By Paul Abelson
senior technical editor
More than 90 Technology & Maintenance Council Task Forces met earlier this year in Tampa, FL, to work on Recommended Practices for equipment maintenance and engineering. A two-part technical session featured 11 expert panelists that provided a compendium of efficiencies, including everything from managing breakdowns and budgets to tires and technicians.
During the week, I made notes of helpful hints for owner-operators. Here are my top tips.
1. Operating efficiency starts when you purchase your truck, whether new or used. If new, make sure the components are suited to your needs and conditions. If used, review and compare components and see if they meet your needs. Don’t get hung up on a truck’s looks or horsepower. Consider maintenance needs and service history.
2. Analyze all failures you experienced with your current and previous trucks.
Your operations may stress certain components more than others. Sometimes bigger is better; sometimes it’s not. For example, do you really need a 17 cubic-feet-per-minute air compressor, or can you get by with an 11? The difference could save you half a percent in fuel economy.
Does the truck have sealed, unitized hubs, or does the supplier want you to inspect and possibly replace seals every 50,000 or 100,000 miles? Labor savings could easily overcome any price differential. What about aluminum hubs and other lightweight components? How will they impact revenue?
One fleet manager reported problems with fuel level sending units. He avoided a $30 up-charge for electronic senders, but wound up paying 10 times that much in maintenance on his mechanical senders and on-road service calls for trucks that ran dry.
3. Are the right bolts used to attach components? Fully threaded bolts are up to 30 percent weaker than those with solid necks. Are fasteners properly torqued? More than one TMC member takes tools along when he takes delivery of trucks. Even new ones can be poorly assembled. In one case, more than half the bolts attaching components to the frame, including the fifth wheel, were under-torqued.
4. Insist on getting the truck’s build sheet from your dealer. Review your purchase order against it. The maintenance director of a 1,000-truck fleet told of an order for 100 identically spec’d trucks. They were delivered with two different drive axle ratios and axles from different vendors.
5. Are you specifying idle-reduction equipment? If so – you should, of course – what is best? Two major fleets, each with thousands of trucks, can easily have different idle-reduction equipment needs. For example, one has a maximum of 40 percent idle time, but only for four months of the year. That averages to 10 percent during the year. So, that fleet spec’s only fuel-fired heaters for use six to seven months. The other fleet averages 47 percent idle time during a year. It opted for auxiliary power units. The first fleet can’t justify the cost of APUs over the time it keeps its trucks. The other gets a payback after about 18 months. The differences have more to do with driver habits and incentives than they do with operating conditions.
6. Avoid thinking in terms of being in the maintenance business, even though maintenance is a critical element in trucking efficiency. Truckers should understand maintenance is done to assure uptime. Money is made hauling freight, not maintaining trucks.
Most owner-operators outsource major maintenance, as do many smaller trucking companies.
The most successful establish relationships with vendors ahead of time. They evaluate shop facilities, locations, hours of operations, rates and terms. They negotiate procedures for problem resolution before things happen, and make sure failed parts are retained for inspection and warranty.
7. Develop procedures and sources for emergency road service and towing. One fleet had a horror story about being charged more than $17,000 for a 100-mile, non-consensual tow, one directed by the highway patrol and done by the vendor next on the rotation list.
Since then, the fleet has contracted with an emergency services company. When an incident occurs, the driver tells the officer they have a service, the service has been notified and help is on the way. Unless a road or exit ramp is blocked and must be cleared immediately, the authorities are generally reasonable. LL