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'Last year's Fleet 200 report showed that 63% of the utility sector opted for a five-year cycle'Utilities reduce costs by minimising van downtimeBy Debbie WoodExtending replacement cycles for van fleets has become more commonplace in recent years as companies look to reduce costs and improve overall efficiency. To make running aging vehicles cost effective, fleets need to minimise downtime and combat the increased maintenance costs associated with older vehicles. Indeed, if the vans are well main­tained, the total cost of ownership (TCO) can prove as cost effective over a five-year cycle as over three. Drivers completing weekly checks can also help keep vehicles on the road for longer (download a weekly vehicle checklist, right).With a fleet of more than 10,000 vans, Centrica has benefited from extending its replace­ment cycle from three to five years."Over the past three years we have proved that well-maintained, reliable vehicles have a lower TCO over five years," says Colin Marriot, fleet manager, Centrica. Last year's Fleet 200 report showed that 63% of the utility sector opted for a five-year cycle, while 25% were four years and 12% six years.Older vehicles are more likely to break down or have technical issues. To combat this, Marriot believes effective down­time management is needed."We minimise downtime through planning scheduled maintenance on engineer rest days or weekends, facilitating collection and delivery, moni­toring vehicle utilisation and condition and ensuring our fleet is well maintained," says Marriot.To help keep vehicles for longer, fleets are also looking to reduce mileage. Marriot believes telematics can help fleets achieve this."Our GPS and telemetry system is delivering operational performance benefits and fleet manage­ment cost benefits." he says."Our average annual mileage has fallen by 8% over the period of intro­ducing this technology. Further gains are expected."For its fleet, the Forestry Commis­sion applies different replacement criteria depending on specification and use of vehicles. Most leased light commercial, business-use vehicles have a five-year term. Outright purchased business-use vehicles' terms are between five and seven years, and a few specialist, low-usage vehicles are retained for up to eight years. Leased management car terms vary from three to five years. The Forestry Commission sees reducing overall usage of the vehicles as a key driver for savings and can make extending replacement cycles cost effective. "The main thrust of savings over the past few years has been to reduce vehicle usage, numbers, size and specification. There is an over-arching policy which ensures that the most efficient travel Regular maintenance and weekly checks can help keep running aging vehicles cost effectiveUtilities Vehicle downtime

Vehicle downtimeBalfour News digestBeattyThames WaterCar Recruitmentreviews'Measures have achieved 5% reduction in travel and transport CO2 emissions'Jeff Livingston, Forestry CommissionEssential weekly vehicle checklistClick here to downloadand transport option is used in terms of cost and CO2 emissions," explains Jeff Livingston, the Forestry Commission's head of mechanical engi-neering services. "Each country division within the Forestry Commission has a policy that sets criteria for vehicle selection that leads towards the most efficient vehicle for each application. These measures have achieved 5% reductions in travel and transport CO2 emissions over the past three years."There is no specific directive to extend the term of vans at the Forestry Commission, but this is reviewed regularly. Business-use car terms are being extended to up to five years, as are manage-ment cars, although this requires the agreement of the drivers, who contribute to the costs. Livingston believes the key drivers for reducing downtime is carrying out work near where vehicles are used. "Having repairs and maintenance carried out close to vehicles' operating areas is a key feature of our vehicle strategy for minimising downtime. Private sector garages are used for all management car repairs and mainte-nance and, when suitable, for busi-ness-use vehicle repairs and mainte-nance," Livingston says.For Centrica, choosing effective and reliable vehicles is equally as impor-tant. "Choosing the most efficient cost effective and reliable vehicles for our fleet and having an effective down time control system and processes to ensure when a vehicle goes off the road we are on the case and chasing suppliers to fix it fast," says Marriot.Planning scheduled maintenance effectively will minimise downtime