Every fleet has unique needs. While many manufacturers cater to these specific concerns, buying highly specialized vehicles can also be expensive. If companies already have a fleet of standard models, replacing them with newer custom alternatives may not make much sense, either.
Thankfully, businesses don’t have to replace their entire fleet to experience the benefits of customization. Upfitting provides an ideal middle ground between utility and expense.
What Is Upfitting?
Upfitting is the process of adding aftermarket upgrades to a vehicle to meet a fleet’s specific needs. That could entail something as small as installing a toolbox or ladder rack into a van or making improvements as large as a new suspension system. Regardless of the specifics, upfitting makes an old, standard vehicle better suited for a company’s needs.
If a fleet’s vehicles aren’t conducive to workers’ everyday workflows, businesses’ efficiency will suffer. At the same time, new vehicle costs of ownership have increased across every category. Upfitting is often the more cost-effective solution.
While upfitting can still be expensive, strategic upfits can provide a more impressive ROI than replacing a vehicle entirely. These upgrades are often cheaper than buying a new vehicle and can extend the lifespan and utility of older models.
The Best Way to Upfit Your Fleet
Of course, upfitting still costs money. Some changes, like replacing an engine or transmission, can cost more than a new vehicle, although most aren’t that expensive. Depending on the extent of the upgrades, it can also leave vehicles out of commission for a period, hindering productivity.
Considering these challenges, fleet managers must approach upfitting carefully. The most effective upfits balance many factors. Here are some steps to follow to make the most of these upgrades.
Upfitting can address many issues, but some are more pressing than others. The first thing fleet managers should look to fix is safety. Motor vehicle crashes account for 24% of all work-related deaths, more than any other incident, so transportation safety should be every fleet’s priority.
Fleet managers should look at their worker injury history to see if any trends emerge. If some hazards repeatedly cause issues, these should be the first things fleets address with upfits. Hazards that haven’t yet caused injury but could pose significant risks deserve attention, too.
Upfits can address many safety concerns. Running boards and rear steps provide easy and safe entry into vehicles to prevent slips, window tints prevent break-ins and backup cameras improve visibility. If your current vehicle isn’t ideal for upfitting, review your other options to see which might be best for your operation.
Consider Efficiency Next
After safety, fleet managers should address factors that impact efficiency. Fuel often represents as much as 60% of overall operating expenses, so making vehicles more fuel-efficient can have a substantial ROI. Potential upfits that impact this include removing unnecessary weight, adding parts to make trucks more aerodynamic and implementing predictive maintenance sensors.
Efficiency upgrades go beyond improving fuel economy, too. Fleets should also look to make everyday tasks more efficient for their workers. That could include steps and handles to provide easier access, storage kits closer to the driver’s side or automatic locks.
If fleet vehicles allow workers to be more productive, companies could accomplish more in a day. This efficiency would make up for the cost of the upfits sooner, so these upgrades should fall high on the list of priorities.
Ask End Users About Their Needs
One mistake that many fleet managers make during upfitting is assuming they know what their end users need. Since drivers, other workers or clients are the ones using the vehicles every day, they have a more intimate understanding of the vehicles and what they need. Consequently, they should play a critical role in deciding which upfits to perform first.
Fleet managers should ask their end-users about their daily operations to highlight potential challenges that upfits could fix. Some of these users may have ideas for possible solutions, too. If there are any frequently cited issues or solutions between end-users, those will likely be the most important upgrades.
Remember to consider the vehicle’s operational requirements, too. Some upgrades might be helpful but pose other challenges, such as making a truck too high to pass under some overpasses or gates.
It can be tempting to make highly specialized upgrades to each vehicle to meet the unique needs of each driver. While this level of customization seems promising, it can create more problems than it solves. Instead, aim to standardize upfits as much as possible.
If a vehicle has too many or overly specific upgrades, it won’t be usable beyond its current position. With laws requiring manufacturers to switch to zero-emission vehicles, it’s likely that fleets will eventually embrace electrification as well. When that happens, and they need to sell their diesel vehicles, over-specific modifications will limit the markets they can sell to.
Non-standardization also makes it difficult to manage maintenance schedules and benchmark improvements. To avoid these complications, fleets should make upfits standard across the entire fleet, or at least across larger vehicle categories.
Time Your Upfits Carefully
Fleet managers should also consider when to upfit vehicles, not just what upgrades to purchase. While fleets are upgrading a vehicle, it will remain out of service. That could be for just a few days or for weeks, but in either case, it represents lost productivity.
Given this disruption, fleets should time their upfits for lower-volume seasons. For most logistics companies, the end of the year is the busiest season, but for other businesses, it could be the start of summer, holidays or other periods. Fleet managers should review their past data to find demand peaks and plan around them.
It may help to space upfits out evenly. Upfitting one or two vehicles at a time will minimize disruptions, mitigating the upgrade process’s impact on productivity.
As companies slowly upfit the vehicles in their fleets, they should monitor and record every change. Keeping records of every modification will make it easier to standardize upgrades and provide helpful maintenance information if something goes wrong.
If businesses don’t already use fleet management software, they should start. These solutions can help keep track of upfit records and performance information. Fleet managers can then benchmark improvements to inform future upfits more efficiently.
Strategic Upfitting Can Optimize Your Fleet
Upfitting can bring new life to fleets, but it can easily become more expensive or time-consuming than it’s worth. To make the most of these upgrades, fleet managers must approach them with a sound strategy.
With the right amount of planning and discernment, fleets can choose the best upgrades for their vehicles and implement them at the optimal time. They can then maximize their performance without replacing their assets.