After-sales support how good is Dars?
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Three Daf operators quiz the firm's service director about this most vital aspect of operating, in a round-table discussion chaired by Tim Blakemore
DAF FEELS IT has something to shout about with the current standard of its after-sales service and last year Peter Cutmore, service director of Daf Trucks (GB), volunteered to answer publicly any criticisms there might be from three invited Daf operators.
These were Pat Blackburn of Chambers and Cook, which operates 25 tractive units (of which 13 are Dafs) and 50 semitrailers mainly on international work; Paddy Padbury of Siemens with six vehicles only one of which is a Daf; and Les Claxton, fleet engineer of International Distillers and Vintners, who is responsible for a fleet of 500 commercial vehicles including 30 Dafs, of which four are recently introduced drawbars.
Tim Blakemore was there to act as referee, though in the event all the set pieces were surprisingly cleanly contested, and "no side" was called to find Peter Cutmore remaining virtually unscathed.
Unfortunately the tapes of the proceedings were not so clean and they required the kind of deciphering which would do credit to GCHQ, hence the delay in publication. (No, the tapes were not made in Holland.) Peter Cutmore was asked to kick off by outlining what he saw as the "great improvements" that had been made in aftersales support.
Peter Cutmore: Daf started in the British market ten years ago and I think the biggest single improvement it introduced was the ITS (International Truck Service) concept, which then had been running in Europe for a number of years. It was logical that it should be extended to the UK giving us the advantage of a system with which Daf had extensive experience.
Dafaid is now in its 10th year and I believe it has become synonymous with everything that is good in manufacturers' services. Today there are very few manufacturers that don't operate or offer a 24-hour emer
gency breakdown service. Such a service can only be as good as the people who are operating it and this is where you come to the dealer organisation. We have developed a network of 35 points throughout the UK and these are the people who actually make it work.
It is no good having a man with a van who can answer a phone by his bedside and tear out to repair a truck unless he has got the right parts, the right tools and he knows what he is doing. It is very easy to offer a 24-hour service but does it work? We believe that Dafaid has been proven to work.
Also we have developed over the last six or seven years repair and maintenance contracts. Our contract service scheme has grown from three years to five years and now we have trucks on contract up to seven years in some instances.
We are willing to consider any form of contract maintenance arrangement. We have sufficient experience now to be able to calculate and forecast the long term operating, repair and maintenance cost of one of our vehicles.
Where do we go from here? I would like to ask how much do fleet operators want? How much information could they use? If we used onboard constant function monitoring of fluid levels, brake lining thickness and so on, would the fleet engineer want the driver to have that information or should it only be available to the fleet engineer?
Tim Blakemore: That was a good resume of Oaf's position; now what are the operators' views? When you are making a purchasing decision, how is the subject of after-sales support treated and do you have any for mal means of assessing it?
Paddy Padbury: In our case it is desperately important. One of our vehicles can carry £500,000 worth of equipment, and as it is a drawbar if that vehicle breaks down we cannot simply put another tractive unit underneath the trailer.
And we are particularly sensitive to our service levels since a high proportion of the freight we move is associated with hospitals. For example, we will load in Germany this afternoon and it will be in our Sunbury warehouse tomorrow morning and by lunchtime it will be cleared through Customs.
If, for whatever reason the vehicle fails, we have to move the load. The alternative is air freight but every one per cent of our traffic that is converted from road to air costs us in excess of £20,000.
Les Caxton: We consider aftersales service to be very important because here we are really talking about cost of ownership aren't we? And the back up one gets from a vehicle manufacturer affects the cost of ownership and downtime.
I haven't got the figures with me but our records show that our Dafs are not bad at all compared with other vehicles. We don't have a lot of problems with them on the road, which is just as well because 20 tons of wine and spirits can be a lot of money all in one heap.
At the risk of being a little controversial, I think there is a small problem with Daf's dealer network as regards the spares position. If you are going to maintain trucks, you must be able to get hold of spares. I am not saying they are not available at Daf dealers but the dealers are a long way apart in some places and unless a delivery service is run, operators have quite a lot of running about to do to get their parts.
I was also interested to hear Peter say that a lot of problems were caused by operator servicing. I know we were among the first to pressurise Daf to extend oil drain periods, which we did with oil analysis. I also wonder what Daf's feelings are about synthetic oils but perhaps we'll come to that later.
Tim Blakemore: In which areas do you think there have been "great improvements" in vehicle reliability and where does it need further improvement?
Peter Cutmore: When you are operating a vehicle for something like seven years you are concerned about the total operating cost over seven years. It is not much help then if the manufacturer is basing all his development on the first twelve months' experience, that is warranty reports. Information we obtain from ITS, Dafaid and our repair and maintenance contracts get fed back to our engineering department. We are constantly monitoring high-cost items in the cost of operation equation because this is directly related to the forecast prices we calculate on our repair and maintenance contracts.
Over the years our contract costs have not increased in line with inflation. I think that gives some indication of the success we have had in reducing maintenance costs.
Specific items that come to mind include windscreens. There used to be a lot of windscreen breakages in the days when toughened glass was used. The use of laminated windscreens has been quite a significant step forward in terms of operator comfort and reliability.
