The refuse world runs on trucks. Without them, the business implodes — drivers can't pick up the customers' trash, can't take it to landfills and thus can't make any money. That's why, when it comes to effectively managing refuse vehicles, no matter what their application — rear-packer, front-loader or roll-on/roll-off for dumpster service — they must be spec'd correctly and maintained diligently. If they aren't, a refuse company is going to find itself parked on the side of the road with no business to be had.

To keep trucks up and running doesn't require a lot of newfangled software, either. Rather, it demands diligent focus on bedrock fleet management principles, which software and other technologies can then improve upon or make more efficient.

"There are a couple of key points you need to keep in mind in the fleet management game," says Douglas Weichman, director of the fleet management division for Palm Beach County, Fla. "The first thing is to make sure you've spec'd the vehicle correctly for the function you intend it to perform. Make sure you set up the spec range in the 90th percentile — meaning it can handle the toughest conditions in the expected job category, be it refuse, utility service, whatever."

Though it can raise the purchase price to set up a truck spec this way, it saves money over the life of the vehicle because it reduces wear and tear during nominal operation and saves fuel, because the engine doesn't have to work at 100 percent power all of the time.

"The most important piece of all of this is preventive maintenance," Weichman says. "You've got to be rigid about it, from one end of the vehicle to the other. My philosophy is that you cannot overdo it when it comes to maintenance. That includes buying quality parts, because you can't afford the cost of maintenance related to breakdown service."

"Your truck goes down, your customer still wants that container delivered or hauled out of the way," says Sherman Rogers, president and owner of All Waste, Shelby Township, Mich. "They don't care that you don't have a truck."

Rogers' 10-year-old company serves the greater Detroit area, providing waste removal from construction, industrial, commercial and residential sites, and there's no room in his market for failure. "The Detroit market is tight," he says. "If the contractors don't get their can the next day, they'll switch to another hauler. They want great service, so we make sure we keep the trucks running."