The struggle is real for those responsible for motorcoach maintenance when it comes to three issues: working out the bugs of telematics, supply chain issues and a labor shortage.
When mechanics and others gathered for the Maintenance Interchange at this year’s Motorcoach EXPO in Long Beach, California, these were three of the hot topics.
“Parts shortages are something that we’ve never experienced,” said Kevin Whitworth, who has organized the Maintenance Interchange for the past 24 years. “Sure, there’s been a few items over the years that you just can’t find, but right now, there are so many shortages.”
Whitworth gave a glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors of the Maintenance Interchange during a recent UMA Town Hall.
Sharing problems, sharing solutions
The point of bringing operators together to talk about problems is that it often leads to solutions. In this case, mechanics and operators discussed sharing their inventories to help each other until parts arrive from vendors.
Another hot-button issue for attendees is frustration with telematics, used to monitor vehicle equipment by using GPS technology and on-board diagnostics.
“An operator asked the question, if you knew then what you know now about telematics, would you buy the same system again that you currently have in your coaches? By a show of hands, the majority of the room said no,” Whitworth said.
He attributed much of the frustration to the learning curve that comes with figuring out new technology.
“New technology comes with problems and unfamiliarity. So, are the telematics as bad as we think they are? Probably not,” Whitworth said.
Hiring mechanics, a costly challenge
The shortage of mechanics is as dire for the industry as the driver situation, and even more difficult to resolve.
“Unfortunately, not everyone can turn a wrench on the motorcoach because heavy training is involved,” Whitworth said.
One horror story came from an operator in California who reported the difficulty hiring a new technician, who needed training in order to perform routine preventative maintenance work.
“Everybody’s jaw in the room about hit the floor when he had to offer him $50 an hour to hire him. That’s just how absurd it is in California right now,” Whitworth said.
The purpose of the Interchange is to have a candid discussion operator to operator, and to share ideas on what to do better, how to do it safely, and how to save money.
“What your mechanics learn at this meeting and the EXPO maintenance competition will pay you back in savings tenfold,” Whitworth said.
Valuable part of EXPO
What began as a one-time roundtable discussion for mechanics has evolved into one of UMA EXPO’s most enduring traditions. Whitworth estimates that more than 2,800 people have attended the annual daylong sessions over the past 24 years.
Eligibility for the Maintenance Interchange just requires registering for EXPO and being employed by a motorcoach company. Vendors and outside repair facilities are excluded from the event so participants feel comfortable speaking freely about issues. Topics for discussions are submitted by the attendees.
“There have been some interesting topics over the years,” Whitworth said. “Our slogan is, we don’t believe that you’re the only one having the problem. Somebody else has the problem. We just have to find them and then get a resolution for your issue.”
UMA President and CEO Scott Michael, who stopped in at the Maintenance Interchange to introduce himself to participants, says he was impressed by the engagement of everyone in the room.
“I think everybody appreciated that type of spirit and that type of discussion,” Michael said. “It can be very valuable to share those practices, and it certainly is for those who are newer and don’t have as much experience.”
Out of the more than 40 in attendance this year, 15 were company owners.
“Ownership wants to know what’s going on with their equipment, as well as their investment. What can they do better? How can they save money?” Whitworth said, noting that their participation is an indication of the value of the annual gathering.
Looking ahead to next year’s EXPO
The event has a reputation of saving attendees and companies thousands of dollars with the problem-solving ideas they learn.
“It has great value. On numerous occasions, attendees have commented that a recommendation from a fellow operator just paid for their trip to EXPO,” Whitworth said.
EXPO 2023 in Orlando will see the return of UMA’s one-hour “Special Maintenance Roundtable,” where the featured topic will be preventative maintenance.
“We have commitments from four operator-maintenance veterans who will share their years of preventative maintenance knowledge,” Whitworth said. Motorcoach preventative maintenance is much more than just an oil change and lube job. “Preventative maintenance is the only maintenance, and so much more effective than post-breakdown repair.”
This session will be held separately from the Maintenance Interchange.
UMA Members have free access to watch Kevin Whitworth’s entire April 14 presentation here.