Trailer Talk

Solar Panels Cure Problem of Run-Down Liftgate Batteries

There are various remedies for weak batteries, but Darry Stuart, a contract fleet manager, looked to the sun for a solution.

June 23, 2014

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Darry Stuart, a contract maintenance consultant, had a client with a problem: Run-down liftgate batteries on the wholesale grocery fleet’s trailers. This too often crippled reefer rigs on city routes, where runs between stops are too short for tractor alternators to recharge the trailer batteries.

Sometimes expensive service calls were required because batteries were too weak to raise the ‘gates, which sat on the pavement as drivers waited. There are various remedies, but Stuart, who runs DWS Fleet Services and is a former general chairman of ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council,  looked to the sun for a solution.

“Prices for solar panels have come down to where they’re affordable,” he says, “and they work. I put one on the roof of each trailer, back at the rear where they’re close to the battery box. And they keep the batteries charged and the tail gates operating.” He did a short test on a few trailers, then put them on 75 more.

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Stuart installed 3 by 4-foot, 100-watt panels at a cost of under $1,000 per trailer. Panels are from eNow. The wire from the panel snakes down a rear side post and into the battery box.

For reliability, he specs four Group 31s for the liftgates. “You can run ‘em on two batteries but if anything goes wrong, you’re in trouble,” he says. “And if you’re in New York City, you’re in real trouble. It takes three hours to get somebody there.”

Liftgates are PAL Interlift tuck-unders with a 5,500 pound capacity. Trailers are Wabash National DuraPlate vans and ArcticLite reefers. They’re an unusual 46 feet long so they can haul 16 pallets of merchandise but are not too long for city runs.  Reefer units are Carrier and Thermo King, “depending on the stronger local service provider,” Stuart says.

Galvanized steel frames with closely spaced crossmembers are among the long-lasting components he chooses to attain 15 years of service.

And the sun will still be shining after that.

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Author Bio

Tom Berg

Senior Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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