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February 23, 2020 1:45 PM, EST

Costs for Unscheduled Repairs Keep Rising, Report Finds

Costs for unscheduled repairs FleetNet's Jim Buell speaks at the press conference. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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ATLANTA — The average cost for an unscheduled repair increased 43% between the fourth quarter of 2018 and Q4 2019, according to benchmarking data compiled by American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council and FleetNet America.

At $513, the average cost of an unplanned mechanical repair has steadily increased since Q4 2018, when the average unplanned repair cost $358, according to the groups’ Vertical Benchmarking Program. Through the program, the partners compile maintenance data supplied by participating fleets and provide the information as a benefit to TMC members. The Q4 data was presented Feb. 23 during a media briefing held in conjunction with the TMC annual meeting, taking place through Feb. 27.

Jim Buell, executive vice president of sales and marketing for FleetNet America, noted that the rising cost of roadside repairs comes as little surprise against the backdrop of the trucking industry’s ongoing shortage of technicians.

“It’s basic economics — supply and demand,” he said. “When you have fewer people chasing a lot more jobs, you have to pay more for them,” he said.

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Buell noted that the nature of tackling roadside repairs also plays a factor.

“Would you rather be a tech working in a shop from 8 [a.m. to] 5 [p.m.], he said, “or a tech that is working on the side of the road at 2 in the morning on a snowy day? So, the people handling roadside repairs are having to pay the techs even more.”

The report studies repair costs for truckload, less-than-truckload and tank fleets, and has found that repair costs vary across the sectors. The results, which are built from Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards information, show that the average miles between breakdowns improved 20% for truckload carriers between Q3 2019 and Q4 2019, to 14,333 miles from 11,896 miles, and improved 15% during that span for LTL carriers, to 57,012 from 49,180. For tank carriers, however, the average number of miles worsened 27%, to 37,630 from 52,063.

The Q4 data also found that five systems account for 65% of all roadside repairs — brakes, cooling systems, lighting, power plants and tires. In terms of prevalence, cooling systems account for the most roadside repairs, followed by braking systems, lighting, power plants and tires.

That said, the percentage of miles between unscheduled tire repairs improved 29% between Q3 2019 and Q4 2019, to 111,643 from 86,483 in Q3 2019, but varied widely across the three fleet sectors; the LTL sector saw a 70% improvement across that time frame, while the truckload sector saw a 53% jump. The tank sector, meanwhile, saw a 51% decline.

“Cost per repair looks like a permanent headwind our industry is facing, TMC Executive Director Robert Braswell said in a news release, “and it would be advantageous to fleets to address this.”

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