Quick fixes require the foresight to carry the necessary tools and parts. Stocking these supplies on your truck will do a lot to keep your wheels turning.
Metric and standard sockets
Socket drives, extensions and adapters
Long-handled screwdriver or pry bar
Star, flat and Phillip’s screwdrivers
Soap and water in spray bottle
Quick-connects and unions
Belt tension (cricket) gauges for serpentine and V belts
Fuel filter and wrench
Q-Tips and alcohol
Hand-held computer for electronic engines
Valve cover gasket
Few conditions will bring a truck to a complete standstill. Many other problems will require repair to maintain safety standards, to prevent engine damage or simply to allow you to continue on your way. In some situations, you can do these fixes yourself, saving time as well as expensive tows and high hourly work rates at shops far from home.
Certain situations involve only basic repairs. Owner-operators such as Howard Ross, who’s leased to Craig Transportation in Perrysburg, Ohio, are prepared to handle such jobs. “I can replace hoses, fix lights, replace belts and patch air lines if I have to,” he says.
“Sometimes you have to have a Band-Aid,” says company driver Phil McAfee of Star Transportation in Nashville, Tenn. “I carry aluminum tape to patch holes in trailer skin.”
Other problems are more threatening. Frozen brakes or a clogged fuel filter, for example, can impede progress much longer than necessary unless you’re prepared to deal with them. Here are 10 areas of common malfunctions that can be addressed on the spot by having a few basic tools and materials, as well as knowing some simple techniques.
BROKEN OR STRETCHED BELTS. This problem can be fixed only if you have a spare. While it might be cumbersome to carry a replacement for each belt, doing that or carrying an adjustable belt, sold in many truck stops, can be worth the effort.
A long-handled screwdriver or pry bar and the proper sockets will be sufficient to adjust and tighten the belt. “Over-tightened belts can ruin bearings in the belt pulleys, the alternator and the water pump,” says Jeff Boesch, instructor at Mack’s North American Institute, an educational facility in Allentown, Pa., for Mack mechanics and owner-operators. “Belt tension is extremely important in electronic engines because all systems are powered by the alternator in electronic engines. Belts tested under 30 pounds from ideal tension with the gauge should be changed. They will fail soon anyway and will ruin pulleys in the meantime.”
Boesch recommends a cricket gauge as the cheapest and best tool for establishing belt tension. “You need one for the V belt and one for the serpentine belt,” he says.
He adds that squeaking belts are not always loose or failing. They can be silenced by cleaning with hydraulic brake fluid.
LEAKING HOSES. Electrical tape will fix small leaks in hoses long enough to get to a shop. Make sure the area to be taped is clean and dry.
Having the proper hose and an assortment of hose clamps allows you to skip taping or going to a shop for the right parts. The only necessity after replacing a hose is to ensure your radiator is topped off with the proper mixture of coolant and water.
Notice your coolant temperature under ordinary conditions so you’ll know if a reading is too high when you check it after fixing a leak. Readings between 170 and 225 degrees are normal.
Remember that a bad or poorly installed radiator cap can cause overheating. For every 10 pounds of pressure lost through a bad cap, coolant temperature can rise 3 degrees.
RADIATOR LEAKS. Stop-leak products can fix minor radiator leaks. Blue Iron Tite, recommended by some specialists, will not void warranties. After its use, turn off your water filter for a few weeks to prevent the Iron Tite from being partially filtered out. Speed shops are the best source to find it.
CONTAMINATED COOLANT. A more serious problem occurs when oil gets into the coolant and coats the radiator core and internal engine water channels, causing overheating. The priority is to stop the cause of the overheating so you can get somewhere to fix the oil leak.
A radiator flushing product can do the job. Bruce Mallinson, owner of Pittsburgh Diesel, suggests another Iron Tite product, Thoroflush. “Drain the radiator and refill with water,” he says. “As the radiator fills with oil again, redrain and keep adding water. Add Thoroflush several times as you are filling and draining to clean the system thoroughly.”
This should allow you to get where you can fix the oil leak. Final doses of Thoroflush after the leak is fixed will clean the cooling system thoroughly.
BROKEN WATER PUMP. Consider, too, the possibility that a water pump can go belly up. If the coolant temp is rising, there is no leak, and the belt is properly in place with the pulley working freely, your problem is the pump impeller shaft, Mallinson says. The closest thing to a quick fix here is to keep the temperature below 225 degrees. “You can drive your truck slowly and easily and crawl up hills in a low gear,” Mallinson says. “The engine will stay cool enough to get to a shop.”
