reactive maintenance, also known as run to failure
reactive maintenance, also known as run to failure

Reactive Maintenance

When used in conjunction with other maintenance strategies such as a preventive maintenance program, reactive maintenance can be a helpful tool for your maintenance team.

This guide will explore its advantages, disadvantages, costs, and how reactive maintenance can work together with other maintenance plans in an effort to save money and decrease downtime.

What is reactive maintenance?

Reactive maintenance is a maintenance strategy that calls for fixes or repairs on an asset after it has broken down or failed. By stretching assets to their limits, reactive maintenance offers the highest rate of asset use matched with the greatest amount of run-time.

What are the different types of reactive maintenance?

Knowing the different types of reactive maintenance can help define if a reactive maintenance strategy is suitable for an organization.


Breakdown maintenance is a reactive maintenance method as simple as its description—an asset unexpectedly fails and unplanned repairs are needed. An example might be a cooling fan suddenly stopping, a cellphone battery losing its power, or a belt snapping on a motor.


Run-to-failure reactive maintenance means that an asset is deliberately allowed to run until it breaks down. The difference between breakdown and run-to-failure types is that run-to-failure is planned. Organizations know an asset will fail and let the equipment failure happen before fixing it. A good example is a lightbulb burning out.

Corrective maintenance

Corrective maintenance in a reactive maintenance strategy is a repair that fixes an item after noticing that it’s reaching a failure. An example might be a faulty roller on an assembly line or a questionable belt on a machine. Corrective maintenance allows a line or asset to keep running.

Emergency maintenance

Emergency maintenance is a type of unplanned reactive maintenance that requires immediate attention and emergency repairs. It can be in response to a safety issue or to prevent significant production downtime. Examples are a broken gas line, a forklift damaging a sprinkler system, or the mechanism on a lockdown door failing.

What are the advantages of reactive maintenance?

There are many advantages of reactive maintenance for an organization, making it an excellent short-term maintenance strategy. Let’s outline a few of them.

Lower upfront costs

Reactive maintenance is an attractive strategy thanks to its non-planning nature and little to no upfront costs. Doing nothing until a breakdown initially saves time and money; however, reactive maintenance without a well-thought-out preventive maintenance and deferred maintenance strategy compromises growth and can become a financial burden.

Lean staffing

Only responding to breakdowns or failures requires less staff to run and manage equipment. Fixing a problem with a smaller group requires less money and overtime. A maintenance strategy augmented with preventative maintenance requires a steady staff to be ready to do daily, weekly, and monthly inspections to maintain assets.

Eliminates unplanned downtime

Reactive maintenance makes it so that production never has to stop for planned maintenance, inspections, or part replacements, such as in a preventive maintenance strategy. Keep in mind that eventually, operations will have downtime once an asset reaches failure.

Here are 5 additional ways organizations can decrease downtime and 3 maintenance myths that may be hurting your bottom line.

What are the disadvantages of reactive maintenance?

As stated before, reactive maintenance is a great strategy but only until after a piece of critical equipment fails. More damage can occur to machinery or equipment due to the added stress of taxing parts which can result in additional costly repairs.

Here is a list of disadvantages.

Unplanned downtime

As much as reactive maintenance can eliminate downtime, it can cause extended periods of downtime too. Reactive maintenance is a chaotic influence on production schedules as you never know exactly what will need repairing or the additional repairs it may cause.

Treating the symptom

Reactive maintenance often only treats an asset’s breakdown symptom rather than the problem causing the symptom. Repeated repairs of the same symptom can become costly when a simple inspection and a bit of preventive maintenance could have saved an operation thousands of dollars.

Exploding budgets

The financial impact of reactive maintenance can be costly. Again, you never know what a failure may cause once an asset fails. Not only can it lead to downtime, but an expensive, unexpected part replacement, overtime, backlogs, and additional outside contractor fees. Not to mention the opportunity cost of the work that could have been down if that asset was working with routine maintenance as intended.

Shorter equipment life expectancy

Since reactive maintenance does not tend to the needs of an asset, equipment may not reach the shelf life promised by the manufacturer. Organizations may be shooting themselves in the foot and losing capital cost investments. A cobbled-together repair will fail repeatedly and become more costly to fix each time it breaks.

 A mix of preventive and reactive maintenance is the best bet for most operations. 

cost vs. number of failures for reactive vs. preventive maintenance. preventive maintenance costs more for equipment with fewer failures. reactive maintenance costs more for equipment with many failures.

This chart shows the “sweet” spot between preventive and reactive maintenance and how the two can complement each other

How do you reduce your reactive maintenance load?

There really is only one way to decrease a reactive maintenance load and that’s by implementing a preventive maintenance schedule. A preventive maintenance program’s routine maintenance, scheduled maintenance, and inspections will undoubtedly catch problems before an asset fails or requires emergency maintenance.

When determining which maintenance strategy is appropriate for an asset, only use reactive maintenance when the replacement of components is inexpensive, obtainable, and whose failure will not cause further harm to an asset or to employees. Safety is paramount. If parts are costly and could take days to arrive, choose preventive maintenance and planned repairs.

How can you be more proactive?

To see how your company can get started with a preventive maintenance plan, take our free preventive maintenance assessment. It will lay out opportunities for improvements and quick wins!

Take the assessment

How can a reactive maintenance approach fit into a maintenance program?

Most industries follow a general rule: 20% of repair and maintenance work time can be allotted to reactive maintenance. That number can, of course, be changed based on an operation’s maintenance needs.

But how can industries calculate and know when reactive maintenance is the best choice for their maintenance program? What is a simple formula to compare asset value vs. repair/maintenance budgets?

Replacement Asset Value (RAV) is an excellent way to calculate maintenance cost percentages and contrast reactive maintenance versus preventive maintenance metrics. It works by quantifying the annual cost of maintaining an asset against its value.

The lower the equation’s percentage, the more likely an organization should use reactive maintenance. The formula is straightforward:

RAV% = (annual maintenance cost x 100) / maintenance asset replacement

The RAV percentage is a solid and proven method to define maintenance strategy and future maintenance budgeting.

If calculating annual maintenance costs may seem intimidating, consider using maintenance management software. Maintenance maintenance software can keep track of maintenance costs, downtime, and more by logging work orders and requests, and any maintenance task.

maintenance management software

An example of maintenance management software.

This type of software can save hours of office time and demonstrate ways to improve maintenance programs. Maintenance software ensures financial projections and calculations are the most accurate and can point to inefficiencies in an organization’s maintenance or reactive strategy.


  • Reactive maintenance is a short-term maintenance strategy that can become costly when not used correctly.
  • It offers the highest rate of asset use matched with the greatest amount of run-time.
  • Using a Replacement Asset Value (RAV) formula can help determine if it’s the best maintenance strategy for an asset and maintenance operation.
  • Maintenance maintenance software can aid in discovering when reactive maintenance is the perfect tool to keep costs low and downtime at bay.

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