Bottom Line
Run lean & clean
Elbow grease is the only grease that should be obvious when you walk up to your rig

By Suzanne Stempinski
field editor


Skyrocketing fuel prices have put a whack on your profit margin, and 2007 emission requirements haven’t made you want to run right out and buy a brand-new ride. Well, you don’t necessarily trade in your house every few years, so maybe you can do some home remodeling projects on your truck, too.

If you didn’t make it to the Mid-America Trucking Show, a trip to a “big box” store or a Wal-Mart that still offers truck parking can open a treasure trove of possibilities in addition to the shopping you can do online or at a truck stop chrome shop.

It’s been a long, miserable winter. Snow, rain, salt and the many chlorides have done a number on your equipment on the outside. And unless you’re fanatical about taking off your shoes or boots every time you step foot in the cab, you’ve carried that stuff inside as well.

It’s finally spring – almost everywhere. Get a bucket, scrub brush, cleaning supplies for the inside as well as the exterior, clean rags, rubber gloves, portable vacuum, and a little carpet cleaning machine. Dig out an old toothbrush (or go buy yourself a new one and donate the old one to the cause).

Pick a nice sunny day. Open the windows and give your truck a good airing out. Strip out all the old bedding, including your mattress pad or egg-crate foam. Drag out those floor mats; take the skirts off your seats. Take down all the curtains – I don’t care if they’re fabric or vinyl. Empty cabinets, closets, drawers. Grab those cleaning supplies, climb inside, and get to work.

From back to front, wash, scrub, work up a lather. Get into all the cracks and crevices. Take the covers off vents and wash them – you’ve been circulating old air through them all winter. Take down the collection of scented Christmas trees. Clean smells good. You’ll feel better, and your truck will look and smell better. Spring cleaning has a multitude of benefits.

Take a good hard look at the flooring in both the cab and sleeper. Is it ready for an update? Floor mats and replacement carpet are available in a range of colors and materials. Or, depending on your skill, ingenuity and resources, you may want to lay down a wood, laminate or tile floor.

The same old cabinets look better clean. How about giving them a face-lift? Think wood; think automotive paint. Consider taking your television out of that cabinet and investing in a flat screen, mounted to a wall. Beautify your sleeper with new bedding (that old foam needed to be pitched anyway). Don’t forget to pick up a new pillow while you’re at it. Change your color scheme.

How’s your driver’s seat? Feeling good and supportive or looking and feeling like a few too many miles of bad road? Skip the duct tape. This is not an art project. If you haven’t sprung your stuffing or wrecked your back and only the cosmetics are a little ratty, try some seat covers on for size.

However, since you spend more time at your window to the world than many folks do in the recliner, be sure that you’re getting adequate support. Seats are a small investment that offer big returns toward your overall well-being. Not only can you warm your buns on a cold day, but you can also find a seat that massages and improves your circulation as well.

That automotive paint you used on the cabinets in back? Try it on your dash as well. Or get out your utility knife and enhance the look of your dash with chrome plastic diamond plate or 3D carbon fiber vinyl film. Update your dash with fresh bezels, knobs, chromed or colored handles and toggles. If your truck is old enough that it doesn’t have a steering wheel with a built-in airbag, change your wheel. There are so many options: wood or leather, plain or flamed.

When you walk up to your truck from across the parking lot, what’s the first thing you see? How do you pick your truck out of the pack? You’re probably spotting your visor, grille and bumper. If the way you identify your ride is based on the tweak and rust in your front end, it’s time for a change. Get rid of that deer-bit bumper and replace it with a gleaming new look – bigger, Texas style or wraparound. One way to get the bugs out of your grille: Install a new one with louvers or bars, or a punched-out design that grabs your imagination. Backlight it so you glow at night. Swap your factory visor for a bow tie or deep drop visor with lots of tiny, shiny lights.

OK, let’s talk lights, but only briefly because you could spend a long time talking about lights and still not cover all the possibilities. Bottom line – if you’re a total purist, old school style, you don’t want any lights other than those required by the DOT. In your perfect world, you wouldn’t even need all of those.

If you’re everybody else, you can’t have too many lights. You want them on your visor, under your bumper (or in your bumper), in your exterior air cleaners, around your cab and sleeper, under your fuel tanks, around your fairings, under your cab, sleeper and trailer – the more the better. With today’s LED and neon options, you may not need to add a second alternator; just make sure the one you have is big enough. And be sure to carry a spare. You can absolutely transform the look of your truck with lights – inside and out. Spring is a great time to check your wiring harnesses and make sure winter’s corrosives haven’t left you in the dark.

Chrome, stainless and aluminum bling. There is such a thing as enough. There’s even a possibility of too much, but for most people it takes a long time to get there. New trim and accent pieces are being manufactured every day. From bugshields to hood ornaments, mud flap weights to fender accents, fat stacks to muffler shrouds: Create a sparklingly different look.

If your paint is getting ready to slide off your truck, check with a local paint shop. Maybe you can reinvent your look by painting your fenders. Some slick pinstriping done by a paint artist or even by your own hand with automotive vinyl can make your eyes light up. Maintain your gleaming finish with paint polish or fresh wax.

Get your aluminum polished. The first good hard polish of the season should be done with electric buffers and the right type of buffing rouge by someone who knows how to cut for the finish without burning or damaging your aluminum. Then you can maintain that look by hand-polishing while you’re sitting at a dock, waiting to load or unload.

It’s a hard time to be successful in the trucking industry. Let your customers know you care about your equipment; they’ll believe you care about their freight, too. Clean, shiny and fresh: It’s a good place to start. LL

Suzanne Stempinski can be reached at