Differences Between Preventive, Predictive, and Breakdown Maintenance

With so many different types of maintenance, how do you decide which type is best for your company?

In this article, we’ll compare three major maintenance types—preventive, predictive, and breakdown maintenance—and learn about the differences between them. Understanding how they differ will help you decide which type is best for your team.

Preventive maintenance

Example: Scheduled maintenance — check and replace filters on an HVAC every 6 months whether they need it or not

Preventive maintenance is work done on a repeating schedule to prevent failures or breakdowns. This could include monthly inspections, parts replacements, or detection reporting. The goal of preventive maintenance is to detect and avoid issues before they become an issue.

Preventive maintenance is usually associated with regular, routine maintenance that keeps equipment up and running. It reduces unscheduled maintenance and expensive costs from unanticipated equipment failure.

Preventive management can be very complex, especially for companies with a lot of high value equipment. For this reason, many companies rely on bespoke preventive maintenance software to help organize and carry out all their preventive maintenance needs.

What are the benefits of preventive maintenance?

  • Extended life of company equipment
  • Less unplanned downtime resulting from equipment failure
  • Fewer unnecessary maintenance and inspections
  • Improved overall reliability of equipment
  • Reduced risk of injury to staff

Preventive maintenance is usually seen as costly and staff intensive since you need a detailed plan of maintenance and the people available to run it. This is among the best options if you have a range of expensive machinery and systems that would be catastrophic to the company if they failed abruptly.

Figure 1: Preventive Maintenance

Breakdown or reactive maintenance

Example: Wait until your HVAC fails and call a technician to come and fix it

Breakdown maintenance is reacting defensively to breakdowns and unexpected occurrences. You usually have a wide range of different machinery and systems and wait for them to fail before doing anything maintenance orientated. Of course, if you believe that something is failing—because it is making excessive noise, using a lot of oil, or just looks like it’s going to break down—there is nothing to stop you actually doing something about it. But, generally, you will let your equipment fail before attending to it.

While there are distinct advantages to running a reactive maintenance program, they are generally fewer than with preventive maintenance programs.

Benefits of breakdown and reactive maintenance include:

  • Minimal planning is needed
  • Simple process is easy to understand
  • Fewer staff are required as less work is done day-to-day
  • Less parts held as they are only required when there is a breakdown
  • Cheap to run

This is an ideal plan for a company that might be running either very reliable or simple equipment that can be replaced quickly and without affecting the flow of production significantly.

Figure 2: Reactive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance

Example: Having sensors installed on the HVAC machine to tell us when we need to replace filters

Predictive maintenance addresses issues before they become a problem. It is about becoming proactive and measuring when a piece of equipment could fail and the different modes of failure.

The goal of predictive maintenance is to predict when equipment failure might occur, and to allow time to prevent the occurrence of the failure by performing repairs at the last moment.

Monitoring for future failure allows maintenance team to plan before failures occur and carry out the necessary work appropriately. Ideally, predictive maintenance allows the maintenance frequency to be as low as possible to prevent unplanned reactive maintenance, without incurring costs associated with doing too much preventive maintenance.

Benefits of predictive maintenance include:

  • Reduced equipment costs
  • Reduced labor costs as work is only carried out as needed
  • Reduced downtime
  • Increased safety as there are less abrupt failures
  • Increased revenue
  • Increased efficiency of employee time as equipment downtime is reduced

Figure 3: Predictive Maintenance


The difference really is in being reactive or proactive. Breakdown maintenance (reactive) occurs only when a machine stops functioning while predictive (proactive) seeks to ensure the machine is always working through regular checkups.

Most of the time, reactive maintenance takes longer for a technician to tend to as the technician has to troubleshoot what’s going on. Also, the parts needed can be extremely expensive (sometimes the entire machine needs to be replaced).