TURBO PROBLEMS. The most frequent turbo problem is when a sensor gets covered with oil and dirt and stops sensing. A Palm Pilot can diagnose this problem. “This sensor is on the intake manifold. You can clean it with a Q-tip and some alcohol and be on your way,” Mallinson says.
One of the most dreaded breakdowns is a blown turbo. But even this can be temporarily fixed. “Remove the turbo feed line and plug the fitting in the block with a 3/4-inch pipe plug,” Mallinson says. “You can drive the truck without the turbo. Just stay in the lower gears and go light on the throttle.”
MISSES AND POWER LOSS. Try the easiest fix first in the case of a miss. Remove the fuel filter and fill it with a fuel conditioner, such as those produced by Lucas or Howes. Dump the leftover conditioner in the draw tank.
If this does not fix the problem, inspect your injectors. A miss in the engine or unexplained loss of power might well be a dirty injector. Carboned injectors can be cleaned with a brass wire brush and needles to open the port. An injector fixed in this fashion will have to be checked when time allows to make sure the fuel spray pattern is correct. You can even carry a spare injector and valve cover gasket, to be truly prepared. Injectors that do not respond to cleaning can be replaced.
On some mechanical engines, like an NTC Cummins, a stuck injector can be removed and the engine driven with the remaining injectors until a shop is found. To do so on a mechanical engine, remove the valve cover gasket with a 9/16-in. wrench. Then remove the injector adjusting nut with a 3/4-in. socket and take out the injector push rod. Some engines, especially those with Jacobs Brakes, will require a larger assortment of sockets and wrenches. Replace the valve cover and drive the truck.
Sometimes power loss can be caused by a bad air filter. Boesch notes that filters are most effective just before maximum restriction, but will cause power loss if the restriction goes beyond maximum. He recommends replacement at 100,000 miles.
Be careful about replacements. Boesch says even a new filter can be bad if it has been on the shelf too long. “The paper filter will rot,” he cautions. If you can see debonding or matting, the filter is too old. If you keep a spare on the truck, make sure it doesn’t become outdated.
CHARGE AIR COOLERS. The most typical problem with air coolers is a bad clamp. Clamps expand and contract as the air temperature in the cooler changes, warping and weakening the metal. Carrying a spare clamp or two makes this problem a very easy fix.
Even a cracked charge air cooler housing can be fixed if you carry a metal epoxy, such as JB Weld. This will cover most cracks and allow you to continue until a more permanent fix can be done.
FUEL SYSTEM PROBLEMS. Gelling in frigid weather is one of the few things that will shut down an engine completely. Gelled fuel in the fuel tank will probably require a long period in a warm shop. Consider yourself lucky if the problem is no more severe than the fuel in your fuel filter. You can heat the filter with a freestanding torch, such as a Burnz-a-matic, to liquefy the fuel. Try this on elbows in your fuel line as well.
Of course, a clogged fuel filter can be a major source of power loss. Unless you have the proper wrench for your filter or a universal wrench, removing the fuel filter to put on a spare can be done by driving a screwdriver through the filter and turning it off by prying. When reinstalling a filter, hand-tighten only.
Old mechanical horses can be stopped in mid-stride by a bad fuel solenoid. The old mechanical Cummins have a thumb screw that can be turned to manual to allow the engine to operate. On mechanical Caterpillars, a tarp strap can be used to hold the lever on the solenoid open until a replacement solenoid is installed. The solenoid will generally be found on or near the fuel pump.
AIR SYSTEM PROBLEMS. Beyond the engine compartment, the most common cause of slowed or stopped progress is the broken air line. Mack’s Fetherolf says, “The old style air line could be fixed by cutting out the air leak and inserting a piece of copper tube into each end. Two small hose clamps would hold the tube in place. But the new plastic line does not allow this. Now, you have to carry quick-connect fittings and a union.”
The old fix was not legal, but the use of quick-connects is, Fetherolf says. Nevertheless, the problem should be permanently fixed as soon as possible.
He recommends keeping a squirt bottle full of soap and water. When it’s sprayed on air lines, any foaming reveals leaks and speeds the process of diagnosis. The fix simply requires cutting the leaking portion, putting a quick-connect on each end and joining them with the union.
Alex Caulder, who hauls PCBs for Clean Harbors in Braintree, Mass., goes so far as to carry air lines along with a few quick-connects and unions. “I adjust my own brakes,” Caulder says. “I can’t afford to get stopped at a DOT inspection with brakes out of adjustment. And I pay attention to air lines.”
THE ULTIMATE FIX. Does it seem that life often deals you unfair breaks? Then you’ll probably agree with Mallinson: “If you carry the right tools and supplies, it almost guarantees you’ll never need them,” he says. “Being without is asking for trouble.”