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3 Apr 20

COVID-19: We answer 10 questions fleet managers ask now

In the face of the coronavirus crisis, fleet managers have to find answers to questions they'd never thought they would be faced with. However, it's also an opportunity to do useful things they don't get round to in normal times. Below, ten questions and answers for the fleet manager that has his fleet standing still because of the coronavirus lockdown.

  1. One of my fleet's cars is parked at an airport and its driver cannot recover it with the travel ban. Will I have to pay a massive parking fee?
  2. My perk drivers have enjoyed working from home and no longer want a company car. Should I let them terminate their contracts?
  3. We will need new vehicles when the crisis is over but carmakers have shut their factories. Should I widen my vehicle list to faciliate instant supply?
  4. How can you preserve the batteries of electric cars that aren't moving?
  5. How can you maintain your tyres when a vehicle isn't moving for an extended period?
  6. Should you proactively ask your leasing company to re-evaluate your contract?
  7. Do I still need to go to vehicle inspection?
  8. How should you deal with accidents in times of social distancing?
  9. What kind of repair or maintenance can you do now?
  10. What useful things can you do now you have more time due to COVID-19?

1. One of my fleet’s cars is parked at an airport and its driver cannot recover it with the travel ban. Will I have to pay a massive parking fee?

As flights have been cancelled and airports have closed due to COVID-19, many car park operators appear to be taking a sensitive approach to unforeseen parking extensions. Paris-Orly, Heathrow, Gatwick and Liverpool airports have all confirmed that they will not charge overstay rates to drivers whose original car parking booking has overrun due to flight delays beyond their control. This only applies to pre-booked parking. Drivers are advised to contact car park authorities on their return to their cars.

2. My perk drivers have enjoyed working from home and no longer want a company car. Should I let them terminate their contracts?

Many fleets will be under pressure to cut costs after COVID-19, and reducing the number of vehicles is the easiest way to do this. However, the health crisis is also causing an economic crisis, which could lower demand in the used car market and damage residual values. This means early termination charges are likely to be high to ensure leasing companies limit any depreciation losses. In addition, even perk cars typically do some business trips, so it is important to have a policy in place for drivers who hand back their keys but still need to drive for business. Drivers made a commitment to keep a car for three or four years at the start of their lease, so it is reasonable to wait and see how your company recovers before accepting early terminations.

3. We will need new vehicles when the crisis is over, but manufacturers have shut their factories. Should I widen my choice list to facilitate instant supply?

Order your ongoing orders in function of urgency. Many lease vendors will allow you to extend your contract until the delivery date of less urgent vehicles. For those extremely urgent deliveries, we recommend reaching out to your vendors; as car sales have been slow, most importers will be more than happy to reduce their stock of unsold vehicles and perhaps even give you an additional discount. It’s not recommended to modify the vehicle list as it will disrupt your fleet setup for several years and might create confusion for your employees.

4. How can you preserve the batteries of electric cars that aren't moving?

Not driving an EV over a longer period of time could affect the battery’s health. It’s not a good idea to fully charge the battery and then let your car sit for several weeks as this affects the cells. Experts say it is best to keep the state of charge between 40 and 70% as much as possible – whether you are using your car or leaving it unused.

Telematics-based research by Geotab shows that EVs keep their SoC away from the extremes (lower than 20% or higher than 80%), minimise fast-charging and avoid high outside temperatures suffer less battery degradation. So if you park your car, make sure it’s in the shade. Also, don’t forget that the battery charge slowly goes down as each day passes, so before driving off again it is better to check if you have enough range left.

5. How can you maintain your tyres when a vehicle isn't moving for an extended period?

Not using your car for several weeks could cause problems with your tyres. As the weight of your vehicle presses down on the tread area, which remains unchanged if you don’t move the car, your tyres could deform. This could damage the internal structure and cause deflation. It is therefore recommended to give your car an uninterrupted 15-minute exercise at least once a week. Before driving longer distances, be sure to check the pressure and adjust if needed.

