Bottom Line
Maintenance Q&A
Buyer Beware

By Paul Abelson, senior technical editor

Q. I have an opportunity to buy a 2006 Freightliner Columbia with a 410 horsepower Detroit motor. It's from a fleet that recently shut its doors due to the economy. The truck looks fairly good, but I want more power. Can I uprate the engine to at least 500 hp? Is there anything else I should know before buying the truck? The price they're asking is fairly attractive.

A. There is a great deal to consider when you buy any truck, and even more with a used one.

The Columbia has proven to be fairly reliable for fleets, as has the DD13 engine. But I see several issues with this truck. One involves the engine; another is the drivetrain. I'm also concerned about the truck's maintenance history.

The 410 hp immediately identified this as the 13-liter engine, since the larger DD15's ratings start at 455 hp. The highest on-highway rating for the DD13 is 450 hp with 1,650 lb-ft of torque. To reach 505 hp, you would need a DD15. It wouldn't be economical to do an engine swap, so you are limited to uprating to 450 hp and 1,650 lb-ft of torque.

That brings up another consideration – torque. The 410 hp engine comes with 1,450 lb-ft. Since drivetrains are spec'd according to torque ratings, your running gear may be limited accordingly. Some fleets may opt for the next highest rating to provide a safety margin – for example, an Eaton Fuller RTLO 14610B.

A 10-speed overdrive transmission will handle the 410 engine's torque; a fleet might order a 15610. But if you uprate to a 450 hp with 1,650 lb-ft, you would need a RTLO 16610B to handle the extra torque. You could uprate to a 450 with 1,550 lb-ft, but I question whether 100 extra pounds of torque would provide a significant enough improvement to justify uprating.

If you're looking for a used fleet truck with the potential to uprate the engine, be sure it has a 15-liter class engine, such as an ISX15, a DD15 or the like. If you find a 16-liter engine, a DD16, a Mack MP10, Volvo D16 or Cummins ISX16, you won't need to worry about uprating or matching components, but those power trains carry a significant premium.

Another concern with this Columbia was its maintenance history.

Since the fleet had "shut its doors due to the economy," there is a strong possibility that maintenance has been allowed to slip. Companies don't just decide one day that times are tough so they'll close. There are months, if not years of cutting back expenses. Tires that were once replaced with 4/32 of tread remaining are allowed to wear to 2/32. Oil that was drained at 20,000 miles is now changed at 25,000 or even 30,000. Workers are let go, and defects that were once dealt with immediately are put on a "when we get to it" list, if they are detected at all.

When a fleet has gone out of business, you need to be extra cautious about buying their equipment. Any truck can be cleaned up and made to look good on its surface, but wear and tear takes place inside the machinery.

At the very least, ask to see oil analysis reports. Don't sample what's in the engine. That may have been recently changed. Ask for the last analysis report that was done with significant miles on the truck. If the report is an old one or none is available, be very cautious. LL

Send your question to Paul Abelson, senior technical editor, in care of Land Line Magazine, PO Box 1000, Grain Valley, MO 64029; e-mail them to or fax questions to 630-983-7678. Please mark your message Attention: Maintenance Q&A. Although we won’t be able to publish an answer to all questions in Land Line, we will answer as many as possible.