What's the best way to combat corrosion caused by aggressive anti-road-icing salts? One fleet manager has coated the undersides of trucks and trailers with a product used to line pickup beds.
Dark blue Herculiner material covers the lower third of this steel tanker owned by Peckham Materials. More than six years later, the coating is still in good condition.
It works for him and that's saying something, because his vehicles actually carry and spray calcium chloride, one of the nastiest compounds out there.
Larry Fingar, who oversees maintenance on the Peckham Materials fleet in Athens, N.Y., near Albany, hit on the bed-liner idea about 10 years ago. He had some vehicles sprayed with it and it seemed to be working. At that time he contacted me and a little later I wrote an article about it for Heavy Duty Trucking
Recently we were again in e-touch, talking about truck components, and we resumed chatting about his anti-corrosion method.
"It worked out quite well," he said. "Attached is a photo of a trailer underside I had done in '05. Was under it the other day and the coating is still in good condition.
"Any new calcium chloride equipment we get is now stainless steel, including the subframe, but I still coat anything I can that is plain steel. Even the aerosol cans of bed liner you can get from an auto parts store work well for some applications.
"We use it to coat the insides of storage boxes we mount on the trailers where fittings and such are stored. [It] eliminates probably 95% of the rust that uncoated steel would experience. I wish that truck and trailer manufacturers would offer it as an option.
"The body shop that has done the coating for us sold one of their other customers on it after they did it for us, a tanker outfit that hauls liquid chlorine. Apparently it is quite corrosive. They were sending their trailers in every 6 months to have the subframes sandblasted and painted. After having this coating applied, the only time they sent anything in was if they got a new trailer."
The top photo shows a basic straight-barrel 32-foot 5,000-gallon non-code tanker made of carbon steel, one Fingar had done in '05. What does it cost?
"I checked with our local NAPA and they sell Herculiner for $68/gallon," he said the other day. "To do a trailer sub-frame would probably take a gallon or so if sprayed on, more if it was brushed or rolled on. When we had a 4-axle straight truck done I had everything from the cab back sprayed and I think it took 3-4 gallons.
"If the paint is in good shape then the only other prep would be to clean and lightly sand it, as well as masking off or removing anything you didn't want coated."
Herculiner will bond to properly prepared steel, aluminum, concrete, wood, asphalt, plastic, rubber and fiberglass, according to its maker.
"By far the biggest expense would be labor," Fingar continues. "I don't know what the typical body shop gets per hour, but I imagine there is a pretty good variation around the country."
Stainless steel is what he now specifies, but even this rugged material is not immune to rust.
"All our newer stuff is stainless, very similar to the trailers pulled by Safety Klean and other such companies. Even though they are of all stainless construction we still have to have the interiors coated for long-term calcium chloride usage.
"Stainless welds don't contain as much nickel as the plates they are holding together and will rust out over time. Our spray trailers are constantly exposed to the stuff [calcium chloride] and even the ones constructed of 316SS will show a reddish tinge of rust over their entire surface.
"On some of our older trailers that were built before we switched to stainless, I have had to cut off the entire subframe and suspension and build new ones in our shop. The barrels were still decent but the frames were in danger of collapse.
"Our work with calcium chloride is an accelerated look at what deicing chemicals do to vehicles every winter. I mentioned that we don't use relined brake shoes. It's because I have found rust jacking to be much more prevalent on relined shoes.
"We've learned a lot of little tricks over the years. Double frames on trucks and tractors are to be avoided because the spray will eventually work its way between the rails and eat the frame from the inside out.
"It's unfortunate that the materials that do the best job of controlling both ice and dust also do the best job of destroying vehicles.
"I really think that truck and trailer manufacturers need to look at better ways of protecting their products. Of course, many truck buyers aren't too concerned because they know they will be trading or selling before corrosion becomes much of an issue."