A Shop Of Your Own

| May 30, 2004

With the right tools and know-how, you can do repairs and maintenance from simple to complex.

When you’ve had to pay someone to repair and maintain your tractor, have you also thought “I could do that myself if I just had the right tools and a little shop”? With some forethought and planning, you could.

Tools have a special attraction for any trucker who has fallen in love with the idea of doing his own repairs. A tremendous feeling of pride can come with doing the job yourself – and doing it well. But there are so many directions you can proceed in, so many dollars you could spend and so few dollars available that careful planning and making the right choices are critical.

Let’s look at some starter basics.

The starting point
The starting point for every home repair shop is hand tools. You’ll need a good set of both metric and English open-end wrenches and sockets, the latter with 5/16-inch, 3/8-inch and 1/2-inch drives.

Tommy Vajdic, maintenance supervisor and shop foreman for Bethel, Pa.-based K.L. Harring Transportation , says heavier chassis work needs tools with 7/8-inch drives. Pairs of pliers, including needlenose, vise grips and filter band wrenches small enough for fuel and coolant filters and large enough for oil filters, belong near the top of your list, too. Add torque wrenches if you contemplate anything like cylinder head gasket replacement. Harring’s

Open-end, box and ratcheting box wrenches will all get you into tight spots with turning ability. The latter will speed the work.

people use 75 pounds-feet and 250 pounds-feet versions. They are even helpful when installing a water pump, another place where correct torquing will help the gasket to seal. Keith Harring, who started his career as a two-truck owner-operator and now runs 33 trucks as owner of K.L. Harring Transportation, says you also need a variety of screwdrivers to replace both LED and incandescent lights.

Earl Evans, a one-truck owner-operator driving out of Canfield, Ohio, has organized much of his shop with the simple tackle boxes normally used by fishermen. You can store little parts like nuts, screws and bolts in some boxes and tool accessories like ratchet handles in the larger sections. You can also modify what’s in the box and carry just what you need over to the tractor or trailer for a small repair job.

Compressed air powers so much on your truck that you already know how potent a way it is to get work done. Cranking wheel nuts (after breaking them loose) and almost any group of nuts or bolts on a truck often involves more repetition than torque. This is an ideal situation for air tools, which take most of the physical work out of many operations, leaving you ready and raring to continue. Evans suggests an air compressor with a five-horsepower motor, a 16 CFM (cubic feet per minute) rating, and a 60-80 gallon storage tank, the same size Harring used in his owner-operator days. Both Evans and Vajdic immediately mentioned both 1/2-inch and 3/8-inch air drives, and Evans sees uses for 1-inch versions (you might want to graduate to that size later). You’ll need air hoses of appropriate length, too, of course.

If you think you will want to work on your mufflers and other exhaust parts, Evans says you will want to add air-powered impact tools. These come in sizes of 3/8 inch, 1/2 inch and even 3/4 inch.

Planning by the job
Now that you’ve got the tools to take things off and replace them, the next step is to decide on specific areas of work. Harring says doing your own fluid changes should be your first goal. Fuel and coolant filter, engine oil and filter changes, and greasing make up the most basic maintenance. Here is where filter band wrenches come in, but you need to add drain pans and perhaps even some sort of used oil storage to the basic list.

Evans suggests a 4- to -7-quart pan for the coolant filter and a five-gallon galvanized drum for draining transmission and drive axle lubes, which are available at common auto stores like Auto Zone and NAPA. He thinks it’s best to use a plastic drain pan for coolant (not metal) because you frequently drain it while replacing a heater core or water pump, and plastic is easier to keep clean enough to put the coolant back in (no rust). Keep them upside down and covered.

Evans drains his oil into a large pan on rollers that is easy to get under the engine oil pan and back out. You’ll probably need one of 50- to 60-quart capacity to handle drain oil from a 14- to 16-liter engine. Evans actually had one made. To protect himself from burns, he installed a Fumoto drain valve on the oil pan of his Caterpillar. These are of the quick-open type and accept a hose for easy, safe channeling of drain oil into the pan. He later added a 250-gallon waste oil container. This size container will allow you to store enough waste oil that you’ll be able to get somebody to pick it up, possibly even without charging. The right kind of drain pan seals and allows you to use air pressure to force the drain oil into your storage tank.

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