In 2007, diesel engine manufacturers were forced to meet more aggressive EPA regulations for tailpipe emissions, marking the debut of the aftertreatment system. That was essentially 15 years ago, yet there are still a lot of technicians that aren’t familiar with these systems, as I’m finding out in my aftertreatment classes.
I’m not saying everyone I teach is lost. Some companies have taken the time to train their technicians, but it’s not enough for me to feel comfortable. Technicians often thank me after the class for the shared knowledge and tell me they now feel more confident in diagnosing aftertreatment systems, including the fact that more times than not the problem is being created “upstream.”
Why did it take 15 years to start taking the system seriously? Did we keep kicking it down the road, hoping it would go away, and now are paying the price? Aftertreatment system technology will probably continue to change, and I hope we’ve learned our lesson and stay on top of it — it’s not going anywhere if we are expected to keep “clean diesels” running.
Today, we have more new technologies entering the industry. Are we going to ignore alternative forms of vehicle power, such as electric drivetrains, hydrogen, and natural gas, like we did with aftertreatment?
Electric Vehicles Aren't Going Away
Just like the system that keeps diesel engines clean, the electric vehicle is here — with other alternatives close behind. The electric vehicle won’t be going away anytime soon, and in fact I can see new technology being implemented to coincide with it. Are we going to kick it down the road, or this time, will we start training our technicians now? This is the time to start! The technology will only get more complicated and create frustration within the industry, just as aftertreatment systems have.
I’ve been in the vehicle maintenance industry for over 44 years. I’ve seen technologies come and go. I was here for the initial mandated antilock braking systems that we ended up tearing out of the vehicles because they caused more harm than good. This is not the case here! The manufacturers and their new technology to help with our environment are designing their systems to be more dependable. Perfect, no. But they are competing for our business and don’t want to fail.
Here at the Fairfax County Department of Vehicle Services, we have taken a proactive approach. We currently have 24 BEVs, and the fiscal 2023 budget will more than double that, to 52. And the number of hybrid-electric vehicles will rise from the current 171 to 286. Although the current EV and hybrid fleet consists of light-duty and school buses, we are looking into electric refuse trucks and Class 8 trucks.
Our Maintenance Academy has been developing and implementing electrical vehicle training for some time. Along with hiring the manufacturers to come to our classrooms and help us get the information out there, I think we stand a better chance of surviving the future onslaught of this technology.
The county has been buying transit buses, school buses, solid waste trucks, and medium-duty trucks, as well as installing electric charging stations for these vehicles.
In the Bible story, Noah built the ark before it started raining. Let’s get the information and training out there before the downpour starts!
Paul Cupka is superintendent of training and quality assurance and support for the Fairfax County (Virginia) Department of Vehicle Services. He has been in the heavy-duty maintenance and repair industry for more than 44 years and is a Certified Director of Maintenance and Certified Director of Safety through the North American Transportation Institute and the University of Central Florida. He’s seen many technologies come and go over those years and believes that alternative fuels and electric powertrains are here to stay.