Maintaining your equipment

| August 04, 2009

Preventive maintenance can be expensive, but neglect is even more costly. Systematic PM saves you money in the long run by reducing the chances of equipment failure on the road and reducing time lost to repairs. It also helps reduce the severity of failures if they do occur. Some industry estimates say preventive maintenance can cut breakdown costs in half.

Nearly all owner-operators change their oil often enough. Also important is using quality oil and filters, as well as timely coolant servicing (including system flushing), because these practices will help keep an engine young longer. Using synthetic transmission and axle lubes and changing at required intervals also will help the life of those components. Using a self-adjusting clutch and driving with the proper technique will lower maintenance and repair costs by a significant percentage as well.

Don’t neglect other practices less familiar than changing oil. For example, adjusting the overheads after break-in and then at the required infrequent intervals saves fuel, reduces oil sooting and wear, and is likely to prolong the life of both valves and injectors.

Replacing injectors before combustion gets too dirty also will prolong life. Using quality fuel filters will, in turn, prolong injector life. Various long-life antifreeze options, such as extended life coolants and coolant filters that add supplemental coolant additives on a controlled basis, should be considered even though the initial cost may be higher.

A simple plan that doesn’t require technical skill and special equipment will include tires, engine oil, wipers, lights, filters, coolant and belts/hoses. A more technical PM will include brakes, drive axles, wheel seals, transmission, batteries, exhaust, driveline, suspension, steering, clutch and engine.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Become familiar with every inch of your truck and know which components can fail and under what circumstances. You don’t have to be a mechanic, but you should be familiar with a truck’s mechanical operation and how systems interact. Manufacturers offer schooling, normally available for free or at a nominal cost, and they typically recommend a standard PM schedule for every model. The Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations also provides PM guidelines for tractors and trailers. Follow these schedules diligently and you’ll head off a lot of trouble.

Daily inspections, required by the U.S. Department of Transportation, can help identify problems before they become emergency situations. A leaking differential, for example, should be repaired before the loss of lubricant causes component failure. Early warning signs found by engine or driveline component oil analysis can alert you to serious problems before costly troubles occur. If you have a truck with more than 300,000 miles, consider running a dynamometer test once a year.

Always look for common problems: seal leaks, loose bolts, chafed wires and hoses, improper adjustments and worn, broken or missing parts. If you cannot recognize these problems, have a qualified technician inspect your rig every six months. An alternative is having lubrication service done at a dealer or truck stop where experienced technicians will look for problems as they work.

BEGIN AT THE DEALER
The best time to start a regular PM program is when you’re buying your truck. If the dealer doesn’t volunteer detailed information on maintenance, ask for it. A good dealer is happy to give advice about oil changes, lube and filter replacement, and other maintenance. Take advantage of your leverage before you buy to get all the information you can. Manufacturers’ websites often offer detailed information, too.

Separate warranties often are written on the engine, transmission and other components because they are supplied by different entities. Find out the duration of the warranties and what it will take to maintain their validity. You might want to consider extended warranties, where available.

Dealer service manuals and driver manuals usually are provided by manufacturers. Locate them, along with a dealer directory, to ensure the best service for your truck.

KEEP GOOD RECORDS
Only with complete and accurate records can you track the work done on your truck and prove that required work has been done. Recording every shop visit on paper and creating a calendar of scheduled visits will pay off.

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