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How to manage a fleet of business vehicles successfully

Managing a fleet of business vehicles can provide many challenges, but when done successfully, it can help business owners and managers to minimise their costs and maximise their profits. Successful fleet management can also minimise time lost through vehicle breakdowns, accidents and driver downtime (estimated to cost UK SMEs an average of £6,000 a year).

Downtime occurs every minute a vehicle isn’t contributing value to the business, when costs (often significant) must still be paid. If a vehicle is out of action for days or even weeks, whether because of an accident or poor fleet management, the cash flow implications can be serious. Moreover, inefficient business vehicle fleet use can also add cost unnecessarily.

What is fleet management?

Fleet management means managing company motor vehicles, whether it’s a car or van, truck, lorry, mobile construction machinery, a trailer, or even an electric car. It covers a range of functions, from vehicle financing, maintenance, tracking and diagnostics to managing drivers, fuel consumption and health and safety.

Fleet management also helps businesses to mitigate risks associated with investing in vehicles, legislative compliance and traffic accidents, while minimising environmental impact. Some businesses manage their business vehicle fleet in-house, while others (usually larger businesses) utilise a fleet-management service provider. Fleet management systems are often used to make this process easier. 

So, what’s the key to managing a fleet of business vehicles successfully?

Gearbox

Buy or lease the right fleet vehicles

Getting the size of your business vehicles and fleet right is essential if you are to minimise running and maintenance costs and mitigate risks. What engine size should you go for? Should you go for a petrol, diesel or hybrid model? Both of these questions are important because your choices have cash flow implications.

Obviously, you don’t want to leave yourself under-resourced when it comes to your business fleet. Not having enough vehicles, or vehicles that are the incorrect size for purpose, are signs of poor fleet management. Expert advice from a consultant can prove highly beneficial when buying or leasing business vehicles.

Get the right fleet vehicle finance

There are pros and cons to buying a business vehicle, just as there to leasing a business vehicle. Your fleet might mix the two or be based on one, but whether you buy or lease, you must find the right vehicle finance solution for your business, because this will impact your cash flow.

Much will depend on what vehicles you need and your business’s financial circumstances. But once you know what you need and how much your business can afford to pay, carry out comprehensive research for everything that you need to consider, such as business expenses and capital allowances, shop around and get detailed quotes for vehicle and finance deals. To ensure you can compare like for like, get a full breakdown of charges/fees and what you’ll be getting for your money.

Carry out regular fleet vehicle checks

Prevention is better – and usually cheaper – than cure. And, aside from adding to your business costs, unscheduled vehicle maintenance can prove highly disruptive, with the risk that some customers get let down and end up going elsewhere. You may also have to pay staff, who cannot work because a vehicle is off the road.

Carrying out basic daily vehicle checks can help you to identify and remedy issues long before they become more serious problems. If minor issues are spotted early enough, cheaper and less time-wasting problems can be avoided, with simple fixes ensuring that your vehicles stay on the road for longer. You can create a simple maintenance list to ensure that basic regular checks are made, whether daily or weekly. Some finance deals include optional policies that include maintenance, routine servicing, breakdown cover, etc.

Car mechanic at work

Maintain your fleet vehicles properly

Regular servicing can help to ensure that your vehicle fleet remains as efficient, productive and safe as it needs to be. Some finance deals include servicing stipulations; manufacturers, too, provide service reminders.

To ensure that vehicles remain on the road and perform at an optimum level, regularly scheduled maintenance is recommended. This should be carried out by a reputable garage to keep the warranty on your vehicle.

On some occasions, you might be able to carry out some of this work yourself. It can include fairly simple tasks, such as checking oil, tyre pressure, windscreen wash, etc, and cleaning vehicles. You may need external help when it comes to some tasks (e.g tyre rotation). Create a fleet maintenance plan and records of maintenance work carried out.

Make best use of fleet vehicle technology

The bigger your fleet, the bigger the fleet-management challenge. But thankfully, technology such as fleet management software and GPS tracking can help to make life easier. 

Fleet management software can ensure that maintenance milestones aren’t missed. You can also create your own maintenance schedules, monitor maintenance costs, mileage, etc. Usually, the software can scale in line with the growth of your business and fleet.

Vehicle tracking technology and software can also enable you to monitor your fleet when it’s out on the road, better monitor fuel consumption and driver performance/downtime, leaving you better placed to find out where money is being wasted. Technology can also enable you to better plan your routes to maximise speed and efficiency.

Provide excellent vehicle user training

How your people drive and look after your vehicles (or fail to) can have a big influence over your vehicle maintenance requirements and costs. It can also help to reduce accidents and unnecessary vehicle wear and tear. 

Your business should provide solid training before any employee starts to use a fleet vehicle. This should focus on driver behaviour (ie how they are to drive) and health and safety, as well as your maintenance expectations. It is a good idea to start them on the vehicle your business will use most, such as a car or van, or lorry. It’s advisable to have a company policy for vehicle use, and to provide at least annual refresher training to ensure that standards don’t slip.

Common fleet-management mistakes

No matter how well you maintain a vehicle, its performance, efficiency and value will diminish over time. Knowing when to replace older vehicles with new ones is also key to effective fleet management. Replacing a vehicle sooner can work out more cost-effective. And whether you buy, lease or go for a contract hire agreement, finding the right vehicle and vehicle finance deal is imperative to sound fleet management.

Some fleet managers don’t monitor their costs closely enough – especially fuel consumption, maintenance and downtime. And, if you want to manage your vehicle fleet successfully, you must stay up to date with legislative requirements, identify and manage risk, and have robust vehicle-use policies and procedures in place. Keep an eye on business expenses and monitor exactly how much your fleet is costing you. 

Some businesses aren’t as organised and diligent as they need to be when it comes to maintaining their fleet, which can increase the chances that something goes wrong. Good communication with staff and maximising the benefits of technology is important. Investing in staff training can make a big difference, while not seeking tailored expert advice can leave your business making fleet decisions that it later regrets.

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Arval

Arval UK is a leading provider of vehicle leasing and fleet management solutions for businesses of all sizes. We’re here to help make sourcing and running business vehicles easy.

Based in Swindon for over 40 years, we lease cars and vans. Any make or model, we can help you find the vehicle that’s right for you. But that’s not where our works ends, we support millions of journeys each year through products like servicing and maintenance, breakdown assistance and insured vehicles.

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