April 15, 2016 4:08 PM, EDT

Introducing New Vehicle Specs Hinges on Successful Pilot Review

This story appears in the April 11 print edition of Equipment & Maintenance Update, a supplement to Transport Topics.

Truck equipment and technology continue to become more complex with every model change. That’s why smart fleet managers involved in buying trucks find it critical to build one truck to a particular specification and perform a pilot review of the new equipment to verify it is built as ordered and to confirm its quality.


Conducting a pilot review and correcting issues at the factory or upfitter before delivery to the fleet will help reduce delays and repair costs in putting equipment into service after it is delivered to the fleet. But what’s the best approach to conducting pilot reviews?

American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council challenged its S.5 Fleet Maintenance Management Study Group to answer that question. The result is proposed RP 540(T), “Proper Pilot Review Guidelines,” which was balloted at TMC’s 2016 annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. The recommended practice offers guidelines for conducting a proper pilot review on industry equipment such as tractors, straight trucks and trailers. RP 540(T) is expected to complete appeals and be officially adopted by year’s end.

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Step 1: Do ‘Paper’ Pilot Review

The first step, according to the recommended practice, is conducting a virtual or “paper” pilot review. Once an equipment order has been placed, the original equipment manufacturer will convert the purchase order into a factory “build paper.” This instructs assembly personnel on how to construct and assemble the equipment. To ensure this instruction matches the order, TMC recommends that the paper pilot review be conducted before any equipment is built.

Participants should include key stakeholders, including the equipment purchaser, the dealer salesperson and OEM sales/engineering personnel. The group may meet to conduct the paper pilot review of the factory build paper to verify it conforms to what was intended for the equipment on the purchase order. This review can help identify and correct any spec issues prior to building the equipment.

The OEM should provide a list of all changes to the spec before the paper pilot review. The review can compare all standard and non-standard option codes and special instructions (fleet-required location of components and equipment, paint scheme, decal locations, etc.) on the “build paper” to the purchase order to ensure they match.

Step 2: Schedule Pilot Review

Schedule the pilot review with the OEM soon after the equipment order is placed. This will ensure adequate time for the OEM to correct any spec issues identified during the pilot review before the main build. OEMs typically require four to six weeks to make spec changes to future truck builds. In addition, fleets buying multiple variations of trucks should identify the specific configuration to be built for the pilot review. In some cases, it is beneficial to build several variations to ensure accuracy and quality. For example, a fleet may choose to build both a single-axle tractor and a tandem-axle tractor to inspect during the pilot review.

Step 3: Consider Periodic Reviews

For fleets that purchase large quantities of trucks scheduled for build throughout the year, another strategy is to conduct pilot reviews periodically during the year. Such reviews may be held at a time interval consistent with the build schedule. Because new equipment is introduced into the fleet over time, the fleet also can introduce new options or features and compare them with older products to improve their performance or durability. The equipment purchaser can then evaluate updated or alternate specifications or other OEMs and reduce its operational risk. Any issues can be corrected ahead of any large volume order, and the fleet will have confidence that it will receive the product it expected.

Step 4: Select Location

The OEM factory, the equipment upfitter or the customer’s location are options for pilot review locations. If having access to OEM engineers and plant personnel is important, choose the OEM factory. But if having technicians and/or drivers attend the review is important, the fleet’s own maintenance location might be a better option. Conducting a factory tour before the actual review to gain insight into the production process may be a good idea.

Step 5: Prepare for Pilot Review

Consider the following items when developing your pilot review checklist:

• Reliability Issues — Review the history of past problems with fleet maintenance personnel to identify any issues of the equipment in service. These issues should be assessed during the pilot review with the appropriate engineering, quality assurance and assembly personnel.

• Tools — Prepare a list of useful tools for the pilot review inspections. Examples include flashlights, air pressure gauges, tire tread depth gauges, tape measures, gloves, stepladder, torque wrench, a level and any new tools required to maintain the vehicles.

• Documents — Several documents are recommended for the pilot review. A standardized inspection form provides a checklist to ensure all important features are inspected during the review. Copies of the spec also should be available.

• Attendees — Generally, attendees should include OEM personnel such as sales, engineering, plant supervisors and the dealer. Fleet customer representatives should include engineering, management, technicians and drivers in the pilot review. Technicians and drivers are key users of the equipment and typically are familiar with past issues, so they may offer ideas for improvements.

Step 6: Conduct Pilot Review

Start with what you have learned during the “paper” review. Conduct a review of the factory line set paperwork including all non-standard options or special instructions to the purchase order to ensure they match. A factory representative should be assigned to record questions, concerns and discrepancies as the audits progress.

Using the fleet’s specification sheet, purchase order and/or factory build papers, inspect the truck or equipment to verify that all of the correct components are installed properly and in correct locations. Having the pilot vehicle staged over a pit will ensure that the undercab components can be examined thoroughly. No loose nuts, bolts, washers, plastic zip ties or related items should be left on or in the vehicle.

If there is more than one truck built in the pilot, the first vehicle in the pilot inspection room typically is “shiny and Armor-Alled.” However, you want to see the quality of the vehicle as it comes off the assembly line as this is how you likely will receive it. The best way to inspect quality is to use TMC’s Preventive Maintenance Inspection Sheet for the type of vehicle you are inspecting. Finally, as a group, gather all feedback/issues identified on the pilot unit. Pay close attention to complaint/issue, cause, corrective action, party responsible to address an issue and timeline for correcting an issue.

Step 7: Follow-up Plan and Vehicle Delivery

After the pilot review, develop the follow-up plan for addressing action items and how they will be communicated to the group. Corrective actions must be incorporated into customer and OEM specs for any future vehicle builds.

When the vehicles are delivered, a copy of the review notes should be shared with the maintenance manager of the location(s) receiving the vehicle(s). The notes can help determine that all discrepancies were corrected prior to delivery.

Todd Cotier is director of maintenance with Hartt Transportation. Joining TMC is the best way to keep current on industry recommended practices. To receive TMC recommended practices as a free member benefit, visit