Caring drivers are key to vehicle longevity

Caring drivers are key to vehicle longevity

The increasingly tough economic environment in which today’s road transport owners operate has made it essential to extract the full lifespan potential from a vehicle. Not only that, but this needs to be achieved at the lowest possible maintenance cost in order to retain a healthy profit margin and remain competitive.

In order to be sustainable in a challenging and diverse sector, transport operators need to avoid expensive repairs to and the replacement of major components such as engines, transmissions, and drivetrains. Considering the harsh conditions in which South African and cross-border operators ply their trade, this may sound like a daunting prospect. It is, however, readily achievable, since today’s modern trucks are extremely durable and capable of obtaining high, trouble-free mileage… provided that they are well maintained and correctly driven.

Prevention is better than cure

Prominent and respected road transport operators who successfully extract the full potential from their trucks without incurring high maintenance costs report that a major factor in reducing costs and maximising the economic lifespan of a fleet is preventative maintenance.

As regular FOCUS readers well know, well-planned preventative maintenance helps to extend the life of a vehicle by keeping it in premium condition and, in most cases, negating the need for any rebuild. Keeping all the trucks in the fleet clean, meanwhile, has a positive effect on driver attitudes, helping to promote a company’s image as well as aiding the vehicle’s longevity.

Heeding the warning signs

Engines and other major components don’t just suddenly fail. There are usually tell-tale signs that warn drivers and/or workshop mechanics of a pending malfunction. Most often problems arise from a “don’t care” attitude, or a simple lack of understanding of the potential damage that can occur. Because of these shortcomings, some drivers may fail to report a fluid leak, a lack of power, or any of a myriad tell-tale signs indicating the possibility of impending failure.

Mechanics may also lack care when carrying out a service or repair. They may simply follow the instructions on the job card, without spending an extra few minutes to check for warning signs that could indicate the imminent failure of another component.

The importance of drivers

Operators also indicate that drivers play a pivotal role in the process of caring for the vehicle.

Equally, some operators have indicated that, by educating drivers and working to change attitudes and mindsets, while also improving skill sets, maintenance costs have been minimised and productivity increased. 

To motivate and change the attitude of drivers, most of these successful operators have looked to increase the frequency of their driver training programmes, implementing policies that compel all drivers to undergo initial driver training courses – usually lasting for about two weeks – plus yearly refresher courses.    

The art of advanced driving             

Operators are well advised to consider advanced training for their drivers. The majority of long-distance, extra-heavy vehicle drivers display far more professionalism than those who drive small delivery trucks. They abide by road traffic regulations and display a large degree of courtesy to other road users.

Compared to these long-distance drivers, well-versed in advanced driving skills, many small delivery truck drivers in the city appear to be less adept and courteous in their approaches. Some clearly do not possess knowledge of – or apply – advanced driving skills.

One of the main advanced driving skills that drivers are taught is to search for potential road hazards every 12 seconds. Once a threat has been identified, the next step is to assess and predict what could happen, then decide on what action to take and immediately execute it.

This is a matter of continually scanning for anything that could be a risk, from an out of order traffic light to an approaching vehicle looking to overtake in a hurry. It is also necessary for a driver to check behind and on both sides of the road for unexpected hazards.

Once a hazard has been spotted, the driver must immediately predict what they think will happen. For example, if the vehicle in front stops on the side of the road, the driver should be aware that it could pull back out onto the road, or do a U-turn in front of their vehicle.

Early and quick thinking is required to decide what action needs to be taken to avoid a collision. A driver should always have an escape path in mind, which could be the next lane on a highway or the verge of the road. Quick execution of the decision is also vital, and decelerating should be the first priority when a potential road hazard is identified.

To be classed as an advanced driver, a positive attitude towards the safety and well-being of other road users is mandatory. Additionally, the driver must know their abilities and drive accordingly, and must show courtesy and tolerance at all times.

The benefits of a fulfilled driver

Once drivers have been trained, motivated, and rewarded with a fair and liveable salary, a number of benefits immediately become apparent. Vehicle maintenance costs and expensive roadside breakdowns are reduced, while tyre replacement intervals are extended and brake linings and driveline components such as clutches, gearboxes, and prop shafts last longer, due to the extra care taken by the drivers.

Accident rates are brought down due to safer driving practices, fewer component failures, and other improvements; customer satisfaction increases with reliable and timely delivery of goods; and the drivers themselves are happier, more fulfilled, and feel greater self-worth, showing more courtesy to other road users as a result. All of these
aspects lead to an overall improvement in the image of the company. 

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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