Running Strong

By on January 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

Have you ever seen a carpenter try to cut a board with a dull saw? Have you ever seen a farmer try to plow a field with only half of his tractor’s cylinders firing? Like many tasks, these can be accomplished, but not with the speed or efficiency one would hope for. The same thing holds true in trucking. You can get by (at least for a while) letting your maintenance practices slide, but sooner or later, it will catch up with you.

How many trucks have you seen on the road with large areas of rust? How many have wires or air lines dangling, mirrors cracked or are shaking excessively? I’m sure you’ve seen lamps burned out or trailers so far out of line that they’re dragging at an odd angle, almost encroaching on the next lane over.

Ask these operators why they don’t take better care of their trucks, and you’ll hear that they can’t afford it. Now I understand that when times are tough, as they are now, some things can’t be done immediately, but maintaining your truck should not be put off. If you postpone maintenance too long, you’ll be incurring even greater cost in just a short time. Here are some examples.

Replace any blown-out lamps immediately.

If they’re shorted out, repair the wiring as soon as possible. The fines you’ll avoid are far greater than repair costs.

Be aware of corrosion.

Inspect regularly and frequently. If you can see it, it’s already eating your truck away. I’ve seen everything from glad hands to landing gear destroyed by aggressive snow-fighting chemicals. Thoroughly clean all traces of rust and paint with a rust-fighting paint. Seal all wiring connectors with dielectric grease.

Make sure oil and coolant are full and in good condition.

Oil not only lubricates, it cools and cleans. Keeping oil topped off replenishes the additives that protect your engine. Draining oil periodically removes accumulated contamination. Just changing filters allows the system to remove more soot, acids and wear metals, the primary contaminants in oil. Filling the new filters adds more clean oil with fresh additives.

Leaving engine oil in too long and failing to top off fluids or do inspections all accelerate internal engine wear. That can lead to increasingly poorer fuel economy and, eventually, bearing failures. Poor fuel economy is like throwing money out the window. Engine wear leads to trucks needing thousands of dollars in repairs just to get running again.

Check tires regularly.

This means more than just checking air pressure, although maintaining air pressure is the most important thing you can do to extend tire life and maintain fuel economy. Underinflated tires flex excessively, heating the casing. If the gauge reads more than 20 percent under recommended inflation pressure, the flexing of the tire’s steel cords will cause enough friction heating to weaken the bonds between rubber and cords. If this heating goes on too long, catastrophic failures usually occur.

In addition to air pressure, check tread for uneven and excessive wear. You can check the wear pattern on charts at your tire dealer or with the Radial Tire Conditions Analysis Guide published by the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) of ATA. By identifying signs of trouble and making corrections before conditions get too bad, you can stop the uneven wear that shortens tire life by as much as 50 percent. Invest in a relatively inexpensive alignment, and you can avoid a far costlier premature tire replacement.

Check brakes for proper stroke and uneven wear.

Brake stroke is one of the easiest things for DOT to check, and it’s their leading revenue generator from scale house fines. But even if stroke is within range, other problems may exist. Excessively worn shoes score brake drums, often beyond the point where they can be lathe-turned and salvaged. Remove too much metal and there’s not enough mass left to absorb the heat generated during stopping.

Checking identifies problems so they can be addressed at reasonable cost, before the only correction becomes replacement. That’s why fluid replacement and component inspection programs are called “preventative maintenance,” or PM. They are designed to prevent costly failures and road service calls.

How important is preventative maintenance to trucking profitably? Very! Most of the largest, most profitable operations in the country, from freight haulers to flatbedders, from parcel delivery to bulk haulers, keep apprised of maintenance issues through membership in the Technology and Maintenance Council. They wouldn’t spend the money to attend the meetings and purchase the training materials and publications if there wasn’t a measurable return to their bottom line. That alone should be proof that maintenance pays.

TMC’s mission is to improve the state of the art of truck maintenance by developing the best practices to accomplish peak vehicle care. The organization is not meant solely for large fleets any more than good maintenance is confined to  big entities. One contributor to several Recommended Practices was Gail Bristow, a driver whose efforts earned her TMC’s coveted Silver Spark Plug award, recognizing outstanding service to the industry.

TMC has owner-operator memberships available that include the latest Recommended Practices Manual, complete with the Radial Tire Conditions Analysis Guide and other valuable information. You can reach TMC at (703) 838-1763.

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