The old adage, “preventative maintenance is the only maintenance,” has never been more true. Maintenance Interchange founder Kevin Whitworth says there is at least a 10x difference factor when describing the cost between preventative maintenance and post-breakdown repair.
“What could have cost you $1,000 to fix in your shop just became a $10,000 or $15,000 breakdown,” said Whitworth, noting that a breakdown means passengers may not be able to take part in the activities that are part of the trip, from meals to entertainment. “While pre-maintenance can be expensive, it is still so much more cost-effective to do it upfront.”
Veteran mechanics Peter Haunold and Sol Miller joined Whitworth at the Oct. 21 United Motorcoach Association Town Hall to discuss everything from general maintenance topics to ways to hire and retain good mechanics.
“We’re doing a lot of fluid sampling right now, especially with the sitting equipment,” Haunold said from his Holland America-Princess (HAP) maintenance shop in Anchorage, Alaska. “There could be coolant contamination in your transmissions, there could be contamination in your engines from leaking fuel injector o-rings and other contaminants so fluid sampling is beyond critical, especially with how expensive some of these modern engines have become.”
Whitworth, now retired from his family business, is the driving force behind UMA’s extremely popular Maintenance Interchange and Maintenance Competition each year at UMA Motorcoach EXPO. The 2022 EXPO will take place in Long Beach, California, from Feb. 23-27.
Haunold recounted his first time attending EXPO. “The first time I attended a Maintenance Interchange … it was incredible what we learned. My team coined the term, ‘That just paid for my trip.’ We come with a lot of questions and we like to think we can help with a lot of experiences that we bring, too.”
The Maintenance Roundtable, which will mark its 24th year at the 2022 EXPO, is the longest-running and highest-rated educational sessions UMA offers.
Make drivers part of your preventive maintenance (PM) strategy, suggested Miller, a 33-year industry veteran who works for Premier Transportation, in Knoxville, Tennessee. “Training your drivers on what to look for on pre-trips is essential. We have the maintenance staff come in and do that, so the drivers know what they’re looking for.”
He also recommends using a software program to track the preventative maintenance, including oil analysis, DPF maintenance, log-in engine and transmission codes, DVIR and seasonal PM such as air dryers and air conditioning.
“Those types of items are essential,” Miller said. “I really think the software is a key thing so you can track your miles and stay ahead of the program on that.”
Haunold says a clean work environment with good lighting and equipment – lifts for example – is key to quality preventative maintenance for mechanics who need to do thorough inspections. He also recommends sticking with a systemic routine. “Your technicians will become more efficient, and you know the PM will be done in a more timely manner.”
Haunold, whose shop was undergoing auditing by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) on the day he took part in the Town Hall, offered this advice: When there’s a critical repair, we take the maintenance work order that we create and attach the work order number to the Daily Inspection Report (DVIR/EVIR). That way, it’s a lot easier to track and trace that stuff with the auditor.”
Haunold says HAP Alaska’s operation has been thinking outside the box when it comes to recruiting. In addition to posting job openings on Craigslist, HAP has been experimenting with notices on Facebook, TikTok and Pandora.
The team is also reaching out to local tech schools and attending recruiting events around the country.
HAP offers perks that include paying for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) testing, an annual tool bonus, laptops with diagnostic software, and generous PTO, Haunold said. For those relocating to Alaska for a job, the company assists in moving costs for their tools and some personal items.
“We try our best to do whatever we can to make this place an enjoyable place to work,” he said, adding that often means bringing in bagels and hosting barbecues. “A simple thank you goes a long way.”
At HAP’s Anchorage facility, the technician-to-bus ratio is about 8.5 vehicles per tech. But they also do work on medium-duty trucks and road tractors, which bring the ratio close to 11.
“During our busy season, some of our shops will hire tup two seasonal technicians from the local tech school to help lighten our workload. It’s a great recruiting tool as well.”
Miller adds that his shop works on creating a positive environment for technicians and hosts an annual cookout with steaks and salmon. The company also offers health and retirement benefits and PTO, along with a tool stipend. It also pays for new boots and a uniform every two years, he said. The number of technicians to buses is a 7:1 ratio.
“If you really want to get to the little things, seven to one is best. Otherwise, it kind of slips away from you. That’s what I’ve experienced,” Miller said.
There’s definitely an Alaska effect when it comes to the parts issue. Getting parts takes longer.
“We wind up having a pretty large parts inventory that we keep at our locations because, trying to get certain items up here, especially if you have, let’s say a failed AC compressor, you can wait weeks for that,” said Haunold. “The amount of downtime with something along those lines is brutal, so having one somewhere in our system that we can transfer from one location to the next is vital. We kind of rely on each other when it comes to the parts that we have on the shelf.”
Along with time, the cost of shipping parts is a challenge, as well.
“I can order $2 worth of retaining clips and pay $36 in freight for that, so it really is important for us to think ahead when we place our parts orders to try to limit our shipping costs,” Haunold said, adding that he tries to anticipate shortages. Lately, the shortage has been for batteries.
Add in the global supply chain issues, and Haunold says he’s already planning for the spring.
“I’m a little nervous about that because, unfortunately, with purchasing local when it comes to motorcoach parts, it really doesn’t exist. It’s got to come from the Lower 48,” he said.
Miller adds that his Tennessee shop has experienced parts shortages, as well, that are slowing up the pace of work.
“We’ve had more backorder parts than we’ve ever had,” Miller said, adding that toilet valves and marker lights are in short supply. “We’re not supposed to get another shipment until December. We’ve got a motorcoach that’s waiting on a diesel particulate filter (DPF), and it’s three months away, so I’ve got a 45-foot paperweight.”