As a small operator, you are used to wearing different hats and juggling responsibilities – from dispatch, bookkeeping, and keeping track of your chauffeurs to perhaps a majority of the vehicle maintenance. How much in-house repair and maintenance should you be performing?
According to David Knecht, director of maintenance for Greene Classic Limousine in Atlanta, the repair and maintenance work you perform in-house depends on a few factors.
“The facility, the equipment available, and the expertise of the mechanic limit the work that can be done in-house,” Knecht says.
Knecht adds that general maintenance such as fluid inspections, oil changes, brake checks, battery maintenance, engine repairs, tire inspections and rotations generally can be handled in-house with limited equipment. With additional equipment such as a vehicle lift, tire-balancing machine, brake lathe and tire-changing equipment, most tasks, with the exception of major bodywork, can be done by an in-house mechanic. “Engines can be removed, brake components such as rotors and drums can be machined, tires can be balanced, and rims changed,” Knecht says. Knecht adds that given the right equipment, only major body work would require outsourcing. “Even minor body work, such as a bumper replacement, is feasible given a competent mechanic,” Knecht says.
As Greene’s director of maintenance, Knecht maintains 40 vehicles and must always keep certain items in stock. If he has to do a quick oil change or has a warranty problem, he can immediately take care of it in-house. “Our main thing is the down time,” Knecht says. “By me keeping the parts here I’m not losing time by having the cars out somewhere and trying to get the parts for them.”
In an effort to minimize down time, Knecht inspects the entire vehicle while conducting an oil change. He checks the tires and tire pressure, making a note of how they are wearing. He checks the brakes and goes through a checklist of all the lights to make sure they’re in working order.
When to Outsource
Joe Ciruzzo Jr., CEO of A Elegant Limousine in Staten Island, N.Y., used to perform all non-warranty vehicle maintenance in-house. “It got pretty crazy,” Ciruzzo says. “It was very tough when there were 10 or 15 cars and they all came in at the same time.”
Ciruzzo now uses a local garage and regular mechanic for all of his non-warranty service needs. “He maintains the cars as far as the oil filters, grease, and everything else,” Ciruzzo says. “Every 3,000 miles the drivers automatically go in, and brake-wise the cars are checked monthly.”
Ciruzzo notes that even with a brake job, the cars are back on the street within an hour.
“Having one or two mechanics in-house — it doesn’t work and it doesn’t make sense,” he explains. “If anybody had the ability to set up a garage to do this constantly, it would be the easiest way — it’s cheaper, safer, quicker and the mechanic’s got a record of every car.”
Ciruzzo’s drivers call the mechanic directly to set up an appointment. “Basic follow-up, front ends, ball joints, shocks, and brakes — those things are checked constantly and we use the garage to do that now,” Ciruzzo explains.
Preventive Maintenance Helps Avoid Disaster
Knecht adds that regularly scheduled preventive maintenance is the best cost saver for a limousine company. “Catching problems before they become major malfunctions or disasters is the primary function of the maintenance department,” he says.
Knecht gives an example of how Greene’s maintenance program saved money and avoided potential disaster. “A recent manufacturer defect on a limousine’s rear air spring had the potential to put vehicles out of service for extended periods,” Knecht explains. “It also put the vehicle and passengers at risk before the problem was determined.” Greene worked with the manufacturer and tested different systems to determine which one would support the load without catastrophic failure. The rear air spring system was replaced on all of Greene’s limousines without removing the vehicles from service during peak usage or exposing customers to potential risk or inconvenience. “As a Ford test center we work with Ford’s engineers to experiment with the new products that they want to test on our vehicles,” Knecht says.