9 items struggling owner-operators usually don’t have

Bruce Mallinson | November 06, 2014
Learning how to take care of certain maintenance items without the help of a shop is paramount to an owner-operator's success.

Learning how to take care of certain maintenance items without the help of a shop is paramount to an owner-operator’s success.

After working with owner-operators for the last 37 years, I’ve concluded there are at least nine items that struggling owner-ops usually are missing:

Turbo boost gauge: Driving without a turbo boost or manifold pressure gauge is like driving blind. The boost gauge will inform you when you have a leak in the charge air system, a failing turbo, clogged fuel lines, a faulty ECM, dirty air filter(s), a dirty fuel filter or are using too much throttle on the level, resulting in a fuel mileage loss.

Exhaust gas temperature gauge (or pyrometer): This gauge works in conjunction with the turbo boost gauge and will inform you if the exhaust gas temperature is too high or if there is a boost leak. If you’re lugging the engine, the fuel filter is dirty or there is a power problem, you’ll need to know the differences in the boost and pyrometer gauges.


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Kevin Rutherford’s Scan Gauge: This gauge will give you an instant readout of your fuel mileage and about 63 other useful bits of information from your truck’s data link.

Fresh fuel filters: Many owner-operators are not changing their fuel filter soon enough. We get many trucks in for dyno testing for low power complaints and find dirty fuel filters. Back in the 1980s, we used to change the fuel filter once a week. Now, it’s at oil change intervals, and 30,000 miles is way too long to run a fuel filter.

New crankshaft torsional vibration damper: This part is located on the front of the crankshaft and removes torsional vibration from the engine. They absolutely do wear out, regardless of what your mechanic has to say, and must be replaced every 500,000 miles.


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Usually, mechanics don’t change them, and that is wrong. This is a wear item just like a tire and must be replaced. It has a large steel ring that rides on a Teflon bearing and floats in a thin layer of silicone. At about 380,000 miles, the Teflon bearing starts to wear, and that impregnates the silicone. At 500,000, the silicon has gotten hard, and the steel ring won’t be able to “float” and absorb the torsional vibration.

Engine parts likely to break because of this include the AC condenser brackets, alternator brackets, flywheel bolts, bell housing bolts, accessory driveshafts, air compressor crankshafts, engine crankshafts, transmission input shafts and clutch disc springs. Need I say more?

Rebuilt driveshaft: Driveshafts should be rebuilt every 500,000 miles, especially if the truck is in a heavy-haul application or spends time in the mountains. Driveshafts bend, carrier bearings wear out, and U-joints get out of balance.

Cruise control awareness: Driving with cruise control on all the time will rob the engine of at least ½ mpg when in rolling hills or mountains. Use your right foot and drive by the turbo boost gauge – the less boost you can get the job done with, the better your fuel mileage – and pre-accelerate for hills. Cruise should be used only in level terrain.

Aftermarket muffler: Stock mufflers are more restrictive than aftermarket ones, and you can rob yourself of at least ¼ mpg by not installing a straight-through performance muffler.

Mechanical skills: I hear this sentiment often: I just want to drive the truck and don’t want to do maintenance in my off time.

Labor rates are high today, and you can cost yourself thousands of dollars a year by not keeping up with some of your own maintenance. One pleasure of vehicle ownership is performing simple routine maintenance. Repairing items as they fail or before they fail, cleaning the truck, changing the oil, greasing the chassis, changing the fuel filter and spending time looking for potential problems go hand-in-hand with ownership.

These are all simple steps you can do at home, and a little sweat equity will make you feel better about your truck and probably prevent a long list of problems.

-Bruce Mallinson is the owner of Pittsburgh Power, an engine performance shop in Saxonburg, Pa. 

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  • vrahnos

    The only problem I see here is the do it your self maintenance is with the 34 restart rule means only spending one day at home and back on the road again.The way I look at it as can’t make any money when the wheels are not turning.So I would spend as little time at home as possable.As a single person that worked out for the bull were my own and only me to look after.So the last thing I want to do is work on the truck at home when I need the rest and could visit friends and family.Now I can see as a family person home time can be a very important time spending as much time with wife and kids as possable.So the O.O.wants to have say 4 days at home a month that isn’t much time to spend with his family and needs to make the most of it.

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  • Indie Trucker

    Don’t know what world you live in vrahnos, I want 3 or 4 days home a week. Next year, that’s happening, wasn’t no easy job to make it to that point either.