If your car is still on its winter tyres and you are unable to switch them for the standard summer tyres, there is no need to worry so long as the outside temperatures are moderate. Winter tyres will wear off a bit faster and offer less grip as the mercury rises, so reducing your speed on motorways and slowing down more proactively as you approach a junction or a bend is highly recommended. In any case, continuing using them throughout summer is to be avoided.

6. Should you proactively ask your leasing company to re-evaluate your contract?

Extending contracts can be a good idea but you should always consult with the leasing company that owns the vehicles. At any rate, the maximum contract duration and mileage will still need to be respected.

The current lockdown shouldn’t last longer than a few months. So unlike what we saw during the 2008 financial crisis, leasing companies will be unlikely to extend contracts with a full year, preferring instead tacit extensions if the circumstances require them.

Contract extensions can have financial consequences, as they may incur taxes or additional BIK payments.

Lastly, given the uncertainty surrounding the quarantine, it may be a good idea to extend contracts on a monthly basis rather than for a longer period.

7. Do I still need to go to vehicle inspection?

In many countries car dealerships and vehicle inspection centres are closed or operate with limited availability. It depends on the situation in each country whether vehicles can still go for their maintenance or annual inspection in times of COVID-19.

Various countries, including the UK, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium, have extended vehicle inspection expiration dates. Some countries give priority to business critical vehicles.

If you own your fleet, it’s up to the local fleet manager to verify and communicate the situation in their country to the respective drivers. If the fleet is leased, it’s always best to get in touch with the leasing company to see what needs to be done.

8. How should you deal with accidents in times of social distancing?

Even after you’ve been involved in an accident, you need to respect social distancing rules. When filling in the accident statement, think of the usual precautions. You need to fill in the same document as the other driver or drivers, and you may have to share a pen. That’s not a problem, but it’s good practice to disinfect your hands afterwards. If that’s not possible, do not touch your hands until you can wash them.

Consider installing an app that lets you fill in the accident statement electronically. Assisto is an example of such an app, available for iPhone and Android. It is supported in more than 30 countries. A similar app is e-Accident, available in 46 countries.

Why not use the opportunity this coronavirus crisis offers us to roll out such an app for all your drivers?

9. What should I do to my car while I’m under quarantine?

More than a third of the planet’s population is currently under some form of lockdown. Logically, that includes their cars. It’s a bad idea to leave your car parked untouched for weeks or even months on end, though.

Even if dealership showrooms are closed, workshops are still in business in most countries - in some cases only for urgent repairs. This may be a good time to schedule an appointment for maintenance or to swap your winter tyres back to summer tyres.

Regardless, you should drive your car at least once a week for at least 15 minutes. If your car is parked outside, it’s a good idea to wash it weekly as acid rain and bird droppings can damage the finish. It also gives you something to do as you’re trapped at home.

10. What useful things can you do now you have more time due to COVID-19?

Just a few weeks ago, fleet managers filled most of their time with the day-to-day operation of their vehicle fleets, with very little room for long-term strategy. Well, the tables have turned. With fleets largely inactive, there is now plenty of time for other things. Such as:

  • Online training: corporates are exploring the benefits of online meetings. Fleet managers can use the technology to offer courses on driver behaviour. Increased driver safety will benefit the corporate bottom line – and those drivers themselves.
  • Strategy review: corporate mobility has been slowly moving to a new paradigm: shared, electric, multimodal. This is the time to do some deep thinking about how to align your strategy to that future; also because economic necessity will speed up the transition. 
  • Policy rethink: due to the crisis, homeworking has boomed and is likely to remain a mainstream. COVID-19 has also opened up new perspectives on shared mobility, micro-mobility and public transport. This calls for a recalibration of your mobility policy, optimising new usage patters for the benefit of both the users and the company itself. 

Authors: Yves Helven, Frank Jacobs, Jonathan Manning, Dieter Quartier, Steven Schoefs, Benjamin Uyttebroeck