Individual components? Of course we buy from many wellknown major manufacturers, and some of the smaller ones, and we ask them to improve reliability of components where we see shortfalls.
I have seen big advances in the quality of alternators over the years, for example. Manufacturers have protected them better from the ingress of dust and put better materials into them to give operating lives which are growing all the time, but I am sure we still have a long way to go with these and other cornponents.
Tim Blakemore: Can you tell us from your records what is the single most common cause of breakdowns? What causes Dafaid to be called out most often? Les Claxton: I would think minor electrical problems, starting problems sometimes, owing to battery faults.
Peter Cutmore: Minor electrical items do cause a lot of problems, often because insufficient attention is given to them at the maintenance stage around September just before the onset of winter.
Last year we thought we would try and do something about this and we would offer a service which I think is still unique. We offered a free onehour winter check-up to all operators and we sent out a brochure reminding operators of the sort of problems that could occur during winter.
We had about a 10 per cent response and I was a bit disappointed with that. I thought that more operators would be keen to take advantage of this service. Pat Blackburn: We had electrical problems on earlier models but over the last three to four years we have had very few. We have also had problems with corn.pressor belts coming adrift but as you run these vehicles you get to know the faults and when we are servicing them we look for them.
Tim Blakemore: Let's pursue this question of reliability. Les, with a fleet of your si7e you must have pretty comprehensive records of the reliability of vehicles?
Les Claxton: Yes, we do.
Tim Blakemore: Do you think great improvements have been made?
Les Claxton: Well I think they have actually. I regard Daf as a forward-looking company and sometimes improvements are made which go unnoticed.
In this country we have to cope with the salt and all the other things that are put on the road and often if you get a continental vehicle over here the first trouble you run into is corrosion.
I think it's true as Peter said that the majority of breakdowns in the early days were caused by corrosion of the electrical system but nowadays that has been reduced dramatically.
I think Daf is still working on cab corrosion protection but that is generally unconnected with breakdowns.
We have had odd problems such as diesel waxing in winter and now we put an additive in.
We have also had a couple of wheels come loose but that's a little problem we have all had, I think and then there is the trouble with limited slip diffs but that is only up to Scotland.
Apart from that we expect around 500,000 miles out of these vehicles without doing any major work to the engine or rear axle. Perhaps the gearbox will require some attention.
Tim Blakemore: I would like to come back to preventive maintenance. Clearly Peter, Daf has a lot of information from your contract maintenance schemes, from Dafaid and from computerised maintenance records which could help Daf operators. How much of this information are you prepared to release?
Peter Cutmore: Well if we were dealing with an operator on a contract maintenance scheme it would certainly be in the interests of both the operator and ourselves to investigate the reason for any vehicle having certain defects.
In general terms any improvements that we see as a result of operating experience we feed back to the industry through service bulletins.
One recent example concerns the use of automatic slack adjusters, which in themselves are excellent, but it is very easy to forget that while your brakes are being automatically adjusted, no-one may be looking to see if the linings are still there.
We have sent a gentle reminder to operators who are using automatic slack adjusters saying "Hey, don't forget to inspect your linings from time to time". But in the future shouldn't we have on-board monitoring of brake lining thicknesses?
Tim Blakemore: On the subject of manufacturers' contract maintenance schemes, can we now have the view on this from each of the operators. I think only one of you has vehicles under this scheme?
Paddy Padbury: Yes, that is right. With a relatively small fleet of only six vehicles, obviously it is not economic for us to set up a workshop facility so we do two things. First we have a maintenance contract for tractive units and semi-trailers with the local Daf agent, Barber Daf.
We also employ the services of the ETA inspectors to satisfy the legal requirement for we have no workshop or experienced workshop staff. This way is easier and cheaper for us.
I think it works out at around £160 per year for the ETA to regularly inspect a vehicle and trailer and issue reports.
Les Claxton: On the subject of contract maintenance, I go back to an earlier point and say it is all right if the Daf dealer is on your doorstep but if he is a long way away it means you have to take the vehicle a long way for servicing and then collect it in the evening.
We haven't considered contract maintenance because with our own workshops we can service and repair more economically.
Tim Blakemore: Is that inevitable?
Les Claxton: It is not inevitable. Of course it all depends on how efficient you are in the workshop. If you are efficient then it is much cheaper. I find that manufacturers tend to overmaintain. We are constantly asking manufacturers to extend
their maintenance periods, which they have progressively done.
But I think inevitably once a vehicle is out of its warranty period, an operator will adapt his own servicing pattern in the light of his own experience.
On a maintenance contract, the dealer will do it according to the book, in other words, according to the maintenance schedule laid down by Daf. But this is a personal point of view — I have no direct experience of contract maintenance.
Paddy Padbury: Obviously any maintenance contract will take into account what is likely to happen, which may not be the same as what actually happens, so the price you pay may be more than is absolutely necessary.
We did a lot of thinking and made many calculations before we chose a maintenance contract for both unit and trailer but you are absolutely right it could have been the wrong decision. We shan't know until the end of the term.
