While many car owners would like to implement a proactive maintenance strategy, determining the best time to take a car out of service to complete repairs is complex, requiring an understanding of the remaining useful life of a component versus the risk that the component will fail while in use.

Balancing the need to keep equipment available for use with ensuring it is in good health is what makes choosing the optimal time to complete maintenance difficult. But underlying the ability to even have the choice of when repairs happen is proactive equipment health monitoring.

Three Benefits of Proactive Car Health Tracking

  • Reduced maintenance costs: Repairing the car when it is in your possession may cost less than allowing the car to be repaired by a railroad at AAR standard rates.


  • Reduced service interruptions: If an issue has been identified by wayside detectors, how likely is it that you’ll have the car back in your possession before repairs are mandatory? Choosing to repair the car at the optimal time can help reduce the risk of a service interruption.


  • Improved Customer Satisfaction: When a car is taken out for repairs, its estimated time of arrival is impacted. By ensuring cars are not interrupted en route, you can improve your ability to provide an accurate ETA.

Now that we’ve established the benefits of car health tracking, here’s how you can use health information to determine the right time to repair.

Choosing When to Repair A Car

When you Regain Possession of Your Car

When you have possession of your car, you likely have the opportunity to more easily make repairs than when a car is in use. Of course, while you always want to deal with condemnable and mandatory alerts, you should also analyze opportunistic alerts using the following factors:

  • How likely is this health concern to cause a service interruption if not addressed?
  • How likely is it that you will have this car back in your possession before the alert must be addressed?
  • How much more costly will a foreign repair be, if incurred?
  • How costly will routing this car to its home shop later be, if necessary?

It’s important to understand the above factors for each type of alert, as they vary. One thing to note is that new data models predicting remaining component useful lifespans have the potential to eliminate guesswork in understanding the likelihood of a concern causing a service disruption. We expand on these new data models below.

By ensuring that you’re able to exercise greater control over maintenance, it's likely that you’ll reduce the risk of service interruptions and higher-cost railroad repairs.

When a Car is Empty and Needed for Service

In this scenario, you should be asking if there are any easy-to-do repairs while the car is empty to reduce service disruptions later. With an empty car, you should consider both alerts and general health concerns. It’s often easier to execute certain repairs while a car is empty, especially since you won’t be holding up a shipment. Tank cars have high potential to need additional attention when empty due to the many required inspections and cleanings.

Understanding Risk

When proactively managing maintenance, you don’t want to replace a component too early. So how can you balance utilizing the full life of a component with ensuring you address concerns before they become interruptions?

In addition to proactive alert monitoring, predictive component failure analyses and advanced mileage monitoring data models can help determine not only how to assess alert risks, but also how to get the most life out of a component. Read our article The Future of Component Health to learn more about these analyses.


Initiating a maintenance optimization strategy can be a daunting task. To reduce the effort required to monitor cars and assess risk at scale, our Equipment Health Reports provide summarized fleet health insights. Learn more here.

With a more informed approach to maintenance timing, you’ll be able to optimize component usage and reduce service interruptions.