A new owner-operator often doesn’t realize the importance of a good preventive maintenance program until he’s been sidelined by a major breakdown. In most cases, systematic PM can stop problems before they start. It saves you money in the long run by reducing the chances of equipment failure on the road and reduces time lost to repairs.
If, for example, your engine blows while you’re under a load, your carrier will probably have to dispatch another driver to deliver the load. Meanwhile, you’ll have to pay for towing, and you’ll have to find $10,000 for repairs. If you lose a week’s worth of work at $1 per mile, the lack of attention to your engine could cost $14,000:
Road service $500
Lost revenue (current load) $1,000
Lost revenue (future loads) $2,500
Total loss $14,000
An ounce of prevention
Become familiar with every inch of your truck and know what components can fail and under what circumstances. You don’t have to be a mechanic, but you should be familiar with how your truck’s systems interact. The manufacturer of your vehicle can provide literature that recommends a standard PM schedule for every model.
Daily inspections, besides being legally required of an operator, can identify problems before they become emergency situations. Early warning signs found by oil analysis can alert you to serious problems. It always pays to find the underlying cause of a problem. If your truck has more than 300,000 miles, you might want to run a dynamometer test on the engine once a year.
You have to look for trouble if you want to prevent it: seal leaks; loose bolts; chafed wires and hoses; improper adjustments; and worn, broken or missing parts. If you cannot recognize these problems, have a technician inspect your rig every six months.
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 oil changes, lube and filter replacement, and other maintenance, ask for it. Take advantage of your leverage before you buy to get all the information you can on the care and upkeep of your rig.
Separate warranties are often written on the engine, transmission and other components. Find out the duration of the warranties and what it will take to maintain them.
Choose a dealer carefully. Make sure the service department has the technicians and equipment to handle major repairs. Talk to the parts and service managers.
Dealer service manuals and driver manuals are usually provided by manufacturers. Locate them, along with a dealer directory, to ensure the best service for your new or used truck.
Sources other than the manufacturer and dealer also can provide maintenance information:
· Your carrier
· American Trucking Associations’ Maintenance Council
· U.S. Department of Transportation
· Oil companies
· Component manufacturers
· Truck-related websites
Keep good records
A good PM program begins and ends with good records. Committing every shop visit to paper and creating a calendar of scheduled visits will pay off. You can write everything in a notebook – date, location and work done – or log it in your computer.
You should also keep a schedule of future work to be done: oil changes, oil analysis, major inspections, coolant-system service and so on. This schedule will help you avoid overlooking something vital.
Keep receipts on repairs and keep old parts in case of a warranty dispute.
Also, keep a record of your out-of-pocket expenses, such as cab fares, meals, motel stays and other things related to time lost due to repairs. Otherwise, you won’t be able to file warranty claims properly, and your profits will suffer.
Good maintenance records can help you determine average miles per gallon, expenses on a per-mile basis, average miles for a quart of oil and average speed for each hour of vehicle operation. Accurate maintenance and repair records not only give you good data on your rig, but also can help you decide how to spec your next truck.
Time to trade
No magic formula tells you when to upgrade, but industry experts say you should consider replacement when your fuel mileage drops 2 mpg or more in spite of your conservation efforts, or if truck technology develops to the point that a new truck would get you an additional 2 mpg. Another indication to trade is when your total maintenance costs reach 15 percent of your gross revenue.
One other approach is to create a maintenance budget and track your maintenance expenses. When they begin to reach the limit, consult with your advisers. Your accountant can help you determine how much your fuel consumption has risen and how much your maintenance costs have increased due to the age of the truck. Your insurance agent can help determine how an equipment upgrade will affect your premiums. Your financing source can discuss various options for the purchase of a new truck. With all this information, you should know when it’s time to trade your rig.