By Paul Abelson
senior technical editor
Preventive maintenance quiz time:
Do you plan ahead to get your winterized truck ready to take on the heat of summer? Or do you figure your extended maintenance cycles and products are going to keep you rolling until you get around to doing the work?
Not that long ago, there were many different types of preventive maintenance that had to be handled at various times. That alone caused a lot of downtime.
That’s not the case anymore, partly because of factory-approved extended maintenance cycles and the proliferation of oils and coolants with extended drain intervals.
With those “extensions” so commonplace, it’s getting easier and easier to forget two of the most important times of year on your preventive maintenance schedule – spring and fall. These are the times when you convert your truck from winter to summer operation, and vice versa.
Even though you may be running extended-life coolant or one of the new CI-4 Plus or CJ-4 oils, and working on extended factory-approved maintenance schedules, the changeover from cold to warm weather operations requires a bit of extra attention.
With help from the Technology & Maintenance Council’s “Recommended Practices Manual” and TMC’s various “Preventive Maintenance Inspection Guidelines,” here is a rundown of things to do for the changeover.
With your engine still dirty, start by inspecting it for any signs of leaks. Then clean your engine. Run it to get it warm and check for leaks again. Listen for any leaks in your air intake system and compressed air system. Check fluid levels, making sure oil consumption is not excessive and coolant is not low.
Then, with your engine warm, do your regular preventive maintenance.
Change the oil and all filters – oil and fuel filters for sure and the coolant filters if they need it.
Send a sample of your oil and coolant for analysis. Most truckers are familiar with oil analysis. It tells how the oil has been functioning and the condition of the engine’s internal parts. Coolant analysis does the same for the cooling system as well as the coolant itself. Most labs do both.
Pay close attention to the cooling system. Don’t just wait until analysis results are in.
First things first – check your hoses. Hard ones indicate deterioration from oxidation outside the reinforcement. Soft, mushy hoses have internal chemical deterioration.
If you use extended-life coolants – called ELCs – every three years you should add the appropriate chemical extender, which will be in your owner’s manual or on the manufacturer’s Web site.
If you use conventional coolant, check and adjust supplemental coolant additives – SCAs for short.
Some filters from Baldwin, Fleetguard, Luber-finer and others carry extended-release SCAs.
Penray’s Need Release has membranes that dissolve and release more SCAs as they are needed. These filters must be replaced every year or up to 150,000 miles; just be sure to check the filter’s instructions. Properly maintained, conventional coolant can last for years.
Pressure-test both your radiator and radiator cap. The pressure will help show any leaks. The cap is vital for preventing boil-over or coolant loss. Most lose pressure after a year, and many low-priced imports are inaccurate out of the box. Pressure-test any replacement caps. Clean debris from the radiator, charge air cooler and oil cooler. Make sure air is getting to the fan clutch if it is pneumatic.
Check the fuel system. Winter conditions increase condensation in fuel tanks.
As weather warms, microbial growth increases where water contacts fuel. Use a water-detecting paste to “stick your tank.” If more than an inch of water is found, siphon it out. Spring is a good time to treat your tanks with a fuel additive that contains a biocide. As with all pesticides, follow directions carefully. Those chemicals can be dangerous if used improperly.
Check the electrical system for tightness and corrosion, especially on the battery terminals. Clean them with baking soda to neutralize acids.
Check the alternator to be sure it is charging fully. Problems could result from improper belt tension. If there is not enough tension, belts will slip and the alternator will drag, not turning sufficient rotations per minute. Too much tension puts an undue load on bearings, wearing the alternator prematurely. Make sure wiring and connectors are secure.
Check traditional V-belt tension by measuring deflection. It varies with belt length, so check your engine or truck owner’s manual. With serpentine, or poly V-belts, accessories are pad-mounted, bolted directly to the engine block. Belts are adjusted automatically by belt tensioners. A tensioner can wear and is subject to corrosion. Make sure it moves freely. If it doesn’t, replace it.
If belts are frayed at the edges, replace them and the tensioner and check pulleys for alignment.
HVAC and vision
Check the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for air conditioner pressure. If below specification, recharge, but don’t over-charge. Too much pressure overstresses components, wastes fuel and reduces output.
Make sure the evaporator is free of debris, and that the hot air, cold air blend door operates freely. Clean any debris from vents and air passages, including defroster vents.
Change wiper blades. Make sure windshield washers operate freely, and that nozzles are not clogged or damaged.
Do a general check for corrosion, paying special attention to hard-to-see surfaces, such as between body and frame or under brackets and support straps.
Clean away any corrosion. Be sure the part is still functional. Either replace or remove all corrosion before priming and painting.
Check all fasteners for proper torque. Pay special attention to fifth-wheel mountings. They are among those most often found under-torqued.
Wheels and tires
Check wheel nut torque. Take a good look at tire tread condition, looking for signs of misalignment. A full vehicle alignment should be done at least once a year. It’s a good idea to rotate tires regularly and to balance all tires. They’ll last longer and give a better ride.
Odds and ends
Many engine compression brakes require annual adjustment. Some call for parts replacement, so be sure to check out the instructions.
Make sure headlamps and fog or driving lights are properly aimed. Lubricate your suspension seats.
Finally, warmer weather provides a good opportunity to clean your truck. My colleague, Land Line Field Editor Suzanne Stempinski, wrote an outstanding article on cleaning after winter in our March/April 2005 issue. It’s in the landlinemag.com archives, and it is well worth reading – and following.
The extra time you spend preparing for summer will pay dividends in improved productivity through increased uptime.
Paul Abelson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.