Back to Basics: Handling Open Campaigns

Presented as part of ABA’s BISC & BusMARC 2021 Virtual Safety & Maintenance Series

The American Bus Association’s Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC) and Bus Maintenance Repair Council’s (BusMARC) 2021 Virtual Safety & Maintenance Series offered a sequence of educational webinars early this year, covering a variety of industry-related topics.


As part of their ongoing educational webinar series, the American Bus Association (ABA) hosted a virtual meeting with presenter Mike McDonal, BusMARC chair and director of regulatory compliance and industry relations at Saucon Technologies. Panel members included industry experts Robert Hitt (Prevost), David Mailhot (MCI), Michael Anstead (ABC Companies), Ben Kopp (Coach USA), and Anilcan Kapucu (TEMSA).

Panel discussion topics covered types of campaigns, campaign process and documentation, customer complaints or requests, identifying vehicles involved in a campaign, notification process of an National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall campaign, filing a claim, purchasing, and selling of processed coaches, availability of parts, reimbursement, warranty and campaign management, and internal warranty tracking.

What is the difference between a campaign and a recall?

Robert Hitt: If it is isolated to one customer, I look at that as something that we are campaigning to improve.

When I look at recalls, I look at things like warranty bulletins, national highway transportation safety boards, and safety recalls that notify the customers of all affected coaches.

When you look at our bulletins, we have instruction sheets and maintenance information. If a component is changed on a coach and you receive a replacement kit to that particular component, that would involve an instruction sheet. If a fluid has changed or there is an improved product, not necessarily to change under warranty, but something that is going to improve the performance of the coach, then we call that maintenance information.

Then of course we have our safety recalls, where we notify customers both by snail mail and email. We also track those coaches in our system, so if they pop up someplace, we are able to notify the operator of any current recalls.

How does an OEM identify the vehicles that should be involved in a campaign or a recall? 

Anilcan Kapucu: Recalls or service campaigns can come from the factory itself, from a design department by R&D, or can arise from the field, like a customer complaint. After that, the affected vehicle list is prepared by the related department at the factory.  

Say there is a faulty headlight which goes off after five days of use, and the manufacturer of that headlight finds a problem in their production or manufacturing process. The bus manufacturer is the one alerting the manufacturer of that specific OEM. At that point that specific OEM may come up with their own findings, identifying the date of the product, the date of the production that starts the fault, parts created from the production line, and the date that the manufacturing process was improved.  

Anything between those days should have serial components on the vehicles that were sold. So, with that serial number or the production dates, the affected vehicle list is prepared.  

If there is an inconsistency coming from two different departments, then those two vehicles should be checked on the field to be sure that there is no service bulletin, campaign or recall guide.  


Who is responsible for initiating a campaign?

David Mailhot: Anything can drive or initiate a campaign. A failed parts report, an increase in failed components returned under warranty, complaints, or requests from customers are all considered triggers. Once the data is correlated and evaluated, there are varying levels of campaigns. We have a service information letter, like a product improvement, where we see that if you add a certain component then you might increase the vehicle’s lifespan. 

Then we have internal procedures which are what our field staff and service centers use to take care of certain issues. We also have Fleet Campaign Programs or non-safety related campaigns, as well as NHTSA campaigns.

How does the initiation of recall differ from that of a campaign?

Michael Anstead: Typically, recalls are initiated from the manufacturer. They may notice a product issue that is related to safety or the environment and take it upon themselves to come up with and fill out the form that is required by NHTSA to initiate the campaign.

They provide NHTSA with the necessary information regarding the complaint, what they intend to do with the complaint, and expected start date. From there we will report back to NHTSA, informing them that they have been completed every quarter, and the number of vehicles that have been completed. That can last up to two years.

Customers can also file a complaint with NHTSA, and NHTSA would end up taking that back to the manufacturer and discussing it with the manufacturer, requesting information pertaining to the failures. Subsequently the manufacturer will then comply and supply NHTSA with that information, whether it is good, bad, or indifferent, as to what their findings are.

As an operator, how are you notified that you have vehicles in a campaign or in a recall?

Ben Kopp: As a first step, the manufacturer is legally required to notify us of a NHTSA campaign. They will then send an official letter. We normally receive an email before the letter, with the affected bus list, and the manufacturer’s plan of action.

From that point we load all the information by vehicle number into our maintenance software and automatically open work orders for every single one of those vehicles. We load the procedure in with the work orders as warranty procedures, so that we know we must follow up with the manufacturer to verify completion with proof of install.

As we close work orders, we receive completion data and match it to the manufacturer specifications. We audit ourselves monthly based on that information. Being such a large company, we move our fleet around frequently. With this process it is much easier to track which buses have had work done.

If I sell or buy a new bus, how can I be sure that I am going to get notified when a campaign or recall occurs?

Anstead: If we have the registration of the vehicle that the customer has purchased, that customer will be notified. We have gone out and pulled some of our customers that have several vehicles for their fleet list, so we can make sure that we do have those particular vehicles registered to them.

The other opportunity a customer would have is through our portal, where bulletins are available that include the campaigns and recalls.

If a vehicle comes into your service center, is it automatically checked for open campaigns and recalls?

Mailhot: If you purchase a used coach, you can inform our organization and we can make the switch over in our
warranty department.

A message to any operator: Make sure that the data is correct when you file a claim or warranty claim. It is very easy for that data, assigned to a VIN, to go sideways. Make sure your data is correct with your OEM.

After you are notified of an open campaign or recall, what is the typical availability for parts? 

Hitt: It depends on what the recall or the warranty bulletin is. To give you an example, maybe we have a warranty bulletin that is just a circuit breaker. In that case, we can pinpoint the production numbers of the affected vehicles by their delivery date and how the breakers were put in the coach.

This is a supplier issue, so we are going to want those parts back. It is not good enough just to say we had 500 of them that went bad. We need to get those parts back to the supplier.

That is key. If the recall was an installation problem, that becomes a kit along with that circuit breaker. So, we work very closely with our parts department and make sure that we have the parts in stock before we release the bulletin.

There is a good chance that we had the fix for the problem within a week or month of it happening, but a really good chance that we did not release the recall until two months later because we were busy getting parts in stock. We do not release the bulletins and the recalls until we have parts in stock.

After we contact you about the recall, we put you in our system and make the notification. Then you can open an online warranty claim, order the parts, and we will pay for the parts and labor for the replacement. 

Once you generate the list of affected vehicles, you rely on the operators to send back information of completion. What is your follow-up process?

Anstead: We have in the past done multiple follow-ups depending on the urgency of the recall or campaign. Most of the time we will send out two notifications. We will follow up on the original notification within six weeks to two months if we have not heard back. 

Our field techs are constantly talking with customers. We supply them with support by stating what the campaign is and which of their customers still have vehicles incomplete, so that they can work with each one of those customers to help them get completed.

In some cases, we have done the campaigns ourselves. We are not afraid of doing that. The campaigns are sent out so that we can ensure the reliability and the safety of the vehicles. We are continually working with our customers to get these done.