One Piece At a Time

| December 12, 2008

Tool by tool, building a home repair shop enables do-it-yourself maintenance and saves money.

Doing your own repair work with the proper tools saves money by avoiding labor charges, but it makes money, too, because more time on the road means more revenue.

“You do the work on the weekend when you’re at home,” says one-truck owner-operator Gordon Bow of Oakfield, N.Y. “Then it doesn’t take time out of your driving week to schedule maintenance at a truck stop or dealer.”

Doing repairs yourself also reduces downtime because doing your own oil changes and greasing gives you a chance to look under the truck and find problems before they leave you stranded. More savings accrue when you buy oil, grease and transmission and axle fluids in bulk, paying much less per pound or gallon.

Care taken by a dedicated do-it-yourselfer also deters inspectors, says Bow, who ties wires in place and slips old hose over brake lines so they won’t chafe. “If they see you’ve maintained the truck and tried to keep air hoses and other safety-related parts protected, they’ll spend less time looking for trouble,” Bow says.

Less tangible, but nonetheless real, is the satisfaction to be had from doing your own work, Bow says. “I really enjoy doing it. There’s nothing shameful about being a grease monkey.”

But if your toolbox is empty, where do you start?

Tools aren’t cheap. A simple high-quality pair of angle-nose pliers, for example, will cost you about $49. But if you take care of them, they’ll last for many years and pay you back in unexpected ways.

Earl Evans, a one-truck owner-operator from Canfield, Ohio, advises starting out with hand tools that will help you tighten loose bolts and replace broken or worn parts.

You’ll need both metric and English wrenches of all kinds, Bow points out. “Bolts are half metric and half English sizes on every vehicle.”

Keith Harring began building up his tools early in his career, when he had just two trucks. Today K.L. Harring Transportation is a medium-sized fleet with more than 30 tractors and many more trailers. Its repair shop is run by Tommy Vajdic, who advises starting with open-end wrenches, box wrenches and sockets.

Sockets can be operated by a ratchet wrench, allowing you to rotate a bolt in a confined space without continually pulling the wrench on and off the head. Box wrenches are easier and quicker where you can get over the top of a bolt, but there isn’t room for a socket. You’ll need open-end wrenches where there isn’t room to get over a bolt head.

Sockets have drives that take the form of a square fitting, either as an extension or a part of a ratchet wrench or bar. They are classified by different size drives; you match the size of the drive to the size of the bolt and the amount of torque needed to turn it. Vajdic suggests 5/16-inch, 3/8-inch and 1/2-inch drives. For heavy work, Bow recommends 3/4-inch drive sockets or impact wrenches. If you graduate to the heaviest chassis work, you’ll need sockets with a 7/8-inch drive, Vajdic says.

Getting some universal sockets is a good idea, Bow says. They incorporate a U-joint to help you work around corners.

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