  • Dennis Ternent


  • Zachary Bell

    First, working on the truck at home takes roughly 1-2 hours a month… not a full day. I had to do some of that kind of maintenance myself at my last job. Cleaning it takes another hour after the grease and inspection.

    Grease, lube, inspect the underbody, change the fuel filters, adjust the brakes (if you have manual slacks on drum brakes) and clean the cab. Even changing a u joint or replacing a dead am/fm radio takes a short amount of time and can be done DIY, saving you up to $65/hour.

    I recommend having a dirty shirt or coveralls for such occasions along with a good wrench set (snap on or craftsman), a grease gun, spare filters and a work light. It should have nearly no effect on the 34 hour rule.

  • Jason Haggard

    For simple maintenance your comment fits, but I can promise you that you aren’t going to run the rack on a truck in 1-2 hours at home.

  • greg

    As i can see in your post u dont have a clue on trucks 1 to 2 hours a month! Everytime that truck rolls n get your tool box ready. I spend bout 10 to 12 hours a week on my rig i find the stuff b4 it breaks so i dont pay a hook oh yea grease is cheapist maintance lub ur truck and trailer every week so there is more than 1 to 2 hours a month!

  • Zachary Bell

    I stand corrected. Grease is very important and so is proper maintenance. My boss didn’t even have a clue and he must have given me bad advice.

    Now it is clear to me that he wasn’t doing things right and neither was I. In either case, good grease is cheap insurance.

  • Zachary Bell

    I hear ya but you have to keep the rig running and keep those bears off your back as well.

  • Zachary Bell

    You’re absolutely right. 12 hours/week would be reasonable. My boss was way too cheap about that!

  • mousekiller

    I have put a central grease point on my truck. In fact two of them. One for the front end the other for the rear. . Makes it nice to be able to stand up and get the truck greased the easy way.

    How ever , The slack adjusters move very little distance compared to other moving parts needing grease so I grease them every 4th time I grease the truck. Break the seal on them by over greasing and you are inviting trouble with bad slack adjusters. Since I quit greasing them every time I do the truck I have eliminated any problems associated with the slack adjusters.

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  • Steve

    Bruce, I would make it 10 things, and the 10th and most important thing is a load that pays enough money. If you don’t have that it doesn’t matter what your manifold pressure gauge says. All of the advice that you and Ken dispense is fine, but it is only half the picture. If you are hauling too cheap, saving fuel will only enable you to pay the broker or shipper a little bit longer before you go broke. If I want to invest in all of the things that save fuel (and that ain’t cheap) I want that money to go into my pocket – not the broker’s.

  • Coffeeclue

    12 hours a week? Sorry, not me. If I want to be a mechanic, I will be one. I make a lot more than $65/hr while on a load, so when I have time off, it’s my time off, not time to work on the truck.
    Who said that a truck needs to be lubed every week? That’s BS. Once a month with every oil change is plenty. Last time I washed my truck was 2 years ago. No, it’s not pretty. It’s a battle truck that has “coolness” of its own. I’d rather keep the $70/week (about $3500/year) than spend it on looking pretty.
    This is not to say that I don’t know what’s going on inside my truck. I’ve done my own injector changes, parking lot turbo replacements, overhead etc. The key is to truly understand what the truck needs, not just blindly overmaintain it.

  • mousekiller

    One thing I learned over the years is that most mechanics and DIYers dont know how to grease a truck. Take the tie rods for instance. They have a rubber seal on them . 99% of the grease monkeys put grease in until it comes out of the rubber seal. Now they broke the seal and trash, road grime and salt can get in shortening the life of the system. Why do they do that? Ignorant is why. No one taught them the proper way to grease a truck. FYI if you grease your own truck DO NOT leave any grease on the fittings. If there is a glob on it the inspector can cite you and or put you OOS for excess grease and or oil. I know it’s stupid but in todays busted budget states they are bending the rules and leaving common sense locked up at home.

    I put in a simple greasing system on my truck. aluminum blocks drilled and tapped for Zirk fitting. bought a bunch of brass fittings and a roll of plastic line. removed the zirks put brass fitting in their place and the fittings on the blocks mounted conveniently attached the line leaving enough for movement in steering and it was done. No need to get under the truck now. Do it all standing next to it. I do get under it now and again just to examine it for wear but not as often as before. I grease my ride ( except for the brake system.) bi weekly. grease control block with zirks on cross brace in front of 5th wheel for rear of truck. One on each side under hood for under carriage in front.. I do have a question. How many remember to grease the 5th wheel pivot? That is over looked by a lot of truck stops and shops.

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