Brake Safety

Them’s the Brakes: Keep Fleet Operations Moving

Posted by Stacey Papp

Whether you celebrate privately, or are getting ready to throw a full-blown all-night party (probably neither, to be honest), Brake Safety Week is here. 

Although the promotional event is geared more to drivers of large trucks and buses –– law enforcement agencies across North America will conduct inspections on these vehicles to identify out-of-alignment brakes and any other brake system violations –– operations leaders of fleet businesses also should use this time of year to remember just how important brakes really are. 

“Remember the brakes” doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Remember the Alamo” or “Remember the Titans,” though. So without going all “Sesame Street” on you, here are the “three Ps” to remember about brakes:  

Performance: A fleet’s brakes are crucial not just to operational efficiency of the trucks and the safety of the work crews and drivers (and everyone else on the road), but also to fleet operations overall: If a truck can’t be used because the brakes went that morning, or if they seem iffy and should probably be looked at, then that means the business is down one or more trucks for that particular day, and that affects everyone. 

Dispatchers will need to shuffle driver schedules and jobs, thus diverting the dispatchers from focusing on other tasks. Drivers might end up not working that day due to truck shortage, and losing out on a paycheck. The business itself loses money because not all of its moving assets are up and running. Most importantly, customers might be told, “Sorry, we can’t get there today,” and call up the competitor, who can get there ASAP.

Problems: Here are few signs of brake problems:

  • Leaks in the hood area, which could signal worn-out seals or contaminated brake fluid.
  • Squealing or squeaking could signal worn lining material (pads and shoes); improper rotor finish; lack or lubrication or worn-out hardware.
  • A spongy pedal could signal an internal master cylinder leaking; trapped air; or a drum brake out of adjustment.
  • Black dust on wheels or wheel covers could mean airborne brake lining material (pads or shoes).
  • A vibration in the pedal or wheel while braking could mean a warped rotor, out-of-round brake drums or worn wheel bearings.
  • Leaks in the brake area could mean a worn-out caliper seal; a damaged brake hose; rusted brake lines or contaminated fluid.
  • “Grabbing” brakes could mean contaminated shoes, leading axle seals or fatigued return springs.

If you or your drivers notice any of these, it’s time to take the truck to a mechanic.

Preventive maintenance:
Here’s how you keep the first P up and running and reduce or help eliminate the second: regular maintenance and check-ups. Keeping your trucks on maintenance schedules can save big. The cost of regular brake maintenance is $150 to $375 (replacement of brake pads or shoes), whereas replacing rotors or drums – which is what you face when you don’t do anything with the pads or shoes – can be $300 to $600.  

Of course, deciding to implement a preventive maintenance program is the easy part. The hard part is keeping track of maintenance schedules. Your mechanic wouldn’t put a sticker in your personal vehicle to remind you when your next oil change is due otherwise – and it’s even harder when you’re dealing with a whole fleet of vehicles. Even using a day planner or analog calendar can get tricky because things sneak up on you, creating budgeting challenges as well as last-minute scrambles to get vehicles fixed or looked at. 

That’s where technology comes in. Fleet management software can keep track of maintenance schedules for each truck, sending reminders for preventive maintenance like brake pad replacement and brake fluid top-offs based on past services or mileage. It can even track engine diagnostics and alert you when a code pops up for anything – not just brakes. 

Stay tuned while we come up with an awesome jingle that will help you remember the Three P’s (we should probably brush up on some “Schoolhouse Rock” to get those creative juices flowing), but until then, as you celebrate Brake Safety Week, don’t forget that there are tools out there that make it a cinch to keep a fleet moving – and stopping on a dime.

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