Predictive maintenance is essential to reducing the number of vehicles being taken off the road for repair, especially with the advent of alternative powertrains. By Tom Austin-Morgan

Research conducted by r2c Online, which provides connected software platforms for vehicle compliance and maintenance management, has revealed that commercial vehicles in the UK encounter approximately five defects annually (about one every 10 weeks), some of which require the vehicle being taken off the road.

Analysing data from the past year, r2c examined reports on its compliance and maintenance management systems, uncovering over 6.2 million defects across 1.3 million registered vehicles. Extrapolating these findings to the broader UK commercial fleet, estimated at over 5.5 million vehicles, suggests a potential daily occurrence of 75,400 defects among trucks and vans operating nationwide.

This volume of unplanned maintenance represents a significant impact on fleet operations, with r2c emphasising the critical importance of promptly addressing these issues, citing road safety as the primary concern, and stressing the financial burden of downtime caused by unscheduled repairs.

“The issue of unscheduled repair is something which has always affected fleets,” says Ash Connell, r2c’s commercial director. “A thorough inspection process and efficient maintenance and repair systems for managing these problems is hugely important, or fleets will be hit by unplanned costs, delays for workshop time and interruptions to their operations.”

David Blanchard, team leader for performance and durability at vehicle engineering, test and development consultancy Horiba MIRA, says that issues causing unplanned maintenance in lighter commercial vehicles have gone up in the last decade. “There has been a massive boom in home deliveries and delivery companies are using vehicles very, very intensively,” Blanchard explains. “They’re exceeding the requirements set by OEM standards that commercial vehicles are assessed to, which includes accessory cycles for systems and components like doors and latches.”

The issue has been further exacerbated since the pandemic, he adds, where lead times for replacement components have also grown. This has led delivery companies to buy excess vehicles so that when one vehicle must be taken off the road for repairs it can be replaced so that it doesn’t affect their deliveries as badly. But this is an expensive option and Horiba MIRA is working with delivery companies to predict when these vehicles will need to be maintained to reduce the need to have excess vehicles.


Emissions testing is another area where predictive maintenance can help companies, especially haulage fleets that travel internationally. When measuring particulate number (PN) emissions, the difference between a pass and a fail is drastic, according to Marc Tew, head of sales at Premier Diagnostics: “A modern diesel with a working DPF (diesel particulate filter) will measure zero particles coming out of the exhaust, whereas ambient air has around 4,000 particles/cm3. So, the modern working diesel actually cleans the air in terms of particle matter. A diesel with an issue will put out into the millions of particles/cm3, a huge amount of soot content.”

The average diesel particle measures around 70nm. Comparatively, COVID-19 measures 100nm meaning diesel particles can very easily find their way into our lungs. “PN will be really helpful for fleet operators, or anyone travelling to Europe,” Tew adds. “Several EU countries are introducing roadside PN counting in the near future and if your truck fails it’s being towed somewhere to have it fixed, which will cost you a premium and you’ll have to arrange for another cab to come and pick up the wagon.”

Tew recommends checking vehicle emissions on a six-weekly basis, in line with other checks operators already carry out. However, fleet or depot managers can carry out checks every time a vehicle is to go abroad to make sure the DPF is working for a belt and braces approach.


In recent years, the introduction of electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen fuelled vehicles – some fleets including multiple types of vehicles – means that maintenance tasks are diversifying. Or are they? Hydrogen, for example, can by burned in an internal combustion engine (ICE) similarly to diesel, meaning that it’s more of a retrofit technology that doesn’t require many modifications. The biggest challenge with hydrogen is the infrastructure in depots.

“There is a thought that EVs will have simpler and easier maintenance, which is true of the powertrain, but the vehicle itself is still being used in the same way,” reasons Nick Tebbutt, Horiba MIRA’s head of global strategic sales - vehicle technologies. “All the issues that occur to diesel-powered vehicles won't have gone away, you'll still have punctures, you'll still have bumps and potholes. Those things don’t care what the powertrain is, they’ll still damage the vehicle in the same way.”

Aside from the traditional maintenance checks that any vehicle must undergo on a regular basis, such a tyre pressures, bushing wear rates, electric powertrains don’t have oil levels that need to be checked. In fact, they have much higher service intervals on their moving parts.

One of the extra challenges with heavy electric vehicles, such as buses, is the increasing levels of electrical complexity. This is due to the EU’s General Safety Requirements 2 (GSR2), which requires private and commercial vehicles to include increased driver assistance and vehicle automation technology. “This requirement introduces a whole level of electrical complexity that manufacturers haven't seen before,” says Tebbutt. “They‘re having to learn about what it takes to reliably install a considerable number of additional sensors that may be more prone to damage in the environments in which the vehicles operate.”


r2c’s report also stated a robust inspection procedure between operators and drivers is vital, highlighting more than 3.8 million daily reports via its Driver Pre-Use Check App in 2022 alone, along with 1.3 million further inspections. “Our data shows that drivers and fleet operators can work together to ensure compliance and roadworthiness for their vehicles,” says r2c’s Connell. “It’s such an important area of fleet management, and the numbers we have illustrate how essential driver checks are to maintaining a safe fleet. They’re the people that see these vehicles every day, and with the regularity that problems occur, they are a vital cog in the machine.”

Tebbutt goes further saying that in-cab driver aids will help to optimise driving efficiency in real time, so vehicles run more efficiently, leading to less unplanned downtime. “It’s fairly common, from my understanding, that telematics systems log data and drivers get a driving style report on heavy braking and enhanced acceleration,“ he reasons. “You’ll probably find in EVs that, rather than waiting until the end of the daily run, that sort of coaching will appear in an energy power band to make sure they are maintaining the energy in the vehicle. It could also adapt your driving to compensate in heavy traffic, to optimise energy.”

Commercial vehicle technologies are changing rapidly for the first time in decades – and transport operators and fleet managers need to stay ahead of the curve. Companies that can adapt quickly, and understand that educating drivers and maintenance operatives is crucial, will be the ones that will thrive.

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