Automotive maintenance is not a particularly sexy topic, but in terms of our business, maintenance is a very important topic. It cuts to the heart of what we do. We are an executive transportation company, and we rely upon our luxury vans and SUVs to get the job done, and to get you to where you need to go.
In order to for us to operate safely, efficiently and in a cost effective manner, we have to solve small mechanical problems before they become big ones. And that’s where regular maintenance and safety checklists come into play. Using best practices in fleet maintenance is also an important factor because we’re not just looking after one vehicle, we are looking after a group of 20 plus vehicles and the number will continue to grow. On a monthly basis, that’s a lot of oil changes, tire rotations and air filters.
So properly maintained vehicles are a huge benefit, not just for us, but for the customer too. It certainly doesn’t serve the customer interest to have a poorly running vehicle, and that is something we wouldn’t want to subject our customers to.
Therefore in addition to performing regularly scheduled maintenance according to the manufacturer’s schedule, we also perform regular vehicle inspections before every single trip that we take. The benefit of that is by inspecting a vehicle before every trip, we prevent sending out a luxury van to a job for a client with a non-functioning system or broken part. The other benefit is that we catch problems early, so if a particular system is only mildly out of specification, we can learn about it and correct it before it develops into a major issue.
Let’s talk specifically about what your chauffeur will do before leaving our base with a Brilliant Van (custom Mercedes Benz Sprinter Van) on his way to pick you up. In operations speak, we call this “garaging out.”
First of all when a chauffeur arrives to work for a new job, he will get updates on his assignment, check the route, traffic and weather, he will change into his uniform and then his attention turns to the vehicle. First on that list is what we call the “Pre-Flight Checklist.”
The Pre-Flight Checklist consists of going over all the major vehicle system that could impact a customer’s trip. The first items to be checked are the fuel level and mileage. That helps with our record keeping. Then the mechanical systems are gone over. The chauffeur will check under the van for any fluids leaking because often that can be the first sign of trouble. Next the driver will turn on the vehicle and check all the gauges and report if there are any warning lights. Then the driver will check passenger cabin heating and AC units to make sure they are working properly.
The two next steps involve vehicle presentation and interior technology (for the passenger cabin). In order to have a “Brilliant” quality vehicle appearance, each exterior aspect of the vehicle will be visually inspected by the driver. He will look at all the body panels, the rims and tires, windows, the client door and running boards.
Then a similar inspection will take place inside the vehicle, with the chauffeur taking special care not to dirty the floor in the process! All the seats and the floor will be inspected. Then the interior paneling, rear luggage compartment and the windows are checked. Also all of the little bins and pockets will be checked for any left-over trash. Finally all of the electronic screens will be checked for smears or smudges and the seat belts are tested as well.
Once those boxes are checked, the final list includes testing all of the interior technology and there is a lot of ground to cover in that area! Obviously the workings of the interior technology will directly impact the quality of the client’s trip. We wouldn’t want you to take a four hour trip and not be able to watch your favorite program on satellite TV, or discover that the on-board WiFi is malfunctioning when you are trying to finish up your business presentation. Among the items has to check off his list before he is allowed to garage out are: front and rear digital TVs, the DirecTV satellite box, the XM Sirius Satellite radio, the wireless Internet router, the Playstation, chauffeur intercom, and last but not least, all of the remote control units in the van.
Once all of these items are checked, the chauffeur is finally ready to hit the road to pick you up.
But the Pre-Flight Checklist is not where the chauffeur’s to do list ends. After all, sometimes technology can go awry while you are underway. To prevent issues from arising before the next trip is booked, the chauffeur will conduct a Post-Flight Checklist after each trip as well. It is basically the same list as before, but now done in reverse order.
Client feedback and comments, if there are any, are entered into our database at this time as well. Did the client enjoy the trip, did they have any suggestions, complaints or questions? Once this information is collected, our managers will then be armed with the knowledge to take action or make changes. It is an essential part of our quality control process.
These processes we do primarily to ensure that we have a consistently positive client experience and that we are living up to promise we make to our clients, which is “Expect More”.
However, there are also safety and regulatory considerations that must be met as well. As an inter-state charter party carrier, we are also regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. And they oversee companies like ours to make sure our vehicles are roadworthy, safe and meet environmental regulations as well.
To that end we also have to fill out the DOT form known as the “Bus Driver’s Vehicle Inspection Report” for each and every trip. This form is filled out prior to the trip departure, and then filed in our office afterward in our log books. That way when we have to undergo a periodic DOT terminal inspection (of our base of operations), the department has a clear window into our operations and the conditions of all of our vehicles.
The Vehicle Inspection Report is very similar to our Pre-Flight Checklist, but it is more focused on the detailed mechanical workings of the vehicle as opposed to its appearance, although that also plays a role. In addition to the items on our internal list, the VIR includes systems such as the engine belts, hose connections, radiator, transmission, battery, brakes, emergency equipment, lights and signals, steering and exhaust.
So you can see that by the time we are done, we have conducted a very thorough vehicle inspection and can hit the road with confidence.
Again, both checklists cover similar territory with the main difference being that our checklist is for our internal tracking purposes, whereas the Federal form is an official record which must be maintained on our premises for annual inspections.
While this may seem to the bystander to be time-consuming and redundant, that is exactly the point.
Redundancy and thoroughness are the cornerstones of building a good safety routine. Check and double check to make sure everything is alright. In this manner, we are able to ensure that all of our customers have a safe, pleasant and efficient trip.