Do it yourself and save

| June 02, 2009

Your cost: $10
Shop cost: $45-$85
Time: 3/4 hour

Greasing is simple and inexpensive. You can purchase a high-quality, lever-action grease gun, grease and wipes for less than $50. While air-powered guns make the job go faster, maintenance experts actually prefer the gentler job a hand-operated gun will do. Forcing grease into fittings too fast can overstress some grease seals.

Bill Litosky, service manager at Bergey’s Mack and Volvo in Franconia, Pa., recommends greasing at least once between engine oil and filter changes, as well as along with the oil change, if you are running an oil change interval of 25,000 to 30,000 miles.

Evans has found that frequent greasing means his Kenworth tractor “drives like it was new at 600,000 miles.” He says he has never replaced any chassis component that has a grease fitting. He jacks the truck up and greases everything as often as every 2,500 to 3,000 miles, especially when he’s been running on unusually rough roads.

Getting a tractor and trailer greased, combined with a check of fluid levels and tire pressures at a shop, costs $45 to $85, depending on the technician. Doing it yourself might allow you to grease more often and ultimately avert some repairs.

Changing oil
Your cost: $120
Shop cost: $190
Time: 1 Hour
You can save on labor and materials costs by changing your own engine oil and filters. The Overdrive Market Behavior Report shows more owner-operators purchase their engine oil at oil company distributors than anywhere else. You can buy oil in 55-gallon drums, which makes it at least 10 percent to15 percent cheaper per gallon than buying gallon containers.
You’ll need a hand-cranked pump to remove the oil from the drum ($50 to $75) and a 60-quart catch-pan to grab the used oil (less than $50). You can avoid paying for disposal if you have a shop – or know of one – that uses a motor oil-fired heater.

Replacing belts and hoses
Your cost: $150
Shop cost: $300-$340
Time: 2 hours
Replacing V-belts and hoses is a simple job that most owner-operators do themselves. You’ll need a good set of socket wrenches and, for belts with an automatic tensioner, a socket drive with a long handle. An adequate set can be purchased for $300 to $400.

Doing hoses requires a clean catch pan for coolant, and a basic set of screwdrivers and small sockets. You should also ideally have an inch-pound torque wrench, as proper tension on the attaching clamp is critical.

Getting several belts replaced at a shop will take from less than an hour to one and a half hours and cost $65 to $150 labor.

Changing fuel filters
Your cost: $15
Shop cost: $25-$30
Time: 1/2 hour
This doesn’t require many tools, but learning the proper technique is important. Jim Hess of Midway Truck Service has seen owner-operators run into trouble from not doing it right and have to call for road service. You’ll need a band clamp of appropriate diameter for fuel filters, a catch pan and a small container of clean fuel. The key is getting all the air out of the system by priming the filter housing to the brim with clean fuel.

Idle the truck briefly to fully prime the system, and then shut it off. Fill the new primary filter to the top with clean fuel, making sure to lube the gasket as the filter maker recommends. Remove the old primary filter and immediately install the new one.

Idle the truck until it runs smoothly, an indicator that all air has been expelled from the system, then shut it off. Repeat the entire process for the secondary filter.

Some large filter/separators with plexiglass housings allow you to drain the housing, replace the filter and then remove a cap at the top for full priming with fresh fuel prior to starting the truck.

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