Maintenance costs account for around three percent of the total cost of ownership of a school bus. But with 20, 30, 50, 100 or more school buses in a fleet, the costs can really add up.
On average, districts spend about $4,000 per bus on annual maintenance costs. And the older the bus, the more maintenance is required. With a greater focus on reducing a fleet’s total cost of ownership, school bus manufacturers and their dealer networks are stepping in to help.
“Short of buying a new bus, it can be difficult to reduce maintenance costs of your aging fleet,” said Caley Edgerly, president and CEO of Thomas Built Buses. “But because we always focus on decreasing the total cost of ownership for our customers, we are constantly looking for ways to reduce the costs of owning a Thomas Built Bus for the 15 or 20 years that you own it.”
Even before a bus rolls off the lot, manufacturers like Thomas Built are investing resources in developing buses that are more durable, efficient, and easier to maintain than ever before, and extending the warranties on bus bodies, engines and transmissions. Not all school bus brands are alike, and customers are seeing their maintenance costs drop dramatically when they purchase buses that are built with quality, durable parts that last.
“Building a solid bus using reliable and durable parts goes a long way toward decreasing maintenance costs down the road,” said Edgerly. “We stand behind the durability of our buses and apply innovations that other manufacturers don’t – such as self-piercing rivets, special adhesives, durable corrosion protection and double bolted mounted body clips – to ensure that our buses can stand the test of time.”
Although the average age of fleets remains about the same, buses built with more durable construction end up requiring less maintenance and fewer repairs during their lifecycle compared to other buses.
With most districts completing their own routine maintenance and minor repairs, technician training is also on the rise. Some manufacturers now provide customer training either through corporate trainers or through their dealer locations. Thomas Built Buses offers two such technician training programs: Thomas Built Institute East and West. These “Institutes” provide hands-on training to technicians and up to 28 credit hours in less than a week on subjects such as product updates, EPA emissions technologies, electrical systems and web tools. For a less formal training, Thomas Built dealers are also equipped to train any of their customers on routine maintenance, repairs and updates.
“Having your technician properly trained saves on maintenance costs,” said Steve Leonard, president and CEO of American Bus. “Technicians with up-to-date training can properly perform routine maintenance, spot small maintenance issues before they become serious; they know what to look for in durable replacement parts and most important, they handle most of the maintenance of their fleets on their own. That’s huge savings for any district.”
Not all repairs can be done by a local school district’s technician. Manufacturers realize that some major repairs must be performed at the dealership. To help further reduce costs, some specially-certified dealerships are working to streamline more critical maintenance processes. One such program is Thomas Built Buses’ dealer certification program known as Platinum Support. This program is a comprehensive service program that focuses on getting buses out of the shop and back out on the road as quickly as possible.
“Our Platinum Support program provides quality assurance, rapid diagnostics, exceptional turnaround times and consistent communication, all performed by a highly trained, certified staff,” said Edgerly. “In addition, each Platinum Support-certified dealer keeps a robust parts inventory, so need-it-now parts are on hand. This ensures fast turnaround on service and repairs, so districts save time and reduce their overall service costs.
Each Platinum Support dealer undergoes rigorous training on how to make their day-to-day business practices even more efficient and, in turn, how to provide faster vehicle assessment and repair. The result: reduced downtime and a lower overall life cycle cost on a bus.
“I don’t have a mechanic, so I rely on my dealer to turn my buses around as quickly as possible – whether it’s a minor repair or even a major issue,” said Jim Viennas, president of Viennas Transportation. “Through the Platinum Support program, my buses are repaired quickly and efficiently, and any parts that I need on-hand are delivered right to my doorstep. Even if I am not able to get my buses to the shop, the guys at American Bus will take my call and walk me through minor repairs right over the phone. Customer service to me is number one, and the guys at American Bus run a great operation for my fleet.
“Becoming Platinum Support certified has greatly improved the customer experience at our dealership, most notably in terms of the communication with our customers. Customers no longer have to inquire about the status of the maintenance on their buses as all customers are updated every step of the way,” said Leonard. “Our dealership is also now more efficient – saving our customers time and money on their repairs.”
To find out what cost savings may be available in your area, visit your local school bus dealer to learn more.