Information Underload?

When a do-it-yourself repair fails, the cause often is not having the right reference materials.

Many of the most complex repair operations on a heavy truck are simple and can be accomplished easily by a do-it-yourself technician if he or she acquires the right knowledge first. One of the best examples is setting overheads, a job likely to cost you $150 or more at a dealer.

Many ace mechanics are afraid to do this job in this age of increasingly sophisticated engines. Yet anyone who has turned some wrenches and knows a bit about how an engine works, given certain specifics, could easily do the job flawlessly. True, if done wrong, you could end up with an engine that would not even start and ruined injectors or overhead parts. But do it right and you’ll have an engine that will perform better, run more quietly and guarantee maximum valve and injector life.

The biggest difference between success and failure is a simple chart of engine crankshaft and valve positions you need to turn the engine prior to setting each injector or valve. You also need to know how to set the height of the injector and the valve clearances properly.

Also, with any typical do-it-yourself job, like replacing a water pump, it’s important to use a torque wrench to tighten the fasteners, or you could end up with a leak. But a torque wrench is completely useless without knowing the factory torque recommendation for each bolt or screw.

Such sophisticated mechanical operations are never covered in your owner’s manual. That’s why it’s so important to obtain the factory repair manuals or service bulletins when you want to do work beyond oil and filter changes.

Getting started
You can get basic maintenance information for nearly every truck and major component. Most of the engine, truck and components manufacturers offer manuals either in print or on CD-ROM via their websites. Some offer continuously updated maintenance information in a format that is read off the OEM’s website in an interactive format displayed on your computer screen.

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International’s Brian Mulshine, manager of service development and marketing, says the EPA requires the manufacturers to offer such information to truck owners because proper maintenance often reduces emissions.

But Mulshine argues that there is so much going on in a modern truck that it’s neither practical nor cost-effective to do all the work yourself. For example, if you take the truck into an International dealer for even a minor job, they are likely to update, or “flash,” the programming in your engine ECM. A change recently flashed in cycles each fuel injector just before engine shutdown in a way that prevents the needle valve from sticking down the road and may greatly extend the life of an injector.

International also offers software for diagnostic purposes. But Mulshine says it’s not cost-effective for small fleets to purchase a $700 software program and a $500 cable to troubleshoot an engine problem. Reading the software output takes a lot of training and experience. Also, you may at some point need a new sensor located in a spot that is virtually impossible to get at without a special tool. It’s cheaper to have the dealer replace it than to buy the tool. So he believes independent truckers and drivers would be much smarter to spend their money on an extended service contract.

The smarter, less expensive way of setting up a maintenance program may be to work with your dealer on the complex, electronic diagnostics and other specialized jobs they can do quickly and efficiently and do the basic mechanical jobs yourself.

One of the great resources on maintenance in the trucking industry is the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations. At TMC meetings, maintenance experts from the nation’s largest and most successful fleets, as well as the truck and components manufacturers, discuss maintenance issues. They also develop techniques and standards at the organization’s general meetings and separate committee meetings.

Jack Poster, TMC’s Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards manager, says the council’s continually updated Recommended Practices, or RPs, “are considered the gold standard among maintenance professionals. Even though OEM representatives are active in preparing them, they are completely non-commercial in their orientation.” RPs offer insights into ensuring a truck runs reliably and how to solve chronic problems by making modifications or repairs. Poster says they include two volumes, one for maintenance practices and the other for engineering practices. The first helps you know how and how often to maintain and troubleshoot various items on the truck, while the second helps you specify the right components (like generators or batteries), the proper gearing and the like when ordering a new truck. The information is available both in book form and on CD-ROM. Purchased in pieces, the cost is $267, but you get the entire set of books or CD-ROMs for $150 if you join TMC for one year under the owner-operator category (fleets pay more).

To join:
1. Go to
2. Click “** ATA Councils. **”
3. Click the TMC logo.
4. Click “To join TMC for the first time, click here.”
5. Follow the application instructions.
6. Click the “Add to Cart” button, then input your credit card information.

Caterpillar’s Charissa Ebbert, media spokeswoman for global on-highway engines, says the company’s online service information system is “one of our best resources.” It’s accessed via, where you can register your engine and log in to receive “all the needed maintenance information for [your] specific configuration on the web.” All you have to do is click on the registration link on the left side of the page and complete the registration process. You can then input your engine’s serial number to access documentation such as parts manuals, maintenance manuals and troubleshooting manuals.

Cummins engine owners can go to and follow these steps:
1. In the left-hand column, click on “Troubleshooting/Repair Manuals.”
2. Click on your engine model.
3. Click “Add to Cart,” then input billing information to purchase the manual and have it shipped.

Detroit Diesel Corporation’s Eric

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