Managing the Rising Truck Maintenance Costs

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

One of the biggest issues the trucking industry is facing right now is some of the problems involving maintenance. Maintenance costs are going up significantly and the time it takes to get maintenance done on your truck is increasing. This comes at a time when freight rates are at an all-time high which means owner-operators can’t afford to take time off the road to get a major problem fixed on their truck. What is causing these issues and how can you reduce the chance you have to deal with a major maintenance issue? In this article, we will be answering these questions and more.


Labor Issues

Many jobs and industries are dealing with labor shortages right now, and truck mechanics is no exception. Currently, qualified mechanics are just as hard to find as qualified drivers. This, combined with the truck shortage, is causing major problems. Due to the truck shortage, truckers are driving older trucks longer, which means they are wearing down and need parts and maintenance to continue to run.


All of this means mechanic shops are way backed up and owner-operators are willing to pay whatever it takes to get their trucks fixed. Labor rates are rising quickly. A few years ago, maintenance on average cost $125 per hour. Now, maintenance is up to $190 per hour. This is because labor throughout the country is in short supply. Mechanics are harder than ever to find and the rates paid to these trained mechanics keep going up. Also, shop fees are being added similar to the type of fees you would see on an events ticket website. This is because shops can charge whatever they want with truck maintenance being in such high demand and maintenance options being in such a low supply.


Supplier Cost Increases

Every supplier of truck parts and fluids is also increasing costs as they are dealing with the same labor and supply chain issues as everybody else. Of course, as suppliers are forced to increase costs, maintenance shops are forced to as well.


Fluids

Fluids have increased two or three times this year already. Oil, transmission fluids, and DEF fluids have all seen significant increases.


Parts

The cost of metals has increased overall which is what’s causing truck parts to increase so significantly. Also, manufacturing plants for these have been closed which is creating issues all the way up the supply chain.


Tires

The price of tires has already gone up once and manufacturers are saying more increases are coming soon. Just like everything else, raw materials, labor, and shipping costs are all up.


Labor Time

With all of the issues that are going on at the same time throughout the supply chain, labor time has been extended significantly. As we’ve mentioned previously, parts shortages, lack of trained mechanics, and older trucks on the road are just a few of the factors that are not just causing the cost of maintenance to increase but also the amount of time you need to wait for maintenance to be completed.


All of this is making it really easy for owner-operators to leave. They don’t have the time or the money to wait for a repair and there are other options out there. Fleets are offering a good salary with sign-on bonuses as high as $10k to drive for them as a company driver. Trucks are in such high demand that owner-operators can sell their broken truck for $10k-$20k more than they paid for it a year ago. There are also other industries that are hiring for good money which makes it easy for drivers to be home every night.


Opportunity Cost

The biggest takeaway is the opportunity cost of lost revenue in such a hot market from being off the road waiting for a repair. This might be the biggest issue for owner-operators that are facing maintenance issues. On top of maintenance costs being high, owner-operators are also losing out on significant revenue if they are forced to be off the road for a significant amount of time. This is because freight rates are at an all-time high so missing out on these earnings even for a short period of time is a big opportunity lost. If you’re down for a week, it means you’re losing about $2,400 in take home pay or more when considering the loss of revenue plus the fixed costs you still have to make with the maintenance as well.


What Can Be Done?

The most important thing you can do to keep yourself on the road is plan preventative maintenance around home time. Try to catch stuff before it becomes a serious issue so you can wait for the part you will eventually need or get it fixed quickly before it becomes a big issue. This can be done with good pre and post-trip inspections and checking for any leaks or drips.


Now would also be a good time to find a preventative maintenance program. One type of preventative maintenance program is a fluid analysis. This analysis can help identify metals that are wearing down within the fluids that need to be replaced early so you can get the parts you need ordered ahead of time and get the maintenance scheduled when you know you will have downtime. Another type of preventative maintenance is after treatment ultrasonic cleanings. Doing this will clean out your DEF systems ahead of time so it stays functional for longer.


Lastly, now would be the time to adjust how much money you are putting aside for future maintenance issues. We’ve updated our recommendation for how much you should be saving based on how old the truck is and how many miles it’s driven. You can see our recommendations in the chart below. This is no master savings program. Every trucking business should have their own individual maintenance savings program based on the type of freight, length of haul, and road conditions they see most.

Age of Truck

Mileage

Average CPM

Suggested CPM

0-1 year old

0-100k

4.92

5

1-2 years old

100-200k

6.93

7

2-3 years old

200-300k

7.56

8

3-4 years old

300-400k

9.33

9

4-5 years old

400-500k

11.25

11

5+ years old

500k+

11.71

12

Add 2 CPM for every 100k over 500k

We see the cost of maintenance continuing to rise for the foreseeable future. Make sure you’re taking the appropriate steps to mitigate the problems if a maintenance issue arises. We can’t emphasize this enough, the cost of being off the road right now due to a maintenance issue is detrimental not just because of the amount of money you have to spend on the maintenance but also because of the amount of money you will be losing while taking time off during a hot freight market.

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