If I had a hammer…

| December 12, 2008

Having the right tools on the road and a little mechanical know-how can add up to big savings.

Good maintenance skills can save money on repairs and service calls when you’re on the road, not to mention what you save by reducing down time. Of course, mechanical knowledge doesn’t go far without the tools to put it into practice.”Some guys can pull a rear end out of a truck or change a clutch, but they need more tools than you can shake a stick at,” says owner-operator James McClean of Acworth, Ga.

Owner-operator Richard Adams of Burgaw, N.C., falls in that category. “I carry as many tools as any mechanic has,” he says.

Adams and McClean have more than 50 years of combined experience in trucking. Both own Peterbilt 379s and do their own repairs whenever possible. The more work you can do yourself, the more money you save on the road. In fact, one-truck owner-operators surveyed by Overdrive estimate they save more then $4,000 annually by performing their own repairs and other maintenance.

“Some truck stops charge you double what you’d pay for the labor and parts in your local truck repair shop,” McClean says. “Even for the most basic repairs, they’re going to take four hours.”

Most owner-operators make at least some of their own repairs as a routine part of the job.

“Successful owner-operators know how to control costs,” says owner-operator Joe Rajkovacz of Edgar, Wis. “You’re going to break down sometime, and the best way to control those costs is to make your own repairs.”

The more tools you have at hand, the greater the savings. Here are 10 of the most basic to have on the road.

McClean recommends a complete SET OF SOCKETS AND BOX/OPEN-END (OR COMBINATION) HAND WRENCHES. The three most widely used combination wrenches are 7/16-, 9/16- and 11/16-inch. You can use these tools to tighten or loosen slack adjusters that, left unrepaired, could cause maladjusted brakes and an out-of-service violation, as well as create a safety hazard.

“If your brakes cam over, and you don’t have a wrench to back them off, then you’re stuck on the side of the road,” Rajkovacz says.

A faulty air compressor governor also can stop a truck, but a $20 replacement part and one wrench can save hundreds of dollars in road service and repair fees. It’s not unusual to need both metric and American wrenches for the same truck. A quality set of eight combination wrenches costs about $35.

Two standard ADJUSTABLE CRESCENT WRENCHES – one 6-inch and one 10 or 12 inches – also are must-haves. These tools will have many uses, so be sure they are high quality. A rig’s nuts and bolts, especially on some trailers, can go untouched for years and may be frozen tight. A low-quality wrench won’t hold the size at which it’s set and will quickly smooth the edges of a nut or bolt.

If you need to loosen a nut or bolt that’s been smoothed round, VISE GRIPS will come in handy. Vise grips have countless uses, such as temporarily clamping a CB antenna onto a rear-view mirror bracket or holding a part in place while it’s bolted down. Get 6- and 8-inch grips.

A HACKSAW with spare blades is also widely useful for both routine and improvised repairs. It’s designed for metal, but as a cutting tool it will work on anything: fiberglass, wood and even rubber. With its hard-steel blade and small teeth, a properly used hacksaw will leave a clean, precise edge. Carry a hacksaw, some 1/4-inch tubing and spare hose clamps to make temporary hose repairs that will get you to the nearest repair shop.

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