March 20, 2013
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program was less than a month old when I began working at Truck Parts & Service. From my first week on the job, it was clear the subject was going to matter.
The program forever changed the way fleets operate, and its innovative scoring system brought drivers to the forefront of vehicle safety.
Two years later it’s still one of the most discussed issues in the commercial trucking industry. There have always been regulations — but there’s never been anything quite like CSA.
Yet as frustrating and exhausting as it appears to be for fleets, I can’t help but see it as an opportunity for the aftermarket.
One of CSA’s seven BASIC categories is Vehicle Maintenance, and the rules under which the category is governed are quite severe. Fleets and their drivers are assessed points anytime a vehicle component is spotted as failing or not up to code. The two groups are allowed only a certain amount of points before a warning or suspension is levied, and if points continue to be acquired a fleet can be shut down and a driver dismissed.
The only way for fleets and their drivers to avoid these penalties are to stay in compliance. The best way to do that, as we all know, is to acquire parts and service from the aftermarket.
I think CSA provides a great opportunity for all of our businesses.
For the parts distributors out there, it’s given you a conversation piece for every sales call you make. No matter how big a fleet is, it’s fighting CSA. Whether the company’s issues are lights, brakes or cargo control — another BASIC category closely monitored by CSA — it needs new components to keep its fleet out of the shop and inspection lines.
You stock those components. You need to get out there and provide them to your customers.
Most fleets are working really hard to learn as much about CSA and they can, but it’s a tricky program to master. I spent several hours poring over documents on the CSA website for this month’s cover story and I’m still only beginning to understand all it. Fleets need people out there that can help.
That’s where you come in. You don’t need to master the program, but if you can become a reliable source on how it works, your customers will trust you. They’ll come to you with questions and concerns, as well as parts requests.
The same goes for the repair garages out there.
Maybe right now your fleet customers are only using you for preventive maintenance. That’s okay. With CSA, that’s an extremely important part of vehicle maintenance. Go check out CSA’s website and find where your customers are struggling to stay compliant. Offer them preventive maintenance to minimize those violations.
Make it a point to check problem areas like lighting and brakes every time you do an oil change. Never back a truck out of your service bay until you know it’s up to snuff.
Be someone your customers can rely on.
“It’s not just about sales, it’s about relationship building and part of that is being able to provide [customers] with information whenever they need it,” says Randy Luthe, heavy-duty product manager at Six Robblees.
These are all things you can do. Sure, it’s time consuming, but all of the information on the CSA website (http://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov) is available for free, and there’s no extra cost for bringing up CSA with your customers.
Besides, it’s not like it’s something that isn’t on their mind.
They think about it every time a truck hits the road. Knowing you’re thinking about that as well, and willing to help deal with it, might help them relax.
And I’ve got to think when you’re dealing with something as stressful as CSA every day, having someone to lean on is definitely worth worthwhile.
Lucas Deal is the associate editor of Truck Parts & Service.