Montana town gets an ‘A’ for bus maintenance
Despite sitting in the center of Montana, where temperatures fall below freezing almost half the year, the city of Lewistown has not had a school bus breakdown in the past four years, thanks to a comprehensive maintenance program.
Steve Klippenes, Lewistown’s transportation director, says his fleet of 16 buses transports more than 400 children 200,000 miles in an average school year over gravel mountain roads and often in extremely cold temperatures.
Klippenes says the key elements to his program are daily vehicle inspections, a computerized fleet analysis system, regular oil changes using premium quality lubricants and a comprehensive summer maintenance check.
“A breakdown on a rural road with 80 young passengers in sub-zero temperatures is to be avoided at all costs,” Klippenes says. “In Lewistown, we’ve avoided it.”
Lewistown’s buses consistently receive passing grades from the Montana Highway Patrol during semiannual inspections. If a bus does not pass inspection, it carries an “out of service” sticker until it has been repaired, reinspected and approved.
During the 1993-94 school year, 165 of 1,984 Montana school buses were placed on the out-of-service list. In the past five years, the Lewistown fleet has not had a single bus declared out of service.
The maintenance program also saves on the bottom line. Any bus that fails to meet the state’s minimum standards will not qualify for mileage reimbursement until the defect is corrected.
“By paying close attention to bus maintenance year-round, we can avoid many costly repairs,” Klippenes says, adding he has never gone over his300,000-plus annual budget.
Klippenes says he and his mechanic, along with 18 drivers, all play important roles in the program’s effectiveness – daily bus inspections by both drivers and mechanics are the cornerstone.
“The majority of bus breakdowns could be prevented if drivers conducted pre-trip vehicle inspections,” he says.
Each day, Klippenes’ drivers complete a pre-trip inspection that includes checking brakes, steering mechanics, horn, tires and all signals. The mechanic checks oil, water and other fluid levels. All results of the inspection are noted and given to the office for recording. If there are any problems, the driver will be aware of them before getting out on the road and risking a breakdown.
“Daily inspections will help the crew detect weak spots in the equipment before a breakdown,” says Head Mechanic Mark Prines. “This means our vehicles have a better chance of holding up when they are put to the test in the extreme cold or heat – conditions under which breakdowns can least be afforded.”
Klippenes keeps track of all daily inspection information with a computerized fleet maintenance system. The system tracks vehicles, drivers, mileage, repairs, parts inventory, scheduled preventive maintenance and unscheduled work. “The program allows us to track what maintenance work we’ve done and gives us updates as to what work we need to do,” he says. “With the computer system, we can anticipate problems and plan scheduled downtime for repairs.”
In winter, all buses are stored in a 10,000-sq.-ft. bus barn, which also is a maintenance shop. A gas heater keeps buses warm; pre-heating engines is not usually necessary. Antifreeze and blended gasoline are other winter precautions.
Regular oil changes with Phillips 66 multiviscosity oils are an essential part of the maintenance program because of the severe conditions. “The oils are engineered to exhibit different rates of flow at radically different temperatures,” Prines says.