TMC20: Unscheduled truck maintenance costs rising

Worker repairing truck

Roadside repair costs for trucks continue to rise, hitting $450 per repair in the fourth quarter of 2019, up 26% from $358 in the same quarter in 2018.

While absolute costs are rising, the overall trend is toward lower average costs among a benchmark group of trucking companies tracked by the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council and FleetNet America. 

The report, released Sunday at the TMC20 exhibition, showed the average cost of a roadside mechanical repair rose for the fifth consecutive quarter. Repair time increased from 0.9 to 1.1 hours in the last six months. Higher labor rates, more tows because of equipment complexity and higher parts costs, partially due to tariffs, all were cited for the increase. 

The report breaks down mileage between repairs for truckload, less-than-truckload and tanker fleets.

Repair shifts

Tires, brakes, lighting, power plant and cooling systems accounted for 65% of repairs. The average roadside repair includes towing and mechanical repairs and often involves more than one issue. The average cost of a tow was $1,485 in the past three quarters.   

“Cost per repair looks like a permanent headwind our industry is facing,” said Robert Braswell, TMC executive director.

The top issues driving roadside repairs change seasonally. Exhaust systems are a bigger problem in winter months because of increased use of auxiliary power units (APUs) to keep the truck cab warm and power comforts in a sleeper cab. Tire costs tend to fall off the list in spring and summer months as roads get warmer.

Benchmark disparity

The report found disparities between the industry average mileage for breakdowns and benchmark performance. For example, the best truckload/dry van average mileage between breakdowns was 41,484 miles, 1898% better than the industry average of 14,333 miles.

“Truckload people just don’t see the shop that often,” said Jim Buell, FleetNet America’s executive vice president of sales and marketing. “They’re pushing it and there’s just more stuff done on the side of the road.”

The increase in the number of repair facilities could help, such as Navistar International Corp.’s (NYSE: NAV) partnership with Love’s Travel Stops & Country stores, adding 326 light-repair facilities.

“If it’s something you can drive with, then more locations will help you,” Buell said. “The more you tow, the more that is going to drive your cost up. The more things you can fix on the side of the road in a timely fashion appears to be the most cost-effective way.”

The LTL average mileage between a breakdown was 64,768 miles in the fourth quarter of 2019, a 14% improvement from the 57,012 miles between repairs in the third quarter. For tankers, the mileage between breakdowns was 44,303 miles in the fourth quarter, or 27% worse than 37,630 miles in the third quarter.