Something Wicked This Way Comes: 5 Tips to Avoid Monster Repair Bills

Posted by Stacey Papp

It’s a chilly late October night, with a full moon shining through the skeletal arms of the trees and a hoarse wind blowing dead leaves against the windows. 

You’re home alone, watching television in your darkened living room. Suddenly you hear it – a noise from down the hall. 

You mute the TV, unsure if you heard what you think you did, but then it comes again … a scraping, dragging noise … as if something very large is slowly pulling itself toward you…something that is…. hungry. 

And then you wake up. Phew, you think, what a nightmare. 

But when you get to the office, there it is, waiting for you: the monster from your nightmare.

A monster repair bill, that is, for the trucks that were in the mechanic’s shop – with a dollar amount so frightening that you’re thinking you’d rather face whatever you were dreaming about instead of this piece of paper.

Large repair bills are scary scenarios year-round, and fleet managers aim to do everything they can to avoid them. So what do you need to know to avoid this nightmare situation?

1. Be proactive about your vehicle maintenance. We know, we know, you’ve heard it all before, but it’s not BS: Don’t push your trucks past their limits, because every extra mile beyond a manufacturer’s recommended maintenance interval is a test of fate. It can be tempting to try to push something to next month to make the budget balance, but it can end up resulting in even more/even worse repairs.

2. Know thy mechanic. A good mechanic won’t overcharge or try to sell you something you don’t need. Most businesses already have their trusted guy lined up, but sometimes shops close or get sold to new owners, and you have to scramble to find someone else. If this happens, ask your friends for recommendations and use Yelp and Angie’s List to get a feel for a shop before you bring a vehicle in. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if a mechanic suggests an extra service and you’re not sure it’s essential right this second.

Also, check out a shop’s walls for awards. For example, the Blue Seal of the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence indicates that mechanics have been certified in their area of expertise – it’s voluntary, but shows the shop cares about its reputation. AAA also has an approved auto repair program that monitors shops – they need at least 90 percent customer satisfaction to be invited to participate. 

3. Do what you need, when you need it. Review the owner’s manual – especially if your fleet comprises several types of vehicles. Not all maintenance schedules are the same, and you may be mistakenly bringing every vehicle in for a certain service at a certain mile interval when you don’t really need to be.

4. Inspect your vehicles. Bang this one into your drivers’ heads – they need to keep an eye and an ear out for any weird rattling, knocking, pulling or other strange occurrences. As much as you trust the guys, though, don’t only rely on them – you yourself should be giving every vehicle a look-see and a brief driving test each month to make sure everything looks and feels right. For example, if you drive a truck and notice that the steering is wobbly or hear a clanking sound, you may have a worn-out tire rod. It will need to be replaced ASAP, and will certainly cost some coin – but think about how much worse it would be if the tire rod snapped while a driver was on the road, and it caused an accident. 

5. Have a schedule. This may sound easier said than done – it’s hard enough to remember to change your own personal vehicle’s oil. How do you keep track of so many trucks and their various maintenance schedules?

Don’t try to do it in your head, Rain Man – there’s a better way.

Fleet management software keeps track of maintenance schedules for each individual vehicle, and shoots you a digital reminder to do that proactive maintenance. You can set your own alerts, too, based on engine on-time, mileage or service dates. It tracks engine diagnostics and sends an alert if a vehicle throws a code, helping to prevent breakdowns. The software can even integrate with your work calendars, so the alerts pop up within a program you’re already using.

Repair bills can truly be the stuff of nightmares, and although you’ll always have to feed the beast, fleet tracking software can take some of the shock out by keeping track of everything for you and letting you plan ahead for some of the bigger bills.

If you’re still having nightmares that you’re showing up at high school in your underwear, though, you’re on your own with that one. 

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And just in case you’re up at night and need some reading material, download our eBook on the importance of regular vehicle maintenance!