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How to choose an ELD

Deciding on an ELD for your fleet can be a complicated process. There are a lot of factors to consider: your goals, cost, ROI, features, support, reliability, ease of install, and (most importantly) ELD Mandate compliance.

We’ll tackle each of those considerations below, and if you want some additional help, contact our free expert consultants.

First, let’s lay out the basic steps of how to shop for an ELD…

  1. Read this guide, and think about what you want in an ELD solution.
  2. Browse ELD options here at ELD Ratings. Search for features you want, and read reviews.
  3. Consider a conversation with our expert consultants to help hone in on some good options.
  4. Make a short list of around 5 ELDs that you think might be a good solution for your fleet.
  5. Contact the sales department for each of those 5 companies, and set up a live demonstration. Preliminary demos can be done online, but in-person demos are better for actually seeing and touching the device. Make a list of questions to ask the sales person after the demo.
  6. Contact some existing customers using the products. Your sales person can provide customer references, but it’s good to find a few on your own as well, for more unbiased feedback.
  7. After seeing demos and talking to other customers, choose the ELD that seems most promising. Ask the sales person about starting up a trial program with a few units.
  8. Install trial units in a few vehicles, and see how they work in real life. There are initial issues with any new technology, so give it at least 3-4 weeks of evaluation before deciding.
  9. If you are not satisfied with the first product you demo, move on to the next one. No product will be completely perfect, but if the demo raises any serious red flags, you should try others before committing.
  10. After trying enough products to feel confident in one that will meet your needs, pull the trigger and begin the roll-out process to your entire fleet.

Remember that our consultants are available to help with any of these steps along the way. Contact us any time.

Now that we have an overview of the process, let’s talk about the factors you’ll need to consider when evaluating ELD products…

Overall Goal

The first thing to consider when shopping for an ELD is your overall goal for the product. Do you want just electronic logs, or more?

Some fleets want the simplest and cheapest device they can find that will keep them compliant with the FMCSA mandate. However, many companies use the ELD requirement as an opportunity to roll out a more full-featured telematics system. Most ELD products are part of a larger system that goes beyond hours of service to include features like GPS tracking, navigation, messaging, engine diagnostics, and much more. While more features generally means more cost, many of these additional tools can be used to SAVE your fleet money, and perhaps even yield a positive ROI on the purchase.

So, the first thing to decide is if you want an inexpensive, simple system that will comply with the mandate, or if you want to invest in a product with more features that may help your business in other ways beyond compliance.

Cost

Cost is an important factor for any fleet. The pricing structure can vary widely between different ELD providers, and can quickly become confusing. We’ll break down all the major cost areas you need to consider when pricing solutions. Plus, our Reviews make it easy to compare the total cost of ownership of various products.

  • Up-front hardware cost – All ELDs involve some amount of hardware that must be installed in the vehicle. This hardware cost varies greatly, but some of the most popular system start around $600 per unit. This can be a very difficult cash outlay, especially for smaller fleets, so fortunately there are several methods for paying this up-front cost:
    • Cash up front: The simplest way to pay for hardware is by purchasing it outright. If your cash flow supports this large initial purchase, this often gets you the best overall pricing.
    • Financing: most ELD vendors that require a hardware purchase offer financing options. Customers with sufficient credit can pay for the hardware in installments, usually bundled in with the device’s monthly service plan. You’ll pay a little more in interest to the financing company, but this eases the cash flow burden of buying outright.
    • Lease / Service only pricing: some ELD vendors skip the hardware purchase entirely and simply bundle hardware and services together into one monthly price. This can be very attractive for fleets that struggle to get financing and are trying to avoid a large cash outlay.
  • Monthly service – Nearly all ELD vendors will charge a monthly amount per unit. This is particularly true for products that provide a larger range of telematics features (tracking, navigation, messaging, etc.) Over time, this monthly service usually contributes more to the total cost of ownership than the up-front cost does, so it is important to pay close attention to this.
  • Communications – Many ELDs use their own proprietary display and communication device, and the cost of transmitting data back and forth to the home office is included in the monthly service cost. However, other systems require the trucking company or the driver to provide a 3rd party tablet or cell phone that is used for display and communication. In these cases, you will have to pay for a monthly data plan to the cellular company providing the device (i.e. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, etc)
  • Installation – A compliant ELD must be wired into the vehicle’s ECM. A display of some kind must also be hard-mounted where the driver can see it while the truck is moving. Some ELD vendors will provide an installer at your location at no additional cost, but others charge for installs. If you have your own repair facilities or a dedicated maintenance provider, it’s often best to have the ELD provider train your own technicians on the first several units, so they can do all future installs themselves.
  • Add Ons – ELD systems include a wide variety of features. Some of these features will come standard, while others will be an additional cost. Standard features often include GPS tracking, messaging, basic back office reporting, and Hours of Service logs. Add-on features for an extra charge can include driver navigation, in-cab video training, dash cameras, tire pressure monitoring, and more.

ROI

The cost of ELD systems is a big concern for a lot of fleets. ELD Vendors are quick to remind their customers that telematics devices can also help save a lot of money, and perhaps even pay for themselves. While ELD salespeople may naturally paint an overly-optimistic picture of the potential cost savings, there are some real ways a full-featured telematics device can save a fleet a lot of money. Knowing which of these features a potential solution provides can make a big difference when evaluating its overall costs and benefits.

