excess inventory and outdated parts. Automating the purchasing, ordering and inventorying process through software use enables companies to control unnecessary parts inventory expenses while establishing reorder tolerance levels. When used in conjunction with touch-screens and barcode readers and an interactive, workflow-based user interface design, maintenance, part and labor charging are facilitated, while reducing data entry time and improving data integrity. Add an accounting/general ledger interface capability, and the process is further streamlined, thanks to an “input once/access system-wide” software design.

Fuel Management

Given the unpredictable status of fuel prices, companies need a real-time tracking method to know where, how and why each fuel dollar is spent. A fuel management module will interface with all fuel management systems, providing instant meter updates, fuel cost per mile/yard/hour/tons or user defined measure, fuel tax reports, fuel/oil cost per individual piece of equipment, site fuel inventories and vendor fuel purchase histories.

Also linked to the global prices for oil are the costs for the lubricants that are critical to vehicle operation and fuel efficiency. By extending oil drain intervals through state of the art filtration systems and taking the oil sampling program to the highest level, the fluids are changed on condition based intervals. This practice can reduce oil consumption by 45 percent and allow maintenance staff to perform repairs prior to failure.10

Warranty Management

Warranty-related reimbursement is a commonly missed issue. Everything on a truck has a warranty, but companies usually collect less than 5 percent of recoverable warranty dollars.11 Companies need to know the extent of their vehicles’ coverage and then ensure they recoup those dollars spent during vehicle acquisition by submitting all warranty claims—a task that can be arduous and time-consuming with a manual system but efficient and accurate with a software-driven warranty module.

With a warranty module, every unit, system, or component under warranty is tracked and daily warranty reports and claims status are issued for any warranty opportunities. Another advantage lies in the software’s ability to identify high- and low-performing products through its failed parts analysis and claims analysis.

Management Reporting

A management reporting module can deliver budget analysis, maintenance cost trends, shop labor analysis and facility cost, as well as record equipment inventory, specification details, component specification, and drive equipment cost comparisons. It also can also be customized to issue notifications when license permits and inspections are approaching expiration date.

Accounting for All Factors

Of course, when deciding to implement a maintenance software system, companies need to take into account the hardware and software costs as well as the necessary employee training. Customer support from the vendor is also a key factor, as well as the frequency of upgrades that serve to improve the software’s ability and operation. A vendor that offers “rolling releases” for software updates is preferred, versus those requiring software re-installations with each major update, which can cause significant downtime or personnel retraining issues. Companies might want to consider managed service hosting environments for maintenance software, to speed implementation or lower IT support burdens.

Ultimately, with a fully operational, deployed and comprehensive maintenance software system, companies increase their visibility to costs and operations performance. This enables them to make management and operational decisions that reduce operating costs, assets and capital employed as well as to automate the maintenance lifecycle.

Implementing best practices in fleet maintenance management, supported by a comprehensive and robust maintenance software program, allows waste-handling companies to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. By increasing performance and productivity with higher delivery rates through fewer breakdowns, maintenance shops are on their way to transforming from cost centers to revenue generators.

Dave Walters is Technical Sales Consultant at TMW Systems (Beechwood, OH) and has more than 30 years of experience performing and successfully managing maintenance operations at industry-leading trucking companies. Dave joined TMW Systems from MaintenanceIO, Bridgestone/Bandag LLC, where he was vice president of the Fleet Services Division. He can be reached at [email protected].


  1. Gary R. Simmons, Vice President, Fleet Management for Rutland, Vermont-based Casella Waste Systems, Inc., whose company converted from a manual system to a software-driven one.

  2. Ryan Knight, Regional Sales Manager for TMW Systems, Asset Maintenance Software.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Gary R. Simmons.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ryan Knight.

  9. Gary R. Simmons.

  10. Ibid. Improving fuel efficiency and going “green” are twin goals for many fleet operations. At Casella, Simmons noted that his company has “made a long-standing commitment to ourselves and our customers to reduce our environmental impact in all aspects of our business. In 2010 we began introducing CNG powered vehicles in the place of traditional diesel engines to reduce our carbon footprint in the areas we service.”

  11. Ryan Knight.