Fontaine Renew, as it's called, does refurbishment services in an ISO-certified factory near the new-trailer plant in Jasper, Ala., said Todd Anderson, vice president and general manager.
Workers there have been refurbishing military trailers for at least 10 years, and this is where the idea for the commercial program came from. It began late last year. Workers now do three trailers a day.
Old, worn-out trailers are transformed to like-new condition by an 11-station, 152-step process. It includes a detailed inspection, disassembly, replacement of worn or broken parts with new items, and installation of new air and electrical lines to customers' specifications.
"We strip the trailer to the bare bones," Anderson said. "Once disassembled, we can see things that the average trailer repair shop can never see."
Metal parts are shotblasted to remove all old paint and primer. They are sprayed with zinc-rich primer, which Fontaine has found through its military work to be the best way to protect against corrosion, he said.
Then the metal sections are painted with a urethane enamel that's baked dry. Paint is warranted for three years, labor for one year, and other aspects of the Renew program vary with the items. For example, new electrical harnesses carry their manufacturers' warranties.
Workers can upgrade floors, lights, brakes, suspensions, and other components. For example, wood floors can be replaced with aluminum, and have been. The amount of work and options chosen by the customer determines the price.
In general, a Renewed trailer costs one-third to one-half the price of a new trailer, Anderson said. Depending on specs, a new flatbed costs perhaps $25,000 today.
Candidates for the process include platforms, dropdecks, lowboys and container chassis. Others might be added to the program, he said.
Renewed trailers should last as long as new, and last through another complete life cycle, Anderson said. "And there's no FET (federal excise tax) - that's another benefit. For fleets with multiple sourced trailers, this is an opportunity to get the whole fleet in synch.
"Big fleets are the ones that are going to be most interested in this," Anderson continued. "Certainly we're interested in working with small fleets too. But the big fleets can more readily work the trailers toward the plant because of their operations."
The first customer for the Renew program was XtraLease, which has sent about 300 trailers through the program. Trailers from various customers are coming from as far as California to be refurbished, he said.
Cost depends on amount of work and number of options, but it will be a third to half of buying new, he said. Turnaround can be about as fast as a customer wants, but might normally consume a week or two, counting transportation time.
"We got into this with the downturn in the economy," said Anderson. "Fleets began asking how they could get more for their tight dollars. Refurbishing makes sense when the economy's good, and when the economy's bad. It just makes a lot of sense."