  • Fuel cost savings – The best way a telematics solution can save money is on fuel cost. ELDs can usually read engine data to give you insight into your least fuel efficient vehicles. And, you can monitor and reduce driver idling time and out-of-route miles using GPS tracking.
  • Maintenance – Constant access to real-time engine data can help you spot issues and repair problems before they cause a costly breakdown.
  • Driver incentives – Better monitor your drivers’ behavior and performance. Incentivize low idling, on-time delivery, safety, and many other desired behaviors that can save your company money.
  • Safety – Accidents are extremely expensive. Many ELD devices also provide safety monitoring tools like speeding and hard breaking alerts that can help you address safety issues before they turn into accidents.
  • DOT Violation fines – ELDs do a fantastic job at minimizing hours of service violations. Form and manner violations go away almost entirely, and achieving violation-free logs becomes much easier. Avoiding fines during roadside inspections and audits can quickly become a large cost savings.

Features

ELDs are usually part of a larger telematics system that provides a long list of additional features beyond electronic logs. We will list some of the most common and useful ones here. Identifying the features that would be most useful to your fleet is a big part of selecting the right ELD to purchase.

  • Electronic Logs – The core function of an ELD is recording a driver’s records of duty status. How easy and user friendly this is for the driver is an important consideration. Also important is how easily back office staff can monitor logs for violations and unlogged time, and make appropriate corrections.
  • DVIR – Many ELD systems also include a system for electronically performing Driver Vehicle Inspections.
  • GPS Tracking – Probably the most common feature of any telematics system is GPS tracking. Keep better tabs on the locations of your vehicles, often in near real time.
  • Messaging – Two-way messaging is a common feature that allows the driver and office staff to send messages back and forth through the system.
  • Dispatch Workflow – Some systems go beyond basic text messaging to include more complex workflow tools that allow drivers to report their progress on various tasks.
  • Navigation – Gives the driver a GPS navigation tool designed for truck routing or other appropriate restrictions.
  • Engine data – Get information on engine performance like MPG and fault codes
  • Safety Alerts – Get automatically notified of speeding, hard breaking, sharp acceleration, lane departure, etc.
  • Performance Reporting – Monitor driver idle time, out-of-route miles, detention at customer locations, and more. These sort of tools are designed to help make your fleet more efficient and save money.
  • IFTA – GPS information gathered by the system can often be used to automatically generate IFTA fuel tax reports. Some system will even create the official form and file it for you.
  • Document scanning – Some telematics systems allow the addition of a portable scanner, giving the driver the ability to scan paperwork to the back office right from his vehicle.
  • Signature Capture – Some systems use a portable display that can double as an electronic signature capture device. Eliminates paperwork, and makes signed shipping documents available instantly.
  • Tire Pressure monitoring – More and more ELDs are becoming integrated with tire pressure monitoring solutions so you can see the status of your fleet’s tires in real time.
  • Dash cameras – Dash cameras are still rare, but becoming more popular. Some telematics systems integrate directly with dash cameras.
  • Video training – Send training videos to your drivers that they can watch on their ELD screen.
  • Integration with TMS – If you use transportation management software in your back office, it is important to find out how well a proposed ELD integrates with it. A good integration allows things like viewing GPS location and HOS time directly from the TMS, as well as sending out load information and dispatch messages automatically.

Support

Any technology product needs good technical support. Unfortunately, this is often hard to come by, and can be difficult to evaluate before purchase. This is one of many good reasons to do a trial program with just a few units before committing to buy a product for your entire fleet. It is also wise to seek out some unbiased feedback from existing customers of the product (more on this below).

Hardware Reliability

There are many ELD products out there, and not all of them have good hardware quality. Getting durable, reliable hardware is important because malfunctions mean time consuming repairs. Most ELD vendors offer free replacements of defective parts within a warranty period, but hardware failures still cause a lot of headaches. Drivers must be routed to a location for repair within 8 days of the malfunction. Then they sit idly while the repair is done. Before repair, the driver will also have to revert to paper logs, which takes more time for your back office to process and increases the risk of violations. Before you buy an ELD solution, use our reviews and get unbiased feedback from existing customers to gain a sense of how often units require repairs. No unit is perfect, but some are much higher quality than others.

Ease of Install

Some fleets own all their own trucks, and thus will install an ELD once and never touch it again unless it needs repair. For these fleets, an easy install is convenient but not highly important. But other fleets employ a lot of owner operators or heavily utilize short term leases or rentals, and thus have much higher truck turnover. For these fleets, a quick and easy install and remove process can be a huge time savings. Some units are heavily wired to the truck, requiring up to 2 hours to install. Others have a single cord that plugs into the diagnostic port for a quick and simple install. There are pros and cons to each, but how often your fleet turns over trucks is a big factor in deciding which type of install is best for you.

Customer Reviews

One of the best ways to evaluate a potential ELD product is to get the opinion of customers who are already using it. Get beyond the sales talk and find out how the product works for real people in the real world.

Our site is dedicated to making this easier. Use our online reviews as a starting point to see what users think of various ELD systems. From there, consider contacting our expert consultants for more specific advice about what might be best for your fleet. And before buying any ELD, try to have a direct conversation with several existing customers. ELD sales people are often able to provide customer references, which is good. But it is even better to find some customers on your own, so you can hear a more honest and unbiased opinion of the product.

Trial Program

Many ELD vendors offer a trial or “pilot” program where you can try out a few of their devices in a few of your trucks for evaluation purposes. Some ELD providers charge you for service on the demo units, while others provide the entire experience for free. Either way, it is time and money VERY well spent. Before making a decision for your entire fleet, you should spend at least a few weeks trying out the product.

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