Tim Blakemore: Peter, this charge that you overmaintain vehicles under contract: do you accept it?
Peter Cutmore: We maintain the trucks on contract in accordance with Daf recommendations, and the number of contract maintenance vehicles that I see on Daf breakdown reports, even during the recent bad winter, is negligible.
So if I am accused of overmaintaining our trucks I would reply with that as my defence, and with the number of our customers who are quite happy with the prices we quote which might include what you describe as overmaintaining.
As Paddy said earlier, downtime is the curse and if we can avoid downtime for you by, say changing a set of fan belts in the workshop before they are worn out, then that is far better than having to pay inflated costs on the continent where dealers might also be further apart.
Tim Blakemore: I wonder if we could have some figures to illustrate the point about the cost of maintenance? Could you give us some typical pence per mile figures?
Paddy Padbury: Yes, we are talking about 40,000 miles a year on average and I think the cost is 8.64 pence per mile.
Pat Blackburn: Our maintenance costs on different models vary between five and seven pence per mile overall.
Paddy Padbury: The maintenance contract for us in fact is 6.825 pence per mile for the motive unit and 1.915 pence for the trailer which is a total of 8.74 pence per mile.
Peter Cutmore: Remember that our price includes spare parts at the retail price so that our dealer can earn his normal margin on these parts. He is also including his normal labour rates, depending on the time of day, because we believe our dealers should earn a profit from carrying out repairs and maintenance but we as a manufacturer should not. The prices are calculated to be a break-even price for us.
Pat Blackburn: One of the reasons we haven't gone over to contract maintenance is that it is so difficult to get weekend service. We need to turn trucks around on Saturday and Sunday.
Peter Cutmore: We already have many vehicles being maintained during what might be called unsocial hours. We are interested in talking to operators about any transport problem and we have a great degree of flexibility.
We have introduced stepped price contracts for example where an operator can pay a lower price in the first year just to cover maintenance costs and then higher charges later on.
We have also introduced inflation-proof contracts. Most of our dealers do operate on Saturday anyway and quite a few on Sunday.
Pat Blackburn: One thing I like about Daf is that if you have any problem there is an immediate reaction. We are not one of the biggest Daf operators, though we were one of the first, and we still know all the top people at Marlow. They've never lost touch with us.
Tim Blakemore: How do you feel about extended warranty periods? Have manufacturers like Daf gone far enough?
Les Claxton: Well at the moment the warranty situation with Daf is extremely good. Everybody will give you a warranty on the vehicle for a year but what happens after that? I've had occasions where things have gone wrong with a Daf when it is three years old and they've come along and said "Oh well, that is a manufacturing defect and we'll replace that for you or we'll pay half." At the moment I am more than happy with the flexibility of the Daf warranty.
Paddy Padbury: I think manufacturers should give a warranty on a vehicle's various parts taking into account their expected lives so that if something is expected to last for ten years there should be no problem in giving it a warranty for that time. It does give a good pointer to the reliability a manufacturer expects from his own vehicle.
Pat Blackburn: I think a fixed warranty period, however long could be unhelpful in some cases. As far as Daf is concerned we have had things go wrong with a three-year-old vehicle and the service manager has come along and confirmed that it was a manufacturing fault.
We went through some faulty engine blocks for example with the 2300 and we sat down and agreed the mileage the engine had done and that was the end of it.
We got a service exchange engine with twelve months' warranty on it. I would prefer to see things standing as they are.
Tim Blakemore: Could you tell us Peter what percentage of Daf vehicles is on contract maintenance?
Peter Cutmore: In terms of vehicles we sell in the order of 10 per cent but it's growing fast. The own-account people generally have recognised the advantages of the budgetary control aspects more than general hauliers but another significant point is that the keenly competitive hire and reward sector does require more servicing at unusual times.
Paddy Padbury: Are we going to see a charge coming in for Dafa id?
Peter Cutmore: I don't anticipate that we will change the concept of Dafaid being free but we have seen other manufacturers introduce credit cards which do add a cost and if that is the way the industry indicates it would like Daf to go, then we shall.
It is possible that we shall consider introducing credit cards and presumably there would have to be a charge for them.
But I doill anticipate that Daf would want to change its policy of providing a national and international emergency back up service as part of its total philosophy to the Daf operator, whether that be a new Daf operator, a second or third-hand vehicle and whether coach or truck.
Pat Blackburn: Well I'd like to see big changes in the haulage industry altogether really, beca use I think hauliers are working unsocial hours for a very very poor return from their business.
And what I'd like to see is a different finance structure, probably a package deal coming from a truck manufacturer who could lease a vehicle over say a five year period and who could guarantee maintenance costs so that the haulier could get down to using his fleet purely for the movement of freight.
Tim Blakemore: Well Peter, can't we have a breakdown-free vehicle?
Peter Cutmore: I think the maintenance-free truck is a myth but it has to be the goal for every manufacturer and every operator. But like the end of the rainbow, it's a little bit difficult to get there. There will always be a need for some maintenance. Legislation will require that there are regular inspections which in itself will mean some form of maintenance.