Signposts on the road to commercial vehicle management


So your business needs vehicles — commercial vehicles. What should you get and how do you get them? What should you be looking for, and what are the things to watch out for?

The questions go on and on, and there are few people who can answer all of them.

There is an accepted process to fleet management which seems straight forward — acquire, equip, maintain and dispose.

These are four simple enough concepts, but there is a bit more to the formula, which is why fleet managers are highly sought after.

First, let’s look at some things which rank highly when thinking about fleet management.

First up, you need to have an idea of what you want your vehicles to do. Are these going to be practical load haulers or do they have to send a message to potential customers?


Functional vehicles or status symbols?

Do they have to fulfil a function, or do they represent status within your organisation as well?

These are important considerations, as they determine what sort of vehicle you are looking to acquire — a ute, a van, a wagon or a light truck?

In many cases, the utility vehicle will likely be first choice. They can, of course, be considered “perks” as far as their drivers are concerned, especially as most people won’t have an issue driving a modern utility at weekends, as well as doing the daily grind.

But is a ute really what your business needs? How effective is it going to be as a working vehicle?

There is the security aspect to consider as far as putting stuff in the tray. Will you need a canopy or sportlid? These are often after-sale purchases, and can end up costing more than you want to spend.

Added to which, a ute tray can only carry so much — perhaps a van would be a better consideration?

Perhaps, but the van’s interior will need looking after too, and while your stuff is reasonably secure in terms of security, you’ll probably want to investigate the merits of various storage options too.

Light trucks have their advantages, not least of which is their lack of “cool” factor, which could preclude excessive joyriding after hours.

There are licensing considerations as well as COFs (Certificates of Fitness) — as opposed to WOFs — to factor into the equation and, more often than not, higher maintenance requirements and costs.

This leaves wagons. Not an easy pill to swallow these days, as the once popular wagon has fallen in popularity to the ute market.

This has resulted in a limited number of manufacturers to choose from, and if you look at the end of life prospects when it comes to wagons, they really don’t stack up well.

The guiding words for this part of the process are fit-for-purpose. Determine what your vehicles need to do, then base your acquisition choices around those parameters.


Lease or buy?

Next, the question of lease or buy — and this is a hard one because the pros add up to the cons and vice versa, of both.

Leasing is a popular option, because someone else has to do the donkey work when it comes to looking after your company’s vehicles. Chances are the “used” vehicles have had any ‘bugs’ worked out of them too.

Today, lease companies have learned that they have to work with their customers to survive, especially since many shrewd companies — quite large ones as well — have discovered that looking after a fleet of vehicles from cradle to grave is not as challenging as some lease companies have made out in the past.

Running a fleet yourself can be something of a headache, so if your business is still at grassroots level where you have to be working the business harder than working in the business, perhaps outsourcing to a lease company is the smarter move in the short term.

Owning new vehicles allows a company greater control of its own destiny, but puts the onus of maintenance firmly on the company.

Sometimes that can be a bigger burden than you might think, especially when it comes to things like Fringe Benefit Tax, driver checks, Health and Safety regulations and even fuel management.


Future disposal

On the other hand, you don’t get stung at the other end of the vehicle’s useful life with refurbishment costs, and any money made on selling the vehicle(s) comes back to you rather than lining someone else’s pockets.

However, you will want to make sure that you make a smart buying choice with an eye to future disposal in terms of vehicle popularity and turnaround time.

Fit out next. What does your commercial vehicle need in order to carry out its function in the most efficient way possible?

Many manufacturers offer bespoke fit-out solutions, and a halfway respectable fleet specialist will be able to sort these out for you.

In many cases, they will have a selection of fit-out specialists which they can use to get your vehicle decked out in just the right way — including items such as shelving, roof racks, storage systems, extra lights, canopies, bulkheads, tow-bars and so on.

Should you choose to do it your way and forego the dealership, you might want to be wary — certain vehicles have warranties in place which can be voided if specific fit-out equipment is not used.

Added to which, dealerships have considerably more buying power with fit-out specialists than “Acme Construction” purely through volume.

That’s not to say that fit-out companies won’t be helpful or cost-effective, but at the end of the day volume — money — talks, and your five vehicles will likely be back-burnered in favour of a fleet of 35.

GPS and tracking systems are a good idea from an insurance perspective, Health and Safety perspective and peace-of-mind perspective.

Added to which, your drivers won’t have much in the way of excuses for not getting to where they should.

Portable units are fine, but for commercial vehicles you might want to look at hardwiring systems into the vehicles.

It’s dearer obviously, but there are plenty of advantages, not least of which is security of the GPS system itself. You’ll find a hard-wired system offers much more than merely serving as an electronic road map too.

Take a look around fuel management companies as well. Good discounts, regular billing cycles, accountability and convenience are all big advantages to doing a little homework in this area.

Servicing can be the big bugbear. Look for new vehicle suppliers with programmed maintenance schedules if you are buying, and make sure you know what the servicing entails.

If you are leasing, regular servicing should not be a problem.

Keep an eye on little things such as wheel alignments too, as this will save your tyres. Most dealerships can do them, but choose not to.

In conclusion, there’s a lot to think about when acquiring commercial vehicles. Educate yourself by reading authoritative — and local — publications on the subject rather than relying on the internet, which is often too general to make an informed purchasing decision. 

Ask questions of experts — lots of questions, to ensure they truly do know what they say they know.

It is in your business’ best interest, after all.

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