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Health checks for both vehicles and drivers as business mileage picks up

Date: 21 June 2021   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Hospitality and service sectors are said to be at particular risk of mechanical issues from little-used vehicles, but there are also calls for mental health checks for drivers.

The fleet industry has warned that vehicles unused for months during the pandemic are prime candidates for mechanical issues as business mileage increases after lockdown, and experts are calling for inspections, if not full servicing programmes, as they return to work. 

Hard-hit sectors, such as service and hospitality, are said to be the most affected by the issue, as Simon Turner, campaign manager for Driving for Better Business (DfBB) told Business Car.

"There are a lot of supply and service companies for the hospitality industry that have had vehicles and drivers off work for the past 12 months or more - pubs and restaurants, the companies that maintain washrooms, supplying food and drink, and servicing the fruit machines - anything like that - they are all coming back to work now.

"If it - [the vehicle] - hasn't moved for months, the tyres are pretty much guaranteed to have lost some pressure [and] they may have cracks in the sidewalls, depending on how long they've been left. Anything that had even a tiny leak - that could have drained a reservoir over months of standing still."

Nesting birds and rodents are among the issues that have reportedly affected fleet vehicles stood dormant during the pandemic, and can be anything from a nuisance to extraordinarily dangerous. 

"There's something in the plastic on [wiring] looms that they quite like, but rodent damage isn't just beneath the bonnet; one of the things we have seen is them chew through brakes hoses," said Fleetcheck's managing director, Peter Golding. 

"I would look at a full pressure test - get the engine running, put your foot on the brake really hard, with the vehicle not moving, to replicate an emergency stop. 

"I've seen hoses that have been chewed, but not all the way through. They stop before they get to the brake fluid, which means you've got a vehicle that could potentially be a death trap, because you wouldn't know about it until you tried to put your brakes on. These things are unusual, but we're in unusual times."

Turner said smaller firms with fewer resources and a potential lack of fleet expertise could be more affected by such issues than larger organisations with dedicated fleet personnel and recommended DfBB's Covid-19 Transport Toolkit Playlist - a free, 11-point resource that includes advice about vehicle maintenance, returning to normal work and driving conditions, and re-engaging staff who drive for work, among other elements.

Both Turner and Golding said fleets should insist on mechanical inspections of laid-up vehicles before they hit the road. Golding suggested examining service and MOT schedules to see if they either coincided with a vehicle's return to service or could be brought forward. 

"If you want to save money or invest wisely, and if the vehicle has an MOT on it - bring the test forward three or four months. You're paying for an inspection anyway and that certificate is evidence of roadworthiness."  

He added that, however difficult their economic situation is, businesses "cannot afford not to do [an inspection]. I think the potential ramifications of putting a member of staff in a vehicle that has been stood up for an extended period of time, and you don't know whether it's safe or not, are not worth the risk. This is a necessary cost."

On top of vehicle condition, industry sources have also highlighted the issue of employees being anxious and unprepared for driving for work in the wake of lockdowns.

"As there is a resumption of more typical working practices, mileages will start to rise again and this brings risk with it, not only for drivers whose skills are rusty, but for those who are naturally more nervous anyway," said Ian McIntosh, CEO of Red Driver Risk Management. 

"There are some [drivers] who will be incredibly nervous about not only driving again, but meeting clients face-to-face. It is essential that. you can identify these employees and offer them help to adapt back to the 'old normal'."

The organisation is calling for fleets to consult staff as they return to on-the-road duties and ask questions, such as whether or not they previously drove for business, if the pandemic has affected their mental health and if the company has well-being or training facilities in place to address such areas.